A Tarantula Caused a Traffic Accident in Death Valley

This article originally appeared on Outside

Why did the spider cross the road?

That's what officials at Death Valley National Park are asking themselves this week, following an automobile accident involving a motorcycle, a camper van, and yes, an arachnid.

On Saturday, October 28, a 24-year-old motorcyclist from Canada collided with a camper van driven by two Swiss tourists along a stretch of California Route 190 east of Towne Pass. According to a news release on the park's Facebook page, the Swiss duo had slammed on the brakes to avoid a hairy tarantula on the roadway.

The motorcyclist suffered injuries and was transported to Desert View Hospital in the town of Pahrump.

"Please drive slowly, especially going down steep hills in the park," park superintendent Mike Reynolds said in a statement. Apparently, Reynolds was the first park employee on the scene of the accident. "Our roads still have gravel patches due to flood damage, and wildlife of all sizes are out," he said.

Indeed, fall is a special time for tarantulas--and no, not just because of Halloween. Having spent much of their lives underground, adult males (between 8 and ten years old) venture to the surface during the late-season monsoons to mate. The Desert Blonde tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) lives across the American southwest, from Colorado, through the Sonoran deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, and into the Southern California. The Brown tarantula lives in parts of Colorado, Texas, and Oklahoma. Stroll the grasslands in this region from late August through October and you might see one of the species searching for a female. Officials in Colorado call it a "mategration."

The abundance of tarantulas crossing sidewalks, parking lots, and yes, roadways, has caused problems in some states. In 2022, arachnid advocates asked Colorado's Department of Transportation to install crossing tunnels under several highways in the southeastern corner of the state to prevent the animals from being squashed. Think of the project as a freeway wildlife crossing--just for creepy crawlies.

Richard Reading, the vice president of science and conservation at Colorado's Butterfly Pavilion insect zoo, helped lead the charge.

"So what we wanna do, is avoid tarantulas from getting squished and other little things, so if we produce a lot of culverts or underpasses, things like tarantulas, box turtles, other reptiles and amphibians can use those culverts as well as other insects and not get squished," Reading told local media in 2022. The Butterfly Pavilion led the charge, and Reading said that he hoped to create a pilot program of culverts and fences for tarantulas in 2023.

But Amber Shipley, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation's Southeast division, told me this week that state officials and biologists are still in talks about the project. "I don't know if they've decided whether or not spiders are amenable to the crossings," she said. "We have not proceeded with the plan yet."

Perhaps we now know why the spider crossed the road. That's the only way it knows to get to the other side.

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