Harpactira Husbandry Notes (ft. H. baviana, H. cafreriana, H. hamiltoni, and H. pulchripes)
Gorgeous “baboon tarantulas” from South Africa, Harpactira species have become much more prevalent in the hobby as of late, with many vendors offering a variety of slings for sale. Recently, there have been more Harpactira species available than ever, their newfound popularity possibly spurred by the introduction of the gorgeous and highly-desirable Harpactira pulchripes or “Golden blue-legged baboon.”
These mid-sized Old Words sport a variety of pretty ambers, golds, bronzes, and even a bit of green. My first experience with this genus came with the aforementioned H. pulchripes. Back in 2015, I acquired a sling and a juvenile female, and I immediately fell in love with the species. Besides their strikingly good looks, I found this spider to be incredibly hardy with a fairly laid back temperament for a baboon species. Last year, I was fortunate enough to get several more Harpactira species from Tanya at Fear Not Tarantulas, and I have become a huge fan of the genus. Connoisseurs of heavy-webbing, visible, fast-growing, robust, pretty baboons will find a lot to love about this genus.
Species from this genus start out rather petite, so folks may find that smaller dram vials or 4-oz deli cups will provide good sling enclosures for smaller specimens. For slightly larger specimens ( .75″ or larger), the tried-and-true 16-oz deli cups make great homes. I’ve used all three types with no issues, so a keeper can use his or her discretion when selecting its first home. My specimens are more webbers than burrowers in most instances (although they may still dig), so provide a bit of substrate and piece of cork bark for a hide. If possible, also include a fake leaf or two to serve as an anchor point for webbing. Mine all immediately took refuge beneath the cork bark, using this as the epicenter for their silk. This also gives them a place to retreat to if they are startled so that they don’t bolt out of their enclosures. One of the only tarantula escapes I’ve ever had was a Harpactira pulchripes sling that I got sloppy with during a rehousing. It was up my arm and around my back in a blink. Although I’ve found slings from this genus to be more calm overall than most baboons, they can still be skittish and are very fast. It would behoove hobbyists to keep this in mind when working with them.
A water dish should be included if the space in the enclosure accommodates for one (it can be tricky with vials). I found that the shallow clear caps from spring water bottles work great. If using one of the dram vials, dribble or gently mist some water down the side of the enclosure when feeding to give them a place to drink. With slings, I do keep part of the substrate moist at all times, although they definitely don’t seem to show a preference for it.
At the moment, I’m keeping four species of Harpactira:
- H. baviana
- H. cafreriana
- H. hamiltoni
- H. pulchripes
In terms of behavior and attitudes, all four have been very similar. The one exception is the H. baviana slings, which have been a bit more skittish and reclusive, immediately bolting to their burrows when disturbed. I’ll be curious to see if they eventually grow out of this behavior.
I’ve found the slings to be excellent hunters and eaters that chase prey down with gusto; I feed them each a small cricket twice a week. For tiny specimens, you may consider pre-killing crickets until they put on some size (although mine have had no issue taking down live prey).
Premolt is fairly easy to detect with slings if you spot them out of their dens. Their abdomens can become quite distended and shiny, and they will start refusing food. Most will also retreat to their burrows when in promolt, often webbing up the entrances. This is their way of putting up the “do not disturb” sign, so you should not try to open the burrow to check on them or to shove food in. During this time, keep a corner of the substrate moist, the water bowl full, and try not to disturb your sling. They will eventually reemerge a bit larger and quite hungry. For the shier species like H. baviana who do not come out of their dens much, look for the entrance to open and for them to deposit the old molt outside. This is usually another good indication that they have molted, hardened up, and are ready to eat.
Juveniles will do well in terrestrial setups between 2 quarts and a gallon. Again, although these species haven’t done too much burrowing for me, the potential is there. Keeping that in mind, provide them with a few inches of dry substrate to allow them to dig if they choose to. I also give all of mine a good hide to start with, and all have taken to them quickly. These guys are terribly fast, especially when spooked, so giving them a place to retreat to when you open the enclosure is definitely desirable. As with the slings, they will be doing some webbing, so include some fake foliage for anchor points. I also include small water dishes, as I do with all of my tarantulas, in case they need a drink. For juveniles (1.5” or so in size), I no longer worry about moistening any of the substrate. They will do fine on dry. That said, I do keep the water dishes full and dribble water on their webbing on occasion.
In my experience, species in genus Harpactira grow at a relatively fast pace. My female Harpactira pulchripes took about three years to mature when kept mostly in the 70s (low-to-mid 70s in the winter and high 70s to occasionally 80 in the summer). I have spoken to folks who have had their males mature in less than a year. This is a sexually dimorphic species, and the males tend to be much smaller, gangly little guys when compared to the females, who are much longer and heftier overall. Specimens kept at higher temperatures (high 70s to 80s) will likely experience much faster growth overall.
Once my Harpactira reach about 1.5” or so, I reduce feeding to once a week, offering a medium or large cricket depending on the size of the specimen. Mealworms and roaches can also be used, and I’ll switch up the prey every so often for variety.
Harpactira is a medium-sized genus (5-6″), so adult enclosures around 4 to 5-gallons would be appropriate. As these species can be heavy webbers and may do some burrowing, it would be advisable to use enclosures that allow for a bit of of extra depth dirt and web. Shallow enclosures can quickly become webbed up, making it difficult to open an enclosure without tearing the webbing and disturbing the spider. For example, although a large Exo Terra Breeder box would offer enough floor space for a terrestrial spider this size, its shallowness would make the excess webbing problematic. Again, although I’ve found mine to be quite calm overall, they are FAST and can bolt if spooked.
Once they are ready to go into their adult enclosures, more thought can given about decor. It’s important to remember that they will likely do quite a bit of webbing, so decorations that offer anchor points are advisable. I’ll be trying out spider wood in my adult enclosure, as this decoration not only looks aesthetically natural, but its many twisted branches offer a plethora of hiding spots and anchor points. At this point, they do not require moist substrate and do well completely dry. Include a water dish and don’t bother with overflowing it. There is a good chance that your spider will web up the dish. Webbing can quickly wick away water, leaving a dish bone dry in hours. If you notice webbing on the dish, you can trim it away with scissors or use a second dish placed in the first. 2-oz souffle cups work well for this.
To date, only my two female H. pulchripes have reached adulthood, and both have remained fantastic eaters. I suspect that the other three species I keep will continue their voracious eating habits as they grow. I feed my girls one or two large crickets a week, and I’ve only had them refuse food when they are in premolt.
Although their speed and nasty venom keep Harpactira species out of the discussion for good beginner tarantulas, they could be considered good beginner Old World species. Temperament can obviously vary wildly from specimen to specimen, but many folks have reported that their Harpactira species to be less high-strung than many of the baboon species (African tarantulas). Those who want to move into keeping the fast, more defensive and venomous Old World tarantulas would likely find a Harpactira species to be a good stepping stone.