B. hamorii (Mexican redknee) – A Tarantula Icon

NOTE: This article was published before the genus revision that revealed that the species being sold as B. smithi in the hobby was actually B. hamorii. This article refers to B. hamorii, but husbandry for both species would be identical. 

When I was about six, my father used to take me to a local pet store on occasion so that I could check out the animals for sale. Although I was certainly interested in the puppies, gerbils, guinea pigs, and snakes, the highlight of the trip was always a large Brachypelma smithi, or Mexican redknee tarantula, kept in an aquarium at the back of the store. As a boy who was terrified of spiders, I couldn’t help but to be utterly fascinated by this amazing animal. Although it should have been the stuff of nightmares for me, I couldn’t get enough of it.

Fast-forward a few decades… With my T collection growing, I decided that I had to have a B. smithi. After all, this was arguably the animal that kicked off my fascination with Ts all those years ago, and it was still widely considered to be one of the most popular tarantulas in the hoby. As this species is known for its very slow growth rate, I decided not to pick up a sling and instead searched for a juvenile to young adult female. The B. smithi is thought to be one of the tarantulas with the longest longevity, with some folks suspecting  female could live 40 years or more. I’ll admit, it’s a little mind-blowing to think that a pet could outlive me!

My Brachypelma smithi female shortly after I acquired her in December of 2013.

My Brachypelma smithi female shortly after I acquired her in December of 2013.

I finally located my girl when my favorite tarantula dealer, Jamie’s Tarantulas, had her cyber-Monday sale last year. My 3″ B. smithi female arrived in early December, and she was gorgeous. For her temporary housing, I used a Sterilite 12 quart plastic storage box, filling it with about 2″ of dry coco fiber. Although I normally use cork bark for a hide, this time I bought a much more fancy resin cast log. A small ceramic water dish was supplied for fresh water. This is a tarantula that thrives in a dry environment, so I do not mist or moisten the substrate.

Check out my female B. smithi below!

B. smithis are generally known for being calm and docile (although there are always exceptions to these “rules”), so I was surprised to discover that my new acquisition was actually very skittish and very fast. My first time opening her enclosure, she nearly bolted out; this is why you can never let your guard down with any T. For the first two months I owned her, she was quite reclusive, rarely venturing out from beneath her log. When she did emerge, the slightest disturbance would send her scurrying for cover.

The first cricket offered was still alive and kicking the next morning, and I actually saw her bolt from it at one point. It was obvious she was not yet completely comfortable in her new surroundings. I waited a couple of days, then offered her a dubia roach with its head crushed (Yup… gross, but it keeps them from burrowing and playing dead). I placed on its back in front of the opening to her den in hopes that she would sense it when she ventured out. It was gone the next morning. Although I continued this process for a few months, she now readily takes live and kicking large crickets.

B. Smithis are New World tarantulas and, as such, use urticating hairs for defense. When stressed, they can kick these irritating bristles from their abdomens, causing itching, burning, and discomfort to any potential predator (or well-meaning keeper) mucking with them. I’m fortunate in that my girl doesn’t seem to be prone to kick yet. She also calmed down a great deal from when I first acquired her. Now when her cage is disturbed, she will usually just scurry to her den and perch herself on top of it. She spends the majority of the time out in the open now, which is great, as she really is a beautiful T.

Like my other Ts, my B. smithi is kept at high 70s during the day and low 70s during the night. She generally eats two 1″ dubia or three large crickets a week. By late February, her abdomen was quite plump, and I cut back on the feeding in hopes that premolt would be coming soon. Finally, in mid-April, she molted.

My 3-4" B. smithi female after a molt. The white patches on her abdomen hint that she might have experienced a little trouble.

My 3-4″ B. smithi female after a molt. The white patches on her abdomen hint that she might have experienced a little trouble.

The discarded molt (exuvia) from my female B. smithi.

The discarded molt (exuvia) from my female B. smithi.

As she molted inside of her den, I unfortunately did not get to witness the process. I did, however, notice that when she emerged, she had two shiny white spots on her abdomen that probably signified that she experienced a bit of trouble with the molt. I waited a couple weeks  before offering her a prey item, and was relieved when she snatched up the first cricket I dropped in. Although she seems to be fine, I will definitely be paying extra attention when it comes time for her next premolt.

My 3.5'-4" B. smithi perched atop its log hide after a recent meal.

My 3.5′-4″ B. smithi perched atop its log hide after a recent meal.

It might have taken dozens of years, but I finally have my B. smithi. With their ease of husbandry, generally even dispositions, and undeniable beauty, there is a reason this species has been the face of tarantula keeping for decades.

DKS (Dyskinetic Syndrome) in Tarantulas

In February of this year, I purchased an A. insubtilis which I later had sexed as a male. After being housed in his new enclosure, this gorgeous guy settled right in, eating immediately. He proved to be a voracious eater, quickly stalking medium-sized crickets and violently subduing them before feeding. After a couple months, he stopped eating, signaling the beginning of his premolt.

My 2" male A. insubtilis shortly after being acquired in February.

My 2″ male A. insubtilis shortly after being acquired in February.

Three weeks passed, and I came home to discover that he had molted while I was at work. I noticed that his exuvia was still slightly attached to his abdomen, so I moistened the area and used a cotton swab to gently remove it. After a week, he took down and ate his first pre-molt meal. Despite the slight molting difficulty, the little guy would be fine.

Or so I thought.

My A. insubtilis just moments after I used a Q-tip to remove a stuck patch of Exuvia from its abdomen.

My A. insubtilis just moments after I used a Q-tip to remove a stuck patch of Exuvia from its abdomen.

While feeding some of my other Ts last week, I noticed that my male A. insubtilis was walking a little strangely. As he lifted each leg, he seemed to shake it as if something was stuck to his toes. I watched him for a bit before chalking it up to normal T behavior.

The next day, it was much worse, and I realized that my poor guy was exhibiting signs of DKS, or Dyskinetic Syndrome. DKS is a series of symptoms characterized by jerky motions, loss of coordination, and an inability to eat. It most often ends in the death of the tarantula. Although no one is completely sure what causes DKS, some theories are pesticides (including flea and tick treatments for dogs and cats), micro organisms infecting the T, mold, or other toxins.

I’m not sure if the molt had anything to do with his development of DKS, or whether it was other factors that caused it. I only mention it as it was something abnormal that occurred just before he started exhibiting signs.

Below is a video of my poor A. insubtilis exhibiting signs of DKS. Notice the movements each time I touch the side of the enclosure. Normally, I wouldn’t mess with a T in obvious stress, but in this case, I wanted to get a short video for records and to show others. It’s not fun to watch, and it’s a bit graphic (my wife can’t stand to see it).

My little guy is definitely losing the fight, and although I put him into a tarantula ICU (deli cup with moist paper towels and elevated humidity), he’s starting to slow down and curl up. I fear the “death curl” is not far behind. As I do not like watching anything suffer, I’m considering euthanizing him before it gets worse.

Click HERE for an an update on this T. 

L. parahybana – Pre and Post Molt Pics

Mama’s Got a New Fuzzy Suit!

First off, if you haven’t read my earlier post about my L. parahybana female entering premolt, then you may want to check this out.

I’ve been watching this young lady like a hawk since she went dark, and I was hoping that I could get a good photo of her freshly molted. Well, as luck would have it, I actually caught her laying down a molting mat before flipping over on her back. A few hours later, she was standing next to her discarded molt sporting a new skin suit with darker colors.

Besides her new colors (you can now see the salmon hairs that give this little beauty her common name) my little lady picked up about .5/.75″ of length. I will now spend the next few weeks fattening her back up.

My 3" LP female before a molt.

My 3″ LP female before a molt.

Was lucky enough to catch my LP as it flipped on its back for a molt.

I was lucky enough to catch my female LP as it flipped on its back for a molt.

My female LP an hour or so after she completed her molt. Notice the bluish color of her new and not-quite-hardened exoskeleton.

My female LP an hour or so after she completed her molt. Notice the bluish color of her new and not-quite-hardened exoskeleton.

My female LP stretching out in her new exoskeleton.

My female LP stretching out in her new exoskeleton.

My female LP having her first meal after a recent molt. Notice that she now sports the salmon-colored hairs that give the LPs the common name "Salmon Birdeaters"

My female LP having her first meal after a recent molt. Notice that she now sports the salmon-colored hairs that give the LPs the common name “Salmon Birdeaters”

This is easily one of my favorite species of tarantula, and every molt is just a thrill. I’ll be looking very forward to watching her grow into the 8″ to 9″ beast she’ll eventually become.

Lasiadora parahybana Premolt

What a difference a day makes.

After my L. itabunae molted, undergoing a drastic color change in the process, I decided it would be fun to post a before and after picture. I went through my phone, looking for a shot of my T before its molt, sure that there must be one in my collection of pics.

Nothing.

Somehow, in all of the excitement of receiving and rehousing my new pet, I forgot to snap a picture.  Although I had the molted exoskeleton, I didn’t have the pic of the spider wearing it.

So, not wanting to repeat my mistake, I made sure to snap a couple extra pics of my female L. parahybana before she molted.

My 3" LP female.

My 3″ LP female.

As luck would have it, I managed to catch her the day before her abdomen severely darkened up due to premolt. The following pictures show her yesterday evening, and then today. Notice the much darker coloration of her abdomen, an indication of her new exoskeleton developing underneath. I’m hoping that she’ll inch closer to her adult coloration with this next shed.

LP in early premolt. Notice the bald abdomen due to hair kicking.

LP in early premolt. Notice the bald abdomen due to hair kicking.

I would expect her to molt sometime next month, and when she does, I will definitely be posting new pics. I’m very eager to see what changes in size and appearance this next shed will bring.

LP one day later. Notice the abdomen has turned much darker. She is definitely in premolt.

LP one day later. Notice the abdomen has turned much darker. She is definitely in premolt.