“Brown Boxing” The Tarantula Hobby’s Dirty Little Secret

Author’s note: The following topic pertains to the United States tarantula market and doesn’t necessarily reflect the import/export laws of other countries. That said, if you are importing tarantulas into your country, you should be aware of your own national import and export laws.

By now, you’re hopelessly addicted to the hobby and have a wish list so long, it reads like an abbreviated edition of the World Spider Catalog. While shopping online for your next acquisitions, you stumble upon a Facebook post by a vendor you have been following.

NEW IMPORT PREORDER!

Reading the announcement, you feel your excitement build as you learn that said vendor is expecting a huge import from overseas containing a myriad of species. As you feverishly peruse the species list, you notice many of the species that are on your wish list, as well as exotic species you’ve never seen before. Pen in hand, you start jotting down a preliminary list of animals you’ll be pre-ordering and start to formulate a convincing argument for your spouse to justify the several hundred dollars you are about to plop down pre-ordering bugs.

But not so fast.

Although import pre-orders are certainly exciting, and many of us take advantage of these wonderful opportunities, there are some things that keepers really need to be aware of before buying imported stock. Many folks are under the assumption that all publicly announced import is done legally, but this is far from true. Sadly, many folks resort to cheaper and illegal measures to get their livestock into the country, a fact that many hobbyists are unaware of.   

Recently, I covered the topic of shipping tarantulas using the USPS, and how the practice is illegal on a federal level. Many folks are ignorant of this fact and assume that if vendors are advertising the service publicly, it must okay. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Those choosing this method to ship their spiders within the states are breaking the law.

Keeping that in mind, it’s also important to recognize that some of the folks offering “import” are also breaking the law, and on a much larger scale. Anyone buying animals from these disreputable folks are contributing to this issue. Not only does illegal import put customers at legal risk, it undermines legitimate dealers and poses a threat to the import that is currently the lifeblood of the United States hobby.  

What is BROWN BOXING?

Legally importing animals from other countries can be a very time-consuming and costly process. Importing livestock from another country requires permits, expensive shipping and inspection costs, and quite a few logistical preparations. Contrary to popular belief, this holds true for both wild-caught and captive bred specimens. Importing legally can make ordering and receiving animals from other countries a very cost-prohibitive option for those looking to import. I often hear folks complain about paying $40-$50 to ship a package of spiders through FedEx. Well, when shipping air freight (the only legal shipping option for this type of transaction), you can expect to pay several hundred to well over $1000 for your animals.

Unfortunately, some folks find this type of investment unpalatable and decide to cut corners and break the law by “brown boxing” their animals into the country. Continue reading

Caribena versicolor (Antilles pinktoe) Breeding Notes … and Babies!

Spoiler: The Breeding Was a Success!

For those interested in possibly breeding the Caribena versicolor in the future, here is an account of my pairing. All in all, it was a rather simple endeavor from start to finish, and I would encourage others to try it. And for those looking to acquire some of these little blue beauties, be sure to read to the bottom of the article…

The Pairing – November 26, 2017

In November of 2018, I paired my mature female Caribena versicolor with a mature male lent to me by Tanya at Fear Not Tarantulas. I had raised this female from a sling, and she is currently about 5 years old. She was fed very well leading up to the pairing and was quite plump before the breeding attempt. I have never attempted to breed her before this pairing.

Upon opening both enclosures, the male, who was incredibly active, came right out and approached the female within 30 seconds. The female appeared startled at first, and a quick “scuffle” ensued which caused the male to back off for a few moments. However, he quickly regrouped and approached her again, and she was very receptive. After a very brief courtship in which they entangled legs and the male tapped on her a bit, they coupled. I observed two insertions before the two disentangled and the male calmly walked away. I did not try to pair them a second time, as I was pretty sure the first pairing was successful.

The entire event took only about 5 minutes total from beginning to end. The female showed no aggression toward the male and did not try to consume or pursue him when they had finished.

The Female Makes a Sac – December 27, 2017

About two days after the pairing, the female webbed herself up completely in a funnel web down the side of the enclosure. Although she had webbed up a bit of a “chamber” for her last molt, she thickened the sides, especially on the Plexiglas, and closed off the ends. I tried offering her crickets the day after she was bred, but she showed no interest in eating.

Caribena versicolor

On December 28th, I noticed that she had finally created an egg sac. This sac was about 1″ in diameter. During the incubation period, I kept her enclosure on a high shelf that ranged in temperature from about 78° F to 80°F.  I kept her water dish full, and once a week I would open the enclosure and use a large bottle with holes in the top to simulate a rain shower. I would use this technique to moisten part of the substrate so that enclosure wouldn’t become too dry.

For this breeding, I chose not to pull the sac and instead left it with the mother. She continued to care for it perfectly during the incubation period, constantly rolling and moving it to keep the eggs from sticking or getting crushed. She was an excellent mother throughout the entire process.

2nd Instar Spiderlings Emerge – February 18, 2018

Finally, I came down on the morning of February 18th to find that several little blue 2nd instar slings had emerged. Over the next three days, the rest of the brood freed itself of the sac, and little blue spiderlings lined the entire inside of their mother’s web den.  Instead of immediately spreading out and leaving the web, the slings huddled together while the mother stood over them.

As the mother’s enclosure offered several means of escape for the tiny slings, including gaps and vent holes, I had to sling-proof it before any of the little ones could get away. I used some cheesecloth and clear cellophane tape to cover up the vents and gaps. The cheesecloth kept the slings inside without restricting ventilation.

Despite my best efforts, I apparently missed a corner, and I woke up one morning to find a sling’s toe poking from the breach. With the slings now starting to spread out and wander a bit, it was time to separate and house them.

Separated and Rehoused the Slings – February 21, 2018

We started by carefully opening the cage and removing the mother. Using a paintbrush, I coaxed her away from the slings and into a deli cup. Although she was reluctant to move, she did not become defensive or nasty. With mom out of the way,  Billie and I spent the next hour getting the slings out of the web and into their enclosures (dram bottles and small deli cups). Fortunately, the slings didn’t attempt to scatter, but instead congregated in groups as they tried to hide. This made things MUCH easier. We had placed the mother’s enclosure inside a large Sterilite container in case the babies tried to bolt, but it never became an issue.

When all was said and done, we had 148 lively slings! Being 2nd instar, the slings were very active and ready to eat. I gave the ones I kept a couple days to settle in and to start webbing before offering the first meal. For the first feeding, I used pinhead red runner roaches, which I prekilled and dropped in each sling’s webbing. So far, all have eaten twice.

Versi Babies for Sale!

Unfortunately, with all I have going on with the blog, YouTube channel, and now my podcast, I don’t have the extra time I would need to raise and sell my own slings. Although several folks have inquired about buying directly from me, that’s just not practical for me at this time. However, for those who want to get their hands on a couple of these gorgeous blue slings, you’re not out of luck.

A few days after the slings were rehoused, we got a visit from Tanya Stewart and Rachael Pan from Fear Not Tarantulas. They picked up all but a few of the baby C. versicolors (I held onto five for myself), and they will selling them online from their store and at expos. Tanya is a very well-respected and trusted dealer in the hobby, and folks will have the option of getting more for their shipping money by possibly ordering other species from her diverse selection.  Even better, Fear Not is offering 15% off the price of a C. versicolor sling if you use the code “tom” at checkout. C. versicolor are always in demand, and the slings are going fast, so be sure not to wait too long if you want to grab one.

Moving ahead, I will continue to pursue breeding projects that interest me and with species there is a demand for.  At the moment, I’m hoping to have my M. balfouri and H. pulchripes both bred after what appeared to be successful pairings. I will obviously keep folks updated if and when anything develops!

‘T’ Time Adoption/Rescue Facebook Group- And Interview with Samantha Miller

A brand new group hoping to fill a much needed hole in the hobby. 

Several years back, I got an email from a frantic hobbyist who was preparing to start his freshman year in college. With only a few weeks to go before he was to move into his dorm, he made an unfortunate discovery; this particular school didn’t allow any pets in the freshman dorm rooms. This young man had amassed a modest collection of a half-dozen or so tarantulas, and his mother, an arachnophobe, had already made it quite clear that the animals couldn’t be left behind. Instead of enjoying his last remaining days before starting school, this poor guy was desperately trying to find a new home for his beloved pets. He was even willing to part with them for free if they went to a good home, and he was hoping I might know of some place that would be willing to take his collection and ensure his animals got the proper care.

Over the years, I’ve received several similar emails from hobbyists looking for someone to adopt their pets, and I’ve usually directed them to the classifieds section of Arachnoboards or FaunaClassifieds. The truth is, although there are obviously a plethora of options for folks keeping warm-blooded vertebrates like cats, dogs, ferrets, etcetera, the options for invertebrate keepers are quite limited. Although a few shelters will take in the oddball invert, most know little about their care or are particularly interested in dealing with the “creepy crawlies.” I’ve heard of cases of people with one or two spiders donating them to a school science teacher or a friend or family member, but what does one do when she has several spiders? Or, perhaps someone has outgrown the hobby and recognizes that he no longer has the passion to keep these animals. Where should he go to get them new homes? Sure, Craigslist and the classifieds can work, but selling off larger collections can take time…and emergency situations can lead to strict deadlines.

Then there are hoarding cases or instances in which a keeper dies leaving behind dozens of pets that no one wants or knows how to care for. What happens to these animals after being confiscated by the authorities?

Well, now there may be a new option.

While chatting with hobbyist Samantha Miller, I learned about her idea to create an adoption and rescue service specifically for inverts. Within weeks, she had set up the ‘T’ Time Adoption/Rescue group on Facebook in an effort to see her idea come to fruition. With the membership numbers swelling and the group off to quite the auspicious beginning, I caught up with Samantha to learn more about this fantastic and much-needed new group.

Thanks for taking the time to chat, Samantha! Continue reading

Tom’s Big Spiders – The Podcast

After much debate, I’ve decided to start a weekly podcast about tarantulas and other arachnids. I had been asked about starting a podcast a few times over the years, and as I really didn’t know too much about them, I scoffed at the idea. I just couldn’t imagine I would have enough to say to make one interesting, or that folks would be even remotely interested in hearing it. I know it may sound in my videos like I love hearing myself talk, but I can’t stand the sound of my own voice (really, who does?).

But after a recent discussion with my brother, an admitted podcast junkie, and another chat with a keeper, I decided to do a bit of research to see if it was a realistic outlet for me. For the past several months, I’ve been making a list of possible topics as well as folks I would like to either work with or interview. As luck would have it, I’ve been doing much more voiceover work in my YouTube videos as of late, so I have also gotten some good experience with talking and staying on subject.

Last month, I asked some of my friends on Facebook if this was something I should pursue, and the reaction was very positive. It seems that there are a lot of hobbyists out there that like podcasts, and not a whole lot of people doing them. Excited by the possibility of branching out into new media, I signed up for a plan, downloaded some programs, and sat down to test it out.

So far, I’m loving it.

Many times when putting the videos together, I have to shorten my explanations because I don’t have enough footage to accommodate for all of the dialog. I’ve found that recording the podcasts allows me to go into much more detail with the discussion. There are also topics that might not make for the most interesting videos or articles that might be better delivered in a more conversational format. Even better, this format would make interviews much more natural and easier for the interviewees.

It won’t replace my articles or videos, but I do believe the format will allow for another excellent outlet for tarantula information.

To start, I will be releasing one 30-minute episode every week on Sunday. As I know folks that follow podcasts like them to be released consistently, I’m recording several ahead of time to start so that I will always have one ready to go even if life intervenes. As I get more comfortable with the format and schedule, I’ll look to start mixing in interviews and even live episodes. If all goes well, they will be available on both iTunes and Google Play as well.

Below is my first “pilot” episode in which I field a question about feeding dead prey to tarantulas and discuss shipping in the winter, as well as a bonus episode featuring a Q & A. I’m also including a link to my podcast page. Hopefully you all find it enjoyable and continue to check out future installments. I’ve got some cool ideas going forward, and I think that I’ll continue to improve with each outing.

EPISODE 1: Tom’s Big Spiders … The Podcast! (Pilot)

BONUS EPISODE … Q & A

 

Follow the podcast here: http://tomsbigspiders.buzzsprout.com/

 

Coremiocnemis hoggi Husbandry Notes

Coremiocnemis hoggi Husbandry Notes


NOTE: Normally I wait until I’ve kept a species for a while before writing husbandry notes for it. As part of my write-ups, I like to discuss their behaviors as spiderlings, juveniles, and adults, as the fact that I’ve raised one to young adulthood hopefully indicates that my care notes are accurate. However, this species is still relatively obscure in the hobby, and those taking the chance on purchasing the pricey slings will likely find it difficult to find husbandry accounts for them. Keeping this in mind, I’ve decided to share my observations on this species so far. As this spider matures, I will continue to revisit its care.

Last year, I received one of these cool little fossorials from Fear Not Tarantulas, and I was immediately impressed by this shy little Old World. Unfortunately, being a rather obscure species in the hobby at the moment, C. hoggi husbandry information was rather scarce. After some research in which I didn’t find much from hobbyists keeping them, I went to the World Spider Catalog to read the species description paper. Here, I found information about the country and area it originates from as well as notes about how it lives in the wild. This allowed me to research the climate and weather of this area to get a better idea of how it should be kept in captivity.

From Fraser’s Hill in West Malaysia, this fossorial (burrowing) species is found in higher altitudes with cooler temps ranging from 63 to 77 F (17 to 25 C). As such, this is definitely a spider that will do quite fine when temps dip into the lower ranges of “room temperature.” No need for extra heat with this spider. I currently keep mine on one of my lower shelves where temperatures average 72 degrees or so. In the summer, my temps rarely rise to 80 in my tarantula room, so I won’t have to worry about temps becoming too hot for it. 

An obligate burrower, the C. hoggi can be found in dens it constructs in steep, sloped ground and hillsides. Its habitat is constantly moist due to rain and misting from cloud cover, so attention should be paid to moisture levels in the enclosure. In the wild, the soil is moist and clay-like, so it’s important to mimic this by using damp soil in captivity. Continue reading

Harpactira Genus – Husbandry Notes

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.

SLINGS

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. Continue reading

Tarantula Sling Care Guide – The Video Version

A picture is worth a thousand words…

When I first became hooked by the hobby, I literally had to be convinced by a vendor to pick up my first spiderlings. True story.

At the time, I was looking for sexed juveniles and adults, and the thought of caring for a tiny, fragile ‘sling was terrifying to me. What would I feed it? How should I give it water? What if the temperature in my house was too low? A thousand daunting scenarios played through my mind, and almost all of them ended with a dead spider.

When I finally took the plunge and ordered my first two 3/4″ slings, I remember the feeling of dread I had waiting for them to be delivered. I was convinced that I had bit off more than I could chew, and now there was no turning back. When they arrived, I fussed over their enclosures, fixated on their burrowing and webbing habits, just about developed an ulcer when one buried itself, and panicked when they inevitably refused meals. I also spent hours on Google researching each seemingly odd or worrisome behavior for some type of reassurance that I wasn’t screwing up. Continue reading

Have You Ever Been Bit By a Tarantula? A Survey

If you’re a hobbyist, please take a few seconds to participate!

Okay, I’m hoping to get as much participation as possible on this, so my sincere thanks to anyone who takes  a moment to answer or share these two polls.

The first question pertains to whether or not you’ve ever experienced a bite under any circumstances. I hear a lot of folks, mostly those new to the hobby, make statements like, “it’s only a matter of time until I get bit.” Do bites happen? Sure. But my belief is that they are not very common. So, who out there has experienced the business end of a tarantula?

Continue reading

Guest Blog post: Neoholothele incei (gold) Communal by Casey J. Peter

Introduction

As tarantulas are recognized as solitary creatures (mostly due to the fact that they view other spiders as lunch on eight legs) many find the idea of several tarantulas cohabitating peacefully to be a bit of a mind-blower. Perhaps that’s why successful communal setups garner so much curiosity and attention. A year ago, I started my first communal with 9 Monocentropus balfouri slings, and it has been incredibly rewarding and fascinating to watch these spiders interact. And, as I’ve shared my experiences through my blog and YouTube channel, it has also attracted a lot of attention from folks who would very much like to begin their own tarantula communals.

Although M. balfouris seem to present as one of the best species to successfully thrive in this set up, they are not the only species to display these tendencies. In fact, when I was originally giving thought to the idea, I was eyeing Neoholothele incei as a possible candidate. This species has been observed living communally in the wild, and a bit of research would produce several compelling accounts of successful group setups in captivity.

Even better, they were readily available and slings were much less expensive than those of the pricey M. balfouri, making such a venture less cost prohibitive. As communal setups always run the risk of cannibalization, many people would find the smaller investment much more palatable. I’ve received a lot of questions about H. incei communals, and having no first hand experience with them, I’ve had to refer these people to other keepers’ accounts.

With that in mind, I asked my buddy and fellow hobbyist, Casey J. Peter, if he could guest blog on Tom’s Big Spiders and relate his experiences with his H. incei communal. Casey began his setup a few months back, and he’s been keeping me updated as it progressed. Casey’s care and husbandry are top notch, and as a writer, he was no stranger to the written word, so I hoped he’d be game to pass off some of his knowledge.

He (obviously) graciously accepted the invite. A huge thank you to Casey for taking the time to share his valuable experiences. Now, enough from me. On to the article …

Continue reading

Tarantula Controversies – Is keeping Tarantulas in Captivity Wrong?

And How to Address This Question when It Inevitably Comes up.

Recently, I received the following email from hobbyist, Hugo Pinheiro:

Hope you’re doing well. I was talking to someone I’d just met and we ended up talking about tarantulas and they asked something that kinda left me defenseless or at least lacking a convincing point. They asked: “don’t you feel like you’re depriving a tarantula from its freedom?” – immediately I thought this person was judging me and my impulse response was something along the lines of “well, technically, you’re doing the same when you get a dog…” But this answer didn’t feel right to me, tarantulas aren’t dogs after all. If they see a chance to escape and follow their own path, they will. Dogs stay because they get attached and want to stay. At the same time I feel like we’re giving them an opportunity of having a very chilled life, no predators, all the food they want and a decent enclosure. Do you ever get this question? What’s your take on this controversial topic? Once again, thanks for your time!  

The short answer was, yes, I’ve been asked this many times, mostly through comments on my blog or YouTube channel. Furthermore, I’ve run into this mindset quite a bit in the comment section of other keepers’ videos. Although I love animals myself, and appreciate that there are folks out there who truly care about their well-being, it can be incredibly frustrating to try to convince some of these people that we are not mistreating our tarantulas. And, like Hugo realized, it can be very difficult coming up with that killer response on the spur of the moment to defend our hobby.

With that in mind, I asked Hugo if it would be okay for me to address this topic in a special Tarantula Controversies. After all, we all get asked this question at some point, and hopefully this article can serve as a go-to resource on the subject. For those who have read my other Tarantula Controversy articles, I usually try to present the arguments in a point/counterpoint format. As I honestly don’t agree with the other side one iota, I’ll be spending the majority of the time defending the hobby in this article. Continue reading