Friday, September 28, 2012

Deadly mission

As featured Sept. 22, 2012, at

Even as they make their way through the world, so narrow is their focus that it’s unlikely they think of, or even notice much of what goes on around them.
In fact, they’re so preoccupied; it’s no surprise when they walk calmly into traffic.
Don’t let their rangy, menacing appearance scare you — truth is their looks really have nothing to do with you and everything to do with function.
Enduring excruciating heat, often without the relief of water, they make their way through rough and unforgiving terrain, surrounded by enemies and pushing forward to complete their life’s mission.
And while they travel up to 50 miles to accomplish that mission every fall — a seemingly insurmountable distance when it’s being covered four inches at a time — the irony is that after expending all that energy and effort, if their work pays off and they reach their destination, the success will likely be punctuated by death.
A few days ago, one such gentleman froze and crouched down against the pavement as vehicles passed overhead.
Older, or battered by his journey, or perhaps a little of both, the fur on his eight legs was patchy and sparse, with dry skin showing underneath and more skin showing through the hair on his abdomen.
But he sparked to life when shooed, scurried into the cover of grass along the ditch and carried on.
One of those unique residents that don’t go further east than the Mississippi, there are approximately 50 species of tarantula in North America, nearly 900 in the world, and none are considered deadly to humans.
Known for their docile nature, that’s not to say they’re entirely helpless.
They can bite, but usually don’t. Instead, tarantulas subscribe to the walk softly school of thought because they do carry a big stick.
When highly agitated, they are capable of kicking the hair off their abdomens toward an enemy, the small, barbed particles float through the air and into the nose, mouth and eyes.
Comparable to itching powder, the hair attack just gives an adversary something else to think about while they get away.
If there is a flaw in the gentle crawlers, it might be the fact that, alas, tarantulas live and give their lives for the ladies.
Most all tarantulas spotted out and about are mature males in search of their soul mates, and few communities have a tougher dating scene than the tarantulas.
Hidden away in burrows, the females wait to be found.
But just being found doesn’t mean the stars align and the rest is romance, because if she doesn’t approve of her suitors, they still make a good snack.
If they manage to win her affections, there’s a good chance they will still make a good snack after adding a branch to the family tree and even those fortunate enough to walk away from a job well done aren’t exactly in the clear either.
Trudging exhausted, back from whence they came, they make easy marks for the wasps, lizards, snakes, birds and others who find them delightfully nutritious.
In light of all that, it seems a bit unnecessary to go out of the way to smash them under a shoe, even if it’s too far a stretch to appreciate them on their own merits — after all, certain death awaits them anyway, if they’re just allowed to pass.
Or for the more daring, take a moment to look past the itchy hair, long legs and fangs to give a little attaboy as the multi-eyed face of determination and perseverance marches by, eight steps at a time.

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