Guest Blog post: Neoholothele incei (gold) Communal by Casey J. Peter

Introduction

As tarantulas are recognized as solitary creatures (mostly due to the fact that they view other spiders as lunch on eight legs) many find the idea of several tarantulas cohabitating peacefully to be a bit of a mind-blower. Perhaps that’s why successful communal setups garner so much curiosity and attention. A year ago, I started my first communal with 9 Monocentropus balfouri slings, and it has been incredibly rewarding and fascinating to watch these spiders interact. And, as I’ve shared my experiences through my blog and YouTube channel, it has also attracted a lot of attention from folks who would very much like to begin their own tarantula communals.

Although M. balfouris seem to present as one of the best species to successfully thrive in this set up, they are not the only species to display these tendencies. In fact, when I was originally giving thought to the idea, I was eyeing Neoholothele incei as a possible candidate. This species has been observed living communally in the wild, and a bit of research would produce several compelling accounts of successful group setups in captivity.

Even better, they were readily available and slings were much less expensive than those of the pricey M. balfouri, making such a venture less cost prohibitive. As communal setups always run the risk of cannibalization, many people would find the smaller investment much more palatable. I’ve received a lot of questions about H. incei communals, and having no first hand experience with them, I’ve had to refer these people to other keepers’ accounts.

With that in mind, I asked my buddy and fellow hobbyist, Casey J. Peter, if he could guest blog on Tom’s Big Spiders and relate his experiences with his H. incei communal. Casey began his setup a few months back, and he’s been keeping me updated as it progressed. Casey’s care and husbandry are top notch, and as a writer, he was no stranger to the written word, so I hoped he’d be game to pass off some of his knowledge.

He (obviously) graciously accepted the invite. A huge thank you to Casey for taking the time to share his valuable experiences. Now, enough from me. On to the article …

Neoholothele incei (gold) Communal

by Casey J. Peter

Background

In March of 2017 I pulled the trigger on my first communal tarantula setup.

[Aside] I am not going to mention the vendor I purchased from as I am not happy with them (at all) and want to keep the focus on the subject matter at hand.

I have been an active tarantula keeper for over two years, but a fan of all things invertebrate since about the age of eight. Two years ago, life circumstances finally let me decide to go ‘active’ and get involved in the tarantula keeping hobby, as I finally had the time and wherewithal to take care of em’.

A little over a year ago I started reading about ‘communal’ keeping, wherein there are multiple tarantulas living in the same enclosure. I had always thought that ‘T’s (and other spiders) were solitary creatures, and by and large, they are…with exceptions, and these exceptions caught my attention.

There are several genera/species that take to living together, including multiple species of Poecilotheria, the ubiquitous Monocentropus balfouri and the subject of this post, the Neoholothele genus.

The problem for a lot of us in the hobby is expense. The absolute BEST tarantula to keep in groups is without a doubt the M. balfouri, which seems to actually do better together rather than singly. All the others have issues at one point or another, usually eating each other as they grow up, being that they are very territorial and are in nature very cannibalistic.

As the M. balfouri is (to date) a fairly expensive purchase, getting 6-12 of them is beyond the budget of most.

I thought I’d given up on the idea, and did for a while, jealously watching Tom Moran’s M. balfouri communal update videos as a vicarious way to satiate my interest.

H. incei gold sling.

THEN (drumroll), I read about the Neoholothele incei species, which seems to get along pretty well together in the main. In the wild, this species has been observed living communally, so I started researching. In captivity I found the results were all over the board as to success or failure. The one thing in common with the ‘successes’ seemed to be the requirement that the group be sac-mates. That is, all from the same egg sac, and in proximity to one another from birth to sale. The other thing that kept rearing its head was enclosure size. As in: NOT as large as one would assume. Turns out that the larger the enclosure the more territorial the tarantulas will become, inviting cannibalism if no intervention/rehousing were to be accomplished. Tarantulas are extremely finicky roommates.

With all of this in mind, I found an outstanding (read: cheap) online deal for ten N. incei (gold) slings that seemed to fit the requirements I was looking for.

Setup and Housing

I build my own enclosures for the most part, and decided on a ‘Boxbox’ branded plastic case with 3.5″H x 11″L x 7.25″W dimensions as the base. Part of my reasoning for this was due to the number of slings going into the cage, and the other was a minimal ‘re-house’ if things worked out. The N. incei only gets to about 2.5″ for females and 1.5″-2″ for the males, so this will hold them nicely for quite a while.

H. incei gold slings upacked.

Upon arrival, all ten slings (3/4″) seemed to be in good health, so I housed them and let them go where they wanted. Almost immediately after leaving their shipping tubes, all the tarantulas started setting up shop in the corners and under the plastic leaves. It was interesting to note that when two more or more of them would cross paths, they would start flapping their first leg pairs up and down in an exaggerated way, then begin touching legs with the others before scurrying apart. There were no threat poses or aggressive acts at all during this period.

H. incei gold housing.

Two days went by and the first casualty happened…not from cannibalism. The sling just curled up by the water dish and died. Another few days went by and several of my other purchases (non communal) from this vendor also died. Then about a week beyond that, I found a 2nd fatality in the communal enclosure…again, no rhyme nor reason, just curled up. I can only guess that all of these deaths were somehow related. All in all after 2+ years of keeping and ordering online and losing only a few tiny slings, I lost six specimens within a month. (This should explain why I am less than thrilled with the vendor I used.)

H. incei gold burrow entrance.

After this mess, I was left with eight N. incei golds that were beginning to build out their webbing. There were several times that I saw them very close to each other creating web tunnels here and there. This is worth the time and effort just to see it occur.

The feeding regimen was originally going to be 15-20 B. lateralis nymphs every three days. After observation of the colony, I backed off to 10-12 nymphs only when I no longer observed prey in the enclosure. [At this point in June, that means I’m feeding about once a week.] While the N. incei do eat, at least in my circumstance, they don’t eat as much as I had expected based on accounts from other Keepers.

Feeding time (B. lateralis roaches)

By mid April (about a month after incept), the first molts started getting tossed. Here is an interesting and slightly frustrating bit for the keeper. The molts would be tossed well away from burrow entrances, and unless you are lucky enough to see it happening (I wasn’t), you will never be able to accurately sex because there is no way to tell who’s old skin belongs to whom. Sexing the N. incei in a communal environment means waiting for their adult growth and observe who is bigger. (Females.)

By the middle of May, the enclosure had been burrowed and webbed up pretty well, and this is where things get…boring.

The N. incei are, by nature, VERY reclusive. Once things are set up, they tend to stay out of sight all the time. In fact the ONLY way you know you have tarantulas at this point (generally) is that the prey animals that are being fed disappear. Oh, you will see a T moving through webbing occasionally, but getting an accurate count of the colony becomes an exercise in futility.

Friends for life!

Now in June, I know that the T’s are approaching 1.5″ each, and I have managed to confirm that there are at the very minimum, five survivors. I count 10 burrow entrance/exits, and have seen little to no boluses, so my educated guess is that I have eight healthy little dwarves living their lives.

Little to no boluses in this case is not a bad thing. Lateralis nymphs are nearly 100% edible, thus very little waste material is produced. Bolus, the name for indigestible remains of prey, usually happens for larger meals. Wings, parts of carapace and sometimes legs on B. dubia and B. lateralis mature roaches cannot be fully eaten, and the tarantula will wad this up into shiny little waste packets that get tossed away. This also applies to crickets, which I do not use because I personally feel that crickets are the spawn of Satan.

It will be interesting as they get larger to see their behavior as the quarters become a bit more cramped, but at this point, I may not have to rehouse this lot at all as the DLS (Diagonal Leg Span) of this species is no more than 2.5″ measured stretched.

Care and Maintenance

I went over some of this above, but in general I keep this enclosure dry with a communal water dish. I have never seen them drink or go near the water dish except for the first one, which decided the water dish was a great place to pass on to the choir unseen.

The Boxbox enclosure (see pictures) has been set up with one 2″ vent in the lid, loose and rock weighted to allow easy access for feeding. There are vent holes drilled at each end to allow cross ventilation.

The substrate is a base of moistened vermiculite topped with 2″ of dry coco coir.

There are several fake plants arranged which allows the T’s to anchor web points around the enclosure. (They have been better at this than I expected.)

Feeding is 10-15 B. lateralis nymphs (up to 3/4″ in length) approximately once per week.

A special thanks to Casey J. Peter for contributing! Check out his blog, “Casey’s Overnight Cafe” by clicking the banner below!

 

 

Dolichothele diamantinensis “Brazilian Blue Beauty” Care

Dolichothele diamantinensis  “Brazilian Blue Dwarf Beauty” Husbandry Notes

When I first got into the hobby, I tended to ignore some of the smaller species. I was basically obsessed with larger Ts, and most of my wish lists were filled with the giant species with leg spans of 7″ or more. At that time, I didn’t get some keepers’ obsessions with the so-called “dwarf” species. Wasn’t the point of keeping big spiders to show off species that were larger than your common garden spider? However, as my collection grew and I obtained more spiders, I matured a bit and let go of my anti-dwarf prejudices. I started to seek out smaller species like B. cabocla and dwarfs like Euathlus sp. red and Hapalopus sp. Colombia larges. It quickly became apparent that by shying away from the more diminutive species, I was missing out on some amazing animals.

After seeing some photos of the D. diamantinensis, I immediately moved this small species to the top of my wish list. These gorgeous, highly sought after spiders looked like miniature GBBs with their blues, greens, and a touch of red. Unfortunately, the first slings in the US were quite pricey, so I decided to wait it out a bit until prices fell. Finally, in December of 2016, I received three gorgeous little slings from Tanya at Fear Not Tarantulas with the polite warning that they were very fast.

She wasn’t kidding.

These little guys are quite speedy as slings, and keepers should take precautions before transferring or rehousing them to prevent escapes. I pride myself on my ability to transfer spiders without incident, and these little spitfires gave me a run for my money.

D. diamantinensis slings are quite tiny to start, so a 16 oz deli cup might appear a bit large to start with. On the other hand, they grow fast, so they will soon be using the extra room. To start mine off, I used three of the rectangular sling enclosures (2-5/6 square x 4-3/16” clear Amac boxes) filled with about 2” of moist substrate. Once the substrate started to dry out, I kept one corner moist until they put on some size.

All three quickly took to digging a bit before starting to web up their enclosures. They are prolific webbers, and it didn’t take long before all three had completely filled their cages with thick webbing.

Although this is a terrestrial species, giving them an enclosure with a little height and several anchor points will encourage even more webbing. Many keepers chose to set them up semi-arboreally, as a D. diamantinensis given some vertical space will use it to blanket its surroundings with a veritable carpet of webbing. Just be aware that if you don’t give them some extra height, they will likely web a more shallow enclosure up to the lid.

FEEDING

Don’t let their small size fool you; these cute little spiders are excellent hunters and voracious eaters. The first time I fed mine, I accidentally dropped in a small cricket in with one that was about the same size of the spider. It didn’t matter, as this tiny sling leaped across the cage at it, wrestled it under control, then calmly started to eat it. I was amazed at this show of hunting prowess. As they’ve grown, they continued to be fun to watch hunt as they will burst forth from their webbing to snatch up prey. Slings can easily be offered small red racers or pinhead crickets to start, but you’ll find that you’ll be moving up to medium prey before long. Personally, I like to get some size on my slings as quickly as possible, so I fed mine 2-3 times a week until they hit about 1.25” or so. At that point, I switched to one medium cricket a week.

I’ve also found that this species grows very fast. Even though I acquired these in the winter when temps in my home are in the low-to-mid 70s, they still ate great and molted every month or so like clockwork. In the six months I’ve had them, they’ve gone from about ¾” slings to 2.25” juveniles. I would imagine that those living in warmer climates would experience even faster growth rates. As these tarantulas only reach about 3” or so as adults, it won’t take long before your tiny sling is a gorgeous adult. Better still, mine started showing some of those adult colors at about 1.25”, meaning they’re pretty, even as slings.

HOUSING

D. diamantinensis slings are quite tiny, so just be aware that the standard 16-oz deli cup will be quite spacious at first. Still, these guys are FAST, so the extra room and depth would give a keeper a bit of extra time to react if/when one tries to escape. Also, be aware that they will likely web the entire enclosure up, so opening the cages to feed can be quite a disruptive event. Extra room will help to accommodate the webbing and keep them from constantly webbing the cage shut.

For juveniles, an enclosure offering a half-gallon of space would work great. Once again, a container offering a bit more height than your standard shallow terrestrial enclosure would be prudent to keep them from webbing it shut.

As a smaller species, adults would do well in anything from 2-5 gallons or so. Mine will likely go into large critter keeper style enclosures when they are ready. These offer some extra height and fantastic visibility.

In the wild, this species does experience a dry period during the winter with temps dipping into the mid-to-low 60s, so it’s a hardy spider. That said, they do come from a region that experiences higher humidity throughout the year. Hobbyists have had great success keeping established specimens on dry substrate with a water dish. Keeping a corner of the substrate moist certainly wouldn’t hurt, although most find it unnecessary.

As these guys are likely to web up any water dish you provide, water can also be sprinkled on the webbing in low spots. Their webs are waterproof, so this can serve as a natural water dish from which they can drink.

Provide newly rehoused specimens with a hide, although don’t expect them to use the shelters once they settle in and begin webbing. Again, if you want your spider to quickly web up its enclosure, supply plenty of anchor points for it to start with. Fake plants and cork bark can make for excellent anchors.

In the wild, this species experience temperatures as low as 40 and as high as 95, so room temps will be just fine for them. Mine were kept 72-75 during the winter months, and will spend the summer at 75-82.

TEMPERAMENT

As mentioned, slings are skittish and very prone to bolting. They are not, however, defensive in the least. I’ve also noticed that as mine have put on more size, they’ve become much more calm and bold. When I open their enclosures (a disruptive act with all of the webbing), they barely move. I’ve heard some folks with adults say that this species becomes quite calm and docile as it matures, and some describe them as fast but inquisitive. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on their temperaments as they grow up.

For those looking for a hardy, and gorgeous display tarantula, the D. diamantinensis is an excellent choice. And for newer hobbyists who like the way a GBB looks but are intimidated by its skittishness and size, this spunky little dwarf would be an excellent alternative. Some would even argue that their colors are even more visible and brilliant than those of the C. cyaneopubescens. Although this species is still a little pricey (slings normally run $60 or above), it’s a tough, pretty little spider that would make a wonderful addition to any collection.

Tarantula Controversies – Is keeping Tarantulas in Captivity Wrong?

And How to Address This Question when It Inevitably Comes up.

Recently, I received the following email from hobbyist, Hugo Pinheiro:

Hope you’re doing well. I was talking to someone I’d just met and we ended up talking about tarantulas and they asked something that kinda left me defenseless or at least lacking a convincing point. They asked: “don’t you feel like you’re depriving a tarantula from its freedom?” – immediately I thought this person was judging me and my impulse response was something along the lines of “well, technically, you’re doing the same when you get a dog…” But this answer didn’t feel right to me, tarantulas aren’t dogs after all. If they see a chance to escape and follow their own path, they will. Dogs stay because they get attached and want to stay. At the same time I feel like we’re giving them an opportunity of having a very chilled life, no predators, all the food they want and a decent enclosure. Do you ever get this question? What’s your take on this controversial topic? Once again, thanks for your time!  

The short answer was, yes, I’ve been asked this many times, mostly through comments on my blog or YouTube channel. Furthermore, I’ve run into this mindset quite a bit in the comment section of other keepers’ videos. Although I love animals myself, and appreciate that there are folks out there who truly care about their well-being, it can be incredibly frustrating to try to convince some of these people that we are not mistreating our tarantulas. And, like Hugo realized, it can be very difficult coming up with that killer response on the spur of the moment to defend our hobby.

With that in mind, I asked Hugo if it would be okay for me to address this topic in a special Tarantula Controversies. After all, we all get asked this question at some point, and hopefully this article can serve as a go-to resource on the subject. For those who have read my other Tarantula Controversy articles, I usually try to present the arguments in a point/counterpoint format. As I honestly don’t agree with the other side one iota, I’ll be spending the majority of the time defending the hobby in this article.

Before engaging in a debate over this subject, there are a couple things to keep in mind. First off, most people just don’t know very much about tarantulas. Spend enough time in the hobby, and you’ll get plenty of interesting questions about them like do they roam your house, do they drink blood, do they all live in one cage, and do you take them for walks? When you try to educate the public about these animals, you’ll need to cut through a lot of misconceptions and prejudices.

It’s also important to note that folks who ask this question usually come in two varieties:

First, we have the well-meaning but ill-informed sort. These folks aren’t necessarily looking for a confrontation. They just don’t know very much about these animals, and they are asking the question out of pure curiosity. This contingent can be quite reasonable, especially after being calmly and politely introduced to the facts. I’ve had discussions with a few folks about this topic who were just unaware of how tarantulas live in the wild and who left the conversation with a better appreciation of the hobby. It can be quite rewarding to take the time to educate folks like this, and you can consider the time spent explaining our hobby to them productive and important.

Then there are the ill-informed, close-minded, militant animal rights sort who will not listen to reason. These are the folks who, even after being schooled on the facts and realities of a tarantula’s life in the wild and in the hobby, continue to view keepers as imprisoners and torturers of animals who deprive spiders of their freedom and quality of life for their own amusement. These folks basically equate us to dog fighters, and there is nothing you can say or do to change their mind. Unfortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to tangle with a few of this sort as well, and I don’t think that “frustrating” is a strong enough word to describe these encounters.

When you get the sense that you are talking to this type of individual, it’s almost pointless to continue to debate them. They will refuse to listen, and their often illogical retorts can be infuriating.

For example, one woman I spoke to told me that she suddenly looked at the little B. smithi she had raised from a sling and realized that she had been depriving her of her of freedom for her own selfish needs. As a result, she had decided to try to find someone in Mexico to ship the tarantula to so that they could release it into the wild (yes, this was a captive bred sling). If that didn’t work, she was going to drive into the California desert and release it there.

Although I tried to explain why this was not a good idea for a variety of reasons, she wasn’t having it. Her spider would be better off dying free in the wilds of the California desert rather than spending another moment being fed and well cared for by a keeper who obviously adored her (if a bit too much).

You can’t make this stuff up.

This woman would not listen to reason no matter what I said, and eventually she terminated the conversation when she became angry at me for not doing the same with my spiders. I was left irritated and feeling like I had wasted an hour of my life with this discussion.

Before you enter the fray, try to get a feel for which type of person you’re talking to. If they seem reasonable and open to actually listen to your side, continue. Who knows, you could stimulate some interest in our hobby. However, if it soon becomes apparently that logic will prove to be a useless weapon in combating the ignorance, say your peace, then let it drop. It’s an argument you will never win.

So, what DO you say to someone who asks this question?

First off it’s important for tarantula hobbyists to consider that there is an obvious distinction to be made between domestic pets – specifically ones conditioned to be kept as companions – and exotic pets. Dogs, cats, ferrets, hamsters, gerbils, and other animals have been bred by humans for years for pets. These are the standard every day pets that most folks find to be “normal” companion animals. These animals have been tamed by humans and seem to readily accept or even enjoy handling and interaction. As a result, people are much more familiar with these animals.

Exotic pets, on the other hand, often include more “wild” animals like reptiles, arachnids and insects. Although these animals are often captive bred, they are also sometimes plucked directly from the wild and sold into the pet trade. They have not been bred to accept human contact as normal, nor are they hardwired to recognize humans as friendly. Although some tolerate handling and can become accustomed to it, they don’t benefit from years of captive breeding to suppress the natural instincts they would need in order to survive in the wild.

The majority of people you encounter will be much more familiar with the husbandry and care needs of domestic pets. When they think of a pet, they think of animal needing constant feeding, watering, exercise and, in many cases human love, and assume that it’s like this for all pets. When they look at our hobby and husbandry techniques, they tend to be looking at it through an inappropriate lens. Because of this relationship we have with our furry pets, it’s very easy to anthropomorphize them and apply human needs on them. And, with these types of pets, it can be appropriate to do so.

However, reptiles, insects, and arachnids are a different type of pet all together, and their needs are often much different. Some of the conditions that these animals thrive in just seem downright odd or wrong to someone who is not familiar with their needs.

Then, there is the fact that many people can’t get by the “wild animal” part of it. After all, why would anyone want to take a wild animal, put it in a tank and call it a pet? Especially an animal that won’t show you any affection?

For example, cats and dogs recognize that their humans provide them with food, security, and affection, so you become a major part of their lives. Some of their natural instincts, like the urge to flee or bite, have been softened or even eliminated by years of captive breeding. Most cats and dogs appreciate physical affection from their owners and will purr or wag their tails contentedly during a petting, showing affection back.

These are obviously traits you wouldn’t necessarily expect from your pet ball python or B. albopilosum. Although these two animals may tolerate handling, they are certainly not creatures most would describe as cuddly. They also don’t require human contact to thrive, unlike a cat or a dog may.

Another distinction can be found in the husbandry requirements of these animals. For most of the standard mammalian pets, they require room to exercise, water available at all times, food at least once a day, and opportunities to run and play.

Unfortunately, none of these can be considered needs for a tarantula.

Comparing the needs of these two types of pets is often silly, and in some instances, can be dangerous. For example, folks used to feeding their mammalian pets every day would be wrong to assume that their pet snake needed to eat this often. A feeding schedule that aggressive would lead to one obese snake.

Compared to many other pets, both common and exotic, tarantulas have very few needs. This can be difficult for people to grasp. For some, comparing tarantulas to exotic fish is a good place to start. Many fish are kept in smaller homes, and once you have their water properly set up and the temperature correct, you pretty much leave them to their own devices. You don’t handle them or play with them and expect them to show affection.

And you usually don’t hear many folks arguing that your goldfish should be dumped into a local pond so that it can be free.

It’s important that a keeper is aware of these prejudices before attempting to engage in a logical argument on the subject. Some folks will readily admit their ignorance about tarantula husbandry when these points are explained to them and will become much more receptive to hearing more.

Others will need some more convincing.

With that in mind, here are some of the most common comments from folks who take umbrage at our hobby.

You wouldn’t keep your dog in a crate all day, would you? I think it’s terrible that those poor creatures have to suffer in those tiny cages with no room to move.

Yes, keeping a dog or cat in a tiny room for its entire life would be cruel. But that’s because these animals NEED exercise, much like we need exercise, to be healthy. Some animals have also shown that they can become anxious and bored when not able to cut loose and play.

People will see the photos and videos of deli cups and tanks and immediately (and wrongly) think of their cat and dog being in the same situation. To them, it’s shocking that an animal could truly be content and healthy in a smaller environment. I’ve heard our enclosures referred to as “prisons” and “cells” by concerned animal lovers; in fact, the sizes of our enclosures seem to be a main area of contention in these discussions.

However, wild tarantulas have VERY different needs than cats or dogs, and comparing these animals just doesn’t work for a variety of reasons.

First, it’s important to consider that the majority of tarantulas in the wild frequent burrows of some sort. They use these homes as a haven from their often harsh environments and from predators. These homes supply them with refuge from the elements including oppressive heat, sometimes bitter cold, flooding, and drought. Many species will remain in these burrows for the majority of their lives, with others rarely leaving their burrows even at night. They are not animals that need or want to roam huge territories to hunt. Most will stick to a small area and grab the prey that comes to them. Being visible and out in the open just makes them an easier target for predators.

In captivity, their enclosures essentially become their burrows. These homes provide a sense of safety and security which is often evidenced by a much calmer and less defensive tarantula. A well set up cage supplies all of the amenities a burrow does, including security from predators and the elements. In captivity, settled tarantulas will make their enclosure their own by burrowing, webbing, and arranging things to their liking. Those who have been in the hobby for a while can tell you that even the most defensive species will act quite calm when given an appropriate enclosure, and calmness is an indication of contentedness.

The reality is, unlike other animals, tarantulas require a very small amount of real estate to thrive.

But why are they venturing out when in captivity? Why leave the security of a burrow and risk predation or exposure? If your tarantula just needs a burrow, why does it come out to roam at night?

Well, in most cases, they are looking for food.

Although some spiders will hide in their burrows 24/7 waiting for prey to come by so that they can ambush it, others will venture out at night to find a meal. This is a purely instinctual behavior, and something they would need to do in the wild in order to eat. They have not been kept long enough in captivity to be domesticated by humans (nor is domestication realistic) and they don’t understand that food will be dropped into their cages periodically, negating the need to hunt. In the wild, environmental conditions often lead to periods of food scarcity, so a tarantula needs to eat when it can. A captive tarantula that has recently eaten will still leave its home at night. This isn’t a sign of the discontentedness or that the tarantula is trying to escape poor conditions; it’s doing what millions of years of evolution have conditioned it to do.

But how can living in that tiny cage be healthy? They need to exercise and run!

Again, when tarantulas explore their enclosures, they’re not heading out for a walkabout to stretch their legs or to get rid of some pent up energy they’ve accumulated by sitting in their burrow all day.

This is where our past experience with mammalian animals tends to lead folks to mistakenly project certain expectations on our arachnid wards. For example, anyone who has a dog or a cat knows that they need exercise to maintain a happy and healthy life. Cats and dogs will run and play, and this exercise is both physically and mentally necessary for them. Even hamsters and gerbils will explore and take a spin on their wheels to get some energy out.

Spiders? Not so much.

They don’t play. They don’t race around for fun. They don’t need to move to keep their muscles toned and their hearts primed. There has been no scientific or even anecdotal evidence of them needing any of these things. At the most, they may busy themselves with rearranging and remodeling their enclosures by webbing and digging, and that’s more them altering their environments to their liking. Mature males will also wander in search of females to mate with. That’s about it.

Tarantulas are excellent at conserving energy for when they really need it. Their book lungs function in such a way that they are not capable of long marathon runs or extended periods of physical activity. They definitely don’t require physical exercise to stay in peak shape or to maintain their health. Heck, I have a G. porteri that has spent 99% of her 21 years with me sitting stationary. Their speed usually comes in short, quick bursts and is meant for catching prey or eluding predators. Anyone who has seen a seemingly calm tarantula bolt can appreciate their seemingly supernatural ability to go from sedentary to hyper-speed in a split second. But those bursts come with a cost; namely, they have no endurance.

The idea of them “needing” space to “run free” and to exercise is, quite frankly, ridiculous, and this sentiment usually comes from well-meaning but woefully ill-informed folks who are projecting the needs of mammals on arachnids.

Should they be given some room to stretch and explore? Absolutely. Most keepers give their tarantulas extra room should they want to move around a bit. But it’s very important to keep in mind that their wandering tendencies in the wild are for the procurement of food or for mating purposes. With their keeper dropping in prey items regularly, these instincts remain intact, but prove unnecessary. Lots of extra space to move around certainly won’t hurt a tarantula, but it carries no major benefit.

But if they are truly content in their enclosures, why do some flee when we open them? After all, if an animal is really comfortable and stress free in its enclosure, why would it try to run away?

Imagine if you will that you’re sitting at home one night watching TV when suddenly an enormous creature tears the roof off of your home and starts fiddling with your living room furniture? How would you react? What would you do? I’m guessing most of us wouldn’t just sit there and wait to see what this creature had in store for us. No, most of us would run. It’s a pretty universal and natural reaction.

When you open a tarantula’s enclosure to feed or water it, you may have nothing but good intentions in mind. The tarantula, however, doesn’t know this. For your animal, this can be as shocking as someone tearing the roof off your home. In the wild, this would represent a serious threat, and the spider would most likely be in imminent danger. It may become defensive, anticipating an attack by a large predator, or it may flee and try to find safety. This isn’t a creature that’s running away from its enclosure because it’s a prisoner; it’s running because it’s scared.

The idea that tarantulas bolt because they are unhappy is another example of humans anthropomorphizing these creatures. Bolting is a defensive tactic and an expression of animal instinct.

They would be much better off free in their natural habitat than in a human’s collection.

First off, let me say that I’m not a proponent of pulling tarantulas from the wild for the pet trade. I believe that the goal should always be to use any wild caught specimens to create a captive bred population that can sustain itself. I think I speak for most hobbyists when I say I would love nothing more than to have these wonderful creatures thriving in their natural habitats.

However, when folks try to insinuate that captive tarantulas’ lives are terrible when compared to their lives in the wild, I have to roll my eyes.

For the sake of argument, let’s consider the challenges “free” tarantulas have to face.

A wild tarantula…

  • must find or construct a burrow.

  • must deal with floods and drought.

  • must endure temperature fluctuations, including blistering heat and brutal cold.

  • must constantly hunt for its food.

  • can get parasites.

  • faces habitat destruction.

  • must avoid predators, including humans.

Again, I’m in no way shape or form arguing that we should pluck them out of the wild; this is just reality. Tarantulas face a very tough existence in their natural habitats, as evidenced by the fact that many are now identified as endangered. Tarantulas hail from some of the most inhospitable places on earth, and very few ever make it to adulthood.

Now, let’s consider what captive tarantulas endure.

A captive tarantula must “endure”…

  • occasional disruptions to their burrow for cleaning purposes.

  • annoying owners snapping photos of them.

  • periodic rehousings

  • a climate controlled environment.

  • food provided regularly

  • fresh water available at all times

  • a safe home free from predators.

In all seriousness, tarantulas enjoy a much less stressful and dangerous life with a responsible and informed keeper than they would ever get in the wild. They have safety from predators and weather, adequate meals provided regularly, clean water at all times, and consistent and favorable temperatures all year round. If kept correctly, they have the ideal conditions in which to prosper.

But they are wild animals, and wild animals shouldn’t be kept as pets.

I always considered this to be a weak argument, but I’ll address it anyway. Every animal currently kept by man as a pet was, at one point, a wild animal. Somewhere sometime long ago, a person saw a gerbil and said, “Wow, that crazy little desert rat would make a fantastic pet.” Every pet trend has to start somewhere, and that often involves some harvesting from the wild. Tarantulas are still a relatively new pet when compared to other animals commonly kept, so we’re still at a point where wild-caught specimens do come into the hobby. Again, local populations being depleted for the pet trade is never a good thing, and I don’t think anyone in the hobby would try to defend that. However, many of the species now commonly available are being bred and offered as captive-bred slings. The vast majority keepers try to avoid wild-caught specimens and instead buy spiders produced in captivity.

Although few will argue that tarantulas will ever be domesticated like dogs or cats, they DO seem to do very well in captivity. Sure, some have more complicated husbandry than others, but given the correct conditions, they do great as pets. These aren’t tigers, lions, or orcas suffering in captivity. They are arachnids, animals that have survived millions of years due to their ability to adapt and live in almost any environment. They don’t just tolerate captivity, but flourish in it.

Furthermore, critically endangered species like Poecilotheria hanumavilasumica and metallica are currently thriving in the hobby even as their numbers and habitats continue to dwindle in the wild. In the not-so-distant future, it’s conceivable that many species of tarantulas may continue to exist only in collections. Strong, captive-bred breeding populations ensure that hobbyists decades from now will still be able to enjoy these beautiful and fascinating animals.

I think that it’s important to also mention that hobbyists truly love these animals. Why else would anyone choose to keep a creature that many people abhor? Many enthusiasts are very familiar with these creatures’ natural habitats and their inclusion on protected and endangered species list. They don’t only want their animals to do well in private collections, but in their natural habitats as well. The latest conservation efforts and data are always shared though message boards and social media, and many keepers pride themselves on keeping up on this information.

The truth is, you may not be able to convince everyone that there is no harm in keeping these animals. I’ve run into a few instances already in which nothing I said would convince a concerned animal lover that my animals were perfectly content in my care. If I believed for a second my tarantulas were somehow suffering in captivity, I would never keep them. I honestly believe that some people just care a bit TOO much (and too irrationally). Heck, I still wonder if that poor B. smithi was really abandoned in the California desert. . .

If you’re keeping tarantulas, and you’re caring for them correctly, then you have nothing to be ashamed of. Enjoy these fascinating animals with a clear conscience as you grow your collection and continue to educate others about these amazing creatures.

(Special thanks to Hugo Pinheiro for letting me use his question!)

Psalmopoeus irminia “Venezuelan suntiger)” Husbandry Notes

A gorgeous, if somewhat reclusive, arboreal.

Years ago when I was getting serious about tarantulas and researching which species were currently available, I stumbled upon this gorgeous black spider with orange highlights on its legs and abdomen. Besides being an amazing looking spider (I’m a sucker for orange) it had one of the coolest common names I had heard…the “Venezuelan suntiger.” However, as I was new to the hobby, I was turned off to this species when I read that this arboreal was fast, skittish, and could have quite the attitude. For a while, I forgot about it as I became more interested in calmer, slower-moving terrestrials.

Fast forward several years…

P. irminia (c) Dallas Beck

After receiving a Psalmopoeus cambridgei as a freebie, I immediately developed more of an appreciation for arboreal tarantulas other than ones in the Poecilotheria genus. Eager to add some new tree spiders to my collection, I was again reminded of the P. irminia. I was more than ready for this spider now, so when I saw that Tanya at Fear Not Tarantulas had a juvenile female listed, I jumped at it.

Housing

For slings, the old 32-oz clear deli cup (or something similarly sized) does the trick well. Start with a couple of inches of moist substrate, a piece of cork bark leaned at an angle against the side, and some sphagnum moss. Personally, I like to put the moss behind the cork bark to give the spider some material to work with if it wants to build a burrow and some “dirt curtains” for privacy. Upon being housed, mine quickly constructed a little home behind its bark, only to venture out at night.

Tip: Although this is an arboreal species of tarantula, it’s important to note that many arboreal slings will actually hang out on the ground until they reach a larger size. Some will even burrow. Keeping that in mind, you want to give your sling a couple of inches of substrate to let it construct a little burrow if it wishes.

This is a fairly fast growing species, so it won’t take long for a .75” sling to outgrow its first enclosure. In fact, the species is so fast growing, that you may find that it makes sense to house it in an enclosure that is slightly larger than you would usually use for a species that size. Once they hit about 2.5-3” or so, they’ll be ready for a rehousing. I like to put my juveniles in one of the clear 1-gallon Mainstay jugs sold at Walmart for about $3. They can be easily repurposed to make great arboreal enclosures, and they offer great visibility. Any tall container offering some height and easy access can work for this species.

Of the three species of Psalmopoeus I keep (pulcher and cambridgei being the other two) my P. irminia is the most skittish and reclusive. As a juvenile, I rarely caught mine out in the open, and she would bolt to her den when disturbed. She spent the majority of her first year with me in her burrow with only her feet visible. Now that she’s put on some size, she’s out a bit more and has become a bit bolder. During feeding time, if I blow gently or spray the webbing leading to her den, she will bolt out looking for food. The first time she did this, it actually startled me a bit, as she had been so shy up until that point.

P. irminia (c) Dallas Beck

As with all of my tarantulas, the temperatures range from 72-75° in the wintertime and 75-80° during the hot summer months. Even when the temps were a bit cooler, this T was still very active and continued to eat well, and she molted twice during the winter. When my P. irminia was younger, I kept part of the substrate moist at all times. She has also always had a water dish with fresh water. Now that she has some size on her I’m not quite as concerned with keeping things damp. In the winter months, when the furnace is running and the air is dry, I moisten it on occasion by pouring a bit of water down the side. As she has webbed quite a bit, I also dribble some water on the webbing when I feed her to give her a choice as to where to drink. In the summer when the humidity in my state is high, I don’t worry about it.

My Psalmopoeus species have always been great eaters, and I usually feed my slings one small cricket twice a week. As they put on some size, reaching about 2.5″, I move up to a large cricket once a week. This spider has been a ravenous eater, taking all prey items down with amazing speed and ferocity. It also seems to have no issue taking down larger prey. As mentioned earlier, they grow quickly; mine molted three times in about 11 months and putting on an impressive amount of size with each molt. At the time of this writing, she is about 4″.

TIP: For some fast and feisty species, rehousings can be the source of a lot of anxiety. If ever an escape or bite is going to happen to the careful keeper, this is the time. For fast-growing species, like P. irminia, many folks choose to rehouse them into their adult enclosures much earlier than they would with other species. This limits the number of rehousings that the keeper has to perform.

After its next molt, I’ll be rehousing it into its adult enclosure. As this species can reach 7″, it will be getting an arboreal enclosure roughly 5-7 gallons or so. She will either be given an acrylic enclosure from Jamie’s Tarantulas or an x-large critter keeper-style cage.

The P. irminia is a beautiful, fast-growing arboreal species that can make a wonderful addition to any collection. That said, they are usually quite shy, so folks looking for a good showcase spider should be aware that they might not see their irminia very much. When you do see it, however, it makes keeping this stunning spider totally worth it.

Author’s Note: A huge thank you to Dallas Beck who was awesome enough to let me use some of his photos for this post. Thanks, Dallas!

CEC’s Action Plan for Sustainable Trade in Tarantulas

Important Reading For all Hobbyists

Recently, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) released five action plans “to promote legal, sustainable and traceable trade in selected North American species” (West & Cooper vii) listed in CITES. 55 taxa were identified and organized into five groups: parrots, sharks, timber species, turtles and tortoises, and tarantulas. These plans were created under the guidance of the CITES Authorities of Mexico, Canada, and the United states, the three countries involved in the legal trade of these species.

Megan Ainscow from the CEC was gracious enough to pass the report on tarantulas to me so I could share it with my readers. For those interested in reading the report (and it’s actually very easy reading and quite interesting) just click the picture above or the link below.

READ THE REPORT HERE

To encapsulate, the CEC brought together the main stakeholders in the Brachypelma tarantula trade—Canada, Mexico, and the US—for a workshop in October 25-26 in Mexico City, and the reports were generated from consultation with these stake holders.

The tarantula plan identifies 16 species of tarantulas, 15 from genus Brachypelma and one from genus Aphonopelma as “priority tarantula species.” They  looked at the impact of trade on conservation and livelihoods as well as the challenges to CITES implementation. The results are a list of 18 actions to be implemented to promote the conservation of these species (These steps are clearly explained in the report).

Interesting Tidbits

Breeders and hobbyists report that illegal trade is worse than legal trade, with most of these “brown boxed” spiders going to Asia and the EU. (ix)

The majority of tarantula in the legal trade consist of slings/juveniles. (5)

The populations of Brachypelma species in Mexico are on the decline due to habitat loss and collection for illegal export and sale at local markets. (5)

Mexico has the 2nd largest tarantula diversity (next to Brazil). (2)

Two Mexican Brachypelma breeders have volunteered to release 30% of their captive-produced B. klaasi and B. smithi slings back into their maternal habitats. (5)

Demand is increasing within Mexico and internationally for live Brachypelma. (7)

Two licenced Brachypelma dealers in Mexico produce 11,000-14,000 juveniles a year exclusively for legal sale in the US and Canada. (7)

There is currently not enough population information available for Mexican tarantulas to determine how the export of adult specimens may affect species survival in the wild. (8)

Priority Tarantula Species

The list below covers the 16 species addressed in this report.

  1. Aphonopelma pallidum
  2. Brachypelma albiceps
  3. Brachypelma annitha
  4. Brachypelma auratum
  5. Brachypelma aureoceps
  6. Brachypelma baumgarteni
  7. Brachypelma boehmei
  8. Brachypelma emilia
  9. Brachypelma epicureanum
  10. Brachypelma hamorii
  11. Brachypelma kahlenbergi
  12. Brachypelma klaasi
  13. Brachypelma schroederi
  14. Brachypelma smithi
  15. Brachypelma vagans
  16. Brachypelma verdezi

At about 50 pages long, the document is a fast read full of some very interesting information, including insights about the Brachypelma trade and brief descriptions and distribution notes on the 16 species. Personally, I’ll be eagerly waiting for updates on how this initiative progresses.

CEC 2017, Sustainable Trade in Tarantulas: Action Plan for North America. Montreal, Canada: Commission for Environmental Cooperation. 52 pp.

B. smithi is Now B. hamorii – A Breakdown of the Taxonomic Revision Paper

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – William Shakespeare

It was talked about and anticipated for years, and on April 26, it became official. Jorge Mendoza and Oscar Francke’s paper on the revision of the Brachypelma red-kneed tarantulas was officially published.  This paper had many informed hobbyists sighing in resignation as they reached for their label makers and bade farewell to a familiar name. As a result, the beloved Brachypelma smithi that has proliferated collections for decades has a brand new name…Brachypelma hamorii.

 

The B. smithi has long been a hobby staple, and many consider this beautiful species to be the poster child of tarantula keeping.  I’ve spoken to many hobbyists that admit that Brachypelma smithi was the first tarantula scientific name they ever learned, and you’ll often hear hobbyists argue that no collection can be complete without one. With this species’ “celebrity” status in the hobby, a name change is obviously a bit jarring for some, especially for folks just getting into tarantulas.

Those interested in reading this paper (and it’s pretty fascinating) can follow the link below. It can be downloaded for free from the World Spider Catalog by members. Not a member? Signing up is easy and takes just a couple moments.

READ THE PAPER HERE

Now, for those who might not feel like weeding through all of the technical talk and scientific jargon to get to the pith of this article, the following will be my attempt to break down the significant points.

Why the name change?

Brachypelma hamorii

To encapsulate, the first specimen of B. smithi to be examined and identified (1897) was an immature male and not a female as originally identified. In the early 90s, the species was redescribed by Smith using what he thought to be an adult female, and the hobby smithi was born. However, when the authors of this current study cross-examined the material Smith used for this identification, they discovered that specimens he used for this new identification actually belonged to B. hamorii. Therefore, the species that had been sold in the hobby for years under Brachypelma smithi was actually the previously described Brachypelma hamorii.  Others used this misidentification as the basis for their own work, further perpetuating the error.

The authors write:

Schmidt (1992b) was the first to notice the difference in the morphological features of the male and female sexual organs of what he thought was B. smithi. However, due to the lack of information about the precise collection sites of the specimens he had at hand, he mistakenly described the male bulb and spermatheca of another species as those of B. smithi, triggering a cascade of subsequent errors. We believe that authors such as Smith (1994), Tesmoingt et al. (1997a, 1997b), Peters (2000, 2003), Schmidt (1992a, 1993, 1997, 2003) and Teyssié (2015) incorrectly identified B. hamorii specimens belonging to B. smithi. (Mendoza & Francke 173)

Basically, the first misidentification and subsequent description led others who based their findings off this description to follow suit. For over 20 years, the spider we’ve referred to as a B. smithi was, in fact, the previously-described B. hamorii.

Furthermore, the authors have concluded that Brachypelma annitha should now be considered a junior synonym of B. smithi. Although this is also a very important finding, it’s obviously not the piece of news getting the most attention.

This is NOT the first name change for this species!

As jarring as this change may be for some, it is not the first time this species has undergone a name change. Those who were in the hobby in the ’80s and early ’90s may remember the Euathlus smithi, or Mexican red-leg or red knee. It wasn’t until the early ’90s that Brachypelma was widely accepted as the correct genus for the smithi, and Euathlus faded from use. 

“Arachnomania: The General Care and Maintenance of Tarantulas & Scorpions” by Philippe de Vosjoli (Advanced Vivarium Systems, 1991)

Obviously, some folks are upset about the news, as name changes can be confusing, especially to those new to the hobby. For those with some tenure, the name B. smithi has just been such an important one for so many years, it feels odd to call it anything else. It would be like if Tom Cruise suddenly asked to be called by his birth name, Tom Mapother. It would obviously take some getting used to.

However, despite how we might feel about it, the paper has been published and this change is official.  Although hamorii may sound odd at first,  it’ll soon catch on as current hobbyists make the transition and new folks who are just coming into the hobby do so never even aware that this spider had another name.

It’s not the first name change in the hobby, and it certainly won’t be the last. As disorienting as these revisions can be, they are always a good thing. There is still so much work to be done in tarantula taxonomy, and revisions mean that scientists are taking the time to study the creatures we love.

What’s the difference between the two anyway? 

Besides some subtle differences in the appearances of the two species, including variances in the colors of their legs, carapaces, and cheliceral banding, these species look a lot a like.  Most hobbyists would likely have great difficulty distinguishing between the two. The authors of this article also looked at sexual characteristics, including male emboli and female spermatheca. Descriptions of these physiological differences, as well as photos of these differences, can be found in the paper.

The two species come from different regions of Mexico and are separated by the geographical boundary of the Balsas River basin. B. hamorii are found in the more northern states of Colima, Jalisco, and the northwest coast of Michoacán. B. smithi  is found on the Pacific coast of Guerrero. Several other species of Brachypelma are also found between them, including B. baumgarteni, B. boehmei, and B. auratum.

So, they are essentially two sister species from two different regions.

Resistance Is Futile

As the news quickly spread through the community, I’ve heard the battle cries of some of the newer (and bit rebellious) hobbyists who are choosing to boycott the revision. Although I appreciate and understand the sentiment, a grassroots rebellion isn’t going to be realistic or effective. Many dealers had already changed the names on their sites in anticipation of the paper, and folks on YouTube, Facebook, and message boards were quick to adapt the new moniker. Name changes are always a part of the hobby (although they don’t often impact such a popular species).

Listening to the buzz, I’ve heard a few ideas and questions repeated frequently.

Why does it matter that someone changed the name? I’m just going to ignore it.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. This isn’t some just some random name change proposed by a hobbyist. The change is part of a scientific taxonomic study conducted by experts who then published their findings in a peer-reviewed journal. The change is as official as official can be.  It will not be changing back (well, at least for now). For those just getting into tarantulas, be aware that name changes are just a part of the hobby.

Why not just call it B. smithi “hobby form”?

The phrase “hobby form” is used in the hobby to designate species that have not been described or that there is some uncertainty about. In some instances, the bloodline of species in the hobby is thought to be polluted by cross breeding or different than specimens found in the wild (for example, B. albopilosum).  In some instances, hobbyists have been referring to a species by the wrong name due to confusion over where the species originated from (true Pamphobeteus antinous vs. hobby form). That term would not be applicable in this case, as the B. hamorii has been described. If it were revealed that the B. smithi and hamorii had been mistakenly cross bred, and these offspring were in the hobby, then it might apply.

Why didn’t they just keep it B. smithi and change B. hamorii?

This goes back to the fact that the material from B. hamorii was mistakenly used to describe the B. smithi (the species currently sold in the hobby). As the species was previously described, the name was changed to reflect that previously described species. Although it might not be convenient for hobbyists (I’ve heard many say that they should just change hamorii because hobbyists are used to smithi), it’s taxonomy that informs the hobby, not vice versa.

If you’re one of the holdouts, it’s completely understandable. But this revision is the real deal, and the name has been officially changed in the World Spider Catalog. By this time next year, you can expect that everyone will be talking about their B. hamorris , and current husbandry information will reflect the change.

The Big Takeaways from This Paper

The spider sold as Brachypelma smithi for years in the hobby is now Brachypelma hamorii.

Brachypelma annitha is now a synonym for Brachypelma smithi.

For this paper DNA barcoding was used in conjunction with species descriptions to define species.

Obviously, this name change is a pretty big deal, and keeper reactions have been understandable. Heck, I felt quite a bit of sadness as I changed the label on mine (it’s the B. smithi, for crying out loud!).  That said, although revisions can be annoying, they are always a great thing. With 900+ species of tarantulas in the world, we are still a long way from having their taxonomy all sorted out. Furthermore, the fact that DNA barcoding was used in this research is incredibly exciting (and something hobbyists has wished for for years).  So, get out those label makers, start practicing that pronounciation (ham-or-eye?), and be glad that this small name change represents a pretty significant step forward for taxonomy and our hobby.

Interesting Snippets:

  • Between 1984 and 1991, one Mexican company responsible for shipping tarantulas into the US reported exporting 200,000 spiders in a 10-year period. (p. 157)
  • The same company reported that four of five colonies in the Colima-Guerrero region had their populations decimated from being harvested for trade. (p. 157)
  • For this paper, DNA barcoding was used in conjunction with species descriptions to define species. (p. 158)
  • Mexican wildlife protection institutes have joined with academics in a project to use barcoding to identify species.
  • B. hamorii can be found in deciduous forests. (p. 170)
  • B. hamorii is described as a fossorial species. In the wild, specimens will modify existing burrows or dig their own. (p. 173)

References

Medoza, J. & Francke O. (2017). Systematic revision of Brachypelma red-kneed tarantulas (Araneae: Theraphosadae), and the use of DNA barcodes to assist in the identification and conservation of CITES-listed species. Invertebrate Systematics, vol. 31, 157-179

 

 

Tarantula Impaction Revisited

Tarantula Fecal Impaction Revisited

Back in September of 2014, I lost a seemingly healthy juvenile H. villosella a couple months after its most recent molt. Said specimen seemed to experience no difficulties during the shedding process, and after a hardening period, resumed eating as normal. She ate twice, displaying the ravenous appetite I had come to expect from this spider as she easily consumed two larger prey items. However, when I dropped in what would be her third meal after her recent molt, she refused it. A week later, she refused her fourth.

A few weeks later, she was dead.

At first, I was totally perplexed as to what could have caused her untimely death. She had been provided water, and I had caught her drinking on a couple occasions. She had been eating okay after her molt, which I thought would indicate that there were no issues. A closer examination of her revealed some clues. Despite the fact that she hadn’t been eating, her abdomen was quite plump and a bit hard. She also had chalky white stuff—stool—caked around her anus. When I looked closely, I could also see a tiny hard plug blocking the opening itself.

A dead H. villosella sling. Notice the white around the anus, and the yellowish spot that formed beneath the corpse (likely feces loosened by the moist towel.

After doing a bit of research, I realized that I had likely experienced my first occurrence of tarantula fecal impaction. An impaction occurs when the tarantula’s anus becomes obstructed, rendering it unable to defecate. The spider will often continue to eat and drink normally, giving the keeper little indication that something is amiss even as the waste builds up inside it. Eventually, the poor animal will become sluggish before finally succumbing to the ailment and dying.

Fast forward to late 2016… After my prized Euathlus parvulus molted in October, I assumed that the process had gone well. Although she had a small patch of exuvia stuck to her abdomen, it was easily loosened and removed with some warm water and a Q-tip. Three weeks after she molted, she took her first meal, a B. dubia roach, and had no issues consuming it. For the next few months, she continued to eat every three weeks or so, and I even caught her drinking a couple times.

However, as February rolled around, she started to appear much more lethargic. She usually presented as a lively spider, often rising from a resting state to full alertness with the slightest disturbance. Now, when I moved her cage to feed her, she barely responded. At the end of the month I dropped in a cricket which immediately walked right up to her. In the past, she would have snatched this oblivious feeder right up. This time, she seemed to just sit there for a bit before making a half-hearted attempt at grabbing it. The cricket escaped, and it took her almost a day before she finally subdued and consumed it.

At this point, I became worried, as her behavior was definitely abnormal. I was concerned that with the heat running (it was quite cold outdoors) it might have become too dry for her. I kept her water bowl full and tried moistening down a corner of the substrate to give her a choice. She didn’t seem to show a preference for the wet spot at that point, and there was no change. Still, she ate again for me, so I hoped maybe she would pull through. During the last week, I saw her rubbing her abdomen against the ground and walls, almost like she was webbing, yet it didn’t appear that anything was coming out. When eating her last meal, she was also using her back legs to scratch at her abdomen, a seemingly normal behavior as I’d seen other Ts scratch.

Finally, I came home one afternoon to find her looking very weak and curled up a bit in the corner of her enclosure. When I gently prodded her, she moved, but it was obvious something was wrong. Before trying to place her in an ICU, I decided to add some moist substrate to her enclosure to raise the humidity a bit, just in case. I also offered her a second much smaller water dish, and sprayed some water on the side to allow her to drink there if she wished.

Unfortunately, it was too late.

The next day, we discovered her in a death curl next to the water dish. As I took her out to examine her, I noticed a couple disturbing details. First, one of her spinnerets was swollen at the base and fully extended, unable to fold back toward the abdomen. Second, there was white feces caked around her anus, and the orifice seemed to be blocked by a hard plug.

The source of her abnormal behavior now seemed obvious; she was suffering from fecal impaction.

With the tarantula still showing signs of life, I realized that I had to work fast if I had any hope of saving her. Keeping the poor girl on her back, I got a cup of warm water, a small syringe, and a couple of cotton swabs. First, I used the cotton swabs to gently clean the area around the anus to try to dissolve or dislodge the plug. When that didn’t work, I used the syringe, filled it with warm water, and carefully sprayed the area in hopes that would work.

It didn’t.

As a last-ditch effort, I used a pair of tweezers and tried to dislodge the plug. Finally, the obstruction cleared, releasing copious amounts of feces. I’ve seen tarantulas defecate before, and the amount that poured out of this poor spider was well above and beyond the normal amount. It continued to run freely from her for the next five minutes as I used the syringe to carefully keep the area clear. Even after the stream slowed, feces would still well up at the opening, and gently pushing on the area around the base of the spinnerets would cause more to flow out.

After about 10 minutes of this, my girl started showing new signs of life. Almost motionless when I started this process, she began moving some of her legs again. Hopeful that this was an indication that she was experiencing relief and would come around, I worked to get the rest of the impacted feces out of her. For another ten minutes, I used the syringe and cotton swab to get as much of the waste out as I could. I also gave her several drops of water in her mouth in case she was dehydrated from the process.

With the spider cleaned up and seemingly improving, I put her back upright in an ICU with some moist paper towels and hoped she would make it.

Unfortunately, she didn’t survive the night. When I checked on her at around 1 AM, she was in a tight death curl and showing no signs of movement. By all appearances, she was dead. Just in case she was still clinging to life (and as not to make her suffer any more), I put her in my garage that was currently below freezing to ensure she had passed on.

So, what’s to be learned from all of this?

A keeper doing a quick search online will find a handful of forum posts about impaction and not much else. In most cases, the animals die. There are quite a few disturbing photos of the deceased animals surrounded by a seemingly impossible amount of feces when their keepers were able to clear the obstruction. In a couple of instances, keepers were able to prolong the lives of their spiders by repeatedly cleaning them off. In one of these instances, the spider eventually died. In the other I found, the keeper stopped posting updates, so the outcome is unknown.

Although tarantula fecal impaction seems to be an uncommon occurrence overall (which is great news for keepers) it’s very possible that there are many more instances of this malady that go unrecognized and, therefore, unreported. Since posting a video up on YouTube about this experience, I’ve had some keepers come forward to say that they now suspect a previously mysterious death was likely due to impaction. The fact is, the hobby is still relatively new, and there is still so much we don’t know about these animals. They are also not the most expressive of creatures, making it very difficult to discern when something is wrong. Much of what we know about their husbandry and maladies comes from trial and error.

My hope is that by detailing my bouts with this ailment and passing along the information I’ve found researching this topic, it might raise some awareness around impaction and encourage others to share their experiences. Although I don’t think that this is a common issue (I’ve only experienced it twice that I know of), I DO believe that it’s the type of issue to go easily unrecognized. 

Suspected Causes

The truth is, hobbyists are still not sure as to what may cause impaction, but there are a number of theories.

A bad or wet molt – This is one of the most supportable theories. Several of the reported instances of tarantula impaction followed bad or wet molts by spiders. In these cases, it’s suspected that some unseen internal damage due to the difficult molt has blocked of the passage of waste, causing the spider to become impacted. I know that in both of my cases, the deaths happened as the spiders were putting weight back on after molts.

An internal injury from a fall – In this scenario, a fall or injury has caused the spider some type of internal damage that has obstructed its anus or the flow of waste. This could happen due to a hernia or abscess around the abdomen. Also mentioned is an infection at the base of the spinnerets. 

Sediment in the water dish – I’ve heard folks claim that sediment or substrate in the water dish could cause an impaction, although I find this to be quite unlikely. In the wild, spiders would have to drink from any available water source, including muddy puddles. I don’t think that they would have lasted millions of years if they could be taken down by some sediment.

A dubia diet – I’ve read a report that suggested that feeding your spiders dubia roaches could be a cause of this sickness. While this might be possible, I know plenty of keepers that have used dubia for their feeders for years and have never had an impaction death. I do wonder if this idea came from the belief that a dubia-heavy diet is thought to cause impaction in some reptiles.

Overfeeding – Another thought is that overfed tarantulas are more prone to this malady. Some have pointed to the fact that tarantulas that die from impaction often have very “fat” abdomens, a sign of over-indulgence on food items being a cause. Personally, I would like to point out that tarantulas that die from impaction do so because of an enormous amount of impacted feces trapped in their bodies. These poor specimens aren’t “fat”; they have distended abdomens from the trapped waste. Anyone who has experienced this personally, or folks who have seen video of the amount of feces that comes out, can appreciate that the amount of waste can definitely make a tarantula appear to be obese. Some even reported their T looking “deflated” after the feces was released. I’ve also noticed that in many of the reports, folks have said that their T hasn’t eaten that much after its last molt, so the animal definitely wasn’t overfed. Although I understand the thought process behind this theory, I really don’t think that the anecdotal evidence supports it.

The fact is, we really don’t know what causes this, and any of the above (or a combination of more than one) could be to blame.

The Signs and Symptoms

If you’re worried that your tarantula might be ill, here are some signs to look for.

Excessive drinking – Some have reported catching their spiders drinking much more often before recognizing an impaction.

Dragging its abdomen on substrate but not webbing – This seems to be a very common symptom. A tarantula with an impaction will drag his abdomen on the substrate and against the sides of the enclosure as he tries to dislodge the obstruction. Some have said it looks like webbing behavior, but no webbing comes out. Both of the tarantulas I suspect died from impactions displayed this behavior.

Scratching at its abdomen with back legs – This is another sign that may go unrecognized as tarantulas will often scratch and groom themselves. An impacted tarantula will often scratch at its abdomen with its back legs as it tries to free the obstruction. Although some Ts may scratch, those with an obstruction seem to do so more often and with more urgency. 

White feces around anus – This is a pretty obvious sign. Some specimens suffering from impaction will have a white, chalky “crust” surrounding their anuses. This is obviously the feces.

Hard plug in the anus – Upon close inspection, some tarantulas suffering from an obstruction will have what appears to be a small hard plug blocking their anus.

Listless or lethargic behavior – Once the tarantula has been impacted for some time, it will start to slow down and become more sedentary and lethargic. Both of mine spent the majority of their time in a corner looking distressed, and their reaction to prey items slowed down considerably.

Other uncharacteristic behavior – There may also be other signs of strange or unexplained behavior. A burrowing species may start hanging out above ground. A nervous T that usually bolts to its hide may suddenly stop reacting and stay out in the open. Terrestrial Ts may start to climb the sides of their enclosures. Conversely, arboreal spiders may start hanging out on the ground.

Hard abdomen – Those who have had impacted tarantulas have discovered that portions of the abdomen were hard, almost to the point of ossification.

Misshapen abdomen – Due to the heavily-impacted waste, tarantulas with this issue may have misshapen abdomens or abnormal bulges. In the instance of my E. parvulus, the right side of her abdomen was bulging a bit when compared to her left.

One of the biggest issues with tarantula impaction is that the spider may not display any obvious symptoms until the end when much of the damage has probably been done. Still, an observant keeper who recognizes early that something is “off” with his or her T may keep an eye out for some of these signs and have a better chance of possibly saving the animal.

Tarantula First Aid for Impaction

Unfortunately, at this point the prognosis for an impacted tarantula is not great. Those who have managed to clear the obstructions do report their animals getting better for a bit, but in most cases, the animal soon becomes impacted again. In my research, I think I only stumbled on one instance where the T molted out and was seemingly fine.

To perform some of these steps, you will have to either pinch-grab your tarantula or anesthetize your T to slow it down.

(For a wonderful technique to anesthetize your T, please follow this link) http://www.theraphosidae.be/en/vogelspinnen/first-aid/

Clean its anus with warm water and cotton swabs – This is pretty self-explanatory. Get a cup of warm water, some Q-tips, and gently clean off the anus. This can be done when the spider is upright, but it is usually not as effective as flipping it over and having a go at it.

Rub some glycerin around the anus – Some have reported that rubbing glycerin onto the anus, especially if it’s visibly plugged, can help to loosen the obstruction and allow the T to defecate.

Use a small syringe to gently run warm water over the area – Again, this to clean it and to loosen the obstruction.

Finally, and this should only be attempted as a last resort, you may try to carefully pierce or remove the obstruction/plug with tweezers or a toothpick – This should only be attempted if the tip of the plug is visible and if the animal is obviously in dire straits. It needs to be noted that trying to remove the plug could cause injury to the tarantula.

Now, before anyone bolts away from this article in a panic to go check their tarantulas for impaction, understand that this does not appear to be a common issue. In my years in the hobby and with over 150 specimens in my collection at any given time, I’ve only had two deaths I attribute to this.

That said, we are left to wonder if this may be an under-reported ailment as symptoms go overlooked. I’m even looking back at a recent death of a P. vittata and wondering if it could have been a death due to impaction. 

Have you experienced an impaction death? If so, please let us know in the comments!

Avicularia Genus Revision – A Quick Breakdown

Time to get out those label makers and to bid a fond farewell to your “Avicularia versicolor

At one time containing 47 species and two sub species, the genus Avicularia has long been in need of a revision. Many folks have patiently been waiting for some changes since 2011 when Fukushima first published her then incomplete thesis on the genus. Word quickly spread through the forums and social media that the paper may call for the creation of up to four new genera, and hobbyists couldn’t wait to hear the final result. However, with the original 2013 release date coming and going, serious hobbyists were long left to wonder about what changes this much-needed revision would bring. What would the new genera be called? Which species would be eliminated? How many species would remain?

Well, on March 2nd, the revision was finally released, sending many tarantula enthusiasts scrambling for their label makers. What follows is an (hopefully!) easy to follow breakdown of the biggest revelations and highlights from this important document. For the full publication, please click the link below. It’s long and the language can be a bit dense, but it makes for some fascinating reading.

New Genera for Six Species

Among the big revelations was the creation of THREE new genera: Antillena, Caribena, and YbyraporaThis meant that several species long identified as Avicularia would now call a brand new genera home, and hobbyists would have some new and interesting names to learn.

Which species have been moved to these new genera, you may be wondering? Well, the breakdown is as follows:

  • Avicularia rickwesti is now Antillena rickwesti
  • Avicularia laeta is now Caribena laeta 
  • Avicularia Versicolor is now Caribena versicolor
  • Avicularia gamba is now Ybyrapora gamba
  • Avicularia diversipes is now Ybyrapora diversipes
  • Avicularia sooretama is now Ybryapora sooretama

For anyone who owned these species, it’s time to do some relabeling  (while trying to wrap your tongue around some cool new genera names). These names are final and will not be changing back in the future.

Fun note: Antillena rickwesti now joins the likes of Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens as a monotypic genus (at least for now).

The Identified Avicularia Species

Once consisting of 47 species and two sub-species, the number of fully-described and accepted species has been whittled down to only 12. The “bona-fide” Avicularia species described in this paper are listed below.

  1. Avicularia avicularia
  2. Avicularia glauca
  3. Avicularia variegata
  4. Avicularia minatrix
  5. Avicularia taunayi
  6. Avicularia juruensis
  7. Avicularia rufa
  8. Avicularia purpurea
  9. Avicularia hirschii
  10. Avicularia merianae
  11. Avicularia lynnae
  12. Avicularia caei

But what about species not on this list? Are they gone?

As any Avicularia aficionado would notice, a good chunk of the species once labeled as avics are missing from this list. Where did they go? Well, that can be a bit tricky. The rest of the species were either switched to other genera or, in most cases, are now designated as nomen dubium, Latin for “doubtful name.” Some have reported that those species labeled nomen dubium no longer exist, and there has been some anxiety and confusion over what we should label species that fall under this designation.

Does this mean that your prized A. metallica is now a spider without a name?

For the time being, the name “Avicularia metallica” is still in use.

In short, no. Nomen dubium means that the name is in doubt, but there is not enough information yet to change the name, merge it with another species, or label it a new genera.  So, for the time being, you can keep your nomen dubium species labelled as they are.  Basically, these are the species that may be revised in the future when more research is done, but until someone takes a closer look at them, the names will stand. As a result, these species will still be listed in the World Spider Catalog. Considering how many years it took to get this revision, it’s not likely any of us will have to worry about changing the names soon. For the time being, it’s still Avicularia metallica (and not Avicularia avicularia “metallica”).

There was also one species labelled nomen nudum , which means the species wasn’t described enough to call for the scientific name, and five species that were combined with new genera to form a new combination. Read on for the species that still warrant revision.

Nomen nudum species (Not a valid name as a description was not presented)

  • Avicularia vestiaria — nomen nudum

Comb. n. (or new combinations)

  • Iridopelma leporina – Mygale leporina to Iridopelma for a new combination Also nomen dubium (immature specimens in poor condition)
  • Iridopelma plantaris  – Mygale plantaris to Iridopelma for a new combination Also nomen dubium (not sure if separate species)
  • Euathlus affinis – Avicularia affinis transferred to Euathlus to make new combination.
  • Grammostola subvulpina – Avicularia subvulpina moved to Grammostola to make new combination.
  • Thrixopelma aymara – Eurypelma aymara moved to Thrixopelma to make new combination.

Nomen dubium species

  • Ischnocolus hirsutum 
  • Avicularia metallica 
  • Ischnocolus gracilis 
  • Avicularia arabica
  • Avicularia aurantiaca 
  • Araneus hirtipes
  • Avicularia testacea
  • Avicularia detrita
  • Avicularia hirsutissima
  • Avicularia holmbergi 
  • Ischnocolus doleschalli 
  • Avicularia rapax
  • Avicularia ochracea
  • Avicularia walckenaerii
  • Avicularia azuraklaasi 
  • Avicularia braunshauseni 
  • Avicularia geroldi 
  • Avicularia huriana 
  • Avicularia ulrichea 
  • Avicularia soratae 
  • Avicularia fasciculata 
  • Avicularia fasciculata 
  • Avicularia surinamensis 

Some points of interest involving Avicularia juruensis:

A couple interesting tidbits found in this document involve Avicularia juruensis

The gold-banded species commonly being sold as Avicularia juruensis in the hobby is likely mislabeled Avicularia rufa

Avicularia urticans is now a junior synonym of Avicularia juruensis. If you own an A. urticans, you would now label it as “A. juruensis.” 

Personally, I’m excited about the revisions and am already enjoying how Caribena versicolor flows (although I’m having a heck of at time learning how to spell it!). And it’s fantastic that A. diversipes, a species long thought to belong to a genus other than Avicularia, finally has a proper name.

That said, with all of those nomen dubium species, it’s obvious that we still have a ways to go before this genus is completely sorted out. Considering how long this revision took, we can safely say it will be a while.

How do you feel about the changes? How many labels did you have to change? Chime in!

The above information comes from the following  article: 

Fukushima, Caroline and Bertani, Rogério Bertani  Taxonomic revision and cladistic analysis of Avicularia Lamarck, 1818 (Araneae, Theraphosidae, Aviculariinae) with description of three new aviculariine genera http://zookeys.pensoft.net/articles.php?id=10717&display_type=element&element_type=8&element_id=29871&element_name= (March 2, 2017)

Tarantul.as – An Amazing New Image Sharing Site for Tarantula Enthusiasts

An interview with Jason Calhoun, creator of Tarantul.as

Recently, I got an email from Jason Calhoun, an experienced web developer and new hobbyist who was looking to debut an image-hosting website for tarantula enthusiasts cleverly called Tarantul.as. As I had never quite cottoned to Instagram, and I found using Photobucket to host the images I posted on message boards to be a bit of a pain, I was very intrigued. After all, a social networking site geared specifically towards posting tarantula photos seemed just too good to be true.

After setting up my account and spending a bit of time uploading my photos, I was left incredibly impressed. The site is fast, fun, and super-simple to use. In less than a half-hour’s time, I had a beautiful gallery featuring my favorite spider pics. Even better, after some folks joined me on the site, I was able to try some of the fun social features, including liking other photos and commenting. Personally, I think that Jason has created something very cool for the tarantula hobbyist. Wanting to learn more about this site and it’s creation, I tapped Jason for a quick interview.

taran-one

The design is slick and easy to navigate.

Thanks for taking a moment to chat! So, first off, how did you get into the hobby?

I have always loved animals and nature. When I was younger, I owned many exotic reptiles, snakes, scorpions, bugs etc. It has been a while since I have been in the hobby and recently gained interest again, but this time with tarantulas.

Where did you get the idea for Tarantul.as?

I’ve been developing websites and software for many years and have actually been involved with similar projects in the past. I’m always looking for a way to create something that would fulfill a personal need and develop it into something that would be useful to others as well. I hate using the big name photo hosting services, so I thought why not just make one myself. And what better way to give back to the community than to create a free service that’s fun to use!

I’m assuming that this was a huge undertaking. How long does a site like this take to set up?

It’s a constant thing. It can take dozens of hours to write the code but there are always bugs to fix and new features to implement. A good website is never finished. Fortunately the hard part is over and now I’m having a blast seeing all of the new members share their collections with the world.

What was your biggest challenge creating the site?

Getting people to use it. This could be the best service in the world but that doesn’t mean anything unless people actually use it. It needed to be simple, fun, functional and look cool. I think that has been accomplished. I was confident that once people started using the service, they would enjoy it and recommend it to their friends.

Use it to host your pics (convenient embed codes provided!)

Use it to host your pics (convenient embed codes provided!)

Well, hopefully we can get word out. I know after I posted about it on Facebook, several folks responded enthusiastically to the idea. I’m definitely not the only hobbyist excited about it.

Besides the obvious perk of being able to share your tarantula photos with other hobbyists, what other features does the site offer?

It has a social network feel to it as well. You can follow other members, like their photos and comment back and forth. It has been complimented by being called “the Instagram of tarantulas” by some. You’re able to be very social or simply create a private album just for photo storage.

Personally, I LOVE that I can use it to host my images as well. Adios, Photobucket! You’ve mentioned that you have some more fun ideas for the site down the road? Care to give us any hints?

I have some really great ideas to expand to more than just a social network. Maybe even have ways to buy/sell/borrow tarantulas in a safer way than what’s currently out there. Most forums offer classifieds to accomplish this but they’re usually just a Craigslist style posting. I think I have a better way to do this. But this all depends on how the site develops over time and if the demand is there. What path the site takes will be largely based on my members feedback so I encourage everyone to check out the service and let me know what you think!

Ideally, what do you see Tarantul.as becoming in the tarantula community?

I don’t want try and put any other site out of business. I want to co-exist and be another great resource to the community. At the same time I wasn’t going to just do the same thing everyone else does and put up another forum with a bunch of threads which can be confusing to newcomers. It needed to be unique and simple to use. My goal is for tarantula.as to be THE go-to place for dealers & hobbyists to host their photo’s, research tarantulas and chat with other enthusiasts. And if someone just wants a neat URL to showcase their tarantula pics and doesn’t care about all that other stuff, then I’m fine with that too 🙂

Obviously, someone who spends the time to create a site just for tarantula enthusiasts must have an interest in the animals. Which species do you currently keep?

It all started in December 2016 when I purchased a Brachypelma smithi sling. Since then, I have acquired an Aphonopelma chalcodes, Avicularia avicularia, Avicularia versicolor, Monocentopus balfouri, and a Poecilotheria metallica. The first batch of many more to come, I’m sure!

Oh, yeah…MANY more. After all, the more tarantulas you have, the more photos you’ll be able to post! In closing, is there anything you’d like to add that I’ve missed?

If you’re reading this and own a tarantula, I invite you to try out tarantula.as. Sign up for free, upload some photos and show the world your beautiful pet!

I’d also like to publicly thank you for everything you have done for the community. Your great videos and information on your blog have guided me in my decisions on species, housing, feeding etc. Without people like you selflessly giving back to the community, ideas like tarantula.as would have never been realized.

Thanks so much, Jason! And thank YOU for taking the time to set up such an awesome site. I know I’m hooked already, and I have a funny feeling others will find it just as cool!

Come join me at Tarantul.as .com !

If you join, make sure to look me up!

If you join, make sure to look me up!

 

Poll – Was Your First Tarantula a “Beginner Species”?

If I could get just a moment of your time …

This is going to be a short and sweet blog post. Although I’m working on an article that the results of this poll would be really useful for, this question comes more from curiosity.

How many of you in the hobby began with a “beginner species?”

For the sake of argument, let consider the following a “beginner species.”

All Aphonopelma, Brachypelma, and Grammostola species, C. cyaneopubescens (GBB), Avicularia avicularia or metallica, Lasiodora parahybana (LP), E. capestratus, and Euathlus species.

And, for the more “advanced” species, let’s go with:

All “baboon” species, Pamphobeteus species, Phormictopus species, Nhandu species, Acanthoscurria species, Hapalopus species, Tapinauchenius species, Psalmopoeus species, and Poecilotheria species, and any other “Old World” tarantula not listed above.

If you’re not sure where yours falls, please take a moment to put it in the comment section.

And, anyone who wants can also name their first species in the comment section.

 

I’d really LOVE to get as many people as possible to answer this to get an accurate look at what the percentage is. Feel free to share this with anyone who keeps Ts and might be interested in participating.

Thanks!

Tom