Park It — Tarantula Time

By Ned MacKay: East Bay Regional Parks                                                

As the weather cools and summer surrenders to autumn, one of nature’s more interesting creatures may make its annual appearance – the tarantula.

This is tarantula mating season. Normally the large, hairy spiders are nocturnal, emerging at night to hunt for the small insects that make up their diet. But this time of year you may see the males out and about in daytime, looking for the females who await them in dens six to ten inches underground.

Life isn’t easy for the guys. Sometimes their female partners will eat them after the procreative act. Even if the boys escape that fate, they usually die within a year. By contrast, the girls can live up to 30 years.

Both sexes are preyed upon by tarantula hawks, which are wasps that hunt tarantulas, paralyze them with a sting, then lay eggs on the helpless spider to provide a meal for the wasp larvae when they hatch.

If you see a tarantula while you’re out in the parkland, don’t try to handle it. Tarantulas are not aggressive, but their bite is painful, and they have barbed, irritating hairs on their abdomens as a defense against predators. And picking up the spider could injure it.

Here’s a bonus for your next trivia contest: spiders aren’t insects. They are arachnids. Insects have six legs; arachnids such as spiders and ticks have eight. There are other differences, too.

Tarantulas aren’t always easy to spot. But a sure way to see one close-up is to attend a program hosted by naturalist Eddie Willis from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27 at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.

Meet Eddie at the uppermost parking lot at the end of Somersville Road, 3½ miles south of Highway 4 in Antioch. The guest of honor will be Black Diamond Mines’ new tarantula in residence, inevitably named Harry.

Other regional parks have also scheduled spider programs in coming weeks.

An even larger hairy animal that used to roam widely through California is the bear. While there are still plenty of black bears in the Sierra Nevada, the grizzly bear depicted on the state flag is long gone.

However naturalist Kevin Dixon will lead a hike at Black Diamond Mines from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26. As the group strolls through oak woodland, chaparral and grassland, Kevin will talk about bears and other wildlife, and how people have changed the landscape.

The hike is for ages nine and older. Meet Kevin at the same location as the tarantula program.

For information on either program, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.

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At the other end of the regional park district, it’s time for the Stone Age Olympics. The free event will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27 at Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont under the guidance of naturalist Dino Labiste.

It’s a day of Stone Age technology contests and stone tool-making demonstrations. Visitors can try their hand at throwing a rabbit stick, flinging a bolas, or using an atlatl, which is a prehistoric dart-launching device. Flint-knappers will shape rocks into a variety of tools. For kids, parent participation is required.

It all will take place at the park’s Dairy Glen campsite. Coyote Hills is located at 8000 Patterson Ranch Road off Paseo Padre Parkway. There’s a parking fee of $5 per vehicle. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 3220.

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Crab Cove Visitor Center at Crown Beach in Alameda schedules family nature fun hour from 2 to 3 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. On Sept. 26 and 27 the theme is nature art – create your own outdoors with materials supplied by the naturalists.

After that it’s fish feeding time from 3 to 3:30 p.m. at the center’s large aquarium, which displays crabs, flounder, perch, pipefish and other aquatic residents of San Francisco Bay.

Crab Cove is located at 1252 McKay Ave. off Central Avenue. For information, call 510-544-3187.

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There’s always a lot going on at the Environmental Education Center at Tilden Nature Area near Berkeley. And the hills will be alive with music from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Sept. 26, when naturalist Trent Pearce conducts a Little Farm sing-along.

Trent will provide the lyrics for you to join in songs about farming, work and play. The Little Farm is right next to the center, at the north end of Tilden’s Central Park Drive.

Later on Saturday there’s a free outdoor movie from 7 to 9 p.m. at the nearby Indian Camp picnic area, featuring the 2012 animation adventure-comedy, “The Lorax.”

The movie will begin shortly after sunset at 7 p.m. Arrive early to get a good seat and take in some pre-movie entertainment. Bring a flashlight, warm clothes and a blanket or chair.

There will be snacks and drinks for sale. No pets, please. Rain cancels. For more information, call 510-544-2554.

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Another option this Saturday is the Moonrise to Moonlight Adventure from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at Redwood Regional Park, led by Morgan Dill.

Meet at the Trudeau Staging Area at 11500 Skyline Boulevard in Oakland, near the intersection with Joaquin Miller Road. Activities will include owl pellet dissection and a three-mile hike to look for nocturnal animals and gaze at stars. The hike is for ages 18 and older. It's free with no reservations required. For information, call 510-544-3187.

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The next in the park district's series of Sunday Strolls is from 10 a.m. to noon on Sept. 27 at Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline in Oakland. Meet at the Garretson Point Staging Area at Oakport Street and 66th Avenue for a 3 1/2-mile level walk to see wetlands and wildlife. For information, call 510-544-3187.

Sunday Strolls explore a different park each week on hikes ranging from one to five miles. The strolls are great for families and dogs are welcome on most hikes. For maps and directions, visit www.ebparks.org/parks.

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