TBT - (1977) "The Trouble With Tarantulas"

IN 1975 a movie came out called "The Giant Spider Invasion!". The pet stores had a run on tarantulas after that. The fad grew and by 1977 I was shipping 4,000 Curly Hair Tarantulas a month from Honduras - but the really 'hot item' was Red Leg Tarantulas from Mexico.

Through contacts in the exotic animal biz I got a phone number and called an old man in Colima, Mexico, the main source of Red Legs. We set up a big shipment to be hand delivered to me in Mexico City.

For me it was easy enough to make 'informal entries' of critters into Honduras from other countries. After that first time I arrived at Honduran customs with pillow cases full of snakes in my luggage - well after that Honduran custom officials would just ask ask which suitcases were mine, and without touching them, they would tell me to grab and go. Almost as good as diplomatic status!

I landed in Mexico City that December with three large suitcases. Two were empty and one had a change of clothes and 2,000 little plastic baggies. Surprise - I got pulled into a Mexican Customs exam room and a highly suspicious chief customs inspector drilled me about the suitcases and contents. I told him this was a Xmas shopping trip - so I had extra suitcases to carry presents on my return, and the plastic bags were for my hobby - sea shell collecting. I am going to Acapulco and Zihantanejo to collect and I will put sea shells in individual bags with written notes on the circumstances of the find. He probably had never heard a greater BS story - but he could not find anything illegal on me or in the suitcases.

After checking into the brand new airport Holiday Inn, I called Juan in Colima. He was taking the overnight bus and would be at the hotel in the morning. The room was a very nice double overlooking the pool from the second floor. When he arrived in the morning with the wooden boxes of spiders the desk called my room. I went down to meet him - he looked right off the farm and out of place in the hotel. Grabbing a bell boy to get the boxes to my room I told the hotel staff that Juan was bringing me cheese samples for export.

In the room we went to work sliding tarantulas out of their individual niches in the boxes and into the plastic baggies. They have to be kept separate or they will kill each other. Confined one to a bag - their fangs will punch air holes in the bags, but they can not get enough grip on one another to fight. The suitcases had cloth sides that allowed enough air circulated for their survival. We bagged and tossed them into the suitcases as fast as possible so I could catch the last flight out to Honduras that afternoon.

The first line of defense for a tarantula are the nasty urticating hairs they flick off their abdomens with their hind legs into the eyes and nostrils of any predator digging into their burrow. So as we encouraged their exit from the holes in the packing boxes the tarantulas proceeded to fill the room with those invisible but highly irritating hairs. By the time we finished bagging them our eyes were blood shot and we were scratching like crazy. Worse then working with fiberglass!

I paid off Juan, took a hard scrub shower, and then dressed and called the bell boy. As we left the room I took a quick final look around at the heavy drapes, bed spreads and thick carpet. This room was doomed. No one could ever remove all the urticating hairs in the room from 2,000 stressed tarantulas. In my mind's eye I could see newly arrived hotel guests flopping down on the bed and then within a couple minutes they would be scratching like hell.

The hotel staff would probably think the room was haunted!