Harpactira pulchripes “Golden Blue-legged Baboon”
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Over the years, there have been dozens of newly introduced tarantulas species that have caught the eyes of hobbyists with their undeniable beauty and the illusion of being a rarity in the hobby. In the past, the Poecilotheria metallica and Monocentropus balfouri were two spiders that delighted keepers with their gorgeous blues while draining wallets with their steep costs for even the smallest slings. Even today, with both species being readily available in the hobby, they still command high prices.
When photos of the Harpactira pulchripes first circulated on the forums in 2012/2013, many keepers couldn’t wait to get one of these stunners in their collections. However, even tiny slings commanded exorbitant prices, with the first round of captive bred slings imported into the US selling for $500 and higher. When I acquired my first two specimens in the summer of 2015, it was the most I had ever paid for tarantulas. Today, many keepers consider the Harpactira pulchripes, a striking gold bodied and metallic blue legged beauty, to be one of the hobby’s crown jewels, and this species still pops up on many wish lists. Thankfully, as this species is easily bred, it has become readily available with slings now commanding between $50-$100 USD.
Harpactira pulchripes are Old World tarantulas found around the town of Makhanda (previously Grahamstown) on the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. This region experiences a temperate climate, with relatively warm weather all year round with high temps that reach 80 F (27 C) in the warmest month with lows of around 59F (15C). In the cooler months, temps rise only to around 68F (20C) in the daytime and drop to 42 F (5.6 C) during the chillier evenings. Rainfall ranges from about 3” (75 mm) in the wettest month and 1.3” (33mm) in the driest month. As a result, species care sheets that indicate this tarantula needs to be kept at higher so-called “ideal” temps should be ignored.
Like most baboon species (commonly used term for Theraphosidae from Africa) the H. pulchripes is considered to be fossorial, constructing burrows that allow it to ambush prey while seeking refuge from predators and the elements. In the wild, females have been spotted with older slings still congregating around them. Like the Monocentropus balfouri, it appears that this baboon mother is quite nurturing to her young, which had many speculating on it’s viability in a communal setup. However, keepers who tried setting this species up communally were reportedly not successful, eventually ending up with one or two very fat spiders. As a result, communal setups should NOT be attempted. For more amazing footage of a mother with her slings, please check out the video “The most beautiful blue-legged tarantula in the wild with her babies – Harpactira pulchripes” by Tarantupedia.
Behavior-wise, slings are quite skittish and incredibly fast. This is the only spiderling I’ve had not only escape during a feeding, but end up on my back. Others have also reported their wee ones to be quite the flight risks, so caution is needed during maintenance and rehousings. As a fossorial species, they appreciate some substrate to dig in. Slings that establish dens will be much more likely to retreat to their homes when disturbed rather than bolt out of the enclosure. Coco fiber, peat, topsoil, or a mixture of all or any of these three make suitable substrates. Some folks even prefer to add vermiculite or sand to their mixtures. Despite it’s fluffy consistency when dry, coco fiber can still work for burrowing tarantulas. As the spiders dig, they reinforce their burrow walls with webbing, which keeps the tunnels from collapsing.
For tinier slings, a deep dram bottle or a 5.5-oz (30-ml) deli cup will work great. Larger, more established slings will do well in a 16 to 32-oz (.47 to .94-L) deli cup or something around that size. Feel free to experiment with what works for you, but just be sure to keep ventilation holes small enough that they do not permit escape. Keepers should note that the critter keeper-style enclosures, even the extra small sizes, are not suitable for slings as their ventilation slats pose an escape risk.
With my slings, I included a piece of cork bark for a hide, a starter burrow, some sphagnum moss, and a small bottle cap water dish. This is one of the species I’ve caught drinking from both the water dish and the webbing. To start, I kept the lower levels of the substrate moist so that the spider could burrow to find the moisture level it needed. I would remoisten the dirt when I saw the darker band demarking the damp sub getting too low.
My slings all burrowed while also doing quite a bit of webbing on the surface. I fed my slings one small roach or cricket twice a week, and all three were voracious eaters and excellent hunters. There is no right or wrong feeding schedule, and many keepers feed their spiders weekly or bi-weekly. Find a feeding schedule that works for you. If you can’t find prey small enough, slings will scavenge feed off of prekilled items. Cricket drumsticks (severed cricket legs) or mealworm sections work great in these situations. Mealworms can also be refrigerated, which means you can save extras and always have them on hand.
When in premolt, expect slings to “bury” themselves in their burrows by closing up the entrance with webbing and/or dirt. This is totally normal premolt behavior and your spider’s way of putting up the “do not disturb” sign. When this occurs, keep the water dish filled and be sure that if you add water to the substrate, you don’t accidentally flood the spider’s den. Refrain from disturbing or digging up the spider if this happens, as you run the risk of interrupting a molt and harming your animal.
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). When considering that this species endures temperatures in the 40s in the wild, there should be absolutely no need for supplementary heat. My first two specimens were 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 3″ (1.9 to 7.62-cm) in a year’s time. Keep in mind that higher temperatures usually lead to faster metabolisms, so folks keeping their collections in warmer temps will likely experience faster growth.
As “juvenile” is a relative term when discussing tarantula size, we’ll use that term to refer to H. pulchripes that have reached the 1.5 to 2” (3.8 to 5 cm) mark. It’s usually right around this point that this species starts to pick up some of the blue on its legs. There are many suitable enclosures available for juvenile spiders, including small critter keepers and the 2-quart clear Mainstay canisters sold at Walmart. Personally, I find something between 2-quarts to 1-gallon (1.89 to 3.79-liters) works well as long as it offers some room for several inches of substrate. As always, I include a cork bark hide with a starter burrow, some sphagnum moss, and a water dish. Also, be sure that the enclosure is well ventilated.
Like slings, juveniles will still burrow if offered the room to do so, therefore, you want to give them several inches of substrate to create their dens. Although all of mine did quite a bit of burrowing at this size, they also spent a lot of time on the surface webbing and just hanging out. It’s a good thing that they are more visible from this point on, too, as their juvenile colors are simply stunning. Every so often, I’ll moisten down a corner and sprinkle some water on the webbing, although they don’t seem moisture dependent at this size.
Like their younger counterparts, juveniles are fantastic eaters who can take down large mealworms, medium to large crickets, and large red runners with ease. I usually feed mine once a week from this point on. Unlike slings, which will usually retreat to their burrows to feed, large specimens may be quite content to eat right out in the open if left undisturbed.
I’ve found the growth rate for H. pulchripes to be in the medium range, with males reaching maturity between 16 months and two years time and females taking about 3 to 4 years to hit breeding size. The H. pulchripes is sexual dimorphic, and the males tend to be much smaller and more leggy than their female counterparts with a much duller coloration. This is a medium sized tarantula species overall, with females reaching a maximum diagonal leg span (DLS) of about 5 to 5 ½ inches (12.7 to 14 cm) max and male a much more thin and gangly 4” (10 cm).
As for enclosure size, adults will do well in something around 2.5 to 5 gallons (9.46 to 19 liters) or so. Giving them more space definitely won’t hurt them, so something around 10 gallons with some decorative foliage and an appropriate hide would be fine. Although many older specimens may not burrow as much, be sure to give them several inches of substrate anyway to give them the option. My adult female has been a very prolific webber, covering the majority of her substrate and hide with a thick blanket of white. She is also the most visible baboon species I keep, and can almost always be found right out in the open and outside of her den.
Temperament-wise, many consider the H. pulchripes to be one of the calmer and more laid back species of baboon tarantulas, and I personally recommend them as a great starter Old World species. The three I’ve kept usually became quite visible once they hit the 2-3” mark, and I’ve never had an issue with them bolting or throwing up threat postures. Mine have all made for fantastic display spiders. However, despite their reputation for having calm demeanors, it’s important to recognize that temperament can differ from specimen to specimen and even from molt to molt. The H. pulchripes is a lightning-fast Old World species capable of delivering a very painful, possibly debilitating bite. As a result, it is still important that keepers use care when feeding, rehousing, and performing maintenance with this species.
Like most of the baboon species, the H. pulchripes don’t get as fat in the abdomen as some of my New World terrestrial Ts get when they are about to molt. Despite powering down several crickets, their abdomens never seem to get overly plump. Generally, if it stops accepting food and becomes more sedentary and lethargic, assume that it’s in premolt. The colors of older specimens also become darker and more faded during premolt, which can be another indicator that a molt is on the horizon.
Now, all of the mentions of its laid back temperament and ease of care likely have some folks asking the question, “Would this be a good beginner tarantula?” Unfortunately, the answer is no. Despite its reputation for being calm, this is still an Old World tarantula species that, if provoked, could administer a nasty bite. Even calmer Old World species are capable of amazing bursts of speed and impressive threat displays, two events that would give the average beginner nightmares. However, for folks who have mastered their basic husbandry and have experience with New World species, the H. pulchripes could make an excellent beginner for those looking to get into Old Worlds.
With its handsome appearance and overall calm demeanor, especially for a baboon species, the Harpactira pulchripes is easily one of my top three favorite tarantula species. For hobbyists looking for a hardy, beautiful, visible tarantula for their collection, you can hardly do better than an H. pulchripes.