The Importance of Respect and Open-mindedness In the Tarantula Hobby

Or, Why we need to eliminate the “My Way or the Highway” Attitude in Tarantula Keeping

No matter the hobby or interest, there are always going to be debates and arguments between those with different views. Whether it be sports, music, movies, or cars, it seems that many folks believe that an integral part of becoming an “expert” in a particular area entails showcasing your vast knowledge in spirited kerfuffles with other enthusiasts. After all, what better way to show how much you know than to verbally beat down someone with less awareness on the subject?

The tarantula hobby, of course, is no exception. Anyone who spends time on a public forum or group dedicated to tarantulas will inevitably encounter some “grab the popcorn” level disagreements about various subjects. Topics like handling, water dishes, supplemental heating, and even basic husbandry can lead to many passionate, often nasty, disagreements between experts and novices alike. The difference between our hobby and others however is, when two folks argue over who has the better baseball team or who the best metal guitarist is, the only thing possibly hurt is an ego. When tarantulas are involved, however, these debates can lead to the propagation of misinformation…and in some cases, dead animals.

Recently, a couple negative interactions with other keepers really got me thinking about some of the issues with our hobby; namely, the close-minded adherence to personal anecdotal evidence and an unwillingness to accept that just because something works for a person, it doesn’t make it the only way to do things…or even the right way to do things.

In one instance (already documented in a previous post) an experienced keeper took issue with the fact that I said under most circumstances, heat and humidity are two things that keepers stress too much about. Said keeper explained that in his 18 years of breeding experience, he had learned that heat was very important, and he used mats to keep his enclosures warmer. He called the article one of the worst husbandry articles he has ever read.

In another instance, a YouTuber commented on a couple of my videos to say that “tarantulas don’t have water dishes in the wild,” and that all Ts can get their water through prey. When I tried to explain my point of view on the matter, I was called an “idiot” for wasting my time supplying these “useless” accessories.

Now, obviously there are jerks and bullies in every hobby, whether it’s gaming, exotic pets, or even cooking, so it’s not surprising that one might share his opinion in such a rancorous manner. Factor in that it’s the Internet, which can embolden even the most meek basement dwelling keyboard jockey, and the potential for useless, trollish banter increases 100 fold.

However, in both of these instances, it sounded as if the posters probably had some serious experience in the hobby. The rude tone of both comments indicated that these folks weren’t just ordinary internet trolls, but hobbyist who felt totally offended by what they saw as completely false and ridiculous statements. Their belief in their way of keeping spiders, one with heat and the other without dishes, was so strong, that they apparently found my statements to the contrary to be offensive. They were lashing out at comments that contradicted what they had witnessed with their own eyes.

It’s not their beliefs that I take issue with; on the contrary, although I don’t necessarily agree with their statements, I respect that it is apparently working for them. I also appreciate that trying to argue that using heat mats or leaving out water dishes is wrong as it would be fruitless. After all, if they are heating their collections and not supplying water dishes and their Ts are doing well, then how can I possibly say that they are wrong?

No, my issue is with the rude way they present their conflicting views, and the fact that they are not offering them as their opinions, but as fact. It’s an example of the whole, “I’m right, therefore you’re wrong” mentality that permeates the hobby. That’s dangerous territory, as there is already enough misinformation and opinion about tarantulas being passed around in cyberspace as fact; we don’t need more.

The problem is that we are taught to believe what we experience with our own senses, so it’s natural to trust our own observations as powerful anecdotal evidence. We keep our tarantulas a certain way, they eat, molt, and grow, therefore we have to be doing everything right. However, this type of evidence is far from scientific, and for it to become truly useful and important, we have to compare our experiences to those of other keepers. And for keepers to feel comfortable enough to publicly share their findings, we need to be a bit more nurturing and receptive as a collective when someone presents ideas that conflict with our own beliefs.

 

The catch 22 of anecdotal data

Is using anecdotal evidence wrong? No, it’s an invaluable part of the hobby. It’s important to remember that our hobby is very much built on the experience of past keepers, the pioneers who first experiment with keeping these unique animals. As more of these keepers recorded and reported on what worked (and sometimes, what didn’t) over the course of several decades, these anecdotes accumulated into something much more substantial and powerful. We could now examine a more sizable sample of data and draw much more accurate and reliable conclusions from it. It was no longer one person saying that certain tarantulas don’t need extra heat or high humidity; it was hundreds.

A single keeper’s observations, although important, are still just anecdotal. Our minds can often cause us to recognize false positives as connections are made too easily and other pertinent information is disregarded or ignored. Personal bias or beliefs can often influence what we think we see, tainting the lens we view the world through. Your perceived experience with one tarantula is not enough to declare an observed connection as fact.

As an example, a beginning keeper posted on a message board that she had come up with a new way of keeping her tarantulas. After reading about their natural habitats, she began mixing sea salt in with their substrate. It appears that one of the habitat descriptions she read mentioned that some live in areas known to have small amounts of salt in the substrate, and she decided to try to create this mix in her terrarium. She lauded this new technique, even going so far to say that her tarantulas were now much more active and healthy since she made the move. Many folks like to experiment with substrate mixtures, and this woman was obviously trying to emulate her spider’s natural environment.

There was only one issue.

Salt is recognized as being poisonous to spiders and tarantulas and, when mixed with water, is used as a chemical-free pesticide by some. The idea of purposely introducing salt into a tarantula enclosure seemed dangerous to many. And, even if this additive wasn’t hurting her tarantulas, it certainly shouldn’t provide any health benefits.

When folks tried to politely inform this hobbyist that she could be putting her animals, especially the fragile slings, at risk, she scoffed at it. Her main argument? They were doing fine, so there must not be an issue. She chose to believe what she thought she was seeing with her own eyes rather than defer to the scientific evidence and collective experience that disproved her theory.

In the above example, I use a keeper who is new to the hobby. However, the same situation can occur with keepers that have been doing this for a while. There are some amazing veteran keepers out there who are keeping up with changes and advancements in the hobby. Then, there are others who feel that if it has worked for a decade or more, it is obviously the “correct” way to do things. I’m guessing that the breeder who took umbrage to my temperature and humidity post fell into this category. These folks feel very strongly that any husbandry that differs from what they do is therefore “incorrect”, and they can be quick to disparage folks that don’t fall in line with them. The problem is, there is a huge difference between, “This is what I do, and it has worked for me,” and “This is what I do, and it is the correct way to do it.” In the second situation, the keeper is relying on his or her observations only to declare something fact.

How can we really tell if they are happy or merely surviving?

Tarantulas are not the most expressive animals, so it can be very tricky to discern their moods or overall state of health or well-being. Many keepers talk about spiders that are seemingly fine one day, then curled up and dead the next. The warning signs of trouble are few and difficult to recognize, especially for those new to the hobby. So, although anecdotal data is very important, it can also be misleading when not compared with the observations of other keepers.

The fact that 10 different keepers can keep a spider 10 different ways and all report that the spider is seemingly thriving is a testament to just how adaptable and hardy these creatures are. It means that they are able to survive in a number of conditions, many of them adverse. Just because a T is eating and molting doesn’t mean that it’s getting the best care possible. Sadly, I’ve seen many folks justify their spotty husbandry by stating, “Well, it’s not dead, so I must be doing something right.” Can you imagine applying the same reasoning to your dog or cat?

To recognize when we are doing a good job with their care, we also need to consider what others are doing.

There is no instruction manual for raising tarantulas, and the handful of good husbandry books available often offer pertinent but limited information when it comes to the individual needs of specific species of tarantulas. After all, with over 900 species in the world, a book that covered the specific and detailed husbandry needs of each one would be one massive volume. That means the majority of the species-specific husbandry information we get comes from the cumulative accounts of those who keep them.

For example, Keeper A picks up a new species, does some research on its natural habitat, sets it up, and reports his observation on a blog, care sheet, forum, or in the comments of a YouTube video. Keeper B finds these accounts during her research, but she keeps her specimen in slightly colder temps and with less substrate. The tarantula appears to be fine, so she reports on her findings. Over the years, more keepers tweak this husbandry recipe until we finally come to having a “definitive” mode of husbandry.

And, on occasion, the generally recognized and accepted husbandry for a particular species proves to be incorrect. Take the genus Avicularia as a recent example. The internet is still rife with care sheets that state Avicularia need to be kept humid with moist substrate and frequent spraying. When hobbyists first began keeping this species, they looked to their natural habitat to determine how they should be kept. As they hail from humid locales, it seemed to make sense to keep them in humid enclosures. However, these species soon got a reputation for being fragile and difficult to keep as more and more hobbyist reported incidences of “Sudden Avic Death Syndrome”as their spiders died suddenly and with no apparent cause.

Then one day, some keeper or keepers got what must have been seen as a crazy idea. What if, instead of keeping them in stuffy and humid enclosures, we tried dry and well-ventilated ones instead?

Having witnessed what can happen in groups or on message boards when someone recommends a radical new husbandry idea, I can only imagine the backlash this poor guy or gal received when first sharing his or her findings. I can just imagine responses like, “Everyone knows avics need high humidity!” or “You can’t keep them dry…they’ll die!” For anyone who has spent time on certain message boards or Facebook groups, you can probably appreciate what a fracas this would have created.

And yet this out-of-the-box thinking not only revolutionized how we keep this species, but also likely saved thousands of spiders. It is now widely recognized that many of those SADS deaths could be attributed to dank, stuffy cages, and folks who keep them dry and well-ventilated report healthy spiders. If this person or people had their voices drowned out by close-minded hobbyists that “knew better”, we might still be keeping these animals wrong.

It is crucial that folks in this hobby feel safe to express new ideas.

Instances like this serve as sterling examples of why it’s always crucial to be open-minded when hearing new techniques or ideas. Does it mean we have to accept everything as true and valid? Of course not. There are going to be times where keepers come up with some outlandish ideas that seem to lack any shred of common sense. I’ve also seen a lot of new hobbyists who read something false then report it as fact in an effort to appear “in the know.” However, the way we respond to these folks is still important. Instead of a dozen people hopping on to decry the keeper as reckless, irresponsible, or stupid, perhaps a more civil reply is in order. Consider these two responses to someone who has reported something suspect:

Ridiculous. That’s a great way to kill your T. Do some more research.”

Or

Interesting. I do appreciate your perspective. However, experience has taught me otherwise. Here is what I’ve found (insert explanation here). Thanks for sharing and good luck!”

As this is a public dialog, the first reply is going to be seen by others who are now likely worried about opening their mouths and sounding stupid. After all, who wants to be rudely and publicly admonished in such a manner? Talk about a great way to choke off discourse. Furthermore, by scolding the poster in such a brash manner they’re likely to become defensive and close off to hearing conflicting viewpoints. Absolutely nothing is gained in this exchange. However, with the second more polite response, the original poster is more likely to at least consider that he may want to rethink his technique. This type of mature reply will also foster a more open and friendly tone for the communication of ideas (good and bad), and invite more folks to share their experiences.

Everyone wins.

Valuable information can be gleaned from alternative viewpoint and strategies.

Recently, popular YouTuber Deadly Tarantula girl shared a video about how she keeps her P. muticus specimens, and the video received quite a bit of backlash. Although the general consensus is that these are fossorial species that require deep substrate in which to dig in order to thrive, Marita explained that she keeps hers terrestrially with a bit of substrate and a hide. Now, although this flies in the face of how most folks choose to keep this species, it should be noted that Marita has been in the hobby for a long time, and although she does some things that might be “controversial”, she has years of experience to fall back on. And, having kept the muticus for over 20 years, she should definitely know a thing or two about their care.

I must admit, when first viewing the video, I was impressed that she would post something that she obviously knew would be incredibly divisive. At the same time I was not quite in agreement, as this was NOT how I kept mine. That said, instead of firing off some snarky knee-jerk comment about the video, I mulled over what she said and took to following the comments being posted about it.

The incident served as the impetus for an amazing dialog between several hobbyists and I about this species, leading many of us to realize that trying to replicate its natural habitat with the deep substrate could be creating some problems with its husbandry. Many folks, me included, reported issues with their specimens sealing themselves up in the bottom of deep burrows and never resurfacing to eat. In some cases, the animals seemingly starved to death after months secreted away in their burrows.

Which is the “correct” way? I don’t have a definitive answer yet, but DTG video spurred the type of thought and discussion that would hopefully lead to better husbandry practices and healthier Ts. Many of us were left rethinking what we thought we knew about this species and its proper care. It clearly illustrates how important the sharing of information can be in this hobby, as well as the importance of always keeping an open mind when being presented with new perspectives.

Now, before someone gets the idea that I’m encouraging wild experimentation in the hobby, that’s not at all my point. Although I think it’s healthy to consider new perspectives while evolving your husbandry, turning your back on scientific evidence or years of generally recognized husbandry can be dangerous. There is a big difference between experience-guided decisions and blind experimentation.

I AM advocating for two very important things; respect and open-mindedness.

Respect the opinions of others, no matter how outlandish or contrary they may seem. I love when those on message boards ridicule or chastise someone for a poor husbandry choice, then justify it by saying that they are “teaching.” That’s not teaching. A teacher will politely address the person, offering clear and non-judgmental feedback as to why they feel the person may be incorrect. The “student” should leave the conversation feeling educated and supported, not ridiculed and attacked.

Of course, respect goes both ways. If you’re the seasoned keeper addressing a newbie who may be suggesting something strange, try to remember what it was like to be new to this hobby and be patient with your reply. Ridicule and browbeating has no place in constructive discourse. If you’re the newbie and a seasoned keeper offers your polite feedback, be respectful of their experience level within the hobby. Becoming snotty and contrary does no one any good.

And I don’t care if you’re a keeper with 10 years of experience or 10 days, it’s always important to keep an open mind. The question you should always use to guide you through keeping is not “Does it work”; it’s “Is there a better way?” Even when confronted with husbandry techniques and practices that differ greatly from what you do, you should try to be open-minded and see if there is something to be gleaned from the experience. After all, what you do may work for you, but it may not necessarily be the best way to do it.

The importance of sharing information without fear of repudiation or admonishment is crucial to the advancement of the hobby. The truth is, no matter how large our collections may grow, they still only represent a micro-fraction of the animals being kept. To really get a better, more accurate view of what “works”, we need a much larger sample than that of just one keeper. We need to collectively pool our experiences, both good and bad, to ensure that this incredible hobby continues to grow and to improve.

The Best Tarantula Species For Beginners Revisited (Video Version)

“What is the best tarantulas species for a beginner?”

I’ve spent a lot of time answering this question over the years, and for those just dipping their toe into this amazing hobby, it’s an excellent and important question to ask. Several years ago, I wrote my article “The Best Tarantula Species for Beginners” in which I detailed the species I thought make excellent first tarantulas for someone just starting out. In this first version, I included only species I kept and cared for so that I could share my own experiences and anecdotes on them.  To be truthful, my opinions on some of the species (I’m looking at you A. chalcodes, A. avicularia, and B. vagans!) have changed over the years, so I’ve continued to periodically revise the original text to jigger the order and to add new species deserving of the title. With the post nearing 50,000 views, it was important to me that it remain current and accurate.

Recently, I had someone ask me about whether or not an Acanthoscurria geniculata (Brazilian white knee) would make a good first tarantula. This individual had never owned a tarantula in her life, was a bit scared of spiders, and had just begun doing research on their husbandry. When I informed her that I love the species, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to someone with no experience, she seemed a bit taken aback. Her reply: “Oh, but I just watched a YouTube video where the guy said it’s a good beginner tarantula.”

I was a bit surprised, as I know the species is popular in the hobby, but its size, skittishness, and reputation for being a bit ornery would make it bit too much of a spider for most novices. I asked for a link to the video, and was floored to discover that there were quite a few spiders listed that could give newbies fits, including several very fast and nervous species.

Look, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and that keeper is obviously free to post whatever he wants. In his defense, he did at least mention that the A. geniculata might be more on the intermediate side of things. I also know a couple keepers who started with this species and did fine, so it’s not outrageous to think that others might do the same. That said, after watching said video, I couldn’t help but feel like his list wasn’t composed with much thought or experience; instead, it seemed like he was trying to raise a couple eyebrows by making increasingly controversial choices with no real regard to standard or criteria. Also, instead of choosing species that would be appropriate for new keepers, he appeared to just be rattling off his favorite tarantulas.

In my opinion, a good “beginner” species should be a spider that can be kept by even the most green keeper without issue. I talk to a lot of folks who are either just starting out or who are doing their research in preparation for getting their first spider. Many are admitted arachnophobes who are hoping a tarantula might help them to quell their irrational fear. Some have never cared for an exotic pet before.  Then, there are the younger keepers, adolescents and teens still living a home with parents and siblings who are looking to get a cool new pet.

You’re really going to recommend a fast and feisty spider to these poor folks?

When making a list, it’s crucial to consider your potential audience. If you can’t picture a 12-year-old enthusiast or the older arachnophobe dealing with a certain species, then maybe it shouldn’t be on the list.

Does that mean that folks can’t start off with species considered to be more advanced? Of course not. It honestly depends on the individual and his or her personal skill set. I’ve heard many stories about keepers jumping in the deep end with baboon species and pokies successfully.  That being said, most folks just joining the hobby aren’t ready for that much spider.

And that’s where these lists become important…

So, with this video in mind, I decided that it was high time I made my own comprehensive YouTube video guide with an updated list of what I believe to be the top beginner tarantulas. I appreciate that my blog post on the subject may be a bit wordy and long-winded for some, and although I have husbandry videos for the species on that list, there was nothing with them all together. This new video would hopefully become a one-stop resource for those looking for information on where exactly to start in the hobby.

The Criteria

To create the following list, I first drew from my own experience and observations. I then reviewed several forum threads on good beginner Ts from three different message boards and recorded the species that came up the most.  I looked at three main criteria:

  1. Temperament – Although temperament can vary from specimen to specimen, there are some species that are generally considered to be more docile than others. As a result, I picked species that have a reputation for being calm and left off the faster, more skittish spiders.
  2. Ease of husbandry and Care – As many novices aren’t up to speed on husbandry, only spiders with easy care requirements were considered. The species on this list can all be kept at room temperature on dry substrate with water dishes and a hide. With the exception of the Avicularia, all of these can be kept in basic terrestrial set ups and do not have moisture requirements.
  3. Price and availability  Finally, most people just getting into the hobby don’t want to spend a lot on their spider, nor do they want to hunt high and low for a particular species. As a result, I tried to take availability into account.

It’s also important to mention that, although I don’t personally handle tarantulas for fun and I have written about the handling “controversy”, I know many folks who do. More importantly,  many of those I speak with that are new to the hobby think that handling is an essential part of keeping spiders and are therefore intent on handling their new pet.  As a result, I assume that whoever might read this list will likely be looking for some hands-on time with their tarantula. Although I mention handling in the video, I’m not encouraging it, but merely recognizing that it can and will happen. Remember, temperament varies from specimen to specimen, and just because a species has a reputation for being tractable doesn’t mean that your spider will tolerate handling.

As always, I encourage folks to go out and seek other keeper’s opinions. Although I feel strongly that my picks are good ones, they only represent one keeper’s perspective. If you have a question about a particular species, as always, don’t be afraid to ask someone who actually keeps that spider.

Now, on to the video!

 

Tarantula Forum – A Friendly and Informative Place for Tarantula Enthusiasts

tarantula-forum-banner

For those who get hooked on the hobby, the topic of tarantulas can become all-absorbing. Suddenly, all of your free time is spent researching husbandry, learning scientific names, and observing and caring for these amazing creatures. However, unlike more “common” hobbies, like scrap booking, gaming, cooking, or any other pastime that doesn’t involve giant spiders, it can be very difficult finding like-minded folks to share your enthusiasm with.

We’ve all been guilty of it. We corner a spouse to share our excitement over finding a species online for a good price. Or, a coworker asks how our weekend was, and we respond by showing them photos of a recent molt. This can leave folks smiling uncomfortably and nodding politely as they try to figure out what the hell a “Poecilotheria” is and how to get away from you.  After all, family, friends, and co-workers can only take so much spider talk before it becomes a bit overwhelming … and annoying. It doesn’t take long for you to be a person to avoid, a bit of an eccentric pariah, as folks try to keep from getting trapped into hearing more tarantula talk.

Heck, I know my wife, family, and co-worker were probably getting a bit tired of hearing about spiders every time I opened my mouth, which is why I started to blog about it. I just needed to get it out of my system (and spare some loved ones in the process).

So, where do you go when to find friendly like-minded people who share your love for tarantulas.

Facebook groups have become a very popular destination for those wanting to share their love of tarantula keeping. Most people have Facebook pages, and it’s very easy to find a group that will work for you.

Forums are another option, and there are many out there that offer great experiences and a wealth of information. One place I like to recommend is the Tarantula Forum. I’ve been a member for many years, and I’ve found the folks there to be incredibly affable and helpful.  Want to post pics of a current molt? Or share your excitement over a recent acquisition? This is a wonderful place to do it and receive a warm response.

Even better, perhaps you have a question about husbandry or a particular species, but you’re afraid to ask. For those who have been on other social media sites or forums, you know how a seemingly innocent question can often lead to a lynch mob-type response. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything but positive, helpful, and encouraging replies to husbandry questions on the Tarantula Forum. It doesn’t matter how elementary or basic your question may be, the folks there will offer sound advice without a measure of judgment.

Personally speaking, I go there to chat with other keepers and to have some fun. It’s a blast keeping up with some of the other keepers I’ve met through the forum, YouTube, or my website. Between my blog and the YouTube channel, I spend much times answering questions (which I love). Sometimes, however, I just want to unwind and socialize, and this forum has been a great place for that.

So, if your friends and family are currently scattering when you approach, or if you have a question that you would love some advice on, be sure to check out the Tarantula Forum. It’s  truly warm and welcoming community of keepers. And if you do, be sure to introduce yourself and drop me a line (you can find me under Tomoran with my familiar O. philippinus avatar!).

An Interview With Jamie from Jamie’s Tarantulas (Including a Sneak Peek at her Black Friday Sale)

Dealer Jamies

jamie-handlingAnyone who has read my blog knows that one of my favorite places to shop for Ts has been Jamie’s Tarantulas. Carrying an excellent and ever-changing selection of species, Jamie’s is also one of the few dealers where you can pick up a spider, an enclosure, and feeder insects all in one stop. Combine this convenience with great prices, excellent service, and some of the least expensive shipping with a LAG guarantee on the web, and you have the makings for a top tarantula dealer. Even better, Jamie is incredibly friendly and approachable and always willing to offer help or advice to those new to the tarantula keeping. She was definitely a huge help to me when I first got hooked on the hobby.

Considering that a good chunk of my collection was purchased from Jamie’s, I thought it would be fun to find out a little about the folks behind this wonderful business. Jamie was nice enough to take time out of her busy schedule to chat with me about tarantulas.

First off, I know you are quite busy, so thanks so much for taking the time to chat.

Thank you, Tom, for taking the time to arrange this interview.  Many might not know it, but Tom has contributed many fantastic ideas and feedback to help us better Jamie’s Tarantulas.  An example: Tom suggested we somehow distinguish tarantulas suitable for beginners from the rest we have available for purchase.  This makes choosing the right tarantula much easier for novice tarantula keepers.  Please don’t stop sending the great ideas our way!  

It’s my pleasure! And I think it’s AWESOME that you added that section. I’ve already spoken to some folks new to the hobby that really appreciate that you’ve got a designated heading for them.

So, let’s start with a little background: how did you first become interested in tarantulas? Which was the first species you ever kept?

Ever since I was a child I’ve been interested in “bugs”. As long as I can remember, my desk and dresser were always covered in various jars and containers with a variety of specimens. Of course, they were released after observation so new specimens could be found and observed. I once horrified my first grade teacher when she discovered the reason why I was so distracted; a pocket full of beetles was definitely not what she was expecting.

Many years ago, I was getting food for a gargoyle gecko when something blue caught my eye. One of the store employees was holding a juvenile versicolor. I was taken by the delicate way in which it moved; it almost “marched” with rhythm. I had to take it home and, well, you know what they say; Tarantulas are like potato chips…you can’t have just one.

Like chips and tattoos! I think many in the hobby can relate to the addictiveness. And I know that folks often speak of that first time they saw a tarantula in person as a huge moment for them.

So, what got you started in breeding? That’s a step above collecting and an aspect of the hobby many are fascinated by. What was your first breeding project?

After my first tarantula, I immediately began adding to my collection. Any Avicularia species I found for sale and could afford that wasn’t currently part of my collection, I purchased. My favorite was an adult female A. versicolor. While on my hunt to add to my collection, I came across a mature male A. versicolor for sale. I immediately contacted the seller to purchase him. Later that week an enthusiastic bachelor arrived in the mail.

In the time between the mature male’s purchase and arrival, every second I could afford was spent doing research. I took notes on all the information I could find regarding keeping and breeding Avicularia and useful tips and tricks for tarantulas in general. At that time, the information was limited; for every question answered it felt I had two more to ask. The Tarantula Keeper’s Guide by Stan Schultz, or the 376 page “Tarantula Bible” as it’s known by some due to it being the definitive word on tarantulas, was a huge help. The book covers taxonomy, history, husbandry and, of course, breeding. There are 36 pages on the topic of breeding alone! Anyone interested in tarantulas, whether it be for interest, keeping or breeding, should seriously consider purchasing a copy.

I designed custom cages based on designs found on the internet and in the Keeper’s guide. My handy father offered to help. I found fish tanks of the preferred dimensions, and I designed and built a shelf to house them. The cages were fitted with custom acrylic lids. The custom racks were set up and the females rehoused into their permanent digs. Being very motivated to start my breeding project, and thanks to my father’s effort and experience, the project was completed in a weekend.

The A. versicolor was given some time to settle into her new enclosure before the male was introduced. I was nervous (although likely not as nervous as the enthusiastic bachelor). Within seconds of placing him in the females enclosure he began to drum. She answered him immediately! I watched anxiously and they came closer and closer together. They touched gently then he went straight to business. After two or three minutes of hot spider sex, he set her down and walked to the edge of her enclosure and proceeded to groom.

The next few months were a waiting game. I fed her as often as she would eat and she quickly put on weight. She began to web more and more heavily and eventually wouldn’t come out of her web. Days turned to weeks. What was she doing? Is she OK? I resisted the urge to disturb her and then one morning I saw it. She was holding what looked like a big cotton ball. Success!

The date was carefully recorded and the waiting began. Once I was certain the spiderlings were first instar, the egg sac was pulled and the slings moved into a homemade incubator. They began to darken and molt. I sat for hours and watched the spiderlings molt into second instars.

That’s a fantastic story. I’m sure many folks out there who have bred or tried to breed their specimens can appreciate the nervousness you felt when you first introduced the male, as well as the anticipation of waiting to see if the paring was successful. And I can’t help but to be incredibly impressed over the fact that you didn’t just research and buy the spiders, but built your own enclosures and shelving as well. You certainly went all in.

How did you eventually transition from a hobbyist to dealer of tarantulas? How and when did Jamie’s Tarantulas come about?

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Avicularia  versicolor sac

During the time I was waiting for my first A. versicolor female to lay an egg sac I bred many other species and soon after the A. versicolors molted to second instar came a successful hatch of A. urticans and A. azuraklaasi. A. diversipes hatched successfully soon thereafter. I did not need to keep all of the slings hatched. I picked twenty or so to grow out from each clutch and began advertising the rest for sale or trade. At that time, I had already built a variety of custom enclosures for my own needs and customers were asking to buy them. Most of my transactions were originally done in person or via email or forum. I had always dreamed of having my own website and believed it would be an efficient format for selling my spiderlings and enclosures.

While in college for Marketing, I learned how to set up a basic e-commerce website. I thought a website would not only streamline the ordering process for both the merchant and customer, but it would also present all my shipping/LAG and care information in a format easy for customers to navigate. After a few transactions, I noticed many of the questions I received were similar, questions I asked when I first came into the hobby. I wrote care sheets and an FAQ to address common questions and concerns. As the orders went out just as many new tarantulas came in. Tarantulas became an obsession. It seemed there were never enough funds to cover the cost of purchasing those on my wish-list. In order to compensate for this, I actively sought out others who’d hatched egg sacs to trade and to expand my collection. Selling and trading ‘slings allowed me to quickly expand my inventory. The larger inventory increased sales, nearly all of the proceeds of which were spent on more tarantulas and… so it began.

I can definitely appreciate how expensive fulfilling tarantula wishlists can be. Sounds like transitioning to a dealer was the perfect way to finance what can be an expensive hobby! Are there any breeding projects you’re currently working on that you are particularly excited about that you would like to share?

Breeding projects so far this season include A. versicolor, A. metallica, B. smithi, B. emilia, B. auratum, B. albiceps, B. albopilosum, G. pulchripes, G. pulchra, Euathlus Red and L. parahybana.

We recently paired a B. klaasi female who has been steadily gaining weight. Out of all my breeding projects so far this year, I’m most excited for this one. 

We’re looking for males of any species we’re breeding regardless if we have males already. The more diverse the genetics the better. Thank you to all our customers who’ve sent us their males. Without you we wouldn’t be able to offer such a variety of captive-bred slings.

We have many other breeding projects in the works we hope to announce soon.

Which species, in your opinion, has been the easiest to breed? How about the most challenging?

This is a bit of a difficult question, as I think everyone would have their own answer. There are some species that, for whatever reason, seem difficult to breed while others seem more forgiving to mistakes in husbandry and more likely to produce in a variety of conditions. Under many circumstances, the species someone’s familiar with and able to keep happy and healthy is a good candidate. I would imagine choosing a species whose native habitat/climate is similar to the native climate of the keeper, or is one the keeper is able to accurately imitate, would make breeding certain species easier.

That’s a fantastic point about breeding experiences differing dependent on local climate. I live in New England, where the summers are hot and humid and the winters cold and dry, so I would have to put in a bit more effort to get the ideal conditions for some tropical species. On the other hand, someone from warmer climes would likely have an easier time. So, which are the species you find easiest?

My personal “easiest” would probably be the more hardy Avicularia such as avicularia, urticans and metallica. A. avicularia and A. metallica have a wide natural range which may contribute to their hardiness. Recently, a customer sent me a picture of an A. aviculara adult female crammed into an 8oz deli cup clutching what appeared a bright white ball of webbing. It was thought to be an egg sac, so the customer purchased the A. avicularia from the pet store and took her home. The photo was taken and sent to me for verification. I had never seen anything like that before and was delighted to hear from the owner two weeks later the egg sac hatched out a couple dozen healthy slings. What a mom!

Wow, I can’t help but to be a bit jealous! Nothing like a buy one, get 24 free deal. That’s fantastic.

One of the great aspects of your business that is often brought up in reviews is that folks can find both the tarantulas and the enclosures at Jamie’s Tarantulas. People really love that convenience. How did you guys first get into the acrylic cage design and manufacturing end of things?

cages-oneOur enclosures were originally conceived with no intent or interest to resell. The only reason we made the original “Jamie’s Tarantula Enclosure” is we could not find anyone who produced the enclosure we wanted to put our beloved tarantulas in. At the time my collection was mostly Avicularia sp. We wanted good ventilation while maintaining humidity. Misting without having to open the cage was a huge advantage when keeping the Avics. It was also necessary that the enclosure opened from the middle or bottom as to not to disturb Avicularia’s web.

After many months of research, trial and error, and more trial and error, we came up with what is now our Juvenile Arboreal Enclosure. When fellow hobbyists came over to trade, sell/buy, etc. everyone who saw the enclosures expressed interested in purchasing them. Nearly every time a deal was made, the other party would leave disappointed as they weren’t leaving with an enclosure. Enough people showed interest in buying them that we wanted to find a way to make it possible. Thanks to a family contact we found a machine shop that could produce the enclosures at a reasonable price. All the other enclosures we have produced we’ve done originally for us and our own needs. Currently all our arboreal breeding females are housed in our adult tarantula cages.

cages-two

For a while, you didn’t have the extra-large adult tarantula enclosures for sale on your site, but it looks like you’ve had a batch for sale since late last year. Any hope of these becoming a permanent offering, or should folks jump on this limited supply while they last?

We hope to make the XL cage a permanent member of the Jamie’s Tarantulas cage line however, this depends on how the XL sales are this year. Thank you everyone for your support!

I’m assuming that keeping hundreds of spiders for breeding and sale could be an overwhelming and daunting task; what with feeding, maintenance, and packing for shipping. I’m also assuming that Jamie’s Tarantulas is a part-time business. How do you keep everything running smoothly and still have time for other work and other hobbies?

As of June 2016 we have about 3,200 specimens; it fluctuates between about 2.5-4k. We usually have the most slings from early summer to Black Friday and are pretty thinned out by February. Usually by March/April the eggsacs start to hatch and our selection then builds into the summer.

The job is challenging but very rewarding. If you do what you love you can leap out of bed every morning and keep going day after day. In a typical week we ship orders Monday through Wednesday. I am responsible for all tarantulas, roaches & customer service while Jon takes care of cages & packing. Every vial or deli cup has the tarantulas name hand-written so you know it was picked, prepped and packed by me with love. Thursday and Friday we spend doing business related errands such as picking up inventory. We also use these two days for our human related activities, such as doing laundry and grocery shopping. Saturday and Sunday we spend maintaining tarantulas and getting ready for the ship week. This includes feeding, breeding, misting, and roach maintenance. We also assemble enclosure kits, cut Styrofoam, assemble shipping boxes and pack shipping vials. Saturday through Tuesday nights, I’ll pull the tarantulas to be shipped and prep them for their journey, making sure they are healthy, the proper shipping weight, and well-hydrated.

During our busy week with Jamie’s Tarantulas, we must make time for our other responsibilities. We run an organic farm where we raise and sell organic-fed heritage poultry, eggs and pork. Before Jamie’s Tarantulas, I worked full time as a private chef. I still love cooking for a crowd, and Jon and I often cater weekend events featuring our home-grown organic meat and produce.

jamie-goatJon is a sub-contractor who can build and repair just about anything. As an extremely talented electrical engineer, he runs a side business, Elevated Audio, where he custom manufactures, repairs, resells and installs high-end audio systems and equipment. He also specializes in automotive electrical. As I’m here at my desk, he’s out working on a complete electrical system for a race car. He’ll rip every wire and sensor out then redo the whole thing from scratch to suit the unique needs of the build. I find it quite incredible!

I learned metal fabrication including MIG and TIG welding while interning for Martin Wilson at Monster Miata. The ability to create with metal has been instrumental in the success of all our businesses. We’ve custom made everything from metal catering carts, audio racks and tarantula room shelves.

All our income streams allow us to work for ourselves. It is a blessing our work and hobbies are one and the same. It brings me joy to share all the things I love with my customers whether it be organic free range eggs or a captive bred A. versicolor.

Wow, that sounds like an incredibly busy schedule for both of you. And as if selling tarantulas isn’t cool enough, the number of skills and businesses both of you have is staggering. Cooking, farming, metal-fabrication, and electrical engineering? Impressive just doesn’t cover it!

Now for a question I’ve wondered about for a while. Your Black Friday sale has become a bit of an annual tradition at my house, usually resulting in me waiting on the computer on Thanksgiving Day for the sales to go up. The variety of species and specimens you carry during this event is always quite impressive. When did you begin running this yearly sale? What does it take to get ready for this sale and to get the stock you need?

Years ago, I had multiple customers email to ask if I was having a Black Friday sale. It was a great idea so we went ahead and planned one. Although the sale was not as big as it is today, it was a huge success and has continued to grow over the years.

I typically start setting things aside 3-4 months in advance, however, I never know who will make the “final cut” as we’re very picky about what tarantulas we put up for sale. About a month before the sale we start cutting Styrofoam, building boxes, assembling kits and stocking our supply & cage inventory.

The sale is a lot of work, but it’s also nice to have enough saved to take a couple weeks to spend the holidays with family and friends. This year we’re going to make Black Friday bigger and better then any Black Friday before.

The N. chromatus and B. albopilosum on the website currently sold as 1”+ are now molting to about 1 1/4-1 1/2”. I will be able to determine gender for some of the juveniles their next molt, which should happen around September and October. That’s perfect timing for shipping in November. If we have enough available we’ll offer a confirmed male or female with a Juvenile Terrestrial Enclosure Kit special. We will have over a hundred different items available including many spiderlings and specials under $20. As always we’ll have our biggest selection and best prices of the year. We hope to see everyone there!

(For an early Black Friday Price list, skip to the bottom of the article!)

You can count me in!

For any folks out there who might one day be planning on getting into the business, what are the most challenging aspects of the tarantula retail business? What are the most rewarding ones?

Start small. Keep tarantulas and see if their care and maintenance something you would want to do regularly. Keep in mind these are living creatures that must be housed individually. At Jamie’s Tarantulas, maintaining thousands of specimens and keeping them in top condition is in itself a full time job. They count on us for all their needs, and it is necessary to be persistent and consistent with their maintenance and husbandry.

Packing and shipping is an art necessary for a successful tarantula retail business. We must remember we’re shipping live creatures. They have no choice but to count on us for their safe arrival. Getting the tarantula safely to its new home is should be the top priority, and live arrival should be guaranteed. Be sure customers are aware of the live arrival terms. You can’t have a successful business with unhappy customers!

The most challenging part of a tarantula retail business is the commitment and budgeting time. There is so much that has to be done, and we are the only ones to do it. We can’t call in sick or take substantial vacation leave. That is alright though, because I love my job!

The most rewarding aspect of the business is seeing our customers get excited about their tarantulas. I’ve even had many customers who’ve purchased a T to get over arachnophobia who end up “getting bit” and growing their collection! 

I’ve encountered many folks who given thought to getting into tarantula retail, but I often wondered if they appreciated the work it would entail. It certainly sounds rewarding, but quite challenging at the same time. While chatting through emails, you also made a great point about the difference between “dealers” and “breeders” and where each fits into the hobby. Care to explain?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot and the truth is, we need more breeders and less dealers. It seems (based on a percent of tarantula keepers) There are far less hobby breeders now then in years past. Every other old-time hobbyist I’ve asked has agreed with me.

jamie-snakeI have seen a lot of new hobbyists have a few successful eggsacs, set up a website and try to become dealers. I can appreciate the enthusiasm however, I’m often surprised at how many new dealers pop up, then disappear. Why does this happen?

We have learned so much over the years running a business, and we could never have been successful without our combined experience keeping and breeding tarantulas however, at least in our case it is a very, very small part of becoming a successful “tarantula dealer.”

Before focusing on “becoming a dealer”, hobbyists who want to grow their collection, and possibly use it as a source of income should first and very least become exceptional tarantula keepers. Then, once a firm foundation in husbandry is established the individual or collective should be focus on becoming excellent tarantula breeders. Just like everything else becoming successful in the field of tarantulas takes practice, patience and time. Always be observant, open to new ideas and most importantly take notes! If it is something they are good at and enjoy slowly and comfortable increase the size of their operation. The quality of the animals and service will speak for themselves.

I wish more hobbyists would consider this option, rather than burning bright and burning out. This doesn’t do anyone much good. The overhead involved with selling slings wholesale is minimal and can turn a hobby into a side income. More hobbyists could get a “piece of the pie” and in the meantime hone their skill and refine their technique. There would be more quality U.S captive-bred spiderlings on the market.

I am curious if you’ve noticed less hobby breeders to dealers and keepers? I find it harder every year to buy slings from US breeders however, there are more imports available. Is this just me?

I definitely understand what you’re saying, and I’ve heard others comment on this issue as well. It’s become a bit of a running joke among serious tarantula enthusiasts here that the Europeans are light-years ahead of their American counterparts in breeding Ts and producing enough captive-bred specimens to support the hobby. Many folks in the US don’t realize that when they are buying from dealers, they are often buying wild-caught import or captive-bred specimens bred across the pond. The hobby is more popular than ever, and it would be great if more folks got into breeding so that we could not rely on import (and enjoy lower prices!).

From a personal standpoint, I now like to buy from folks that I know are breeding much of their own stock, as I know they have their care down and I can expect to get healthier animals who haven’t spent weeks in transit. 

Speaking of the spiders, are there new or uncommon species that currently have you particularly excited? What’s currently on your wish list?

Harpachia pulchripes is my current favorite sling. I like to keep my favorite slings on my desk this one currently has my awe and attention!

Iridopelma sabolosum is on my wish list, but unless Brazil changes its export policy or someone illegally brown boxes them into the country, they will not be available in the U.S. Currently, there is still much rain forest within their range, although their habitat is being threatened by deforestation. As long as their natural home is intact, I can enjoy I. sabolosum knowing they’re living and thriving where they should be, as an important part of their natural environment.

My favorites and those on my wish list are always changing. It’s like asking me to pick my favorite food – there are so many! and if you ask tomorrow I might have a different answer. There are nearly a thousand different species of tarantulas, still many to be discovered. Each is so different and special.

I get a lot of visitors on “Tom’s Big Spiders” that are new to the hobby and looking for a good starter species. Which species do you believe are the best introductory tarantulas for someone just getting into the hobby?

jamie-birdNew World Terrestrials over about 3/4” typically make the best starter tarantulas. Tarantulas belonging to genus Grammostola and Brachypoelma are highly recommended. Some classic examples include: G. pulchripes (chaco golden knee), G. porteri (Rose-hair tarantula), G. rosea (red rose hair), G. pulchra (brazilian black), B. smithi (mexican red knee), B. albopilosum (mexican curly hair) & B. emilia (Mexican red leg)

For those looking for something more active and colorful, the C. cyaneopubescens (Green bottle blue “GBB”) is a great choice. Avicularia species larger than about 2” or so can also make a great starter tarantulas.

Old World species are not recommended for first time or inexperienced keepers.

I know that the genus Avicularia is one that is very close to your heart. Which is your favorite species in this genus? What would be your top three?

Avicularia versicolor has always been close to my heart. I’ve thought about the other two the last few weeks and simply cannot narrow it down any further. I love all Avicularia species. Each Avicularia is unique and beautiful in its own way. 

Fair enough! I’m assuming that there are some tarantulas you would hold onto even if you weren’t in the business. What species do you keep as part of your “personal” collection?

I have a B. smithi who I adore. However, my favorite B. smithi tarantula “Snickers” was given to my mother in 2012 as a birthday present. She is the “family spider” and thus, part of the family!

I joke about giving my mother a tarantula for Christmas every year, but she is HIGHLY aracnophobic, so I don’t think it will happen. Guess there won’t be a family spider in the Moran family!

It’s funny that you should mention that. I have had quite a few individuals contact me regarding the purchase of a tarantula as a way to help get over fear.

One customer’s psychologist recommended she purchase a “pet spider” to get over her severe arachnophobia. She didn’t just change her own mind, all her family, friends and co-workers all know how she adores her tarantula collection. Last time we spoke she had over 20 different species.

Jon and I joke the one who get a tarantula to get over their fear “get bit” worst of all. It is rare a recovering phobic doesn’t come back for another tarantula.

It doesn’t surprise me! I actually got my first tarantula 21 years ago to get over my irrational and embarrassing fear of spiders. 140+ Ts later, and I think that I’m finally over it.

Finally, a fun question. If you were limited to keeping only three species of tarantulas, one arboreal, one terrestrial, and one other of your choosing, which species would you select?

For the Arboreal an A. versicolor, for the terrestrial B. smithi. For the wild card I would choose my B. albopilosum female “Bad Hair Day”. 

Jamie, once again, thanks so much for taking the time to chat!

Thanks, Tom!

And now…the Black Friday Sale List! 

Sale starts 7:00 pm PST on Thanksgiving Day. Check the website for availability; new species may be added!

$18/15 Acanthoscurria geniculata (Brazilian Giant White Knee) 1/3”

$79/49 Aphonopelma seemanni (Costa Rican Stripe Knee) 3-4″ FEMALE #660/61         

$26/19 Augacephalus ezendami (Mozambique Gold Baboon) 1-1 1/4”

$69/$49 Avicularia metallica (Metallic Pink Toe) 3″ FEMALE #419

$39/37 Avicularia versicolor (Martinique pinktoe) 1/2-3/4″#6S and 1/2- 3/4”

$39/37 Avicularia versicolor (Martinique pinktoe) 3/4″+

$24/19 Brachypelma albopilosum (Curly Hair) 1-1 1/2”

$85/69 Brachypelma albopilosum (Curly Hair) 4-4 1/2″ FEMALE #707/8

$14/$9 Brachypelma albopilosum (Curlyhair tarantula) 1/2″ #721

$145/$129 Brachypelma auratum (Mexican Flame Knee) 2-2 1/2” FEMALE #715 

$135/$119 Brachypelma boehmei (Fire Leg Tarantula) 2″ FEMALE #706 

$155/$129 Brachypelma boehmei (Fire Leg Tarantula) 2 1/2-3“ FEMALE

$39/$34 Brachypelma boehmei (Fire Leg) 3/4″ #717

$39/$34 Brachypelma emilia (Mexican Red-leg) 1/2″ #740

$135/$95 Brachypelma smithi (Mexican Red Knee) 1 3/4-2″ FEMALE

$145/$109 Brachypelma smithi (Mexican Red Knee) 2-2 1/2″ FEMALE

8x $155/$124 Brachypelma smithi (Mexican Red Knee) 2 1/2-3″ FEMALE

$165/$139 Brachypelma smithi (Mexican Red Knee) FEMALE 3-3 1/4″

$14/$9 Brachypelma vagans (Mexican Red Rump) 1/2” #421

$69/$59 Brachypelma vagans (Mexican red rump) 2 1/2-3″ FEMALE #713

$18/$12 Ceratogyrus darlingi (Horned baboon) 3/4″ #742

$29/19  Chilobrachys dyscolus (Vietnam Blue) 1″ #575

$55/$49 Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens (Green bottle blue) 3/4”

$65/$59 Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens (Green bottle blue) 1- 1 1/4”

$80/$69 Ephebopus murinus (Skeleton Tarantula) 4-5″ FEMALE #709 

$25/$18 Euathlus sp. Red (Dwarf Chile Flame) 1/3-1/2″ #736

$15/$9 Grammostola porteri/rosea (pink) 1/2-3/4”

$45/$34 Grammostola porteri/rosea (pink) 3-4″ FEMALE #653

$59/$54 Grammostola pulchra (Brazilian black) 1″+ #422

$14/$9 Grammostola pulchripes (Chaco golden knee) 1/2″ #16

$20/$18 Grammostola pulchripes (Chaco golden knee) 3/4-1″ #15

$18/$14 Grammostola rosea (Rose-hair RCF) 1/2-3/4″ #28

$34/$25 Hapalopus sp. Colombia “Pumpkin Patch Large” 1/4-1/3”

$95/$79 Haplopelma lividum (Cobalt Blue) 3 1/2-4” FEMALE #716

$65/55 Heteroscodra maculata (Togo starburst baboon) 2 1/2-3″ FEMALE #678

$45/$35 Heteroscodra maculata (Togo starburst baboon) 2-3″ MALE #677 

$34/$22 Heterothele gabonensis 1″ #175

$39/$29 Iridopelma hirsutum 3/4-1″ #687

$45/$39 Lampropelma sp. “Borneo Black” 1″ #727

$45/$39 Lampropelma violaceopes (Singapore blue) 1-1 1/2″ #725

$22/$16 Lasiodora parahybana (Salmon pink birdeater) 3/4-1”

$135/$119 Lasiodora parahybana (Salmon Pink Birdeater) 4″ FEMALE #711

$64/$55 Monocentropus balfouri (Socotra Island Blue Baboon) 3/4-1″ #732 

$14/$9 Nhandu chromatus (Brazilian White Striped Bird-eater) 1/4” #741 

$24/$19 Nhandu chromatus (Brazilian White Striped Birdeater) 1-1 1/2” 

$125/$109 Nhandu coloratovillosus (Brazilian Black and White) 3 1/2-4″ FEMALE #710

$89/$69 Oligoxystre diamantinensis (Brazilian Blue Dwarf Beauty) 1/2-3/4″ #728 

$29/$24 Pelinobius muticus (King Baboon Tarantula) 1″ #722

$79/59 Phormictopus cancerides (Hispaniolan Giant) 4 1/2- 5″ FEMALE #662

$29/$22 Psalmopoeus irminia (Venezuelan Sun Tiger)   1 1/2″

$195/$149 Theraphosa apophysis (Goliath Pinkfoot) 4-4 1/2″ FEMALE #427

$75/$59 Thrixopelma ockerti (Flame Rump Tree Spider) 1 1/2-1 3/4″ FEMALE

SPECIALS:

BF Special: Brachypelma vagans (Mexican red rump) 1/3-1/2″ & Terrestrial Spiderling Enclosure 

$19.00

$16.00

BF Special: G. pulchripes (Chaco golden knee) 1/2″ & Terrestrial Spiderling Enclosure

$20.00

$16.00

BF Special: Grammostola porteri (Pink Rose hair) 1/2-3/4″ & Terrestrial Spiderling Enclosure

$21.00

$16.00

BF Special: Grammostola rosea “RCF” 1/2″ & Terrestrial Spiderling Enclosure

$24.00

$21.00

BF Special: Lasiodora parahybana (Salmon Pink Bird-eater) 1/2-3/4” & Terrestrial Spiderling Enclosure

$29.00

$23.00

BF Aphonopelma seemanni (Costa Rican Stripe Knee) 3-4″+ FEMALE #660/61 & Adult Complete Terrestrial Enclosure Kit

$183.00

$143.00

BF SPECIAL: Brachypelma albopilosum (Curly Hair) 4-4 1/2″ FEMALE #707/8 & Adult Complete Terrestrial Enclosure Kit

$189.00

$164.00

BF SPECIAL: Brachypelma auratum (Mexican Flame Knee) 2-2 1/2″ FEMALE #715 & Adult Complete Terrestrial Enclosure Kit

$249.00

$223.00

Psalmopoeus cambridgei “The Trinidad Chevron” Husbandry Notes

When I first got heavy into the hobby, I was immediately attracted to tarantulas from the genus Poecilotheria. As a result, I skipped some of the “stepping stone” arboreal species that keepers usually start out with to prepare for these advanced Old World spiders. For years, most of the aboreals in my collection (with the exception of two Avicularia) were from this genus. As I acquired more and more pokies, I tended to ignore some of the other amazing arboreal tarantulas available in the hobby. It wasn’t until very recently that I decided it was high time I tried out some of the other genera of tree-dwelling tarantulas; namely Psalmopoeus and Tapinauchenius. As luck would have it, an order from Pet Center USA earned me a free P. cambridgei, or “Trinidad Chevron” sling, kicking off a newfound appreciation for these awesome spiders.

p-cambridgei

When I first received my P. cambridgei in early October 2015, it was about 1″ or so. I housed it in 32 oz deli container ventilated with three rings of holes around the top. I added about 3″ of moist substrate (a combination of topsoil and vermiculite), a piece of cork bark flat with plastic leaves hot glued to it, some sphagnum moss, and a small bottle cap for a water dish. As a sling, I kept part of the substrate moist (not wet) at all times. To do this, I would pour some water down one of the sides, allowing it to percolate through the substrate down to bottom. This kept the lower levels moist while the top dried out a bit. I also tried to keep the water bowl full at all times, although she would often web it up or fill it with substrate.

As with all of my tarantulas, the temperatures ranged from 70-75° 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.

As a sling, my cambridgei burrowed a bit into the substrate and webbed up behind its cork bark using substrate and sphagnum to make “dirt curtains”. By the time I finally rehoused it, it had webbed up the entire enclosure right to the top. It was very reclusive during this period, quickly bolting into its burrow whenever disturbed. Even as a sling, this spider was very fast, darting out of view in the blink of an eye.

TIP: Many folks hear the term “arboreal” and immediately expect their slings to hang up high on the cork bark. However, many arboreal spiderlings will start their lives on the ground, and some will even burrow a bit. If your Psalmopoeus species sling starts digging, rest assured; there is nothing wrong with it. They usually outgrow this behavior once they put on some size.

While a sling, I would feed it one small cricket twice a week. As it put on some size, reaching about 3″, I moved 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 has been a very fast-growing species, having molted five times in 10 months and putting on an impressive amount of size with each molt. At the time of this writing, it is about 4.5″.

In April of 2016, it had outgrown its deli cup, and I rehoused it into a larger enclosure. I used a one-gallon Mainstay clear canister which I ventilated with dozens of holes and hot glued a water dish up in one of the corners. Although I started with the substrate moist, I let it dry out. During the summer months when it is quite humid, I leave it dry and keep the water dish full. 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 it has webbed quite a bit, I also dribble some water on the webbing when I feed it to give it a choice as to where to drink.

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. cambridgei, 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. 

When first relocated to this new enclosure, the cambridgei was quite shy, building a web and secreting itself behind the cork. Now that it has settled in, it sits right out in the open most of the time.  Unlike some of my other skittish arboreals that will bolt to hide when disturbed, this one will boldly stay put.

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 7 gallons or so.

The P. cambridgei  is a beautiful, fast-growing arboreal species that makes a wonderful showcase spider. That said, they are very fast and many report that their specimens have quite the defensive attitudes. However, this speed and “attitude” make it a great stepping stone species to Poecilotheria without worry of the more potent venom of this Old World genus.

Avicularia juruensis “Yellow Banded Pinktoe” Husbandry Notes

a-juruensis-sling

While looking for a unique arboreal species, I noticed that Tanya at Fear Not Tarantulas had some Avicularia juruensis slings for sale.  Although I already had a couple of avics, including an A. versicolor and an A. metallica, for a while I really wasn’t too interested in getting any more. However, I had been on a bit of an arboreal tear the past couple months, and I was seeing this genus in a new light. I Googled some photos of adults and was immediately enamored with this fluffy little spider with the pink feet and golden bands that give it the common name “Yellow-Banded Pinktoe”. Excited to acquire a spider that I hadn’t heard much about, I picked up a 1.25″ sling in April of 2016.

This little guy/gal has definitely spurred a renewed interest in this genus.

Housing

For housing, I set my juruensis up in a 32 oz deli cup that I vented with three rows of holes along the top. I added about 2″ of slightly moist substrate to start (which I allowed to dry out), a mixture of topsoil and vermiculite. Coco fiber or peat would work just as well. I also included a piece of cork bark flat placed at an angle for hiding, a plastic plant, a pinch of sphagnum moss, and small bottle cap for a water dish.

TIP: To encourage webbing, it’s advisable to include plastic plants and foliage in order to provide the T with plenty of anchor points to attach it to. Cages barren of decorations tend to lead to less webbing and often unsettled avics.

After being introduced into its new home, my sling took residence between the top of the cork bark and cover of the container. There, it started webbing a bit of a silk “sock” to hide in, a sign that it was settling in well.  Although it webbed a section of the cover closed, I could easily open the enclosure from the other side for maintenance and feeding without tearing up the web. Whenever disturbed, the tarantula would retreat to this web to hide.

My A. juruensis enclosure.

TIP: Avicularia species love to make their homes in the highest corners of their enclosures. This can give keeper fits, as many use top-opening designs to house their animals. Although I use 32 oz deli cups, folks have become quite creative when setting up enclosures for their arboreal species. A quick Google search will bring up some great possibilities. 

For prey, I have a red runner roach colony, and I always have the pinhead roaches on hand, so I started by feeding it these. I would drop in a couple twice a week or so and they’d be gone in a day.

It molted for the first time about a month after I got it, hiding out in its web hide for close to two weeks before taking its first meal. It molted again in September and once again took over a week before it ate its first post-molt meal.  This species seems to take a bit longer in premolt, as well as some extra time to eat again after molting. It is about 1.75-2″ at the time of this writing. Now that it’s put on a bit of size, I’ve switched to medium crickets, which it has no trouble subduing. It’s been an excellent eater so far, and it has only refused food when in premolt.

Once it hits about 3″ or so, I will rehouse it into a 1 gallon clear plastic jugs I get at my local Walmart. They are crystal clear, easy to vent, and a great size for juvenile arboreal tarantulas. At that point, it will be getting one large cricket a week. When it inevitably outgrows that container, it will get rehoused into something around 5-7 gallons.

TIP: Now, most Avicularia will come out hunting at night and will have no issue locating prey on the ground. That said, I have kept a couple of specimens that seemed to be missing the prey that I dropped on the ground. When my Avicularia versicolor was a tiny sling, she would never venture on to the substrate to hunt (as evidenced by the fact that prey items I dropped in were still there days later). To make sure she ate, I would prekill a pinhead and place it in one end of her web sock. It got to the point that she’d wait at the opening for prey, and I could carefully use tweezers to drop live prey at the lip, and she’d snatch it right up. Now that she’s an adult, she hunts fine, and I haven’t had to continue bringing the food to her. So far, this has definitely not been an issue with the juruensis

Temperature and humidity

A lot of care sheets talk about the high-humidity requirements of Avicularia species, encouraging keepers to keep them on moist substrate and to spray to keep moisture levels up. However, many keepers are now realizing that the majority of these species do better when kept mostly dry with good ventilation. For years, folks spoke about “SADS” or “Sudden Avic Death Syndrome”, a phenomenon where a seemingly healthy Avicularia species would suddenly die for no apparent reason. Many seasoned keepers now believe that the moist conditions encouraged by care sheets were the culprit, as the stuffy, stagnate cages proved to be death traps for these animals. This genus seems to thrive in a drier environment as long as fresh water is provided.

a-juruensis-sling

I keep my A. juruensis the same way I keep my other avics (A. versicolor, A. metallica, and A. sp. Amazonica); plenty of ventilation, dry substrate, and a full water dish.  When I fill the water dishes, I overflow a bit, but I let it dry out in between. Once in a while, I’ll spritz some water on the side of the enclosure and webbing just in case it wants to grab a drink up high, but that’s only on occasion. It has done very well in this setup.

As for temperatures, my Ts are kept between 70-75° in the winter and 75-80° in the warmer summer months. When I first acquired it in April, the temps in my spider room were still on the low-end, and she ate and grew fine.

TIP: When in premolt, many avics will web themselves up in little “cocoons”, closing off both ends. If you see this behavior; don’t panic and don’t open up the web and try to push prey through! It just means that a molt is imminent. After it molts, the spider will stay in this web for a while; again, don’t tear down the web trying to get it out. It will emerge when it is ready.

Temperament-wise, this little guy/gal has been fairly calm. When disturbed, it scoots to its silk sock or behind the cork bark, but it doesn’t frantically bolt like other arboreal species I keep. Now that it’s larger, it also sits out in the open more often. Those who have kept this species usually describe them as calm.

The Avicularia juruensis is turning out to be a hardy, relatively fast-growing, and beautiful tarantula that would make an excellent addition to any collection.

* A WORD ABOUT MY HUSBANDRY NOTES: This article is not meant to be a “care sheet”, but rather an account of my observations as well as a description of what works for me. As always, I encourage folks to research all species thoroughly and seek multiple perspectives.

A Nasty Email (and Temperatures and Humidity Revisited)

Well, it was bound to happen.

After several years of writing for Tom’s Big Spiders, I finally received my first piece of nasty correspondence. Honestly, the streak had to end eventually, as to date, 100% of my interactions with other keepers has been completely positive. These conversation are the single greatest perk of having the site and my YouTube channel.

However, after a rather stressful week, I sat down to answer some emails on Friday afternoon and got a bit of a surprise. I had a collection update from hobby friend (Hi, Dallas!), a question about a P. crassipes “goliath’s” odd eating behavior, a request for help by a fellow teacher whose class tarantula wasn’t doing well after a recent molt, and an email from a keeper to who needed help identifying the mislabeled T she bought from Petco.

And then, there was this little gem:

Name: [Redacted]

Email: [Redacted]

Website:

Comment: This is one of the worst care sheets I’ve read in my 18 years of breeding t’s! Humidity DOES matter! Heat DOES matter. Heat mats work well with burrowing t’s! As long as you use a probe to keep the heat set at about 80 and have deep enough material that they can pick a level they prefer. I’ve done no heat before and they will stress out if not kept properly. Won’t breed well either.

I currently own around 240 t’s and many have heat added to their tanks,via heat mats. Dry tanks = bad molts.

Time: September 30, 2016 at 3:03 pm

I’m assuming that the “care sheet” this person was referring to was my article “Humidity Temperature, and Tarantulas”, but this is only an educated guess. This is a blog I wrote a while back to help folks understand that they didn’t need to agonize over achieving the “ideal” temperature and humidity levels they encountered in care sheets. Since publishing this article, it’s been viewed over 6,000 times and has sparked numerous conversations with hobbyists who were worried about their temps.

TEMP-AND-HUMID.jpg

Unfortunately, this email really rubbed me the wrong way for two reasons. First, it was rude. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent years trying to teach high school students to intelligently state and defend their positions (sorry, but “it sucks” is not a good argument…give me examples of why it sucks.), so it drives me insane when someone makes an curt, argumentative statement but does little to support it. If this guy had approached me politely with a “Hey, Tom, I completely disagree with this article, and this is why…” it could have turned into a fantastic discussion.

Second, and most importantly, it came off as another sterling example of an advanced keeper who seems to think his way of doing things is the gold standard. I’ve discussed with many folks the issue I have with seasoned keepers who pontificate on forums and Facebook and chastise any keeper who doesn’t follow their lead to the letter. Although I obviously give advice through Tom’s Big Spiders, I always endeavor to say my piece and let the keeper decide what to do with it. Even when someone chooses to not take my advice, I’ll continue to try to help them in any way I can.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: just because something works for you, doesn’t mean that it is the “only” way to correctly do things.

Now, maybe this guy is good dude who was having a bad day. It happens. I have all the respect in the world for someone with close to two decades of breeding experience. No joke. Who knows, I may even have some spiders this guy bred in my collection. However, just because you’ve done something for 18 years doesn’t mean that there aren’t other ways to do it.

Now here’s where things get a little interesting.

After emailing back to ask him to get clarification on which article he read before I replied, and getting no response, I decided to start writing my retort. Although I planned on working on my pet store article this weekend, I was instead wasting time responding to this email. Perhaps I became a bit too obsessive, but I take a lot of pride in presenting current and accurate information on my site, and I felt the need to thoroughly refute the statements made in that email. 

Once I passed around 1,500 words or so, I decided that it would be a waste to just send this to someone who will likely not read it or not care. After all, if this individual really thought this information was that bad, why not post it in the comment section so it could be addressed publicly? I had always planned on revisiting the temperature and humidity article, and this could be an entertaining way to do so. I had also planned to start a feature where I print some questions I receive from keepers and the responses I give (as a lot of them are common and the answers could benefit others). This could be a fun way to kick that off.

Therefore, I’m presenting my response in this blog post. I’ve redacted the breeder’s name and email address, but the original message is being presented as I received it. Hopefully, this will again raise some awareness on this topic, as I still get several emails a month by folks who are stressed out because they can’t match the temps or humidity they found in a care sheet. Also, it will hopefully served to further clarify my thoughts on the topic. 


Hello, [redacted]!

Unfortunately, you didn’t respond to my polite request for clarification, so I’m left to guess which article offended you so. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess it was “Humidity, Temperature, and Tarantulas.” First off, I’m not sure if it was the general theme of this article you took umbrage to, or just one of the statements I made within that caused you to fire off such a rude email.

It’s a shame you couldn’t have approached me in a more polite manner, as I usually enjoy mature discourse over some of the hobby’s controversial topics. I’ve had many polite and professional debates with both new and established keepers, and I always enjoy the opportunity to hear a different perspective as it relates to tarantula keeping. Heck, I even try to thoroughly present both arguments, even the ones I might disagree with, in my Tarantula Controversies articles. As you are obviously an experienced keeper with a vast amount of knowledge about tarantula keeping and breeding, we could have discussed the article maturely and productively.

Instead, I’m left with a hyperbolic and insulting statement backed with scarce supporting “evidence” that comes across more as a pot shot that a mature attempt to discuss differing opinions. With that in mind, please allow me to retort…

I think it’s important to consider that much of the information on my site and channel is targeted to those just getting started in the hobby. Although I enjoy traffic from some amazing advanced collectors who are looking for species info or for my “fun” opinion articles, I’m not currently giving breeding advice. In fact, I’ve stated many times that hobbyists looking to breed need to research elsewhere for their info for the time being. Besides, I’d like to think that most advance hobbyists don’t find it necessary to hunt online for basic husbandry info.

Being as seasoned as you are in the hobby, I’m certain you understand that keeping tarantulas as pets and breeding tarantulas are two VERY different situations. As a breeder, you will often have to try to emulate local temps and seasonal changes, or wet and dry seasons, as you try to stimulate breeding behavior in your tarantulas. That will require more careful creation and monitoring of your micro-climates and will likely necessitate the need for individual heat sources. In that case, heat mats or other heating devices might be needed to raise temperatures in single enclosures (instead of just heating the entire room).

However, this is something a breeder would worry about, not the average hobbyist.

Also, you make a point to mention your “18 years of breeding t’s [sic]”, likely as a way to tout your credentials as an expert in the hobby and someone who knows their stuff. I totally respect that; it’s folks like yourself that produce the captive-bred tarantulas we all buy. But again, let me point out that being a breeder, you likely have different goals and needs for your animals. For example, many breeders I’ve spoken to keep the temperatures in their T rooms higher than normal to stimulate faster growth in order to get breedable mature males and females faster.

Again, not something the average keeper will be worrying about.

I don’t know if you finished the article, but I actually concede these points at the end. To quote:

“Is there a time where more careful, species-specific micro-climates are necessary? Yes, as those looking to breed species, especially some of the more difficult ones, will look to recreate natural environmental triggers, like high temps, winter lows, or wet seasons to stimulate a mating response. In these cases, some careful management of their tarantulas’ micro-climates will be warranted.”

That said, although you may have to keep a certain species at 80 degrees for breeding purposes, that absolutely does NOT mean that this animal has to be kept this high for it to be healthy and stress-free. Most species do very well at room temp (and I did put a cutoff in the article so that folks know when their “room temperature” might be too cold.) and require no extra heat.

And where, exactly, did you come up with 80 degrees as the ideal? Am I to read this to mean that ALL tarantulas have to be kept at 80 degrees? Or is this just “burrowing species?” If so, I find that to be a pretty ridiculous notion. Sure, higher temps lead to faster metabolisms and faster growth rates. However, to insinuate that all tarantulas need temps in the 80s is just silly; they don’t. And this fact is not only evidenced by my personal collection of 140+ with 75+ species (not as impressive as yours, I concede, but a sizable sample nonetheless) but also as dozens if not hundreds of other keepers’ collections who frequent forums like Arachnoboards and the Tarantula Forum. Heck, on Arachnoboards, there was just a thread that addressed temps today with many hobbyists explaining to a new keeper that he shouldn’t worry about the temps in his home.

I don’t know how much interaction you have with other hobbyists, but the ideas presented in this article are by no means new or revolutionary. The majority of informed hobbyists now recognize that the bogus “ideal” humidity and temperatures listed on countless care sheets are useless. As we’ve kept these creatures and learned more about them, many are straying from obsessively monitoring temperatures and instead adhering to the “room temperature” rule. Basically, if you are comfortable, your T will be as well. You’ve found that 80 degrees works for you, and that’s great. I’ve found the 70-80 works for me. Is either one of us wrong? Nope. However, the fact that the spiders in my collection are thriving does prove that although temps in the 80s will work, they are by no means necessary.

The majority of species available come from areas that experience seasonal shifts that include temperature extremes as well as wet and dry seasons. We often look at one extreme (Wow, it’s 88º in June and July with 20 inches of rain!) and assign arbitrary ideal humidity and temperature requirements based off of this. The truth is, for many tarantulas, the optimal number is probably somewhere in the middle. Also, Ts that experience rainy seasons as well as droughts are obviously able to live in less than humid conditions.

Now, if your 80 degrees only pertains to burrowers, I have to ask which species are you referring to? I currently keep several fossorial species, including T. gigas, C. guanxiensis, C. dyscolus, C. lividum, P. muticus, M. balfouri, E. pachypus, O. philippinus, H. albostriatum, P. crassipes, and L. crotalus. Not one has heat, and all are currently eating, burrowing, and doing all of the things a seemingly content spider will do. It’s about 71º in my tarantula room now, and it will remain between 71 and about 75 throughout the winter. I should also add that several of the species listed above I raised from slings to adults in those exact same temperature ranges.

And what signs are you using to determine if the animal is stressed? Not eating? Odd behavior? Leaving its burrow? I often hear “stress” tossed around, but I’m very curious as to what indicators you are using.

It’s important for you to consider that many of the folks reading this article have just picked their first spider up at a local pet shop and are currently researching their new pet online. They are being exposed to a staggering amount of misinformation as well-meaning keepers and bloggers regurgitate bad husbandry advice, many just cutting and pasting info about animals they have never even kept. This causes panic, as this poor soul is now convinced her new G. pulchripes will die if not kept at exactly 82º and at 65% humidity.

I know…I’ve been there. When I first got my G. porteri in ’90s, I probably could have killed her by giving her a heat rock and spraying her constantly. 

Do you seriously think folks that are picking up G. roseas or B. albopilosums at their local Petcrap store are going to buy complicated probes, rheostats, and heat mats? No. If they are sold anything, it’s going to be a cheap Zoo Med rheostat, and heat rock or heat lamp, and one of those useless hygrometer/thermometer combos. Having not used these devices before, they will then set up this useless heating system, stressing over an “ideal” temperature that they read in some care sheet they dragged up online or due to the poor advice of an ill-informed clerk. And in many cases, you know what happens next?

They end up with a dead spider.

I could honestly show you over a dozen emails, maybe more, from keepers who tried to heat their tarantula enclosures with mats, rocks, lamps, etc. and ended up with dead Ts. The fact is, most end up doing more harm than good when trying to heat these enclosures. You obviously have years of experience and know how to properly set up heat mats with rheostats as to pose no harm to your animals; the average keeper new to the hobby does NOT. And, please keep in mind that the majority of these folks are keeping Brachypelma, Grammostola, Aphonopelma, and other species that experience natural seasonal temperature shifts in the wild and do not, under most ordinary circumstances, require extra heat or humidity.

Furthermore, tarantulas, unlike reptiles, are notorious for gravitating toward, and parking themselves on, heat sources like mats and basking spots and not moving, even as they become overheated and eventually dehydrated. I literally just received an email less than two weeks ago by a keeper who was using an under-the-tank heat mat to warm up his B. vagans because he was told it had to be kept at 80°. He came home from work to find the spider in a death curl in the heated corner. Luckily, he rehydrated the T and removed the heater, and it survived.

Often, they do not.

And let’s examine your blanket “Dry tanks = bad molts” statement. Which species are you talking about here, all of them? C. cyaneopubescens? G. porteri? P. murinus? M. balfouri? Surely you’re not insinuating that all tarantulas, even arid species, require moist conditions…

How many keepers out there have unwittingly subjected their tarantulas to damp, stuffy, potentially deadly conditions as they over sprayed their animals in an attempt to keep the humidity unnecessarily high? As you know, too much moisture with not enough ventilation can lead to mold and other undesirables.

Might I also point out that in many cases, heating sources = dry cages. Obviously, any type of supplemental heat can dry an enclosure (and a spider) up, right? This means that someone who is heating their enclosure individually will now have to pay extra careful attention to make certain their T doesn’t dehydrate, especially if this is a moisture-dependent species (as many fossorial species are).

I understand and appreciate that using mat and heating cables is a popular way to heat and especially favored by many European collectors. However, not only can these setups be pricey, but it takes a lot of experimentation and finesse to use them appropriately and safely. Then you have to take into account that majority of folks getting into this hobby are starting with one of the “beginner species” that doesn’t require supplementary heat. I’ve had some folks contact me over the years, many from overseas, who unfortunately experience winter temps in their homes that are a bit too low for their spiders. In these instances, I’ve suggested a space heater or pointed them in the direction of articles/blog posts that explain how to safely use mats to heat their animals.

Also, I don’t believe I state in my article that heat DOESN’T matter or that humidity DOESN’T matter; no, the entire point is that folks shouldn’t obsess over these arbitrary ideal temperatures and humidity requirements named in many terrible online care sheets. If I believed that moisture and temperature wasn’t at all important, would I have spent so much time discussing both?

The whole impetus of this article was hearing from huge number of keepers who were causing themselves unneeded stress (and putting their spiders at risk) by desperately trying to maintain elevated temperature and humidity levels because of some care sheet they read.

I could see you getting upset if I said that temperature doesn’t matter at all, but I didn’t. In fact, I spent a chunk of the article clarifying “room temperature” and defining an acceptable range for most species.

I could see you getting upset if I said moisture doesn’t matter, but I didn’t. I spent some time talking about just HOW to keep moisture levels up for tarantulas that require it.

I could see you getting upset if I said that there are NEVER instances where supplemental heat is needed, but I didn’t. I actually recommend the use of space heaters and concede that mats can be used, but can be tricky to set up.

And, I could see you getting upset if I said that ALL species should be kept the same way, but I didn’t.

So, when you say that “This is one of the worst care sheets [you’ve] read in 18 years of breeding t’s [sic]”, I’m left to wonder if you just completely got hung up on one detail in it, perhaps the part about heat mats, and therefore missed the entire point of the piece. To be clear: I’m not telling people that temperature and humidity doesn’t matter. I’m telling them not to stress over arbitrary, often incorrect ideals.

I do thank you for emailing me (although I wish your phrasing was more constructive) as it seems to indicate that the message of this piece could be misinterpreted. Although the response to this article has been overwhelmingly positive, I could always tweak it to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. I would also like to personally thank you for your breeding projects and contributions to the hobby. Without folks like you, the hobby would progress in the way it has. Also, I will be using this email and my response as the subject of a blog post, as although our “debate” was lacking, it could create some positive and useful discourse with other keepers

All the best!

Tom Moran

 

Tarantula Sling Husbandry – A Comprehensive Guide

A-HEADER-SLING-ARTICLE

I can remember getting my first two slings, a L. parahybana and a C. cyaneopubescens, several years ago. Although I had kept adult tarantulas before, these tiny little gals just seemed so tiny and fragile. I had spent hours researching the care, and had even spoken to a couple of keepers about them. I thought I had the correct setups, and my temperatures seemed okay, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something with my husbandry was amiss and that I would inevitably end up with two dead slings.

Even folks who have kept larger specimens for years tend to experience more than their fair share of anxiety when they keep their first slings. Part of the problem is that much of what you read about sling care can conflict with what you read about their adult counterparts. For example, good husbandry information will tell you that the Brachypelma smithi is an arid species that requires dry substrate to be content. However, look up the care of a B. smithi sling, and you may find folks keeping them on damp substrate. Or, let’s consider the husbandry requirements for some arboreal species. Look up how to set up a Poeciotheria regalis, and you’ll be told a tall enclosure with a couple of inches of substrate and piece of cork bark flat for climbing. Pokie slings, however, will often burrow and stay beneath the ground until the reach the “juvenile” stage, so more substrate and less height might be prudent.

This conflicting, sometimes confusing, information can prove stressful to those new to the hobby (or even those used to Ts but raising slings for the first time). In the past several years, I’ve been contacted by many hobbyists new to keeping slings about my thoughts on their care. More than a few said that they wished there was a “standard of care” guide for those interested in raising slings for the first time.

Well, I definitely wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to label this attempt at a guide as the “standard”, but I will say that I’ve used the techniques, tricks, and information presented here to successfully raise healthy slings for years. I would definitely recommend that anyone attempting to raise a sling first look up the specific husbandry for the species they will be getting, and to use this FAQ as a springboard for further research. With that out of the way, let’s begin our rather lengthy tutorial on tarantula spiderlings.

Selecting the size of your sling

We’ve all been there. While shopping around for the tarantula species you’ve been eyeing, you find someone who has it for an impossibly good price. You can barely contain your excitement as you click on the photo to read the product description more closely to determine if there is a catch. As your eyes move from word to word, you find the little detail that makes your heart sink.

It’s not just a sling, it’s a small one. Really small.

1/4″ of spider.

Still the price is so good, you’re tempted to add it to your cart and pull the trigger. After all, there isn’t much difference between a 1″ sling and a 1/4″ sling, right?

Well, yes and no.

Baby tarantulas come with their own unique set of challenges, and the tiniest ones can be more challenging still. I usually encourage folks who are buying their first sling to try to get one at least .75″ or so, with spiderlings around 1″ being ideal. Slings of this size are usually better established and a bit more hardy than smaller ones, and it won’t be long until they reach the much less risky juvenile stage. As there will always be some anxiety involved when it comes to raising one’s first sling, a large specimen will bring a bit more piece of mind.

Besides being more fragile and susceptible to husbandry mistakes, spiders 1/4″ or less can be very difficult to see, as they often blend too well with the grains of the substrate. Factor in that many slings burrow, and you will likely spend several months staring at what seems like a plastic container of dirt. This can lead to the keeper constantly worrying that the animal has escaped or died. Also, slings of this size often must scavenge feed, or eat off of larger, previously-killed prey because most prey items offered on the market will be too large for them to take down. However, due to their minuscule size, it’s often impossible to tell whether they are feeding or not as even prey items that were fed upon may appear untouched. Finally, their tiny stature can make recognizing premolt more difficult.

Again, more stress.

Another important aspect to consider is the growth rate of the species. Many of the popular Grammostola, Brachypelma, and Aphonopelma species are very slow growers, especially as small slings. Not only can they take several months between molts, but the growth between molts, especially early on, can be negligible at best. Some of these species are also notorious for fasting, This means that if you purchase that the 1/4″ B. smithi sling you’re eyeing, it will likely be many years before you have an animal that looks like a big, hairy spider. If you’re the impatient sort, the wait can can be more than a bit frustrating.

Does this mean that someone shouldn’t attempt to raise a smaller sling as their first? Absolutely not. An informed hobbyist who is aware of the challenges they may face with a tiny sling may have no problem at all.  Obviously, plenty of hobbyists have succeeded in raising the smallest of slings successfully. However, before you hit that buy button, you should be aware of some of the challenges you may face.

Tip: Occasionally, a dealer will indicate the “age” of the spider by using the term “instars”. An instar is the period between each of a tarantula’s molts, and it can be used to identify how far along a sling is in its life cycle. For example, a sling that has molted out of its “eggs with legs” stage (they essentially look like yellow spider eggs with legs when first “hatched”) would be considered “1st instar”. After its next molt, it would be “2nd instar” … and so on. Therefore, a “4th instar” specimen would be a fairly well-establish sling. 

Your sling is on its way…now, what to put it in?

When you hit your local pet store to buy a new animal, you likely don’t have any issues finding an appropriate enclosure for it. After all, many of the creatures offered in the pet trade have been staples for years, and several companies have jumped into the lucrative pet industry with specialized enclosures. Buy a hamster? Get a hamster cage. Want some fish? Grab up that aquarium. Picking up that bearded dragon you’ve always wanted? Shell out for that awesome beardie set up kit.

Buy a baby tarantula on the other hand? Good luck.

The fact is, tarantulas are just starting to gain some mainstream popularity in the pet industry, and no one in the mainstream pet trade has, to my knowledge, produced an enclosure specifically for tarantulas, never mind a spiderling. And, as most pet store employees are woefully uneducated on proper tarantulas husbandry, if you do buy a cage from a pet store, you’re likely to come home with something that is inappropriate.

Tip: The popular all-purpose Critter Keeper cages are not appropriate for smaller slings. Although they make them in mini sizes that offer good dimensions for a baby spider, the vent slats in the lids are wide enough to permit a spiderling to escape. 

So, what do you do?

The good news is, you may have the perfect sling enclosure in your home right now.

Most serious keepers agree that part of the fun of the hobby is finding new and interesting containers to use as cages. I’ve personally experimented with dozens of plastic bins, containers, and such as my collection has grown, and I can’t walk into the container section of Walmart without scouring the assortment of canisters for something that might work with my Ts.

The most commonly used and appropriate sling enclosure options are quite inexpensive and easily acquired at the local grocery store or online. Just a couple of dollars and ten minutes of time can yield you the perfect sling housing. Let’s take a look at the most widely used containers.

Plastic snap cap or “dram” bottles: Keepers have used these for years, and they are particularly handy for folks who find themselves with huge quantities of slings. They are transparent, secure, and come in an assortment of convenient sizes. To ventilate, use a thumb tack or needle to poke several small holes in the top (I usually put a couple dozen). The only downside is that they are very difficult to vent anywhere other than the top, which means no cross-ventilation. They are also not stackable, which can be a bit inconvenient for those with several slings who want to conserve space.

Plastic dram vials used to house small slings.

Plastic dram vials used to house small slings.

Plastic spice jars: These are becoming more popular due to their convenient sizing (small jars are great for the tiny slings) and availability. They come in the same general sizes as the dram bottles, but the softer plastic used makes them much easier to ventilate on the sides. Just heat up a needle on the stove top or use a thumb tack to make a few rings of holes around the top half-inch or so. Many folks have these already in their cabinets, so one can be emptied, cleaned thoroughly, and used in a pinch. They are also readily available online from places like Amazon. Even better, many have little hatches in the lids that make feeding very convenient; just pop the little tab, drop the feeder in, and close it back up. Done.

Tip: Spiders are escape artist and can slip through holes and crevices that seem impossibly small. When making your vent holes, always make sure that they are smaller than the carapace of the T. If you slip up and make a hole that you think might be too large, stick a piece of clear tape over it.

Plastic spice jars make wonderful sling enclosures.

Plastic spice jars make wonderful sling enclosures.

Deli cups: Deli cups are an especially popular enclosure used by hobbyists to house their young spiders. They are very readily available, cheap, stackable, usually quite clear, and easily ventilated. Many keepers get them for free or for less than $1, and I’ve heard of more than a few stories of folks hitting the local deli for some soup or potato salad mostly for the cup. For those with large collections, you can buy them in batches of 50 for about $20. For those looking to house terrestrial slings, the 16 oz size is perfect, offering plenty of substrate depth for burrowers. As for arboreal or fossorial slings, the 32 oz version offers the extra height for climbers and substrate depth for diggers respectively.

Venting these is simple, as they are quite thin and the plastic easily perforated. Just heat up a nail on the stove top, grip it with pliers, and use it to make two or three rings of ventilation holes around the top. I usually space mine about 3/4″ inch apart in a  3/4-1″ band.

A couple simple deli cups.

A couple of simple deli cups.

Tip: For tiny slings, try using the 2 oz plastic souffle cups. These are usually crystal clear, secure, and much smaller than their 16 oz counterparts. They can also be bought or procured from delis or restaurants.

Amac boxes: These have become very popular in the past couple years, especially for folks who are handy and have some tools. They are crystal clear, very secure, come in a number of sizes, and are easily found at stores like the Hobby Lobby or online at the Container Store. For slings the 2 5/16″ x 2 5/16″ x 4 3/16 size is perfect. The plastic is quite thick on these, so burning holes in can be a bit of an issue. Most folks choose to either drill a series of vent holes with a drill or use a dremel tool to cut a large round hole and add an aluminum mesh vent.

Amac boxes, if modified and vented, can make good sling enclosures.

Amac boxes, if modified and vented, can make good sling enclosures.

These boxes can be a bit pricier than the other options, and the ventilation is a bit more difficult to accomplish. That said, they look gorgeous on a shelf. For an excellent tutorial into how to turn Amac boxes into tarantula habitats, click this link. Hobbyist Casey Peter does a great job of walking folks through it with step-by-step instructions.

Tip: If you’re using a new Amac box, try opening and closing it several times before you set if up for the spider. The tops can fit on quite tightly until they are loosened up a bit. This will make it much easier to open when you have your tarantula in it. 

And for those who don’t feel handy enough to make their own, Jamie’s Tarantulas sells pre-made ones with all of the fixings. It cost a bit more, but they work great and are ready to use right out of the box.

Three sling enclosures from Jamie's tarantulas. I have a dozen of these, and I love them.

Three sling enclosures from Jamie’s tarantulas. I have a dozen of these, and I love them.

Setting up the enclosure

Now that you’ve got your enclosure ventilated and ready to go, how do you set it up? What other materials do you need? Personally, I find setting up enclosures to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the hobby. That said, it’s important to remember that when slings are involved, the correct setup is paramount to the aesthetic of it. Let’s look at what you’ll need.

Substrate – There are many types of materials you can use for substrate, including coco coir, peat, and plain top soil.  For a detailed description of the pros and cons of each, click the link to read “Choosing the Right Substrate for Your Tarantula“. Any of these, or a combination of them, work just fine, although the coco coir is quite popular with many hobbyists.

Water dish – For slings 1/2″ or larger, I strongly encourage the use of a water dish if one will fit (more on this in a bit). For deli cup enclosures, the small bottle caps from bottled water work great. If using a smaller enclosure, spraying or drizzling water on the substrate is always an option. Still some folks have gotten quite creative by using things like small single block Legos and golf Ts for water dishes. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Cork bark – Spiderlings are nervous and reclusive creatures. After all, you have to figure that in the wild, the more they are seen, the better the chance they are preyed upon and eaten. Therefore, it’s always good to give them a place to hide. A small piece of cork bark can provide them with much appreciated cover and security.

Sphagnum moss – Sphagnum moss not only looks pretty in an enclosure, but it serves a couple valuable purposes. First, it holds moisture, so a keeper using spraying or dribbling to keep his pet hydrated will soak down the sphagnum to give the T a drink. Second, if cork bark isn’t available, it can serve as a makeshift hide for the slings, as many will crawl under it for cover.

Plastic/silk plant leaf – Again, another accessory that has more purpose than just the aesthetic. A plastic leaf can provide security for the tarantula as well as moisture. If you want to water your T but don’t have a water dish, spraying the plastic foliage is a great way to give your sling the opportunity to drink. For smaller enclosures, you can just lay the leaf on the substrate. For larger enclosures, most folks like to use hot glue to affix the leaves to the cork bark.

A piece of cork bark with a leaf hot glued onto it.

A piece of cork bark with a leaf hot glued onto it.

Now, unfortunately, some of the components will have to be purchased in “bulk”, as sphagnum moss is sold in bags and plastic leaves are usually plucked off of much larger plastic plants and vines. That said, this hobby is incredibly addictive, so just think of that bag and that plastic vine as a future investment.

Now that you have all of the components, here’s what you’ll need to do:

  1. Make sure that you have enough ventilation in your enclosure. You can’t drill or burn holes once the tarantula is inside, so if you think you might need more, add them now. If possible, make sure you have good cross-ventilation by putting the vent holes on the sides and not the top.
  2.  Add the substrate. If housing a terrestrial sling, you’ll want to fill at least two-thirds of the enclosure with packed down substrate. Although slings are lighter and less prone to injury from falling, you want to makes sure the height from the substrate to the top of the enclosure isn’t too high. A fall from too high, especially onto something hard like cork bark or a dish, can be fatal to a T. Also, notice the key phrase “packed down”. There is no need to leave the soil loose and fluffy; they can easily dig through it if they want. For an arboreal species, you don’t have to use quite as much substrate, but you still want to include enough to allow for burrowing (an inch or so is usually sufficient).
  3. Add a starter burrow or cork bark hide.  Personally, I like to use a utility knife to trim the cork bark a bit so that it fits neatly into a corner. For terrestrials, I will also use the handle of a paint brush to create a starter burrow beneath it. Most slings will scramble beneath to hide once being housed. For arboreals, I lean piece against the side of the enclosure at an angle. Fossorial, or burrowing species, will usually only need a starter burrow down the side of the enclosure. I use a pencil or the back of a paintbrush to make the tunnel straight down, then I pack the substrate good and tight around it. When I slip the brush or pencil out, the hole that remains is perfect for a shy little sling.
  4. If the leaf is not attached to the cork bark, add it now. In smaller setups, I’ve seen the leaf just planted in the substrate. This is fine, although if your little guy/gal is a digger, the fake foliage won’t stay up for long.
  5. Place a few pinches of sphagnum moss around the den.  Again, if you’re not able to include a hide, this is a great way to provide some security for your sling. If you go this route, create a starter burrow down the side of the enclosure for the sling.
  6. Finally, add and fill the water dish.  Nothing to this step; just push it down into a corner and fill it up with water. Viola…you’re done!

Arborial-vs-terrstrial

Tip: If using coco coir, especially damp, be sure to pack it down as tightly as you can. When it dries. coco fiber loses a lot of its volume. An enclosure with four inches of moist substrate to start will likely have only a couple of inches or so by the time it dries and settles. 

Receiving and unpacking  your sling

When slings arrive, they are usually safely cocooned in moist paper towel or tissue inside a plastic vial or, for the tiny ones, inside a piece of straw with paper plugs in each end. Because slings are very fragile and tiny, and it can be very difficult getting the paper towel lining out, extreme caution is needed when attempting to get the sling out of its travel packing and into its new home.

To remove the slings from the straws, simply pull the plug from both ends and set the straw in the enclosure. You can either let the sling come out on its own, or gently blow in one end to get it to come out.

For removing slings from the travel vials, I recommend using tweezers or tongs. Startled slings will sometimes bolt out, and you want to keep your finger away from them. Next, it’s time to carefully extract the packing material with the spider inside.

  1. First, pull the paper plug covering the hole if there is one (sometimes folks just fold over the paper towel to cover the opening.
  2. Next, get a grip on the edge of the towel while being very careful not to catch the spider or its legs.
  3. Once you have a really good grip, you want to very carefully pull out the entire cylinder of lining material at the same time. If the towel doesn’t come out in one chunk but instead starts to form a cone-like shape as the layers stretch out STOP IMMEDIATELY. If you continue to pull the towel you can constrict the tarantula, crushing it. It’s best to stop trying to extract it and instead let it come out on its own at this point.
  4. Once the paper towel or toilet paper is out, place it on the substrate and find the edge of the towel (it’s usually a flat piece rolled into a cylinder). Now, slowly start rolling it open. The unrolled paper towel can become quite long and cumbersome, so I will sometimes use scissors to carefully snip away sections of it as I unroll.
  5. When the spider is exposed, use a paintbrush to carefully guide it off the towel, or leave the small piece of towel it’s standing on behind and remove it later when the sling is exploring. Either works.

The video below shows the process many times (skip to 4:15 for the actually rehousings). Again, the key is to take your time and work very carefully around the fragile T.

If it’s too difficult to safely remove the packing and the sling, and if the enclosure offers enough room, your best bet is to place the opened vial inside and to let the animal come out on its own. Most will venture out if left in over night. Some vendors actually recommend that you use this method to rehouse the sling.

Tip: If your sling’s legs are curled or if it looks lethargic when you receive it, try putting it in a small container with some moistened paper towel and setting it aside in a warm corner of your home. Travel can be very stressful for Ts, and if they were not properly hydrated before their trip and the weather is warm (or, if it was too close to a heat pack), they can become dehydrated. Sometimes a good drink is all they need to spruce back up. Also, after being shipped in very cold or very warm temps, I like to unpack mine and let them adjust to my home’s temps for an hour or so before rehousing.

How long should you wait to try feeding it?

A lot of vendors will ask that you wait to feed your new slings for a couple of days or so after receiving them to let them acclimate and settle in. That’s actually a very prudent practice. After spending hours being bounced around on planes and trucks, they are suddenly deposited into brand new and alien environments. One would think they might need some time to calm down and adjust.

I have to admit, however, that I try feeding most of mine the same night to get a small meal in them after their shipping ordeal. I’ve found that tarantulas are incredibly resilient, and most will eat that same night.

Keeping your slings hydrated

One of the reasons slings are more susceptible to dehydration is that they lack the waxy coating on their exoskeletons that their juvenile and adult counterparts have. This layer helps the tarantula retain moisture and protects it from drying out. Until this coating develops, usually after several molts, it is much easier for a sling to die from desiccation. Although the so-called arid species are much more resistant to dry conditions, the slings can still run the risk of drying out. This can be a particular danger in the winter time when furnaces and fireplaces are heating homes and severely drying out the air. It’s important that all slings, even those who supposedly thrive in dry conditions, stay hydrated.

But how to do it?

Start by using water dishes. I use water dishes in just about all of my sling enclosures that I can fit them in, and I strongly advocate that others use them as well. Unfortunately, there is a persistent rumor that says that tarantula slings can drown in water dishes. Well, long story short, that’s just not true (for a more in-depth explanation, please check out the article Tarantula Controversies – Should I Give My Tarantula a Water Dish). And the benefit they add by affording a source of drinking water and extra humidity make them invaluable, in my opinion. Many keepers will often overflow the water dishes to also give the spiders a moist spot of substrate as well.

As for what to use for water dishes, the lids for plastic water bottles work fantastically well. They are small, blend into the enclosure well, and can be recycled if they get soiled. For spiders less than .5″, I’ve heard of folks getting quite creative. Some examples are:

  • Golf tees –  Chop off the spike to length, plant them in the substrate, and fill the top with water.
  • Legos – Apparently, the tiny round single-peg pieces make for good dishes!
  • Plastic pill capsules – You know those little plastic blister cards that you have to pop your pills out of? Well, some hobbyists carefully trim each of those little recessed disks off and use them as dishes.

The fact is, for a keeper who wants to make sure her slings have water at all times, there are many options.

A 32 oz deli cup arboreal setup with a bottle cap water dish.

A 32 oz deli cup arboreal setup with a bottle cap water dish.

Tip: It’s often easier to toss than to clean tiny water bowls, so it’s good to have many on hand, even with smaller collections. A good way to get a bunch quickly is to buy 12 packs of bottled water, either for personal consumption or to use for watering your spiders. 

Another common way to provide moisture to slings is by spraying or misting.  This is an age-old method that has probably been around as long as the hobby. It’s also fairly simple to do.  Open the top, spray a few squirts on the side of the enclosure, the plastic foliage, and the corner of the substrate — done.  Those who put sphagnum moss in their enclosures will also want to spray that down as well, as the moss will retain moisture for longer.

A spray bottle with an adjustable nozzle is a handy tool for misting and filling water dishes.

A spray bottle with an adjustable nozzle is a handy tool for misting, soaking substrate, and filling water dishes.

It’s important for keepers that use this method to come up with a regular schedule, as sprayed water can evaporate quickly leaving a small window for raised humidity and the availability of drinking water.  In the warm summer months or during the winter when the furnace is running non stop, it may be necessary to spray more often. For those who choose this method, the trick is to add some water without saturating the entire enclosure. Enclosures that are too moist and stuffy can be a death trap for slings. It takes experimentation and practice, but it can be an effective water delivery system.

Tip: As an alternative to spraying and misting, some keepers will instead “make it rain”. Instead of just spritzing the inside of the enclosure, some will instead sprinkle water over all or part of the substrate to simulate a rain shower. The water is then allowed to soak into the substrate, keeping it moister and providing humidity for much longer. This can be done by poking holes in the top of a plastic water or juice bottle and using it as a watering jug.

Some keepers choose to keep all of their small slings on moist substrate. The theory here is that all slings, due to their lack of that waxy layer, can benefit from a moist environment. Whether it be a traditional moisture-loving species like H. gigas or an arid species like the G. rosea, keepers who favor this method make sure they all have a moist and warm home. Then, as the more arid species  molt toward maturity and develop that protective coating, they allow the cages for those spiders to dry out.

Keeping all or just part of the substrate moist for all species means a more humid environment with less spraying. For keepers who are concerned about their Ts drying out, this leaves a much larger margin for error. If a keeper forgets to spray for a bit, the moisture that is slowly evaporating from the substrate can keep the humidity up so that the spider doesn’t become dehydrated.

My own practices

First off, almost all of my slings get water dishes. I’ve personally seen many of them drink, and I like the extra defense against dehydration they afford me. With most species, I will also overflow the dish, giving them a moist spot of substrate. For the two that don’t currently have them, I keep a portion of the substrate moistened and dribble water on the sphagnum and fake leaves for drinking once a week or so. As soon as these two are rehoused into larger enclosures, they will get dishes.

For my moisture-dependent species like O. violaceopes, H. gigas, T. stirmi, and C. lividum, I provide deep moist substrate, keeping the bottom layers moist at all times. To do this, I start with moist substrate in the enclosure, then I use the “rain” method (using a water bottle modified with several holes in the top to periodically simulate a rain shower) to re-wet it when it starts to dry out. I generally only have to do this a few times during the summer months, and once a month or so during the winter.  Ideally, you want the water to filter down the sides and deep into the substrate to keep the bottom levels moist.

I’ve also found a way that works for me to keep the moisture in the enclosure up for arid species while avoiding overly moist enclosures. When I pack the substrate into a new sling enclosure, I start with an inch or two (depending on the depth of the container) of moist sub mixed with a bit of vermiculite. I pack this down well, then fill the cage up the rest of the way with dry sub. Next, I make a starter burrow down the side of the enclosure for the new occupant. This keeps the top level dry, and allows the sling to use its instinctual burrowing behavior to dig down and find the humidity level it needs.

I first tried this technique with an Aphonopelma anax sling that was not settling in well after a couple of months in my care. The poor sling cowered in the corner, did not dig, did not eat, and didn’t seem to be thriving like my other slings. Even when I moistened a corner, the sling didn’t show a preference for it.

One night, I made a little trench down the corner of its enclosure to the bottom and poured water in, allowing it to moisten just the lower 1/2″ of dirt or so. The next day, I was shocked to discover that the sling had dug all the way down to the bottom and constructed a burrow in just a few hours time. Encouraged by this development, I dropped a roach in to see if it would eat. Within five minutes time, it was enjoying the first meal it had eaten in my care.

I’ve used this technique with several slings now, and I’ve had Brachypelma, Grammostola, and Aphonopelma species burrow down to take advantage of a moister burrow. When I add water to the substrate, I use the back of a paint brush to create a series of furrows down the side of the enclosure, then I carefully pour water down the side and allow it to drain through to the bottom. In fact, this is the same technique I use to keep the substrate in my moisture dependent species’ enclosures damp.

Keepers should use their discretion to come up with a system that works for them. Many will employ all three methods — moist substrate, water dishes, and spraying — in various measures to ensure the best possible care. For example, one might give their sling a moist spot of substrate AND a water dish. Or, I’ve heard of folks that keep arboreal species giving them water dishes on the ground and an occasional spritz on the top of the enclosure to let them grab a drink up high. The trick is to make sure that your tarantula remains properly hydrated without creating dank and potentially dangerous conditions.

Tip: In the winter, the furnace and wood stoves can really take the moisture out of the air, leaving humidity levels in your home very low. One way to protect your slings’ enclosures from drying out too quickly is to make a “sling nursery”. To do this, take a large plastic container with a lid and vent it around the sides. Place folded paper towels on the bottom, and then a smaller open container of water inside it. Now, place your sling containers around this water container and put the lid on. The water in the center reservoir will evaporate out, keeping the humidity inside the nursery higher than the outside. This will keep the moisture from evaporating out of your sling cages too quickly, thus protecting your Ts. 

An example of a sling nursery.

An example of a sling nursery.

Temperatures

Many folks like to keep their slings at higher temperatures, whether it be to encourage growth or because they believe that they will suffer health issues if kept cooler. I’ve read many care sheets from hobbyists and dealers alike that indicate that tarantula spiderlings must be kept in the 80s due to their fragility and need for more heat than their adult counterparts.

There are a couple of issues with this. First, most species don’t come from regions where it is always 80° or higher all year round. They come from areas where the temperatures can fluctuate a great deal. Even many of the so-called tropical species experience weather in the 60s. Then, if you factor in their burrowing, which has them underground where temps can be much cooler, and you see how this sweet spot of 80° or higher is likely an arbitrary number.

It’s also important to consider that the higher the temperatures, the more likely the chances of the spiderling dehydrating. Hotter air can mean faster evaporation, which can lead to a desiccated tarantula. In this scenario, the warmer temps would warrant more spraying and more filling of the water bowls. Definitely something to keep in mind if you’re keeping slings at higher temps.

Many keepers new to slings will immediately panic if the temps drop into the 70s and resort to alternative heating methods, like heat mats, to jack up the “dangerously low” temps. Not only is this usually completely unnecessary, but it can be dangerous to the slings as well. It’s very difficult heating a tiny enclosure safely, as heat lamps and mats can quickly overheat and dry out an enclosure.

Here’s the deal; most slings will do just fine at room temperature. I’ve personally raised dozens of slings, and it rarely hits 80 in my tarantula room. Furthermore, in the winter, temperatures usually hover between 70-72° during the nights, with an occasional drop into the high 60s. I’ve had no issues with slings dying from the temps or with my growth rates. Most continue to molt and eat right through the winter, albeit at a slower rate than they do in the warm summer months.

Does this mean it’s wrong to keep them at higher temps? Absolutely not. If a keeper has a way to safely maintain higher and consistent temps with his slings, then he or she can certainly do so. Some folks actually have tarantula rooms that they can heat separately from the rest of their homes, often with a space heater regulated by a thermostat. This is a safe and effective way to elevate temperatures consistently, and these keepers then can enjoy faster spider growth.

However, it is not a necessity.

Plenty of folks keep their slings in a range between 68-75° with no issues or deaths. The majority of species do just fine. The nice thing about sling enclosures is that they are small, so if one room is a bit too chilly, it’s not too difficult to find a warm spot in the house and keep them there.

Although It’s also important to remember that keeping slings at room temperature will not cause adverse affects, it should be mentioned that sustained temperatures in the cooler range can lead to lower metabolisms. So tarantulas consistently kept in low temps may experience the following:

  • Slower growth rates
  • Decreased appetites
  • Seasonal fasting

Of course, all species of tarantulas experience seasonal shifts in the wild, so this would be quite natural for a good majority of them.

My animals are all kept 70-75° in the winter, and 75-80° in the summer months. On occasion, the temps may dip to 68 for a night or two in the winter, or rise to the mid 80s in the summer. However, these two extremes are quite rare. A nighttime drop in temperature is also quite natural and not an issue.

Tip: If the temps in your home are just too low and you need to use an extra heat source, do NOT try to heat sling enclosures individually. If possible, use a space heater to heat the entire room. They’re relatively inexpensive, reliable, and deliver even heat that can be controlled by built-in thermostats. If you can’t use a space heater, anther way to go is to use a heat mat with a rheostat to heat a larger enclosure, like a 10 gallon aquarium, to ensure even heat inside. Then you can just place the sling enclosures inside this larger heated one. Folks who use this method carefully monitor the temps inside and will use a rheostat with a thermometer attachment to make sure the interior temps stays consistent. Those who go this route will often include a large open bowl of water inside as well to keep the air from drying out. As the water in the bowl evaporates, it will keep the humidity inside this “incubator” up.  A plastic cover with vent holes, not the common wire mesh ones sold at pet stores, will be needed for the large tank to maintain this micro-climate. 

Feeding Tarantula Slings

Now that you have your enclosure all set up and your new little acquisition inside, it’s time for the next major cause of anxiety — feeding. Perhaps your sling is so small that you’re afraid that you can’t find prey small enough. Or, maybe you’re staring at your 1/2″ spider wondering if it can possibly subdue and eat the 1″ cricket you just purchased from the pet store. Or, you could be standing in the reptile aisle at the pet store trying to figure out which of the five varieties of prey insects for sale would be appropriate for your little ward. We’ll now tackle some of the common and stressful questions a new spiderling keeper may have.

What do I feed my sling? The answer to this may seem obvious at first, but there are a lot of feeders available and a lot of misinformation out there about which feeder insect is best for your tarantulas. The fact is, any and all of the commonly available feeder bugs can be an appropriate feeder for your new spider. Commonly used insects include crickets, mealworms, super worms, B. dubia roaches, and B. lateralis (“red runner”) roaches. All of these will make a great meal for your tarantula. (for a more in-depth examination of this topic, check out “Tarantula Feeding — What, When, and How Much to feed”). For those really tiny slings, flightless fruit flies is also an option.

I’ve heard folks argue that certain feeder bugs are more “nutritious” for spiders than others, but I honestly find this a bit silly. I have a hard time believing that scientists actually studied the ideal nutritional requirements of spiders — heck, they haven’t even properly identified most species yet. If you’re worried that your prey item might not be the healthiest alternative for your T, then feel free to mix it up with other bugs and give it a variety of feeders. I like to mix it up myself, using crickets, mealworms, dubias, red runners, and hissers at different times.

What size should I feed them? Let’s start by looking at the size of the sling you are trying to feed. Slings less than 1/3″ can be difficult to find suitable live prey for. One appropriate and readily available option is flightless fruit flies. They are about 1/16″ long and are usually sold in cultures that would feed a few of the tiniest slings for quite a while.

Flightless fruit fliesBut what if you can’t find flightless fruit flies? Well, in the wild, most slings will resort to scavenge feeding, meaning they will feed off of larger prey that something else killed.  The good new is, they will readily do this in captivity as well, meaning that feeding a tiny sling can be quite simple. Can’t find a small enough prey item? No problem! Just take a small cricket, roach, or meal worm, pre-kill it, and drop it in. If the items are overly large, you can use a knife to cut them up into smaller pieces. For example, a large cricket leg would be a great meal for a 1/3″ sling. Is it gross? Yes. But for smaller slings, it’s an easy and effective way to make sure that they feed (and, it’s a lot easier than dealing with the fruit flies!).

For larger slings, 1/2″ or larger, dubia or red runner nymphs or pinhead crickets work great. Personally, I use small red runners for my smallest slings, as they are quite small and run around, making for a tempting meal.

As how to gauge what size to feed, I’ve heard quite a few “rules of thumb” on how to select a prey item. For most tarantulas, it’s best to feed them items that are shorter than the total length of their bodies. The majority of species will have no problem subduing prey items this size, and you’ll run less of a risk of the animal getting spooked by the size of the prey. It also never hurts to start much smaller, then try increasing the size of the prey if need be. I will often start my slings on very tiny prey to make sure they get a couple of meals in them, then increase the size after a few feedings.

Tip: Are there species that buck this rule? Sure. I’ve noticed that Phormictopus, Pamphobeteus, Theraphosa, Hapalopus, and Poecilotheria species seem to have no difficulty hunting prey larger than their bodies. However, to start out, it’s always best to go smaller. Let the tarantulas get a few meals in them before experimenting with a larger size. Larger prey can spook some species and put them off feeding. 

FEEDING-CHARTIllustration © 2016 Tom Moran

How much and  how often should I feed? A huge debate currently wages on over what constitutes “power feeding” and whether or not it is harmful to the spider. I’m not going to wade into that here, but those interested in hearing my take on it can read the article “Power Feeding Tarantulas”.

In the wild, slings will eat whenever they can. After all, in this tiny stage, they are more vulnerable to weather and predation from other animals, so it behooves them to put on size as quickly as possible. In our homes, a similar situation applies because their fragility makes them more vulnerable to husbandry mistakes. As we’ve already determined that slings are a bit more delicate than their adult counterparts, many keepers choose to get them out of the “sling” stage as quickly as possible. If this is the route you want to take, then feeding them small meals 2 or even 3 times a week is a great way to go. With this schedule, some of the faster-growing species like Lasiodora parahybana, the GBB, Hapalopus sp. Colombia large, and Phormictopus cancerides will be safely in the juvenile stage in no time.

Just keep in mind that if you choose to practice a more ambitious feeding schedule, you’ll want to make sure you have warmer temps to support it. Temps in the low high 60s to low 70s will slow a tarantulas metabolism, often affecting appetite and growth rate. Ideally, you’d want temps in the mid 70s or more for such an aggressive feeding schedule. Also, some species, like those in the genera Grammostola and Brachypelma, might not take that many meals regardless.

Most keepers that feed this often only do so until the tarantula hits about 1.5-2″ or so. At that point, they will shift to a once a week or even a bi-weekly schedule. The idea is to get the spider out of the delicate sling stage quickly, not to rush it to maturity.

Do I have to feed my tarantula that often?  The fact is, Ts have evolved to go without food for long stretches without experiencing ill effects. In the wild, some species likely go weeks or even months without food. Now, does that mean you should withhold food from your animal for that duration? No. But it does mean that they do not need to be fed as often as other pets. Many hobbyists feed their slings once a week or bi-weekly, and their animals are quite healthy.  Also, if you’re feeding your specimen prey on the larger side, you might want to consider feeding less often. A keeper can use her discretion to come up with a feeding schedule that works for her.

What happens if it doesn’t eat? 

Now, on occasion a sling may not eat. Although this may be cause for alarm, it is often a normal behavior. Here are some reasons why a sling  might not eat.

It hasn’t settled in. Although most tarantulas will eat soon after a rehousing, some take time to adjust to their new homes. If your sling is cowering in a corner with its legs pulled up over its body, it might be too stressed to eat. Give it time to burrow or web and you’ll likely have better luck.

It’s fasting. Many species, including Aphonopelmas, Brachypelmas, and Grammostolas will fast when their instinct or internal clocks tell them the cooler winter months have begun. When this happens, there is nothing you can do but make sure they have fresh water and try offering them something once a week or so to gauge their appetite.

It’s in premolt. When tarantulas have eaten enough to trigger the beginning of the molting process, most will stop eating. If they’ve been eating great only to suddenly show no interest in food, especially if their abdomens are plump, dark, and/or shiny, then a molt is likely imminent. Make sure that they have water and keep a corner of the substrate moist and wait for the molt. After the molt, be sure to give them several days to a week to harden up before offering food again.

They are intimidated by the size of the prey. Occasionally, small slings can be spooked by the live prey you drop in. When this happens, the tarantula can throw up its first two pairs of walking legs in a threat pose or even run and hide from the prey. If you suspect this is the issue, it’s best to try feeding it something smaller. Or, offer it pre-killed prey to see if it will eat.

They don’t like the particular prey item being offered. Although most tarantulas seem to eat crickets no problem, I’ve had some specimens that wouldn’t touch other prey items like roaches or mealworms. If your T isn’t eating what you’re offering, try switching up the type of feeder you give it.

The conditions aren’t right. If your spiderling is still not eating and you’ve ruled out the other possibilities, then it’s possible that the setup conditions aren’t right for it. You should ask yourself the following:

  • Is it too hot? Too cold?
  • Does it have a hide?
  • Is the setup correct?
  • Is it too moist or dry?

If you’re still not sure what the issue is, try asking a more seasoned keeper for a second opinion. Sometimes it just takes a second set of “eyes” to figure out a possible issue.

Maintenance for Slings

Because they are so small, maintenance for slings is usually quite simple. Here’s the simple routine I practice and recommend. For each feeding, do a quick spot check that includes the following:

Check for boluses — These are the little white, jagged, crusty remnants of the tarantula’s last meal; the compacted, desiccated remains of its prey. For slings, boluses can be quite tiny and difficult to spot. However, many specimens will stack all of their boluses in a particular corner or in their water dishes. When you can find them, use a pair of tongs or plastic spoon to remove them. They are relatively harmless in most cases, but if they get wet, they can be a source of mold and can attract gnats.

Two boluses - look for the little white and crusty balls left behind after a T eats.

Two boluses – look for the little whitish and crusty balls left behind after a T eats.

Clean and fill the water dish — Tarantulas are notorious for sullying their water dishes, so although filling them with clean water might be easy, keeping them clean is another story. Some use them as toilets and some seem to think that they are dumpsters. Others just appear to enjoy heaping mounds of substrate in an on top of them. When dropping in a feeder, make sure that the bowl is full and, if need be, pluck it out to clean or replace it.

Remove any molts (only if possible) — If your spider has molted recently, and you have easy access to the molt, you can carefully pluck it out. Be careful removing it, however, as they are often caught up and webbing and can pull a lot of substrate and webbing out with them. DO NOT try to pull it out if the freshly-molted spider is still sitting on it; this will disturb and possibly injure the animal. Also, if the molt is in a burrow or stuck in the webbing, as might be the case with an Avicularia species, leave it for the time being. Contrary to popular belief, there is no rush in getting the shed out. In fact, some fossorial species work the pieces of their molts into the walls of their dens. In these instances, you may never see a molt. Don’t worry; they pose no danger to the spider, and they will not rot or mold.

Premolt and Molting

In order to grow, tarantulas must periodically shed their old exoskeletons. Once the molting process is triggered, the tarantula will enter premolt. During this time, the spider may display the following signs:

1. The tarantula stops eating — This is probably the most obvious and common sign. You’ve been feeding your specimen regularly for several weeks, and suddenly it stops eating. Most species will stop feeding during their premolt period (although there are exceptions) as they prepare their bodies for the arduous process.

2. The tarantula has a fat shiny abdomen — Most tarantulas ready for premolt will sport nice, plump abdomens up to 1.5 times the size of their carapace (or even larger for an over-stuffed specimen). If your tarantula has a nice, bulbous booty, and she has stopped eating, chances are she’s in premolt. As the flesh around the area stretches, the abdomen may also appear to be shiny.

The shininess is often more evident in slings than their older, much hairier counterparts. My little G. pulchripes, G. rosea, and L. parahybana slings all get “shiny hineys” whenever they are entering premolt. My P. cancerides slings and juveniles look like little grapes ready to pop when they are in premolt.

G. rosea sling in premolt. Notice the large, shiny, and dark abdomen.

G. rosea sling in premolt. Notice the large, shiny, and dark abdomen.

3. The tarantula’s abdomen and overall color darken — As the new exoskeleton forms under the old one, the spider will often darken up a bit. This is particularly evident on the abdomen where new hairs can be seen through the stretched skin here. Many of my slings will have a dark spot on their abdomens when in premolt, and it will continue to grow the closer they get to the actual molt.

4. The tarantula becomes slower and more lethargic — Not all of the indicators are physical; an observant keeper should notice some behavioral changes as well. Besides not eating, most of my tarantulas that are in premolt become less active and often more secretive. Keep an eye on your tarantula, and along with the physical signs listed above, look for a change in behavior. Some of my most hyper species become noticeably sluggish when they are in premolt. For example, my GBBs tend to be fast little buggers who are constantly moving around their enclosures. However, when in premolt, they often become much more sedentary, sitting in one spot and often tucking themselves away behind their cork bark. Speaking of secretive…

5. The tarantulas has buried itself in its den — Many tarantulas will retreat to their burrows and close of the entrances when entering a premolt period. My LP slings, M. balfouri slings, and G. pulchripes slings all bury themselves before a molt. Some things to consider if your T buries itself due to premolt.

They are not in danger.

They will not suffocate.

They have not been buried alive.

They do not need to be rescued.

The tarantula is just looking for some privacy and security during this vulnerable period. The tarantula will reopen its den once is has molted and hardened up. DO NOT freak out and try to dig the poor creature out; you only run the risk of distressing the animal and possibly interrupting its molt.

For a more detailed explanation of molting and its signs, check out the article How Do I Know My Tarantula is In Premolt?

6. The tarantula has constructed a hammock-like web “mat” in its enclosure — This web is referred to as a “molt mat”, and it is where the tarantula will flip over on its back when it molts. You may catch your premolt T laying layer after layer of web in a small area, and some of the new world species will actually kick hairs on the web as a form of protection. If you see this behavior, it means that your tarantula is about to molt very soon, usually within a day. For arboreal species, they will sometime build elevated “hammocks” off the ground for their molt mats or seal themselves in their funnel webs. This behavior serves the same purpose.

When you think that your tarantula is in premolt, make sure it has a full water dish, moisten a corner (if the substrate isn’t damp already), and wait it out. If your spider is refusing food, wait a week before trying again, and don’t leave the food in overnight as a cricket can actually attack and kill a molting T.

If you ever find your spider on its back, DO NOT touch it. It is molting and needs to be left alone to finish the process in peace. Never poke, prod, spray or blow on it, and NEVER try to flip it over. Interrupting the process can injure or kill the tarantula.

Once the tarantulas completes the molt, it will need several days to harden back up. During this time, the fangs are still soft, so it will be unable to hunt and eat. Do not offer food for at least four days to a week to make sure that it is fully ready to eat.

How often do they molt?

It honestly depends on a lot of factors, including:

  • The species — Some species are much faster growers than others.
  • The size of the specimen — The larger tarantulas get, the more time you can expect between molts.
  • The feeding schedule — Spiders fed more often will likely molt more often.
  • Temperatures — Higher temps speed up the spider’s metabolism, leading to a faster growth rate.

For many slings, expect a molt every six weeks to two months or so. Again, this is just a very rough estimate; some may molt faster and some might molt much more slowly.

How long will it take my tiny sling to look like an adult?

This question comes up quite a bit as it requires a fair measure of patience to raise a tarantula from a spiderling to an adult. It is also an incredibly rewarding experience to raise one of these animals to maturity. However, for those who want a big hairy spider to show off, the wait can be difficult. Unfortunately, the only truthful answer to that question is, “It depends.”

First off, different species grow at different rates. I have a Brachypelma albopilosum sling that has grown approximately 1/2″ in almost two years time. On the other hand, I have a Theraphosa stirmi that went from a 1.5″ sling to a 7.5″ adult in roughly the same amount of time. Truth is, some species can mature in just over a year, and others can take several years to reach maturity.

There are so many other factors that can contribute to a tarantulas growth rate like the specimen’s genetics, the temperatures it’s kept at, and the feeding schedule. In reality, there are just so many variables, that it’s difficult to make generalizations. If you’re truly curious as to how long it will take for your particular specimen to mature, speak to some keepers who have raised the species and ask about their experience with it.

Finally, some behaviors you may observe

Finally, I offer a brief FAQ featuring some of the common questions new sling keepers have asked me about.

Why is my tarantula climbing the walls? Tarantulas can take some time to acclimate to their new surroundings, and many will take to exploring their new environments upon being rehoused. This can often lead to climbing or hiding up in the top corner of an enclosure. If the tarantula is terrestrial or fossorial, it should eventually come down. If it doesn’t, then there is a possibility that the substrate is too moist or, in some cases, too fluffy.

My sling is burrowing … is there something wrong with it? Easiest question to answer ever. NO. Seriously, this one gets asked all the time, as burrowing slings can really cause those new to the hobby serious anxiety. Burrowing is a very natural behavior for most species of slings as, in the wild, it behooves them to stay out of sight. Burrows can also protect them from inclement weather conditions. Many slings will spend several molts underground, only to eventually emerge after they’ve put on some size.

Tip: If your tarantula burrows, don’t dig it up or shove prey down the den opening; drop the prey on the surface and let the spider find it. You don’t have to worry about the tarantula not knowing the cricket is up there; they are adept at sensing the slightest vibrations from above. If they are hungry, they will come up and eat. If you’re still concerned that your T might have missed the meal, leave a pre-killed item at the mouth of the den. 

My sling has covered up/webbed up its burrow … is it okay? When a tarantula webs up or buries the opening of its burrow, it is not in any danger. In fact, that is your spider’s way of basically saying “do not disturb.” For many species, this means they are entering the premolt stage and want security and privacy for their molt. For some, like Aphonopelma species, it may mean that they are secreting themselves away for the cold winter months. This is natural behavior and unless it has been a very extended period of time (I’m talking a month or more here for slings), keepers should never dig them up.

Why is my tarantula hanging out over the water dish? Most likely because it’s too dry. When a tarantula camps out over its water dish, it’s a sign that it’s craving moisture. Whether it be because the animal is in premolt or the humidity is dangerously low your home, action is needed. Your best bet is to moisten down a portion of the substrate with water to give your T more moisture and humidity.

What are these strange white dots on the walls and/or in the water dish?  If they are hard and smear when wet, then congrats…you’ve just seen your first spider poop! This is a common question, as most of us probably didn’t give much thought to what tarantulas turds would look like. When they deposit them into a water dish, they can look like tiny little white stones, which can really be disconcerting to some folks.

My sling isn’t webbing … is there something wrong with it? Some species will blanket their enclosures with thick white webbing. Others will produce barely any. If you have what is considered a heavy-webbing species (P. murinus, GBB, A. versicolor, etc.) that isn’t webbing, it just might not be settled in yet. Some species take longer than others to get started, and it can take a spider several weeks or more to lay down the thick webbing that you see in photos. And, there’s always the oddball who may never web. It usually doesn’t meant that there is anything wrong with the animal.

 

Tarantula Controversies – Should You Give Tarantulas Water Dishes?

Tarantula-controvesies-3

Recently, I sat down to write an article about some of the divisive, hot-button topics that dog the tarantula hobby and often ensnare uninitiated keepers in heated debates. These are subjects that new hobbyists are often interested in learning about, but an internet search or an innocent forum query produces two equally heated and opposing answers. My hope with this feature is to present both sides of these gray-area arguments so that keepers can develop their own informed opinions and make equally informed decisions. For the third installment, I’ve decided to take on the topic of using water dishes with tarantulas.


Background

Just recently, a popular YouTube enthusiast posted a video about a “sick” Poecilotheria that he had found in a semi-death curl. After plucking the poor creature out and putting it into a tarantula ICU with plenty of water, the animal quickly perked up. Whew…his quick thinking saved the day and miraculously cured the animal of its mystery malady! However, while the crux of this particular post was how he valiantly saved his pets life by using a tarantula ICU, there was a much more important and overlooked lesson to be gleaned from the experience. Many commenters were quick to point out that that his Pokie was kept on bone dry substrate and didn’t have a water dish. The poor animal was obviously suffering from dehydration. If the keeper had only taken the time to make sure his T had access to fresh water the entire time, he wouldn’t have found it in such a precarious state.

The root of the issue seemed so obvious to me, and to many.

But amazingly, none of this was really addressed by the keeper in the video, and he actually sounded dumbfounded at the end as to what could have caused the issue, even though he did mention dehydration as a possible cause. I’m not sure if this was an isolated issue and the keeper did normally supply water dishes (although I think that he might have mentioned that he mists). The fact that he didn’t immediately have an AH-HA! moment and publicly express regret or understanding over his husbandry mishap was a bit mind-boggling.

Even more confounding to me was some misinformed souls responding to the “pro water dish” crowd with comments like, “Most Ts don’t drink from dishes, get informed”, and “Tarantulas can drown in their water dishes”.  Even when others tried to explain why just misting wasn’t enough and how tarantulas absolutely will drink from dishes, one poster didn’t relent in his/her misguided attacks.

This recent event reminded me that the debate over tarantulas and water dishes still raged on.

Drinking-T-YouTube-New-fina

And the debate rages on…

 

This question is a fairly simple one; should keepers give their tarantulas water dishes, or are they useless accessories?

Although the issue seems pretty cut and dry, discussions over it can still lead to some rather heated and nasty debates. Having raised and cared for animals for years — including goats, sheep, snakes, cats, dogs, among others — I always understood that there was at least one husbandry requirement for all of them…

…they all need water to live.

Therefore, when I first got heavy into the tarantula hobby, it seemed obvious that I would have to provide moisture for my spiders. And, when it came down to it, the easiest way to do it seemed to be by using a dish. But after doing some reading, I discovered that folks were split on how necessary they were.

Many argued that adults didn’t need dishes because they got all the moisture they needed from their prey or from light spraying. Others argued that using dishes with slings was dangerous as they could easily drown in them. A few even indicated that tarantulas wouldn’t use dishes, so it was a waste of time to supply them.

On the other side were the pro-dish folks who believed that good tarantula husbandry included water dishes, as conscientious keepers would ensure their pets always had access to water. They argued even the tiniest slings could benefit from them, as the idea that they could drown was preposterous. Furthermore, they point to that fact that water dishes can have benefits even if the spider doesn’t drink from them, including raising the humidity for moisture dependent species.

So, which side is correct? Do all tarantulas, including slings, benefit from having water dishes? Or is giving a T a water dish a waste of time? As always, the answer might be somewhere in the middle. Below are the arguments and counter arguments and how they usually break down. For clarity, stances supporting the use of water dishes will be in GREEN; stances against will be in RED.

Let’s start with the slings...

Slings should not be given water dishes as they are drowning hazards. Mention giving water dishes to slings, and you’re likely to have plenty of well-meaning keepers tell you that you are putting your pets at risk. They argue that giving a tarantula under 1.5-2″ a water dish is much like leaving a baby unattended in a bath tub (read: a recipe for disaster). I’ve had folks tell me stories about how friends’ tarantulas have drowned in their water dishes, or they stopped using them after repeatedly losing slings to them. In a couple stories, the ill-fated T attempted to molt in the water dish, and died as a result. Although many will concede that incidences of supposed sling drownings are hard to find, they question any keeper who would want to take the chance and risk it.

Folks in this crowd will advocate spraying  as a way to keep your T happy and hydrated without risking an accidental drowning. They believe that misting the sides of the enclosure a few times a week is sufficient and much safer. Folks in this camp often stick to a scheduled misting/spraying routine of two or three times a week to keep their wee ones hydrated.

Contrary to popular belief, healthy slings are not at serious risk of drowning.  Let’s get this out of the way; is it physiologically possible for a tarantula spiderling to drown or suffocate in water? Of course. However, is it likely? NO. Here’s the deal: slings float. Not only do they have little hairs that serve to repel water, but they are so light that they don’t break through the surface tension of the water and sink. Do enough research, and you’ll find many photos of baby tarantulas floating and skittering atop of large bodies of water. Couple that with the fact that they require very little oxygen to survive and can go without breathing for quite some time, and it becomes very apparent that you would basically have to hold one under water for hours to drown it (and, there are some species that will sit underwater for hours and still be fine when they emerge). Older specimens are even able to create air bubbles around their book lungs to protect them from suffocating in water. There have even been some keepers who have experimented with what happens when a sling is put in a larger body of water; the results show that the animal really isn’t in much immediate peril.

When the subject of water dishes comes up, the pro-dish crowd is quick to point out that having a constant available water source is even more important for slings. Small slings are much more fragile due to that fact that it takes them a few instars to develop the protective waxy coating that helps them retain moisture and prevents dehydration. Although misting supplies a water source for up to a couple hours after the act, it does not give the the slings a permanent water source. Therefore, a keeper who sprays twice weekly is only giving his/her sling access to water a small percentage of the time. Using water dishes, on the other hand, allows the T to drink whenever it needs to, eliminating the much more serious and realistic potential of it dying from dehydration.

Tarantulas don’t have water dishes in the wild, so they don’t need them in captivity.  This is an argument that comes up quite a bit. Some keepers will point out that, in their natural habitats, tarantulas don’t have the luxury of water dishes. And, as many come from harsh, hot, arid regions with little rainfall, their is no need for supplemental water sources. These are not mammals that require water daily to survive; most of these creatures are like little arachnid camels, with some able to survive indefinitely with no water source.

Those who don’t use dishes will also point out that many tarantulas have demonstrated the ability to subsist on the moisture they obtain through their prey items. Folks who insist on including dishes are just cluttering their enclosures and wasting their time. If a keeper is worried about the T getting a drink, a couple squirts from the mister will do the trick.

Sure, they don’t have dishes in nature…but they have rain, puddles, streams, etc.  It’s absolutely true that tarantulas do not have little plastic dishes or ceramic dishes of water in the wild. However, comparing captive life to life in the wild is like comparing apples and softballs. For example, in the wild they don’t live in glass or plastic cages with regulated temperatures and giant humans that consistently drop food in for them.

In their natural environments, many of these animals have access to plenty of water sources. Even some of the most arid regions get rain on occasion, and rain forest and tropical species get plenty of rainfall, leaving puddles and dripping foliage full of water behind. The fact is, they do have access to water at various times.

Also, although they may be able to subsist on getting moisture from their prey, it would be difficult to argue that this is ideal for many of them. And, of course, this begs an important question; namely, are we trying to provide them with their natural conditions or the closest to ideal conditions we can in captivity. In nature, these animals must deal with harsh temperatures, drought, flooding, and the threat of predation. In many instances, these animals have adapted to their harsh environments by being able to survive without water. Does this mean they they wouldn’t benefit from having water whenever they want it? No. Unless a keeper is going through unusual (and possibly, cruel) lengths to ensure his setup is 100% authentic, then it makes sense to give them the most comfortable setup possible. This means access to fresh water whenever they need it, and what better way to do that than a water dish.

Tarantulas won’t use water dishes. I’ve actually heard this one quite a bit lately. I spend a lot of time on YouTube watching videos by other keepers, and occasionally someone will point out that a keeper should think about giving his or her wards dishes. Responses from other commenters in defense of the keeper are often along the lines of, “Tarantulas can’t drink from bowls” or “Not all tarantulas will use them.” Some use the theory that they’ve never witnessed one of their spiders drink, therefore, they must not use the bowls. Others even insinuate that no tarantula can use an open water dish as they are just incapable.These folks feel that supplying these artificial water sources is ridiculous and pointless. 

Why, yes…YES they will. As they say, a picture is worth a 1,000 words (and I’m way past 1,000 words already), so allow me to retort on behalf of the pro dish crowd.

A very special thanks to Jesse Thibodeau for these amazing photos!

All joking aside, many tarantulas have no problem using dishes. Just because you don’t see them using dishes, doesn’t mean they are drinking from them. Although we keepers spend a lot of time observing our pets, we can’t be there 24/7. And, considering most tarantula species are nocturnal, only becoming active when the lights are off and we’re in bed, it’s safe to assume that many take some late night swigs. Are there some individual that just won’t drink from a bowl? I’m sure that it’s possible. However, how can you tell…and do you really want to take the chance? Besides, how do you know if your tarantula won’t drink from a bowl until you actually try it?

They just fill them with dirt and waste, so it’s too much of a bother. It’s definitely true that, when presented with a standing water source, many tarantulas seem to neglect using their dishes for their rightful purpose and instead use them as trash receptacles or toilets. Many folks report their pets immediately filling their bowls with dirt or, even worse, using them as a place to deposit boluses and feces. Others will immediately web over the dishes, which can quickly lead the moisture wicking out, resulting in a bone dry dish. It seems that some species of tarantulas see a water source as a means of waste removal, likely due to instincts they developed in the wild. It’s possible that, in nature, rainfall brings tiny streams that they use to perform a little spring cleaning? Who knows what goes on in those amazing little brains sometimes. Keepers who’ve spent time providing water dishes only to repeatedly find them horribly sullied the next day quickly come to the conclusion that they are not worth the effort. 

If an animal that has survived millions of years decides it doesn’t need a dish, who are we to argue?

See, the idea of providing a water dish is that, unlike spraying, it gives the tarantula access to a permanent source of clean water. However, if the tarantula fills it with dirt the first day, then what have you gained? Nothing. Fed up with the constant attention and time required to keep their dishes dirt and waste free, many keepers have sworn them off completely. 

Good husbandry for any pet takes time and involves cleaning.  For many of the pro dish folks, cleaning out the water dishes is simply part of good animal husbandry. Sure, it can be frustrating to have to clean out bowls, especially shortly after you filled them, but it’s little to ask for a creature that only needs to be fed once in a week and doesn’t need to be walked, groomed, or taken to the vet. Tarantulas are one of the most low-maintenance pets a person can have, so withholding a water dish because  you don’t want to clean it is just, well, lazy.

My $0.02

When I first came up with the idea for the Tarantula Controversies series, it was with the full intent of keeping these articles as unbiased as possible. I spent a lot of time reading through forum responses and hearing what other keepers had to say about the issues so that I could thoroughly present both sides of the arguments. Although I reserve this section at the end of each article to give my take on the topic, I tried to keep my final thoughts from being the decisive word on the subject.

The issue of whether or not tarantulas need water dishes was supposed to be the second topic in the series, however, I’ve repeatedly shied away from it due to my heavy leanings in one direction. How could I walk the line on an issue I have very strong feelings about? However, a couple recent events, as well as discussions with a different keepers, convinced me that I needed to visit this topic and try to my best to cover both sides.

Let’s get the obvious question out of the way. Do all tarantulas require water bowls in captivity to live? Well, if that were the case, then any T kept without a water dish would die, and there wouldn’t be need for this article. The fact is, most tarantulas species are incredibly hardy, and millions of years living in often changing and hostile environments has allowed them to evolve and adapt to weather and climate conditions that would kill other less rugged creatures. It’s also true that many species can subsist on prey for moisture and go long periods of time without needed an supplemental water source.

And that, in a nutshell, is why this question will forever remain a gray area.

The fact is, many seasoned hobbyists and breeders don’t give their tarantulas water dishes, resorting instead to spraying and sometimes just prey as a system for moisture delivery. These are not folks just getting into the hobby and doing it out of ignorance or laziness either; they are experienced keepers and breeders who are leaning on years of experience to tell them bowls are just not needed.

Perhaps then, it’s best not to deal in absolutes and instead look at the whether or not one side offers a clear benefit. Personally, I believe this is where the scales are tipped toward the pro dish side.

We can conclude that many folks successfully keep tarantulas without water dishes, so we can’t say that they are 100% necessary. Great.

However, do they provide other benefits, including a valuable backup if spraying fails? YES.

Let’s take the example from the YouTube keeper mentioned above. This man has been keeping tarantulas for at least three years and is looked up to by many in the hobby. He keeps a variety of specimens besides tarantulas, and it appears as if they are all healthy and thriving. If it’s true he doesn’t use dishes, then he’s seemingly had a great bit of success without them.

However, in the example given above, his P. vittata nearly died…of dehydration. The fact that it perked up so quickly after being given water makes that point pretty obvious. Although he mentioned that he sprays his enclosures “usually” every morning, and that might have worked in the past, it didn’t in this occasion. Although misting is great for offering a quick blast of moisture for drinking or raising humidity, it quickly evaporates. This means that a thirsty T might only have a window of an hour or two to drink before the water is gone. A shy or nocturnal spider might not venture out in time to reap the benefits of that misting. And what measures might have been taken to ensure that this spider would never have this issue?

That’s right; he could have included a water dish.

This is a prime example of why water dishes can be such an integral part of tarantula husbandry, even if they don’t “need” them. I currently keep 15 pokies, and they all have water dishes, even as slings. I’ve personally witnessed many of them drink, and that’s enough positive reinforcement for me to make sure that they will always have bowls.

Perhaps, we shouldn’t be asking if tarantulas NEED water dishes, but instead whether they can benefit from them.

And what of my arid species that supposedly don’t need water? Well, the tarantula I’ve caught drinking the most would be my Grammostola porteri, a species widely recognized as thriving in dry conditions. So, if she occasionally wants a sip of fresh H2O, wouldn’t it stand to reason that my other Ts might as well?

Can it be a pain in the posterior to keep them all clean and filled. Sure it can. I have several Phormictopus species that just love to fill their up to the top with dirt, and my H. pulchripes and M. balfouri both love to cover their with webbing. However, I’ve made it part of my feeding and maintenance routine to clean them out and fill them up once a week. And what about my pokies who just love to dump their boluses in theirs, fouling them up? In some cases, I’ve resorted to using two disposable cups, one inside the other, so that I can just pluck the top cup out and replace it with a fresh one. I can then either throw away all of the old ones, or clean them out all at once saving some time.

Another point to consider is how important dishes can be for moisture-dependent species. As mentioned earlier, misting only raises the humidity temporarily, as the water quickly evaporates. A large water dish, on the other hand, will allow water to constantly evaporate into the air, naturally raising the humidity inside the enclosure for much longer. I’ve actually heard accounts by folks who successfully keep moisture-dependent species on dry substrate with large or multiple water bowls. This avoids any potential mold and fungus issue in the substrate while ensuring the tarantula still has the optimal conditions to thrive and molt successfully.

A word about slings.

Although this would likely be impossible to prove, I have a feeling that many sling deaths can be attributed to dehydration. I know it’s happened to me, and I’ve been privy to many other instances where a lapse in husbandry lead to a desiccated spiderling. That’s why I now try to make sure that all of my slings get water dishes. Without that wax coating to protect them and keep them from drying out, slings are extra susceptible to dehydration, much more so than their older counterparts.

But sadly, this is where the water dish discussion often gets most intense, as people are still convinced that their slings will drown. Well, if it helps, I’ve now raised approximately 75 slings, some less than 1/2″, with water dishes. And how many have drowned?

Zero.

Since I started giving my smallest slings dishes, I’ve personally witnessed many drink. Obviously, there isn’t just one way to do things in this hobby, and plenty of folks have had success using moist sub and spraying. Heck, I used this technique myself in the past. For me, however, the dishes provide me with extra security and peace of mind knowing that if I forget to spray or there is a particularly hot day, my slings are safe.

For a bit of a rant on water dishes, check out the video above!

Final thoughts.

It’s my belief that those new to the hobby should always start out by offering their animals water dishes. Most people who are just starting out have small collections anyway, so it shouldn’t require much extra effort to keep water dishes clean and filled. Although tarantula keeping can often appear to be rather simple on the surface, there are many nuances that can only be recognized and appreciated through practice and experience. Whether or not a tarantula needs water is definitely one of these areas. As a keeper gets a better handle on basic husbandry and, more importantly, the specific needs of his or her individual specimens, then I would concede that some experimentation could be in order.

Are there instances where providing a water dish just isn’t feasible? Certainly. For those keeping very tiny slings, the small enclosures necessary to raise them are often too small to make it practical to include a dish. I currently have 130 specimens, and all but three have water dishes. Two I got as tiny slings and therefore started them off in dram bottles that didn’t offer enough room to include one. Both will be rehoused now that I’m phasing the bottles out.

The other is my OBT, who has webbed up and buried a record FIVE water dishes. That said, I DO pour water onto her webbing for her to drink (and due to the water proof qualities of the webbing, the puddle usually remains for a day or two). She is also due for a rehousing soon, and when the time comes, she’ll get a larger enclosure and a heavier dish.

Do I get why an experienced keeper might tire of cleaning and refilling a Ts water dish every time the animal decides to bury it? Heck, yes. And do I fault that keeper for using his or her experience to make the decision that keeping the dish full is just a waste of time? No way. In this instance, the keeper is relying on his/her experience to make an informed decision about the husbandry needs of the animal. If I’m being honest, I have two G. pulchripes juveniles that flip or fill up their water dishes so much, I’ve stopped worrying about keeping them filled. Although I still clean out and fill the bowls on occasion, it’s must less regularly than I do with my other Ts. Would I fault a keeper for giving up entirely in a similar situation? As long as the tarantula was thriving, no.

Video of a young A. versicolor drinking from an open dish. Thanks again to Jesse Tibodeau!

When it comes down to it, I’m a “better safe than sorry” type of guy though, so I’ll continue to clean and refill mine. Although I recognize that it’s definitely possible to raise healthy tarantulas without water dishes, I also know that they’ll use them. Am I insinuating that those who don’t use dishes are wrong and should immediately repent and change their way? Absolutely not. Those folks have a system that works for them, and I have mine. I raised enough slings successfully in the past using misting, so I appreciate that it can work.

That said, I do think that folks who are just starting out need to do their research, talk to some experienced keepers, and consider the perks these terrarium “accessories” can offer. I also implore experienced keeper who choose not to use them to remember that impressionable newcomers likely lack the experience and skill to immediately follow their lead. Perhaps a little explanation of their experience level, observations, and technique would be in order.

 

Communal Project Part 4: Sling Buffets and Spider Piles

The Communal Project series will document my setup of a Moncentropus balfouri communal, starting with the planning and acquisition of both the enclosure and tarantulas and continuing through as they mature. You can read the other installments of this series by clicking the following links: “Communal Project Part 1: An Enclosure by Brooklyn Bugs.” ; “Communal Project Part 2: Nine M. Balfouri Slings” ; and “Communal Project Part 3: First Week’s Observations” .


As time has passed, I’m still finding myself completely captivated by the feedings.

At first, I watched my slings eat with equal measures of apprehension (I couldn’t help but to worry that one would attack another) and fascination (They WEREN’T attacking…they were getting along just fine!). Years of keeping tarantulas had me hardwired to think that any spider-to-spider contact would inevitably result in only one fat spider. And, having personally observed thousands of feedings, I had a great appreciation of just how powerful a tarantula’s feeding response could be. I’ve seen spiders launch themselves at the slightest vibration on their substrate.  How would they be able to override their hard-wired prey response in time to recognize the difference between prey and a hungry sibling?

However, now that we’re deep into month two, it appears that my fears are completely unfounded. I’ve now witnessed about a dozen feedings, and there hasn’t been any friction. The most “contentious” episode I witnessed involved two sling that were feeding on the same piece of roach. After a short tug-of-war over the carcass, they both broke pieces off, then calmly sat and ate their meals. Many times, I’ve caught up to five, legs intertwined, peaceably feasting on the same prey animal. It’s something I wouldn’t have believed if I didn’t see it myself.

These little guys are eating machines!

One thing that has truly impressed and surprised me is just how much these little guys and gals have been eating. I’ve been offering them three pre-killed red runner roaches or crickets three times a week. Although I’ve tried introducing live prey into the enclosure in the form of red runner roaches, they’ve shown no interest in them. If I drop a prekilled roach or crickets in front of the burrow entrances however, they are usually on it within the hour. I know that, in the wild, the mothers prekill prey and leave it for their spiderlings to eat, so I’m left to wonder if this is an instinctual behavior for them.

Although the three times a week feeding is obviously an ambitious schedule, I wanted to make sure that the slings were well fed to prevent any possible cannibalism. It was also a bit difficult to discern at first what size and portions to offer nine .75″ slings. I began by offering one large roach, which they decimated in less than an hour. I then started giving them two. Both were gone the next morning.  For the past couple weeks, I’ve been giving them three, and that seems like it will work for the time being. However, they’ve all just molted, so I’m assuming that I might have to increase the amount I give them soon.

It should be mentioned that it’s been a rather warm summer, and temps in the tarantula room have routinely been hitting 80° and slightly above, so this might have jacked up the little guys’ metabolisms. That said, the last three specimens I kept and that were in separate enclosures didn’t eat well even during the hot summer months, so I have to consider that the appetites might be partially due to the group dynamic. Unfortunately, all I can do is speculate.

Balfouri-SLings-NEW

My first scare…

As I’ve had the fear of cannibalism in the back of my mind, I’ve been pretty obsessive about counting the slings every time they are all out. Well, starting two weeks ago, I was only able to count eight at any given time. At first I just suspected that one was always hiding in a burrow, which made it appear that there were only eight. However, as more time passed and I failed to ever catch all nine out, I worried that the ninth had possibly died. I honestly didn’t suspect cannibalism, as I had never witnessed any friction between the slings. I did, however, worry that there might have just been a weak sling that wasn’t destined to make it.

Well, shortly after posting a YouTube update on the communal and mentioning that I was missing one, I caught all of the slings out and about again. This time, I there were clearly nine present. Apparently, they were all still doing just fine.

All nine balfouri slings out and about

All nine balfouri slings out and about

Introducing, the “spider pile”

Another unique behavior I’ve witnessed is something I’ve been referring to as the “spider pile”. Many times when the slings emerge to sit on the surface, they huddle together into one large tangle of bodies and limbs. It’s really something to see, and I was fortunate enough to catch one of these events in the video below (it’s after the footage showing all nine of the slings).

Now, they don’t always assemble into a spider pile when they are out; often, they all just sit next to each other along the wall on the top edge of the webbing. I’m not sure what purpose this behavior serves, but I’ll definitely look forward to seeing if it continues as they mature.

Takeaways

With some of these latest developments, I feel comfortable answering a couple of the questions on my list.

  • Will the slings all gravitate to one burrow? An enthusiastic YES for this.
  • Do they really eat together and without friction? Although I’ll continue to monitor the interactions as they mature, I’m comfortable in saying that YES, the slings do eat together without conflict or issues. I’ve personally witnessed a dozen feedings and I’ve seen no aggression between the slings. 
  • Is their any difference in behavior in M. balfouri slings kept communally as apposed to kept individually (I raised three from slings previously)
  • Will their ability to get along change as they mature?
  • Do M. balfouri slings kept communally eat more and grow fast than those kept alone?  Right now, the answer appears to be a YES. The new slings have already molted at least twice in my care, and they have been eating as much as I’ll give them. This is in sharp contrast to the first three I kept that were very finicky and sheepish eaters. 

As always, I will continue to make updates and post whenever something interesting occurs!