Nothing gets the old heart pumping quite like a rehousing!
With many of my tarantulas outgrowing their current enclosures, I’ve been doing a lot of rehousing as of late. In the last two weeks, I’ve moved about a dozen of my spiders into new homes, and I still have several more to go. When I first got heavily into the hobby, rehousing were something that I used to stress about. After all, the thought of one of these large, fast, sometimes defensive spiders possibly escaping during a botched transfer is enough to the get your adrenaline flowing.
Now that I’ve rehoused dozens of Ts, I actually look forward to this activity. Don’t get me wrong, I still remain cautious and very focused whenever moving spiders, but with experience has come some degree of comfort. I used to fear the tarantula getting out of its enclosure; now I recognize that if the spider doesn’t make it directly into its new home, it’s not the end of the world. I’ve also found that I’m able to stay much more calm, which leads to slower, more deliberate movements (and more relaxed animals).
When rehousing Ts, there are a few different methods to consider. I have tried all the techniques listed below, and I find that they are all quite good depending on the situation. Experience and experimentation will help you to determine which ones work for you and in which circumstances.
The cup method entails simply placing a clear plastic cup over the tarantula, sliding a piece of cardboard beneath the opening, then moving the animal to its new home. You can also tip the cup on its side and use a long instrument like a paintbrush to guide the T into it. Some folks will use deli cups for this procedure, then put the cap on for a safe, secure transfer. This method is particularly useful for larger Ts.
The plastic bottle method is also a fantastic and easy way to transfer slings and juvies. Creating your transfer tool is simple; just take a small plastic bottle (I use a 1 liter seltzer bottle) and cut the bottom off. Like the cup method, place the open end of the bottle over your T. Once the spider is inside, either cover the bottom with cardboard or coax it up the side with a paintbrush. With the spider contained, put the bottle in the new enclosure, unscrew the cap, tilt the neck toward where you want the spider to go, and use a paint brush to guide it out the hole. In most cases, the spider will freely move toward the tapered end of the bottle. This is great for directing a spider directly into a pre-dug den or hide.
The bag method is a wonderful way to transfer fast or defensive slings and juveniles. It entails placing a clear plastic back over the mouth of your original enclosure and affixing it with a rubber band. After poking a small hole in the bag, you use a paintbrush to coax the critter out of the enclosure and into the bag. Once it’s safely inside, you remove the rubber band and carefully pinch closed the bag, being careful to keep your hand away from the spider (they can bite through the plastic). Finally, just put the end of the bag in the new enclosure and carefully maneuver the spider out of the back and into its new home.
Tips for safe transfers
Like most aspects of this hobby, reading about transfers and rehousings only gets you so far. To get comfortable with them, it really takes experience. Keeping that in mind, here are some tips to think about before rehousing.
- When rehousing, make sure that you have a clear, clutter-free area in which to work. I use my dinner table and try to clean as much off of it as possible.
- Make sure that pets or small children are safely out of the way. I have three dogs and a younger child, and I always make sure that they are all out of the room when I work.
- Many keepers also recommend attempting transfers on colder mornings, as the spiders will be a bit less lively and likely to bolt.
- If you try a transfer, and the T demonstrates its agitation by running around or displaying aggressive behavior, STOP and try again later. There is no need to make the experience more difficult for yourself (and more stressful for the T).
- You should assume the spider will get out, and prepare accordingly. Negotiating your hands and tools into small enclosures can put you more at risk for a bite. Sometimes it’s simpler to gently coax the spider out onto a table so that you can easily and safely cup it. I’ve found that assuming the spider will get out makes the transfer much less stressful.
- When possible, you can always leave an older enclosure in the new one if it will fit inside. This way, the tarantula can come out when it is ready. Be warned, though, that some never want to leave!
- And, above all, stay calm and move slowly. Yes, I know that it’s difficult to stay cool when a large T is attacking your paintbrush, but you don’t want to lose your composure. If something doesn’t go as plan, take a deep breath, try to relax, and keep your eye on the tarantula at all times.
Tools of the trade
It’s very important to be totally prepared when performing a transfer. I like to keep the following tools and materials on hand.
- Several clear plastic cups, various sizes – I always have multiple “catch cups” on hand, ready to go if a T should try to bolt.
- A plastic bottle with the bottom cut off – These are GREAT for smaller Ts.
- Long tongs and paintbrushes – I always have a pair of 8″ and 12″ tongs on hand to help in the process. They can be used to move hides, dishes, and substrates. Paintbrushes are also excellent tools to use to coax Ts out.
- Small dish towels – These work wonderfully as hiding spots for a bolting T. I like to spread them around my work area so that if a spider bolts, it will likely take refuge under one of these “spider traps”.
- Pieces of cardboard – Cut some cardboard to size so that you can use the pieces to cover up the bottom of the cup or bottle to hold the T inside.
- Spoons – These can be handy when you have to dig a species out. Just be careful not to injure the T, and be prepared for an agitated tarantula to burst from its den.
- Large, shallow Sterilite container – This one is optional, but I like to put the enclosures I’ll be using inside a large plastic storage bin. The bin I use is shallow, allowing for me to easily work. This gives me an added barrier if a T should happen to get out. You can see the one I used in the videos below.
Four transfers, four very different experiences.
Today, I planned to move four different tarantulas: my juvenile A. brocklehursti and my three juvenile Phormictopus sp. purple juveniles. My brock has traditionally been a bit skittish, but has never been defensive. My purples, on the other hand, can be little terrors. I’ve seen more threat postures from this trio than any of my other species. They are quite feisty, and it doesn’t take too much to rile them up.
With the potential for some exciting and unpredictable action, I decided that it would be a good time to break out the camera. My 1o-year-old daughter, Sidney was kind enough to man the camera for me so that we could catch all of the action. Although I’ve done many “easy” transfers, where the spider is quickly moved without incident, I wanted to possibly capture a rehousing that didn’t quite go so smoothly. After all, switching enclosures can be quite tricky, and spiders can act unpredictably. You need to be prepared for anything.
My A. brocklehursti transfer went about as smoothly as a transfer can go. I mean, this little guy didn’t even need to be prodded out of the bottle; he just plopped down on his own!
As my Phormictopus sp. purple juveniles are quite feisty, I expected that rehousing these guys could be a bit of an adventure. Well, the first transfer went quite smoothly, and the little guy cooperated for the most part.
How do you set off a defensive species? Well, just drop a little dirt on it. This rehousing doesn’t quite go as planned as a bit of stray dirt riles up my second purple juvenile. Despite the inauspicious beginning (and some spider on paintbrush violence), he makes it into his new home.
This stubborn little guy does NOT want to cooperate at first, and it takes a bit of patience and finagling to finally get him into his new home. Of course, he first has to get a piece of that paintbrush. If you watch closely when he attacks, you’ll see why I NEVER hold my tarantulas. Had that been my hand, I would have flicked him into the air.
For those looking to rehouse a fast and feisty arboreal, here is a video featuring my P. hanumavilasumica.
Transferring Fossorial (Burrowing) Species
As I’ve received several questions about how I go about rehousing fast-and-feisty fossorial species, I’m adding a couple movies to this tutorial. What follows are rehousing videos for my H. Gigas and O. philippinus, both species that built dens deep in the substrate.