Experts say Kansans don't need to be worried about the healthy population of tarantulas found in parts of the state, particularly in the southern tier of counties.
The large, hairy spiders are often depicted as dangerous but Jim Mason, of the Great Plains Nature Center, said the spiders are generally docile. Tarantulas rear up on their back legs when they are annoyed, giving plenty of warning to humans, he said.
"They're really pretty neat critters," he said. "They're the largest spider in Kansas, and they are capable of biting, but you really have to provoke them to get that type of a reaction."
Fatal tarantula bites are extremely rare but the bites can be painful, The Wichita Eagle reported. The bites usually produce a localized reaction that goes away in a few days.
Hank Guarisco, a Lawrence-based independent arachnid researcher, said more than 500 species of spiders live in Kansas but probably only one common breed of tarantula called Texas browns. Their habitat ranges from northern Texas and Louisiana into Kansas and Missouri.
Most of the state's tarantulas live in southern counties but stretch north as far as Gove and Trego counties in the west. They're especially common in the Red Hills near Medicine Lodge, according to Ken Brunson of the Nature Conservancy of Kansas. Other solid populations are found in southeast Kansas, especially Chautauqua and Elk counties. Guarisco said some scientists believe the tarantulas range may be moving north in Kansas.
Male tarantulas found in Kansas can grow to about 5 inches but females are smaller. Females can live 20 or more years, while males generally die after only a few years.
The best time to see tarantulas in Kansas is mating season in September.
"There are stories of mass migrations across roads, but I have not been lucky enough to see one," Guarisco said. "I have seen a dozen or more on a small stretch of road just north of Sedan."
Brunson said tarantulas in Kansas normally live in burrows they line with silk they've made. They survive by eating insects.
The spiders generally don't have trouble surviving a Kansas winter, Guarisco said, because they have a type of natural antifreeze in their blood.
"They can survive well below freezing," he said. "As long as they're under a shelter, even snow. They're pretty hardy that way. . It's just amazing stuff."