Tarantula Controversies – Is keeping Tarantulas in Captivity Wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can’t make this stuff up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others will need some more convincing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiders? Not so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A wild tarantula…

  • must find or construct a burrow.

  • must deal with floods and drought.

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

  • must constantly hunt for its food.

  • can get parasites.

  • faces habitat destruction.

  • must avoid predators, including humans.

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

Now, let’s consider what captive tarantulas endure.

A captive tarantula must “endure”…

  • occasional disruptions to their burrow for cleaning purposes.

  • annoying owners snapping photos of them.

  • periodic rehousings

  • a climate controlled environment.

  • food provided regularly

  • fresh water available at all times

  • a safe home free from predators.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarantula Impaction Revisited

Tarantula Fecal Impaction Revisited

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

A few weeks later, she was dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, it was too late.

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

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

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

It didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suspected Causes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Signs and Symptoms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarantula First Aid for Impaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I could get just a moment of your time …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Thanks!

Tom

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!

 

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

 

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!

Communal Project Part 3: First Week’s Observations

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. This is the third installment in the series; the first part is “Communal Project Part 1: An Enclosure by Brooklyn Bugs.” and the second part is “Communal Project Part 2: Nine M. Balfouri Slings” .


How will they adapt to the communal setup?

Now that the nine M. balfouri slings were housed in their new enclosure, it was time to let them settle in and to observe their behaviors. Although I had read plenty of accounts that should have assured me the risk for casualties was minimal, I still worried that that the tiny little slings would somehow turn on each other as they staked out territory and fed. After hearing for years how cannibalistic tarantulas were, it was very difficult for me to subdue the nagging feeling that this wasn’t going to work out.

However, I would soon learn that my fears were completely unfounded.

Within 24 hours, I started to see signs that my new wards would indeed be able to live peaceably. The following details my observations over the first week, including any details I thought were important or interesting.

DAY ONE: The evening they arrived, I decided to offer food right away. For the first meal, I dropped in 10 tiny B. lateralis pinhead roaches. I won’t lie; when I woke up the next morning, I rushed down to check on the communal partially expecting to find signs of spiderling cannibalization. Instead, I discovered that the little ones had been busy the night before, and fine curtains of webbing now covered some of the den entrances and cork bark.

Even cooler, four of the slings were bustling in and out of one burrow opening. Despite having shot off in several directions upon being housed, it seemed that the slings really had started to gravitate to the same den.

I also watched nervously as two slings encountered each other in another corner of the enclosure. At first, I was convinced that the larger of the slings was going to attack and kill the smaller. As they met, he froze, then reached out carefully with his first set of walking legs, almost as spiders do when they sense a prey item nearby. However, the other sling quickly reciprocated by putting out his fist sets of the legs. The two entwined for a bit, much in the same way males and females do when mating, as they continued to feel each other out. Then, about a minute later, they both walked off in different directions.

No attacks.

No bites.

No devoured sling.

I was amazed by the encounter; it appeared that they could differentiate between one of their own species and a prey item. There was no friction whatsoever. After watching many spiders reflexively pounce on anything that moved in their enclosures, I couldn’t help but to feel a bit mind-blown by this development.

As for feeding, I wasn’t sure if any of the roaches were devoured, and there still appeared to be several of them running around the enclosure. The slings either didn’t notice or didn’t care as they continued working on their den. I decided to give it another day to see if I could catch one or more feeding.

DAY TWO: Having seen a few of the roaches I dropped in still roaming around without a care in the world. I worried that some of the slings might not be eating. Remembering that the M. balfouri mothers often kill prey for their young, I killed a large cricket, mashed it up a bit, and dropped it in front of the den entrances. My hope was that I could catch some of this group feeding I had read about.

I popped in to check on the little guys before bed, and was floored by what I saw. Several of the slings were feeding on the cricket at the same time. Even more interesting, there was no fighting or friction between the feasting tarantulas. They very calmly approached the cricket, tore off a chunk of meat, and simply ate their meals.

I also observed that at least FIVE of the slings now occupied the same burrow. They really were purposely gravitating to the same burrow despite having enough space to stake out their own homes. This was true communal behavior I was witnessing, not just a bunch of spiders sharing space because they were forced to.

DAY THREE:  I crept down late at night to see what my communal was up to (darned insomnia), and I discovered that all nine slings were apparently sharing the same den. For a full five minutes, I watched as they moved in, out, and around the single den entrance with at least four of the slings laying down webbing. They weren’t just living together; it appeared that they were cooperating with each other to build their home. AMAZING.

DAY FOUR: Failing to capture the group feeding on film the first time, I dropped another cricket in on the third night hoping that I might be able to get the next meal on video. I awoke early the next morning to discover several of them eating off of the same cricket. Like a buffoon, I sat their ogling this for bit before remembering to record it. By the time I grabbed my phone, a couple of the spiderlings had toddled off. Still, I managed to catch a few of them eating in the video below. Again, there were no spats or fighting to speak of, and the slings obviously recognized the difference between the prey and the other spiders.

DAY SEVEN: It’s official: all of the slings have adopted the center den as their home, and all are living communally in a single den. The amount of webbing in this area has increased with all lending a hand (or their webbing) to the construction. There are now several entrances including the main one, and the slings spend much of their day going in and out of them.

So, I can cross one of my questions off my list.

  • Will the slings all gravitate to one burrow?

Yes, they sure will…and cooperate to build it apparently.

Having raised three M. balfouri slings to adulthood that were kept alone, I do have a couple observations:

  1. I’ve noticed that these slings are out in the open MUCH more than my specimens kept separately ever were. Although I’d catch mine out and about every so often, they were very skittish and would spend the majority of their time hidden in their burrows. Perhaps my communal subjects will display more of that secretive behavior as they become more mature, but so far they seem to be much bolder than my last specimens. Could this be because they feel more secure when kept communally? I’m not sure.
  2. My first batch of slings were very finicky eaters, often going weeks without eating and often refusing prey one week only to indulge the next. They would also be intimidated by normal sized prey items, and I’d have to feed them crickets that were smaller than what I would usually feed slings that size. As a result, they grew slowly often taking several months between molts. These new slings, however, have been eating like machines. I drop a cricket in and they are on it in minutes. Now I’m wondering if these slings will eat more and grow faster in the communal setting.

With these latest developments, I would have to revise my list of question I wanted to answer.

  • Will the slings all gravitate to one burrow? An enthusiastic YES for this.
  • Do they really eat together and without friction? (I want to catch more feedings)
  • 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?

As I move ahead, I’ll look to answer these questions and will post updates whenever I observe, photograph, or film something of interest!

Next up…M. Balfouri Communal Project Part 4: How Many M. Balfouri Slings Does It Take to Eat a Large Roach?

 

Communal Project Part 2: Nine M. balfouri Slings

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. This is the second installment in the series; the first part is “Communal Project Part 1: An Enclosure by Brooklyn Bugs.”


After a couple of years of research and daydreaming, I will finally be setting up my first communal.

I’ve been fascinated by communals since I first saw photos of H. incei setup on a forum several years ago. I had always known tarantulas to be cannibalistic, so I was intrigued by the idea that a group could live together harmoniously without it turning into a survival of the fattest bloodbath. Since then, I’ve read articles and blogs, watched YouTube videos, and even spoken to a couple keepers who have tried it. I’ve researched the many species said to tolerate a communal living situation, including Poecilotheria species, Heterothele villosella, Neoholothele incei, Pterinochilus murinus, and of course, the Monocentropus balfouri.

Although all of these species have demonstrated the ability to co-habitate with other members of their species without immediately resorting to cannibalism, the level of true “communalism” can vary greatly. Every keeper would love to witness a true tarantula community where members actually benefit from living in close proximity to each other, possibly hunting and even eating together. But the fact is, many of these species are forced to live closely together in the wild due habitat constraints; they don’t naturally prefer it. Therefore, when they are forced to live together in an enclosure, the relationship between the inhabitants more closely resembles a fragile tolerance than a strong communal bond.

As a result, many keepers who have tried to keep communals have found the need to abort the projects upon discovering that their ten lithe specimens had suddenly become five portly ones. With many of the communal setups,  cannibalism is a constant threat, and the thought of needlessly loosing often expensive Ts is enough of a deterrent for many keepers. Personally speaking, I love my spiders and pride myself on not having many deaths in my collection. The possibility that by creating a communal I might putting a group at risk of unnecessary death was a tough concept for me to get by.

One species has always stood out for me in the communal list…

One of the species that seemed to demonstrate some legitimate communal tendencies was the Monocentropus balfouri. I had discovered early on that this beautiful tarantula had some of the strongest motherly instincts of any species, and a quick Google search of “M. balfouri mother with slings” brings up some amazing photos of this maternal spider seemingly nurturing its young. This is an animal that keepers have witnessed killing prey to feed its spiderlings, as well as standing guard over them like a protective parent. Hobbyists that have kept this species communally report slings huddling together in the same burrow, even when given space, and feeding on the same prey…together. I have read several accounts by folks who have set up more than one balfouri in an enclosure, and it seems that it doesn’t matter the size of the specimens that are introduced together, they all live quite harmoniously.

After reading several accounts by keepers who had tried communal setups, it seemed that the chance of casualties was low…ridiculously low. I only found one instance where one of a group of about a dozen disappeared, but there was nothing to indicate it didn’t just die a natural death (and not at the fangs of one of its cage mates). Even more promising were the many photos of juveniles and adults living and even feeding together peaceably.

It seemed like if I was going to attempt a communal setup, M. balfouri would be the species to do it with. However, although the prices on these gorgeous Ts have continued to drop over the years, they still run about $60 or so for slings. It would be quite an investment to get one of these going, especially if I wanted to start with more than just a handful. For a little while, it seemed like it would remain a bit of a pipe dream.

Enter Tanya from Fear Not Tarantulas

After my last fantastic experience buying from Fear Not Tarantulas, I got to chatting with Tanya about spiders, the blog, and her breeding projects. It’s been fantastic conversing with someone who is not only knowledgeable, but also thoroughly entrenched in this amazing hobby. During one of our conversations she made an amazing offer; she would hook me up with enough M. balfouri slings to finally start that communal I had been pondering for years. To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement.

The original plan was to start with five or six specimens, so I had to go ahead and set up an enclosure that wouldn’t be too large for the .75-1″ slings, but that would also allow for plenty of room for growth (for more on the enclosure, click here!). Once the enclosure was ready, I gave Tanya the go ahead to ship my tarantulas. I had shared my photos and ideas for the design of the enclosure with Tanya, and when it arrived I explained that it was a little larger than my first idea, but I thought that it would work out well. After texting me with updates on the packing (as well as a photo of the A. amazonica I was was also getting), Tanya informed me that she was actually sending nine M. balfouri. NINE. I was absolutely floored. The extra space would definitely go to good use.

She shipped them promptly and they arrived expertly packed, labelled, and in fantastic shape. As a picture is worth 1000 words, I’m guessing that a video is worth even more. Below is the video of the unpacking along with the rehousing of the nine M. balfouri slings into their new homes (the rehousings start at about 3:32). I will admit to feeling just a bit of apprehension as I started loosing the slings into their new enclosure together. A part of me really worried that they might turn on each other or I might capture friction on camera.

It soon became apparent that my fears were unwarranted as the rehousing went off without a hitch and the nine little slings scuttled to the pre-formed burrows without a single incident of aggression. Even better, when I checked on them later in the day, a few of the slings had actually taken residence in the same burrow.

I’m finding the communal setup utterly fascinating, and I’ve been checking on them constantly to see how they are getting along. So far, so good. As these little guys continue to make this new enclosure their home, I will continue with updates including my observations and video/notes on any behaviors of interest. A few questions I hope to answer are:

  • Will the slings all gravitate to one burrow?
  • Do they really eat together and without friction?
  • 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.

Next up…M. Balfouri Communal Project Part 3: First Week’s Observations (and Video of Group Feeding!).

* A very special THANKS to Tanya at Fear Not Tarantulas who made this whole project possible!