The Jewel of the Antilles!
For a video version of this article, click the link above!
(Note: The following article is an update on my original C. versicolor husbandry article from October 19, 2014. )
Despite being very common and established in the hobby, there is perhaps no tarantula available right now, save maybe the T. blondi, that causes owners more stress over the husbandry than the C. versicolor. When I first got into the hobby, I was immediately amazed by this gorgeous arboreal, which starts as a stunningly-blue sling and morphs into a fuzzy, multi-colored adult. The C. versicolor has been one of my favorite spiders to grow up, as it is beautiful and colorful in every stage of its life.
The Caribena versicolor hails from the island of Martinique, one of the Caribbean islands. With a tropical climate all year round, Martinique is generally hot and humid 12 months of the year, with plenty of rain and sunshine during both its dry and wet seasons. This spider lives the lush forests and banana plantations, creating its heavily webbed home in the crooks and hollows of trees. For some amazing video of this spider in the wild, I encourage you to check out the channel World of Spiders.
Anyone researching this amazing species will likely find information that is frustratingly confusing and contradictory. On one side are the keepers who still say this species is difficult to keep due to strict humidity requirements. However, keepers who have had success with this spider argue that humidity and moisture are not as important as good cross ventilation, and that a stuffy, humid cage will prove to be a death sentence for this animal. Unfortunately, while focusing on the high heat and humidity of their natural habitat, some folks tended to ignore that the island usually enjoys air-circulating winds for most of the year.
These dank enclosures resulted constant mention of SADS, or “Sudden Avic Death Syndrome”, the name of the phenomena where a seemingly healthy Avicularia (the versicolor’s old genus) suddenly dies for no apparent reason. The message boards and chat groups were rife with stories of these little blue spiders curling and dying suddenly and without an obvious cause. Many now believe that these deaths can be attributed to the misguided husbandry of keepers struggling to maintain bogus high humidity requirements.
I picked up my first C. versicolor .75″ sling from Jamie’s Tarantulas several years ago, and I was fortunate enough to get some great husbandry information from a keeper who had kept Avicularia (this species’ old genus) for many years. As this species is arboreal, and will settle in higher ground even as a sling, they need an enclosure that offers more height than floor space. I chose to house my first girl in one of Jamie’s Arboreal spiderling enclosures. These clear rectangular cages sported a round 1″ vent in the front and offered good ventilation (although, no cross ventilation). Many folks also use the smaller clear Amac boxes, which they ventilate well with holes on all sides. Slings are quite small and can struggle to settle into larger enclosures. Well ventilated dram bottles or even 5.5-oz condiment cups work great for smaller slings. 32-oz deli cups or something similarly size work well for larger spiderlings. The slings I kept from pairing my female were kept in dram bottles before being moved to 32-oz deli cups once they molted a few times.
For substrate, coco fiber, top soil, peat, or any combination of the three work great. I usually start my slings off on an inch or so of sub. I also supply a piece of cork bark and fake plant leaves for cover and to supply anchor points to encourage webbing. This species will essentially construct its own home from webbing, so you need to provide it with anchor points to web to. Spiders that are not supplied with hiding spots and foliage tend to take residence up in the corner of their enclosures. This can be far from ideal with top opening setups.
Hint: Some C. versicolor slings will take residence in the top corner or lip of their enclosures. This can be very inconvenient if you have an enclosure that opens from the top. Should you notice this behavior, try placing the enclosure beneath a bright light. This will usually encourage them to set up either inside a cork bark round or beneath a cork bark flat.
My little versicolors were quick to create web funnels between the cork and the sides of the enclosure, and they spent most of their time in and around that hide. In the case of my first specimen, I noticed that she did not seem to come down to the ground to hunt for prey. As a result, this was one of the only spiders I have ever “tong fed”, using tweezers to feed her red runner nymphs. After several months, this cute little girl would come right to the edge of the funnel web whenever I opened her enclosure and take the item right from my tongs. Learned behavior? It sure seemed like it…
Others keepers have also experienced this issue, although it doesn’t appear to be particularly common. To prevent this from occurring, be sure to include decorations that extend from the floor up the the top of the enclosure. This will allow prey items to climb and make it easier for the slings to find them. Smaller slings will eat red runner nymphs, pinhead crickets, or any prekilled prey. I’ve even used mealworm segments before with success. Just be sure to drop the prekilled prey by the opening of their web cocoon and not on the ground. If they are hungry, they will find it. As with all of my slings, I fed mine twice a week to start, although once a week or even bi-weekly works for many.
As always, tarantulas do well at room temperature, which for most of us is upper 60s to mid-80 Fahrenheit (or around 20 – 29 Celsius). For temperatures, my first C. versicolor was kept between 68 and 76 degrees during the winter and between 72 and 88 during the summer. I did not notice a large difference in growth rate between these two periods. In these temperatures, this species grows at a medium pace, with mine going from .75″ to about 2.5″ in 11 months time. Keep in mind that higher temperatures usually lead to faster metabolisms, so folks keeping their collections at warmer temps will likely experience faster growth.
Now, about that humidity… Although the substrate started off moist, it soon dried out. As time went on, I would only moisten one corner of the enclosure by dribbling water on the web and the coco fiber about once a week (some keepers choose to mist the webbing). I did not measure the humidity, nor did I ever dampen all of the substrate. I did keep their small water dishes full at all times. Occasionally, I would see my C. versicolor drink from water on the web. They appeared to thrive in these conditions, eating very well and molting every two months like clockwork. Even during the winter months when my furnace was bringing humidity down inside my home to the teens, mine still ate and molted regularly.
Juveniles do well in enclosures between 2 quarts and 1 gallon (or 1.9 to 3.79 liters). I used the 1 gallon Mainstay clear canisters sold at Walmart for my first, and 9” tall x 4.25 diameter clear acrylic cylinder for my newest juveniles. There are many outstanding choices available for enclosures, so use what works for you. Be sure that the enclosure offers plenty of cross ventilation and include couple inches of substrate, some type of hide (cork bark flats or rounds work great) and fake or real foliage for anchor points. Also, be sure to include a water dish. At this point, I don’t worry about keeping the substrate moist at all and will only periodically dribble some water on the webbing or on the fake foliage.
In my experience, high moisture levels/moist substrate is NOT necessary for this species. In fact, many now believe that stuffy, overly-moist enclosures are a death sentence for the versicolor. Instead, good ventilation seems to be key. Once my C. versicolor reached the juvenile stage 1.75-2” (4.45-5 cm) or so, I stopped moistening the substrate and would only spritz the webbing and side of the enclosure when feeding her. I have noticed that some will drink off of the webbing, fake plants, and the sides of the enclosure.
Juveniles are great eaters and will easily take down medium to large red runners (B. lateralis), medium to large crickets, and smaller B. dubia roaches. Meal worms and super worms will also work, but you may want to supervise the feeding to make sure that they grab the prey and that it doesn’t end up loose in the enclosure. Super worms can bite, so crushing the heads first is also prudent.
This species gets to be about 5 ½ inches (14 cm) diagonal leg span as an adult. Expect those grown up colors to show up around the 4” mark or so. This is when the C. versicolor experiences one of its most profound color changes. Adults are fantastic and enthusiastic hunters, taking down larger prey items with speed and ferocity. I feed my adult three large crickets once a week, although roaches and worms may also be used. For adult enclosures, Exo Terra nano talls work great, although they don’t offer the best cross ventilation. I currently have mine in a custom build 3.5 gallon or 13 ¼ liter acrylic enclosure. Inverted 5-gallon aquariums and extra large critter keepers also seem to work quite well for them. If using a larger setup, be sure to provide ample hiding spots and foliage for cover and webbing. For keepers who want to try a bioactive setup, you don’t want the enclosures to become too moist or stuffy. Make certain that you have excellent ventilation and use plants that thrive in drier environments, like Peperomia for example.
This is one of the species that I had an opportunity to breed, and I was fortunate enough to get about 100 dazzlingly blue slings from my girl. When pairing the male and female, I put the two enclosures next to each other and allowed the male to climb out and approach the female on his own. The two met outside of the cages, and there was just a bit of frantic scrambling for their first interaction. However, soon the female calmed down, and they paired without incident. My female was bred in late November, laid her sack in December, and the spiderlings emerge in mid March. My girl was an excellent mother, and I chose to leave the sac with her until they hatched.
Now for the big question…is this a beginner species?
Although this species is usually quite calm, beginners can struggle with the narrower band of for success as they wrestle with the conflicting husbandry information they find online. I usually encourage folks to get a bit of experience keeping the other so-called “beginner species” before attempting a C. versicolor. Also, although many folks report that their specimens are quite calm and tractable, temperaments may vary from specimen to specimen and even from molt to molt. My girl was quite calm for years, however, she has become very skittish after her most recent molts. It’s important to consider that this is a species that can jump, so those who handle have to be extra cautious that their hands-on time doesn’t result in a deadly fall.
Furthermore, Caribena versicolor has Type II urticating (irritating) hairs that they can spread by rubbing their abdomens on you. I’ve heard folks talk about their spiders “cuddling” with them when they were, in fact, hairing them. The C. versicolor has also been observed kicking it’s hairs off, although this does not seem to be as common. Does this mean that a beginner can’t keep this amazing spider? Of course not. However, one interested in raising a C. versicolor sling should do his or her homework and be sure that the husbandry is accurate.