Published in the October 4 – 17, 2017 issue of Gilroy Life

Love is in the air at Henry W. Coe State Park — literally. It’s tarantula mating season in the South Valley’s wilderness. So bring the kids up to Coe’s headquarters Saturday, Oct. 7, for the annual family-friendly Tarantula Fest and get up close and personal to our local lovable — and hairy — arachnids.

My first encounter with a California tarantula at Coe Park took place on a trail one autumn afternoon about 10 years ago. I was hiking and an insect the side of a tea plate strutted across the dust right in front of me on its way to find a girlfriend. Wincing a bit with a little squeamishness, I put my hand in its path. It just climbed over my fingers and kept on its way without losing its stride.

Romance is the reason for these amazing spiders to go out into the open and take the chance of becoming some predator’s snack. Male tarantulas lead a pretty solitary and nocturnal life for most of the year. Then around mid-September, the bachelors discover the inner longings of finding some nice female tarantula for a little amour. Instead of an online dating website like Matchmaker.com, the males search out the scent of a female waiting in a burrow. He approaches the entrance and taps on thin strands of web that lead into the burrow. If the female likes what she sees with the gentle giant sending out his signals, she’ll exit the burrow and the fun begins. If the female is hungry she may make her anxious suitor her next snack.

I’ve volunteered with the Tarantula Fest barbecue for several years. The event is one of the most popular and most fun things for kids to do to learn about nature in the South Valley region. These spiders might give people the creeps because they have large, hairy bodies and legs, but they’re harmless to humans. While these large spiders’ fang can result in a painful bite, a tarantula’s venom is weaker than that coming from a typical bee sting.

The males take from eight to 10 years to reach adulthood. After mating, they live another six months. Female tarantulas of the California species can live up to 25 years. With limited lifespans and the chance of being cannibalized, it’s not a fair world for the guy side of the tarantula species.

After getting to know the tarantulas at the Tarantula Fest, take one of the organized hikes with a volunteer naturalist — or go off on your own hike — to seek out these large spiders in their natural habitats. There are also geocaching hikes organized for the event to have fun using digital devices to find hidden treasure in the terrain. At the festival, you can also enjoy live music by the Sada Springs Jug Band made up of musical Coe Park volunteers and friends. Hang out at the kids’ activities table and create Tarantula Fest keepsakes. The Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center’s volunteers can tell you about their wonderful ambassador animals who will be on display. With a meal ticket you enjoy great home-cooked food at the barbecue.

If you can’t make it to this year’s Tarantula Festival, visit the park on a day when you and your family have some time for an outdoors adventure within an easy drive of Morgan Hill. The fall time is a great time to visit Coe Park because the weather is much more bearable than the hot summer months. Our spider friends enjoy the park this time of year — and especially so when love is in the air.