Despite their general notoriety and popularity as pets, little is known of the behavioural ecology of ‘tarantulas’ or theraphosid spiders. We studied a theraphosid of the Arizona deserts, Aphonopelma sp., to determine behavioural events crucial to successful courtship and mating. Males search for spatially scattered females and, at short range, may detect females by substrate-borne cues. When two males are present with a single female, no direct competition such as aggression is observed. Both males may mate with a single female in rapid succession, with no evidence of post-copulatory mate guarding. Despite the potential for sexual cannibalism, courtship and mating behaviour patterns exhibit few aggressive elements and males nearly always survive sexual encounters with females. The mating system of this Aphonopelma species may best be described as a type of scramble-competition polygyny, in which the ability of males to locate receptive females is an important determinant of mating success in males. Multiple mating by females renders predictions concerning fertilization success uncertain, due to the possibility of sperm competition and ‘cryptic’ female mate choice.