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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Neoholothele incei (gold) Communal

by Casey J. Peter

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H. incei gold sling.

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

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

Setup and Housing

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

H. incei gold slings upacked.

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

H. incei gold housing.

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

H. incei gold burrow entrance.

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

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

Feeding time (B. lateralis roaches)

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

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

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

Friends for life!

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

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

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

Care and Maintenance

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Psalmopoeus irminia “Venezuelan suntiger)” Husbandry Notes

A gorgeous, if somewhat reclusive, arboreal.

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

Fast forward several years…

P. irminia (c) Dallas Beck

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

Housing

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

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

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

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

P. irminia (c) Dallas Beck

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

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

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

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

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

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

CEC’s Action Plan for Sustainable Trade in Tarantulas

Important Reading For all Hobbyists

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

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

READ THE REPORT HERE

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

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

Interesting Tidbits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priority Tarantula Species

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

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

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

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

Tarantula Impaction Revisited

Tarantula Fecal Impaction Revisited

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

A few weeks later, she was dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, it was too late.

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

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

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

It didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suspected Causes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Signs and Symptoms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarantula First Aid for Impaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avicularia Genus Revision – A Quick Breakdown

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

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

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

New Genera for Six Species

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

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

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

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

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

The Identified Avicularia Species

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Avicularia vestiaria — nomen nudum

Comb. n. (or new combinations)

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

Nomen dubium species

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

Some points of interest involving Avicularia juruensis:

A couple interesting tidbits found in this document involve Avicularia juruensis

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

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

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

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

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

The above information comes from the following  article: 

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

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.

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

Dealer Jamies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thumbnail_versi-sac-open

Avicularia  versicolor sac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cages-two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can count me in!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Tom!

And now…the Black Friday Sale List! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

$34/$22 Heterothele gabonensis 1″ #175

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPECIALS:

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

$19.00

$16.00

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

$20.00

$16.00

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

$21.00

$16.00

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

$24.00

$21.00

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

$29.00

$23.00

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

$183.00

$143.00

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

$189.00

$164.00

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

$249.00

$223.00

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 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?