The Tarantula “Death Curl”

My A. insubtilis tarantula after succumbing to DKS. It's been flipped on its back, but this is the standard tarantula

My A. insubtilis tarantula after succumbing to DKS. It’s been flipped on its back, but this is the standard tarantula “death curl”.

The “death curl” … What is it?

Perhaps no phrase causes more fear and confusion for those new to the hobby than that of the dreaded “death curl”. I follow several tarantula message boards and at least once a week, a panicked keeper will come on asking how to save his/her dying pets. In some cases, it’s the real deal, and the animal passes away or is saved by quick intervention. In others, photos of the T reveal that the specimen was never in a “death curl” at all, and that the keeper misidentified an innocuous position as something more deadly.

When most tarantulas die, they don’t flop onto their backs as many believe (this is actually a MOLT!), or just stop what they are doing and die in a normal legs spread position. In the majority of instances, their legs curl beneath them in a very unmistakable position, one that hobbyists refer to as a “death curl”.

To see what this looks like, make a spider with your hand by arching your fingers and putting your fingertips on a hard surface like feet. Now, loosely curl in your fingers until your thumb and fingertips are touching and your hand is resting on your third knuckles. Congrats! Your hand is now doing a “death curl”.

My H. villosella sling in an ICU after I found it in a death curl. Unfortunately, it did not make it.

My H. villosella sling in an ICU after I found it in a death curl. Unfortunately, it did not make it.

Now, tarantulas are known to rest in all sorts of strange and sometime awkward positions, and unfortunately, a few of these normal postures can resemble a curl.  Finding a T in this position can throw those new to the hobby into hysterics as they worry that their prized pet is checking out. For example, a stressed tarantula will often pull all of its legs up close to its body so that its knees cover its face and carapace. This position in particular freaks out many a keeper and, unfortunately, usually leads the concerned owner to takes steps (like moving the animal, spraying it, or poking it) that will only lead to more stress.

This tarantula is not in a "death curl", but is bringing it's knees up over its head because it's stressed after a rehousing. A special thanks to Caroline Dellinger for letting me use her photo!

This tarantula above is NOT in a “death curl”, but is bringing its knees up over its head because it’s stressed after a rehousing. A special thanks to Caroline Dellinger for letting me use her photo!

My mature male H, incei gold after dying of old age. Notice how the legs are curled completely beneath his body.

My mature male H, incei gold after dying of old age. Notice how the legs are curled completely beneath his body.

H. incei gold mature male in a death curl. Notice how the legs are curled beneath the animal.

H. incei gold mature male in a death curl. Notice how the legs are curled beneath the animal.

A side view of a death curl (an H. incei gold mature male). Notice again how the legs curl beneath the specimen's body.

A side view of a death curl (an H. incei gold mature male). Notice again how the legs curl beneath the specimen’s body.

The death curl can occur when the tarantula is either too weak from sickness or old age, has sustained an injury leading to the loss of hemolymph (the tarantula’s “blood”), or is dehydrated. If these instances are severe enough, the spider will have difficulty maintaining the pressure required to keep its legs outstretched, and its limbs will start curling in underneath it.

For a tarantula entering a death curl-like position, all hope may not be lost. Although for some specimens, the curl might signify an irreversible, natural death, for others it could serve as a last chance warning sign that action is needed. If you suspect that your tarantula is in the “death curl”, here are a few a few question you should immediately ask yourself:

  • Is the species old or a mature male? Although many species are long-lived, they all eventually die. Also, mature males of many species generally don’t live for too long after their ultimate molts, and some folks are surprised when a seemingly vibrant and energetic adult T suddenly curls up and dies. Many folks also buy supposed adult “female” tarantulas from local pet stores only to discover later that they are matured males on the last legs of their lives. Always take age and sex into consideration first.
  • Has the T been injured? Accidental loss of a limb or a fall from a large height can lead to injury, bleeding, and death. So can a particularly bad molt. Examine the species to see if there is any milky white fluid (hemolymph) leaking from its joints or its abdomen. If so, you can try clotting the wound using corn starch, then put the animal in an ICU (a smaller container with moist paper towels, access to drinking water, and a little extra warmth if possible).
  • Is the animal possibly dehydrated? This is common one, and one that can be prevented or fixed if caught soon enough. A dehydrated spider will begin to go into a death curl as it lacks the fluids to maintain proper pressure.  Slings are particularly susceptible to dehydration as they are not able to hold their fluids as well as their juvenile and adult counterparts. Those who use heat lamps or other direct heat measures on their T enclosures also run the risk of baking the animal, thus dehydrating it. If you suspect your T is dehydrated, get it into an ICU immediately. Most will bounce back after they get some fluids. And if the animal was dehydrated, then its time to reexamine your husbandry.

There are obviously other ailments that can lead to a tarantula death curling (mites and nematodes are sometimes mentioned), but the three options listed above are the most likely.

And, as a friendly reminder…


That’s right, this is normal behavior; this is the position they get in to molt.

DO NOT touch a spider in this position.

DO NOT flip over a spider in this position.

DO NOT throw away, flush, or bury a spider in this position.

DO NOT blow on it.

DO NOT spray it with water.

DO leave it alone and let it complete the exhausting task of molting in peace. Molting is a natural occurrence for a tarantula, but it is also a period where they are quite vulnerable. Any fiddling with the animal could prove deadly to the T.

My A. schmidti on her back and ready to molt. Note: this T is NOT dead!

My A. schmidti on her back and ready to molt. Note: this T is NOT dead!

If you have a further question about whether or not your tarantula may be in a death curl, try a Google Image search for “tarantula death curl” and compare. Or, visit Tarantula Forum or Arachnoboards to seek the advise and opinions of other keepers.

Acanthoscurria brocklehursti – Brazilian Black and White

My A. brocklehursti (pet trade)

My A. brocklehursti (pet trade)

Those looking for a large, gorgeous, fast growing display tarantula need look no further.

For my birthday last year, my wonderful wife brought me out to a local exotic pet store to do some tarantula shopping. Among the acquisitions I made that day was an A. brocklehursti, or Brazilian Black and White, sling. At the time, I had been looking for an A. geniculata, and this species, with its similar coloration and thinner leg banding, would fit that spot nicely. Since then, my little guy has quickly become one of my favorites.

From the sunny tropics of Brazil

When I first began looking at A. geniculata and A. brocklehursti as species I might want to acquire, I was worried about whether or not I would be able to suitably provide the heat and humidity a species from Brazil would likely need. However, now that I’ve kept this species for some time, I realize that my apprehensions, although well-intentioned, might have been unwarranted.

This is a species that can benefit from a bit of extra humidity, so I made sure to use an enclosure set up that would allow for me to better control these levels. Until it was about 2.5″, I kept my A. brocklehursti in a 2.5 quart Sterilite stackable container repurposed to serve as a tarantula enclosure (at about 3″ now, I keep it in the 7.2 quart version). These containers are secure and can be custom vented to control the level of airflow and prevent fast evaporation.

For substrate, I use a mixture of coco fiber, peat moss, and a bit of vermiculite to hold some moisture (about 40/40/20). Before I fill the enclosure up with substrate, I put a 1/2 layer of vermiculite on the bottom and pour in some water to make it nice and moist. I then pack my main substrate mixture on top of it. This allows for a moist layer of sub on the bottom that won’t mold and that will provide a bit of extra humidity as it slowly evaporates.

Although my T was provided with deep enough substrate to permit burrowing, mine never constructed a burrow even as a sling. It did do some excavating, moving sub around its enclosure, but it has always been content to sit on the surface in full view.

I provide a water bowl for my specimen, but it loves to fill it full of substrate the first opportunity it gets. Once a month, I will sprinkle water on one side of the substrate (think downpour) and let it percolate down to the bottom. This area usually dries in a couple days, keeping the top dry and the lower levels moist. This keeps the humidity level in the enclosure a bit higher.

I do not, however, obsess over the humidity by any stretch of the imagination. There is no humidity gauge in the enclosure, and I sometimes allow the cage to completely dry out before “making it rain” again. Although I think that they appreciate some extra humidity, the species is quite adaptable and can live comfortably in drier environments if provided with a water dish.

Make no mistake, this is a species that will thrive in higher temperatures. That being said, they are a hearty species that will also do quite well in lower temperature ranges. My A. brocklehursti is kept at 72º-77º in the colder winter months and 76º-84º in the warmer summer months. During this time, it has molted thrice, and I’m guessing that its fourth molt is imminent. Even in the lower temperatures ranges, it has always been active and has continued to eat well. I never let the temps dip below 70, however, and I always keep it in the warmer side of the room.

A fast-growing eating machine

This tarantula is widely recognized for having a fast growth rate, but it’s important to note that lower temps will also mean a lower metabolism. Although my specimen is lively and eating very well, a specimen kept at higher temperatures throughout the year will likely experience faster growth rates. With consistent temps in the 80s, some keepers report this species growing 3-4 inches in a year. This is a larger T, with a max size normally between 7 and 8″ with some individuals reaching 9″, so keepers need to be prepared to correctly house a specimen this size.

This species is known for having a voracious appetite, and My A. brocklehursti is no exception. Prey items last a matter of seconds when dropped into its enclosure, as it snaps them up with amazing speed and ferocity. It also eats a lot; as a 1.5″ sling, it would easily wrestle and subdue medium crickets twice a week (or, quite frankly, as much as I would feed it). This is one of the few Ts I keep that also ate right up to a few days before a molt. That’s impressive.

My A. brocklehursti is about 3″ now, and it eats two or three large crickets a week. It has yet to refuse a meal.

My A. brocklehursti (Pet Trade) munching on a cricket.

My A. brocklehursti (Pet Trade) munching on a cricket.

A bold but not necessarily aggressive T

As a sling, my brock was quite skittish, sprinting around its enclosure at the slightest disturbance. It has become calmer now that it has put on some size and will usually just sit calmly when I open up its cage. It has never shown me a threat pose. However, there are reports out there of this species being feisty, and some are very prone to kicking hairs.

It is important to note that this genus has a reputation for having some of the most potent and irritating urticating hairs of all of the New World tarantulas. Although I have never been haired, I take great care to not get any on me when I perform maintenance. Also, although its venom is not known to be potent, this large T could easily do some serious mechanical damage with its fangs if it should bite. I would not recommend holding this T.

A note about A. brocklehursti and A. geniculata:

These two species look very similar, and there are many instances when one is confused with another. Brocks are generally recognized by thinner leg banding than their cousins, however.

Recently, taxonomists have determined that both the “pet trade” form of A. brocklehursti and A. geniculata are both color varients of the same species, and that the pet trade A. brocklehursti is actually now A. geniculata narrow band. They also contend that the true “A. brocklehursti” is now actually “A. theraphosoides.”

Confused? So are a a lot of people.

It may be a while before this is all sorted out and the change is “official” and widely accepted. However, if you own this species, you’ll want to keep an eye on how the taxonomy, and its scientific name, might change.

A beast of a display tarantula

With a max size of around 8″, this striking and heavy-bodied T is not shy and would make an amazing display tarantula for any collection. A hearty species with an amazing appetite, I would recommend a keeper start with a sling so that she/he can enjoy watching the growth while observing the animal’s temperament as it matures.


Pet Center USA – A Review

Dealer Pet Center Us

In an earlier post about how to shop for tarantulas online, I provided a list of reputable dealers. Among the names I included was Pet Center USA, a vendor I had yet to make a purchase from, but whose stellar reputation demanded that it be included on the list.

Well, I can now wholeheartedly recommend Pet Center USA from my own experiences.

An amazing selection and a great reputation.

Pet Center USA is run by Paul Becker, a very well respected and knowledgeable tarantula dealer. At any given time, Paul offers a staggering number of tarantula species for sale, and his prices are often lower than many other dealers. He is also recognized as being very approachable and helpful to anyone new to the hobby or even more established collectors who have questions.

When I noticed that he was offering Poecilotheria hanumavilasumica slings at an extremely reasonable $55, I knew the time had come to make my first purchase from him. After finding C. dyscolus blue slings on sale for the holidays, I placed my first order for two of each species.

Paul’s communication was excellent throughout. He responded to correspondences quickly, and his  emails were always very affable and polite. I always enjoy when a vendor makes a little small talk, as it adds a personal touch to the transaction (and increases the likelihood that I will buy there again in the future). As an added courtesy, Paul also sends out an informative email after you order which details how he keeps the tarantulas and includes directions on how to properly rehouse them. I thought this was a very nice touch, and I expect this information would be especially appreciated by someone new to the hobby.

My order was shipped promptly via FedEx overnight, and it arrived at my local FedEx facility on a Tuesday. As expected, the packing was topnotch; the specimens were shipped in a foam-lined cardboard box with a heat pack included (temps were currently in the 30s in my state). The spiders were packed securely in plastic dram bottles, which were then wrapped up and taped in newspaper. The rest of the box was also padded out with damp newspaper.

My package of new Ts from Pet Center USA.

My package of new Ts from Pet Center USA.

Pet Center sent the Ts in a foam lined box with a heat pack and damp newspaper for padding.

Pet Center sent the Ts in a foam lined box with a heat pack and damp newspaper for padding.

When I opened up the package, I was delighted to discover that Paul also included a freebie (and who doesn’t love a freebie?). I now have an adorable little Aphonopelma anax sling. Very cool.

For extra protection, the bottles were wrapped and taped in newspaper.

For extra protection, the bottles were wrapped and taped in newspaper.

My new Ts still in their dram bottles.

My new Ts still in their dram bottles.

The animals themselves arrived in great shape, and all five have been rehoused and fed. For these specimens, I decided to follow Paul’s instruction and just pop the top, pull the paper towel plug, and let the animals come out on their own (this is a technique I’ve also used in the past with aggressive/defensive species). Four of the Ts were out and had secreted themselves away by the morning. The fifth, an adorable little P. hanumavilasumica sling, had adapted its shipping container as a hide. Oh, well!

A perfect experience all around!

For those looking for a tarantula vendor with a great selection, low prices, great packing, and fantastic service, Pet Center USA is definitely a shop to check out. And, if you’re new to the hobby or just have questions about tarantulas, don’t hesitate to drop Paul a line.

One of my C. dyscolus slings purchased from Pet Center USA

One of my C. dyscolus slings purchased from Pet Center USA

Ken The Bug Guy – A Review

Dealer Ken

Another Wonderful Experience!

I’ve actually ordered from Ken The Bug Guy several times over the past year, and all of my experiences have been positive. Ken always has a wonderful and varied selection of animals, and he is quite well-respected in the business, so it’s a no-brainer to order when I see something I like.

This review is of my most recent purchase made on November 28th. With several of the dealers offering great savings through Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales, I spent a couple days of cross-referencing my wish list with the stock each vendor carries to determine who I should buy from. After much deliberation, I decided that Ken carried the most species I was currently looking to acquire, and the 30% off sale he was running made the prices ridiculously reasonable.

The website does not always accurately reflect stock.

Now, I’ve ordered from Ken’s four times now, and this is not in any way meant to be a knock, but it’s something that anyone looking to order from his site needs to be aware of. Ken does a lot of business, whether it be through trades, shows, or his website, and sometimes animals listed on his site are not in stock when you try to place your order. On three separate occasions, I’ve placed an order and received an email saying that something I wanted was no longer available. When this occurs, Ken will immediately offer a full or partial refund your or allow you to make a substitution. Other times, he will offer a size upgrade that more than makes up for the inconvenience. When I place an order now, I shoot him an email at the same time and ask him to just let me know if something is out of stock so I can substitute.

As always, great communication and fast shipping.

With a huge sale going on, I anticipated that this would be the case with my most recent order. Although two of the tarantulas I ordered weren’t in stock, the ones he offered to substitute for them were worth far more than the originals. Suffice it to say, I was left very happy with the final transaction. As usual, Ken’s communication is always excellent, and he responds to all emails promptly and politely. He communicated with me repeatedly throughout the transaction, and answered all of my emails within hours of me sending them.

With the amount of business he was doing during this sale, I anticipated that there might be a delay shipping my package. I was delighted when I got the shipping notification from FedEx on Sunday saying my package would be arriving on Tuesday. My package was available for pick up at my local FedEx on time and as expected.

Excellent packing and very healthy spiders.

Okay, so for anyone who usually reads my reviews, you know that I like to take pictures of the unpacking. Well, full disclosure: I was so focused on unpacking and rehousing six fast, venomous Ts, that I completely forgot to break out the camera. Whoops! I can tell you that the box was expertly packed with a foam lining and moistened newspaper as cushioning. He also included three heat packs, as temps in my area were hovering around freezing, and the animals were safe and warm when I opened the box.

Now, I mentioned it in an earlier review, but it bears repeating: well-packed tarantulas make the rehousing process so much easier and less stressful. Each specimen was packed in a plastic dram bottle lined with rolled paper towel. To get them out, I needed only to pull the paper towel plug blocking the opening, then use tongs to slide the paper towel tube out. I could then either just use a paintbrush to gently prod the T out, or I could unroll the towel tube to free the animal (in one case, I left the animal in the towel tube in the new enclosure so the T could come out on its own). Very simple!


My new E. pachypus in the bottle with the paper towel lining removed.

My new E. pachypus in the bottle with the paper towel lining removed.


All of my new animals were in great shape and, in many cases, larger than I had expected. Even better, all six of them ate their first meals within 24 hours of being unpacked (the three Poecilotheria species I got ate the same night). It has been about a week since the package arrived, and they have continued to eat and adapt to their new homes.

For those looking for a great variety of tarantula species, expert packing, quick shipping, and excellent communication, make sure to give Ken the Bug Guy a try!

Check out Ken’s selection HERE!