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Mon, Oct. 14

Column: Manuel the spider is a better-than-human guest

Heeee's Baaack!!! Manuel, the friendly tarantula has, once again, arrived at my friend Diane's house. Yes, one hairy little fellow came "home" again for his annual visit. Well, let me tell the story from the very beginning.

How tolerant are you of houseguests? Imagine if they come unannounced (at around the same time each year), want the run of the house, and have eight legs. You might recall that my friend Diane, has had a tarantula, fondly named Manuel, who has been visiting her home since 1990. It all started one July day, over twenty-four years ago, when Diane noticed something with a big belly and hairy legs walking into her house through an open door (no, it wasn't her neighbor). Yikes, a spider of the biggest, furriest kind was strutting around her kitchen!

From that moment on, a tradition (or migration pattern) was started. Each year, the tarantula arrives sometime in late July, hanging around until the end of September or early October. He leaves the same way he arrives, quietly and without any fanfare. He makes the perfect houseguest, since he finds his own food, doesn't demand too much attention and pretty much goes about his routine, not getting in anyone's way. Manuel walks around the house, on the counters, on the ceilings, into the shower - he goes everywhere!

Consider the kind heart and calm disposition that it takes to open your home to a big, fat spider. Not a pet, nor a companion, just a little creature of God that strolled innocently in through an open door. After checking out the premises and the occupant, this tarantula liked what he found. He's been coming back annually, with pretty much the same behaviors and habits. Like an old friend, he just likes to hang out.

Diane keeps her eyes open this time of year for her hairy friend, never sure when and where he'll turn up. A few years ago, Diane got a heart-pounding surprise when one morning she grabbed her sack of Velcro curlers, reached into the bag and found Manuel sitting in the midst of pink rollers! That must have been one hair-raising scream, because even the dogs came running to see what the ruckus was all about. (That summer Diane wore her hair straight). Yes, Manuel makes quite an entrance when he comes back.

A few weeks ago, Diane was sitting on her patio one evening, and watched a furry friend saunter up her driveway, walk onto the porch and through an open door into her kitchen. He paused, looked around, allowed the dogs to sniff him, and then happily disappeared down the hallway, glad to be home.

Did you know that female tarantulas can live up to twenty-five years? The males?

Not so lucky. Usually the males have a life span of ten to twelve years. It seems after the male mates, it weakens him and his life is soon over. (Sadly my husband agrees). Could Manuel really be a girl? Or is this an offspring of Manuel? I guess we'll never know, but he seems to have found "true love" when it comes to Diane. What else could explain his unusual behavior?

The arachnid specialist at the Phoenix Zoo speculates that this tarantula has an established migration path each year to include Diane's home. And it is likely this migration pattern could have been "imprinted" in the offspring. What does Manuel do at Diane's house? Well, he just strolls around, sometimes he can be seen on a wall, or sitting on the back of her sofa, watching television, or snoozing in the corner of her bedroom. He just seems to "fit in" and mostly keeps to himself.

I had my own spider encounter. I walked into a stall in my barn, doing the morning chores and found a large tarantula on the ground. Fearing that one of my horses might step on him, I grabbed a large shovel and very carefully scooped him up and headed out of the barn. He glared at me with his beady eyes and I was scared he might jump up at me. As if perched on an amusement ride, my spider sat on the shovel while I ran around trying to figure out where to put him. The arena? No, a raven might pick him up. I headed over to the pasture, thinking maybe he'd like grass. No, a snake could be there. Suddenly, I realized I had no idea where he might want to go, much less where he ought to be. I ran back into the barn and set him down in the exact spot where I found him. He quickly walked up the stall door, probably dizzy from our encounter.

Well, Manuel is back and that is all that matters. Dear Readers, we can all rest easy, because while there are plenty of problems in the world, the earth seems to be spinning on its proper axis and the stars are lined up just right. Life is good, because one big, happy spider seems to have found his way back "home." If you see one of our desert wonders, the tarantula, please look kindly and do not be afraid. They make perfect houseguests.

Judy Bluhm is a writer and local realtor who lives in Skull Valley. Have a story or a comment? Email Judy at

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