Communal Project Part 2: Nine M. balfouri Slings

The Communal Project series will document my setup of a Moncentropus balfouri communal, starting with the planning and acquisition of both the enclosure and tarantulas and continuing through as they mature. This is the second installment in the series; the first part is “Communal Project Part 1: An Enclosure by Brooklyn Bugs.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Tanya from Fear Not Tarantulas

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

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

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

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

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

  • Will the slings all gravitate to one burrow?
  • Do they really eat together and without friction?
  • Is their any difference in behavior in M. balfouri slings kept communally as apposed to kept individually (I raised three from slings previously)
  • Will their ability to get along change as they mature.

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

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


Communal Project Part 1 – An Enclosure by Brooklyn Bugs

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.

After years of considering starting a communal, it was finally going to happen courtesy of Tanya and Fear Not Tarantulas . Tanya from FNT was graciously hooking me up with nine M. balfouri slings (much more on that in my next post!), so I was actually going to witness some of this species’ communal tendencies firsthand. Out of all of the species I had read up on that could supposedly be kept communally, this was the one I had always thought demonstrated the most legitimate communistic tendencies. The fact that they are also one of my favorite species didn’t hurt either.

So, now that I would actually have the spiders I would need to get this project going, another question arose…what would I keep them in?

Although most of my enclosures are quite utilitarian (Sterilite containers, deli cups, and Mainstay canisters make up the majority of my cages) I really wanted to use something a bit more extravagant for this set up. After all, this tank could very well become the centerpiece of my collection, so it made sense to spend a bit for something nice.

As I originally planned to receive 6 to 7 slings, size was an important consideration. I didn’t want it so large that the slings would be encouraged to become territorial and not interact much, yet I wanted to make sure that it was large enough to allow for some growth. After much reading and deliberation, I decided that it would make more sense to give them a much larger enclosure than I normally would for slings that size, thereby giving them more room to grow. This would allow them to spend more time in this enclosure before the inevitable rehousing was required, which would obviously disrupt them. At first, I was looking for something about 7″ x 7″ x 10″ or so to house the slings, although these dimensions were just a starting point.

Also, due to the fact that I would be closely observing the specimens as they settled in and grew, I really needed an enclosure that was as transparent as possible. My acrylic enclosures are all very clear, so I decided to go this route. I checked out several pre-made acrylic enclosures from a few different dealers and couldn’t find the size or design I thought I would need for this unique project. I also wanted to make sure that the vents were as close to the top as possible so that I could pack it full of substrate. M. balfouris are fossorial, so they need some depth. Plus, I wanted to make sure that if the slings climbed, a fall wouldn’t harm them. Finally, I wanted the enclosure to open from the top and not the front.

While doing a search for acrylic enclosures on the Tarantula Forum, I stumbled upon a post for standard and custom acrylic enclosures in the classifieds section. The sample photos posted were quite amazing and included cylindrical enclosures and even a lunchbox cage. The prices on the standard sized models were quite reasonable, and the fabricator was obviously very skilled, so I shot off an email to Jonathan and Bela of Brooklyn Bugs asking a question about one of their designs.

Communication was superb.

Jonathan, the craftsman, responded quickly via email then text, and was incredibly helpful in working out the details of my new enclosure with me.  I explained what I would be housing and indicated the model I was eyeing. After a quick conversation, Jonathan suggested that he could easily fabricate a custom cage for me that would better fit my purposes than the one I was looking at. So, instead of using one of his pre-existing designs, I instead sketched out a plan for the cage I would like to see. A short phone call later, the details were hammered out and Jonathan set to work building my cage. After much deliberation, we decided on 8″ x 8″ x 12″ with a hinged top and two vents on each side. Jonathan also suggested putting a lip around the top edge to eliminate any gap and to keep the small slings from escaping..

I initially worried that a custom cage would prove much pricier than comparably-sized standard designs; after all, Jonathan would have to build this cage from scratch. Instead, it was quite comparable to and, in some cases, less expensive than similar ones I had priced out on other sites. The cage itself, even with it being a custom design, was only $80. Considering I know that he had to do a lot of extra work to make my vision come to life, I think that was incredibly reasonable. I also assumed that I would have to show some patience as I waited for my enclosure to be fabricated. The last vendor I spoke to about creating a custom enclosure told me that the wait would be about two weeks

Nope. Amazingly, Brooklyn Bugs had it done in less than 24 hours.

Even better, he sent some work in progress photos as he worked so I could see my enclosure take shape. It was hard not to get excited after getting to watch it all come together.

Photos © Brooklyn Bugs

We nailed down the final design of the new habitat on Friday afternoon, and the enclosure was completed and ready to ship on Saturday. Jonathan shipped it promptly on Monday afternoon via FedEx, and the box showed up on my doorstep Tuesday afternoon. It took only about four days from when we started discussing the enclosure for him to build and ship it. The turnaround from start to finish was amazing.

For a video review and my reaction when opening the package, click below:

Needless to say, I was floored when I opened the package and got to examine the cage in person. Jonathan really did a gorgeous job on it; not only does it look beautiful, but it is probably the sturdiest acrylic enclosure I own. Even after being filled with soil, it doesn’t wiggle or flex at all. When discussing the design, he asked if I would like it with black tape on the edges, as he likes to add it for a stylistic touch. I’m glad I went with this option, as I adore the aesthetic of it. As a super cool bonus, the enclosure also came with a container of 100+ white dwarf isopods. I actually keep many moisture-dependent species and had been planning to pick some up for a quite a while.


My new 8 x 8 x 12″ enclosure from Brooklyn Bugs.


And the new enclosure all decked out and ready for several M. balfouri slings!

I’m absolutely elated with the end results. Amazingly, it actually came out better than I had expected (and I went in with high expectations!).  My new enclosure will definitely become the centerpiece of my collection. In fact, I’m so impressed that I’ve already sent Jonathan and Bela the plans for an arboreal enclosure I would like them to build.

For folks looking for quality acrylic enclosures, especially if you want to get creative and build something that suits your needs and tastes, you should definitely talk to the guys at Brooklyn Bugs. You can check out some of their designs by clicking the link, or send them an email at

NEXT UP … Nine Monocentropus balfouri from Fear Not Tarantulas!