Enter The Spiderboy
A Monterey man shares his passion for tarantulas with everyone who will listen.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Vincent Pizzo sleeps soundly at night, but at the foot of his bed is a cabinet full of creatures that stalk other people’s nightmares.
In separate plastic enclosures live around 90 mature tarantulas, hairy spiders with glistening fangs and fat abdomens. They scurry around in their boxes, burrow into their soil and spin their silk. Some are as small as a quarter. Others are as a large as a hand.
The Monterey resident understands what makes others shun spiders.
“They’re just creepy,” he says, citing “the way they move” and their sneakiness. “You just don’t hear them.”
As a kid, he was traumatized by a spider horror flick, and would make his parents deal with arachnid intruders. “I had a phobia,” he says, “but there wasn’t anything behind it.”
Though he feared spiders, he had always loved snakes, reptiles and other pets. It was a San Jose reptile convention that actually provided a chance to reconsider when Pizzo eyed a man handling a large tarantula. Remembering a mix of horror, shock and interest, he says, “I had to go check it out.”
The man offered to let him hold it. “‘There’s no way,’” Pizzo remembers saying. “‘It’s as big as my face.’” The man took out a three-inch Chilean rosehair, a gentler type often paired with first-time collectors.
After holding it, Pizzo thought, “It didn’t bite me. It’s not running all over.It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”
Short and muscular, 24-year-old Pizzo wears a Metallica shirt and drinks a Dr. Pepper. He repeatedly walks over to the cabinet to pull out tarantulas.
There’s the reclusive Californian black, the spindly pink birdeater from Brazil and the electric blue Gooty sapphire from India (which he has on loan from a scientist). Last time he counted, he had around 38 different species.
After Pizzo received a Chilean rosehair for his 19th birthday (at his request), he began surfing the Web to learn how to care for it. The most useful resources he found were forums like arachnoboards.com, where geeks would post anecdotes, breeding tips, spiders for sale and research, and where he learned odd facts, like tarantulas have sensitive hair that detect vibration, and female tarantulas can live to 40.
In one forum Pizzo met 32-year-old Josh Abby from Carmel Valley. They bonded over a passion for “creepy crawlies,” venturing into Garland Ranch to turn over rocks – what they call “herping,” as in herpetology, the study of reptiles – and traveling to meetings of the San Francisco Bay Area Tarantula Society (SFBATS).
“It’s nice to be around people who understand the fascination,” Abby says. “It’s something mainstream people kind of frown upon.”
Although Pizzo says he wouldn’t handle about half the tarantulas he owns, he and Abby feel the danger is over-hyped.
“A tarantula isn’t going to leap out and go for the jugular,” Abby says.
Still, fear and prejudice against spiders (and those who own them) die hard. When Pizzo and Abby start talking to strangers about their hobby, they often get raised eyebrows.
“They think I’m nuts,” Pizzo says. “One of the first questions they ask me is, ‘Oh, do you have a girlfriend?’”
When Pizzo reads for entertainment, he usually picks up a book of fantasy or science fiction.
But Pizzo doesn’t leave all sorts of experiences to the imagination – the creatures and relics he collects bring the fantastic into his reality. In his room alone, Pizzo has five snakes, including an albino diamondback, a sidewinder and a California king, a couple of guitars, scorpions, blade weapons, geckos, a piece of coral, a statuette of Ganesh, and his own drawings of snakes and tarantulas surrounded by intricate designs. Pizzo thinks of the space as a “personal museum” where he can have “just a bunch of interesting s* all over the place.”
Once a fellow enthusiast told Pizzo that scaring people with these spiders is half the fun. But Pizzo seems to disagree. He is an ambassador, eager to “share the hobby” and “proliferate it.”
Spiders are easy to keep, he says: He only has to buy crickets about once every two weeks. “I can have 90 spiders,” he says. “I can’t have 90 snakes.”
He has convinced friends and acquaintances to take home tarantulas of their own. Two hours into an interview he’s sharing another favorite from the cabinet. He opens the box and shines his light on an orange-striped creature.
“This,” he says, “is a Venezuelan sun tiger.”
To see hobby-related artwork and learn about tarantulas for sale, visit Pizzo Productions on Facebook.