Tarantul.as – An Amazing New Image Sharing Site for Tarantula Enthusiasts

An interview with Jason Calhoun, creator of Tarantul.as

Recently, I got an email from Jason Calhoun, an experienced web developer and new hobbyist who was looking to debut an image-hosting website for tarantula enthusiasts cleverly called Tarantul.as. As I had never quite cottoned to Instagram, and I found using Photobucket to host the images I posted on message boards to be a bit of a pain, I was very intrigued. After all, a social networking site geared specifically towards posting tarantula photos seemed just too good to be true. Continue reading

Tom Patterson – Dealer/Breeder Review (100% Positive!)

Possibly the best tarantula ordering experience I have ever had.

My new N. tripepii female courtesy of Tom Patterson.

My new N. tripepii female courtesy of Tom Patterson.

When people order tarantulas online, they generally go to the major vendors. Folks like Jamie’s Tarantulas, Pet Center USA, and Swift’s Invertebrates have stellar and well-deserved reputations for carrying a variety of stock and for their dependability and professionalism. The fact is, when buying and shipping living animals, you want to make sure you order from the best. Due to the volume of animals these larger dealers move, there are always plenty of glowing reviews to read if one does just a bit of research, and their names quickly come up in any search for those selling tarantulas.

However, what often gets overlooked is that there are many awesome breeders out there who have been in the business for a long time and who offer great service with spectacular deals. Some of these same dealers are the ones who supply stock to the “big name” vendors as well. Unfortunately, these folks can be a little more difficult to find, especially for those new to the hobby who don’t know where to look.

Tom Patterson (aka “Philth” on Arachnoboards) has been in the business for a long time, and he has a sterling reputation. Although I’ve come close to ordering from him many times due to his propensity to carry some of the more unique species I’m looking for, I didn’t pull the trigger until recently when I saw that he was selling some Vitalius paranaensis juveniles for a great price. After going through his recent price list, I found that he had several species I was interested in, and that it was finally time to place an order from him.

Boy, am I glad that I did.

Tom carries a good variety of tarantula species, including many that he breeds and produces himself. Those into other inverts will also find some cool arachnids, like trap doors and true spiders, as well. As far as tarantulas go, he has a good mix of some hobby staples, like G. pulchripes, Hapalopus sp. “Colombia large”, and P. cambridgei as well as unique and hard to find spiders like V. paranaensis, P. crassipes, and Aphonopelma crinirufum . For folks looking for larger sexed specimens, he regularly posts young adult females for sale as well.

His prices were great, with the $25 P. crassipes slings, $50 4″ Sericopelma sp. “Santa Catalina” juveniles, and the $50 3″ P. muticus juveniles really jumping out at me. I also grabbed up a 5″ Nhandu tripepii sexed female, as I had been eyeing this species for a while. Tom doesn’t currently have a website, but instead periodically lists his stock on the For Sale section of Aracnoboards or in the Captive Bred Inverts – Classifieds on Facebook. Ordering was simple; I emailed him a list of the species I wanted to order, and Tom responded immediately with a Paypal invoice. Tom’s communication was excellent, and all of my emails were answered within an hour.

My new L. crotalus being rehoused. This unique species was one of FOUR freebies.

My new L. crotalus being rehoused. This unique species was one of FOUR freebies.

Because weather in my area was quite cold, we both decided it would be in the best interest of the animals to wait to ship until we got a few days of higher temps. During the wait time, I asked to add another spider to my order, and Tom was happy to accommodate me, quickly sending me a new invoice. When it looked like we’d get a stretch of warmer temps, Tom contacted me immediately to arrange shipping. He was happy to have my package held at my local FedEx facility (in fact he encouraged it), and my spiders were shipped overnight promptly.

What an amazing box of spiders.

All of my new animals arrived safely and in great shape. The box was foam lined and contained a heat pack, and each of the spiders was packed in its own vial, which was wrapped in multiple layers of newspaper, then cushioned with packing peanuts.

And, what could make this transaction even sweeter? How about FOUR freebies. FOUR. For those who watch the video above, my shock is genuine. I’m used to getting some of the “give-away” species like LPs and B. albos, but what he included was unreal. Added to my order was a 3″ P. muticus, an L. crotalus juvenile, a Lampropelma sp. “Borneo black” sling, and a Phlogius sp. “Eunice” juvenile.  What was already going to be one of the coolest boxes of spiders I’ve ever received was just made twice as cool by the awesome freebies.

Just WOW.

3" P. muticus juvenile rehousing.

3″ P. muticus juvenile rehousing.

Take the chance and order directly from breeders

My experience ordering from Tom Patterson was utterly perfect. Even if you took out the extra four (again FOUR) freebies, this would still be an excellent deal and transaction all around. Great selection, prices, communication, and packing made this purchase and amazing experience. There isn’t a doubt that I’ll be ordering from Tom again in the future, and I would encourage anyone looking for tarantulas to check out his listings.

NOTE: To view Tom’s Arachnoboards Classifieds posts, you have to be a member and signed in. If the link doesn’t open, I would encourage folks to create an account if only just to be able to view the For Sale/Trade/Want to Buy section. I will also be blogging his price lists whenever he posts one.

http://arachnoboards.com/threads/theraphosids-mygalomorphs-true-spiders.280239/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tom.patterson.351?fref=pb_friends

Tom’s Current Price List:

Thereaphosidae spiderlings

Aphonopelma cf burica “blue chelicerae” (AKA Aphonopelma crinirufum )
1″ $40.00

Augacephalus ezendami
2″ $30.00

Chaetopelma olivaceum
1″ $25.00

Cyriocosmus bertae
1/8″ $20.00

Grammostola pulchripes
2″ $30.00

Heterothele gabonensis
1/4″ $25.00

Kochiana brunnipes
1/8″ $15.00

Lampropelma sp. “Borneo Black”/Phormingochilus sp. “Borneo black”/ Lampropelma nigerrimum arboricola
3/4″ $25.00 each

Pamphobetues fortis
3″ $50.00

Pelinobius muticus
3″ $50.00 each

Phlogius crassipes
1″ $25.00

Phlogius sp. “Eunice”
2″ $45.00

“Phrixotrichus” scrofa ( Paraphysa scrofa)
1″ $20.00

Poecilotheria smithi (suspected males)
4″ $60.00

Psalmopeous cambridgei
1″ $20.00

Pseudhapalopus spinulopalpus
1″ $40.00 each

Sericopelma sp.”Santa Catalina”
4″ $50.00

Vitalius paranaensis
2″ $50.00

Thereaphosidae females

Hapalopus sp. “Columbia large”
3″ $85.00

Heterothele villosella
3″ $75.00

Nhandu tripepii
5″ $179.00

Poecilotheria tigrinawesseli
5.5″ $200.00

Mygalomorphae

Cyclocosmia torreya
1.5″ $40.00 each

Macrothele calpeiana
1/4″ $30.00 each

Araneomorphae

Africactenus poecilus
Hatchling $10.00 each

Ctenidae sp. “Cameroon Red Fang”
1″ well started taking crickets $25.00 each

Cupiennius salei
Hatchlings $25.00

Heteropoda hosei
1″ well started taking crickets.$25.00

Heteropoda sp. “burgundy”
1″ well started taking crickets $25.00

Heteropoda sp “Sumatra violet”
Hatchlings $15.00

Kukulcania hibernalis WC females
2″-3″ $19.00

Viridasius sp.”Madagascar”
Hatchlings, taking crickets $25.00 each

Terms of Service
Live Arrival Guarantee
Purchase price must be over $25. Payments accepted , Paypal ( Tompatterson77@gmail.com ) or Postal money orders. Shipping is $40 overnight FedEx only. Live arrival guaranteed. You must accept package on first delivery attempt. Temperature must be below 90°F or above 40°F. Must be 18 or older to purchase. U.S. sales only.
Refund Policy
Issues with shipment must be reported to me via (email, phone, Facebook) by 8 PM the night off delivery. Photo’s of DOA’s must be provided, or the deceased animal must be shipped back to me within 24 hours of receiving the package, at the purchasers expense. Refunds are money back without shipping cost reimbursed, or replacement spiders of equal value shipped at the purchasers expense. Not responsible for carrier delays. Freebies do not fall under the LAG

Phormictopus Species Husbandry

Awesome intermediate species tarantulas with plenty of character.

Anyone that follows me on Tom’s Big Spiders, Tumblr, or YouTube has probably picked up on my Phormictopus obsession. I currently keep seven different Phormictopus species, and I am attempting to acquire all the species and color variations available. These spiders have quickly risen to the top of my list of favorite terrestrials. and I’m looking very forward to some future breeding projects with them.

But why the fascination?

I first encountered this genus while perusing the Jamie’s Tarantulas website for something new and interesting. She had just listed some Phormictopus cancerides or “Hatian Brown” slings for sale, and something about them caught my eye. At this point, I had a much smaller collection, and the majority of the specimens I was keeping were the more docile beginner terrestrials. I decided to do some research, and I discoved that most described the P. cancerides as a large brown, ornery tarantula with a bad attitude.

Phormictopus sp. purple

Phormictopus sp. purple

Large and brown? Having just acquired an A. versicolor and two C. cyaneopubescens, I was on the market for more colorful tarantulas. The idea of a “blah” brown spider didn’t quite appeal to me. Of course, after some investigating, I learned that males from this species were a gorgeous purple, and females were more a metallic bronze. This was far from just a big “brown” spider.

P. cancerides female

P. cancerides female

Ornery with a bad attitude? THAT, on the other hand, caught my attention. Most of the Ts I kept were quite calm and well-behaved, and I felt that it was time for me to graduate to something a bit more spirited and “advanced”. The idea of a larger, more feisty spider appealed to me.  It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to add a giant eight-legged terror to the collection, but I felt I was ready for the challenge if this species turned out to be less than friendly.

In my research, I also learned that this species apparently “required” moist substrate, which was a husbandry requirement that I hadn’t yet contended with. As I had my eye on some Asian terrestrials down the road, this would be a good stepping stone to keeping spiders with more complicated husbandry.

Beautiful blue slings with vicious appetites

After a week or so of research, I decided to pull the trigger and order two P. cancerides slings. When I unpacked them, I was immediately amazed by the color. These two little 1.25″ slings sported a gorgeous a metallic blue sheen that looked nothing like the supposed “brown” tones sported by their adult counterparts. I rehoused each and, as is usually my habit, I offered each its first meal.

And I instantly fell in love.

I watched in awe as one of these gorgeous blue slings bolted across the enclosure and LEAPED on a cricket with so much force that it actually rolled over onto its back for a few seconds while it wrestled with the bug on top of it. I had never seen anything like it. I quickly fed the other and was delighted to discover a similar response.

P. atrichomatus sling

P. atrichomatus sling

Since then, I’ve discovered that all of my Phormictopus species attack their prey with the same fervor, and it honestly never gets old to see one of these guys launch itself at a roach or cricket.

As slings, Phormictopus species do appreciate deep, moist substrate, and the majority will burrow if given the opportunity. For substrate, I use a mix of topsoil, peat, and some vermiculite, and I keep it moist enough that it will hold its shape when squeezed but no water will drip out. As the spiders become established I let the top layers of the sub dry out a bit. This allows the T to burrow to the more moist depths to find the correct humidity level. If I need to add water, I’ll use the end of a paintbrush to carefully put some holes down the side of the enclosure and allow the water to filter down to the lower levels.

Phormictopus sp. purple sling

Phormictopus sp. purple sling

As slings, these guys are voracious eaters. During this period I will feed them 2-3 times a week, depending on the size of the prey. Unlike other species, I’ve found that Phormictopus have no trouble taking down larger prey, so I will often give my little ones crickets that aren’t much smaller than they are. They have only ever refused a meal when in heavy premolt, and even then I had one eat just a couple days before molting.

Get ready for an amazing growth rate

As I’ve stated in my other husbandry articles, my spiders are kept between 70-76° in the winter and about 75-80° in the summer. Although higher temps would obviously lead to faster metabolisms and growth, my Phormictopus species do very well in these ranges. Not only is this a species that will molt very regularly (at one point, mine were molting about every 5-6 weeks as slings), but the amount of size they gain between molts is amazing. After keeping slow-growing Brachypelmas and Grammostolas for a while, I was floored when my P. cancerides slings first molted, putting on about .5″ of size as well as impressive girth.

Phormictopus-before-after-m

Although I started off with small slings, it didn’t take too many months or molts before I had large, hairy bronze spiders. In their first year, my 1.25″ P. cancerides slings reached about 3.5″ in size. Imagine the growth rate if they were kept at higher temps. On the other hand, my 1″ Phormictopus sp. purple slings grew from about 1″ to a leggy 3.75″ (I’m sure the fact that I bought them closer to the summer had something to do with the slightly faster growth rate). So far, my atrichomatus specimens, which I purchased in April as 1.25″ slings, are about 2.75″ or so.

Once mine hit about 2.5″ or so, I slow down the feeding schedule. I currently feed my juveniles a large cricket every five days. For my sub-adult specimens, they get a couple large (1-1.5″) dubia roaches once a week or so. If I have extra large crickets, I’ll sometimes toss a couple in as well for variety.

Housing for Phormictopus species

Due to the fast growth rate, I tend to house my Phormictopus species in larger enclosures than I would for other species. As slings, I usually use 2-quart clear plastic jars or the small Sterilite stackables containers (I believe it’s about 1.75 quarts or so). After filling them up with moist substrate, I supply them with a bottle cap water dish, a cork bark hide with a plant, and a starter burrow.

PhormiCAGE-Canister

2-quart plastic canister (purchased at WalMart for about $2)

Although enclosures this size might seem a little large at first for a 1″ sling, they grow fast and need a bit of extra space to eliminate the need for frequent rehousings. Trust me, they will quickly grow into their new homes.

Small Sterilite stackable container.

Small Sterilite stackable container.

Once my guys reach about 2.5-3″ or so, I will move them to their juvenile enclosures. For these, I use Sterilite clear plastic shoeboxes and set them up more like a terrestrial. They’ll get about 3″ of moist substrate, a cork bark hide, and a water dish. I find that at this size, my Phormictopus have become more bold and will mostly hang out in the open. They no longer burrow, but will retreat to a hide if disturbed.

My Phormictopus sp. blue female's enclosure (a clear Sterilite shoe box)

My Phormictopus sp. blue female’s enclosure (a clear Sterilite shoe box)

My largest specimens (5″ or over) are currently housed in Sterilite 15-quart “ClearView” containers (purchased at the local Target). Once again, they are set up terrestrially with cork bark hide, water dish, and 3-4″ of damp substrate.

Although a lot of the early care information I read about Phormictopus indicated that they needed to be kept moist, I’ve discovered that they do fine if the sub dries out a bit in between as long as they are provided water dishes. Although I start all of mine on moist sub, I let it dry out a bit and periodically moisten down part of the dirt when they are near a molt. I’ve noticed that they don’t seem to gravitate to this moist area, and are quite content to sit on the dry end.

I will note that other keepers still make sure to keep their Phormictopus species moist at all times, and those interested in breeding are often much more careful in keeping the moisture levels up.  However, unlike my Pamphobeteus and Theraphosa, I don’t obsess about it with these guys. If you buy one of these species and the enclosure dries up a bit, they will be fine as long as they have water.

A note about temperament

Phormictopus species have developed a bit of a reputation for being a bit ornery and defensive. I’ve found slings of this genus to be quite fast and skittish, often bolting around their enclosures or to their burrows if disturbed. As they gain some size, they become a bit more bold, often sitting out in the open when their enclosures are opened. Still, they can move quite quickly when motivated, and I’ve heard of instances where they are not reluctant to use their fangs.

Phormictopus sp. Purple

Phormictopus sp. Purple

Out of the seven species I currently keep, I’ve only ever received a threat posture from my sp. purples; they seem to be a bit more high strung than my other species. Personally, I’ve found that if I’m careful not to disturb them when I perform maintenance or feed them, they are relatively calm when they get older. They also seem quite reluctant to kick hairs, which is a huge plus in my book. To date, only one has ever kicked hairs that I’ve witnessed.

Still, these guys get pretty large, with some reaching 8″, and their amazing feeding responses often have them charging anything that enters their enclosure (including a keeper’s tongs or paint brush). Caution should be exercised whenever feeding or performing routine maintenance.

A wonderful stepping stone to faster and feistier species.

For those who have successfully kept some of the beginner species and are looking to graduate to faster, more defensive intermediate species would do well to check out some of the  spiders the Phormictopus genus has to offer.  These are large, hardy,  fast-growing tarantulas with relatively simple husbandry that are very similar to the super-popular Pamphobeteus species in terms of build and temperament.

It’s also worth mentioning that males of these species are often quite colorful, with some sporting beautiful purples and blues after their ultimate molts. This makes discovering that your spider is a male quite a rewarding experience…after all, who doesn’t like purple spiders?

Phormictopus species I currently keep:
  • Phormictopus cancerides
  • Phormictopus sp. purple
  • Phormictopus sp. green
  • Phormictopus sp. blue
  • Phormictopus atrichomatus
  • Phormictopus cautus violet
  • Phormictopus sp. south hispaniola

Harpactira pulchripes (Golden Blue Leg Baboon)

H.-pulchripes-NEWEST

The new “jewel” of the hobby.

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 appeal of being a rarity in the hobby. More recently, 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.

Today, many keepers consider the Harpactira pulchripes, a striking orange bodied and metallic blue legged beauty, the hobby’s latest crown jewel. This relatively new African species pops up on many keepers’ wish lists, and folks who manage to acquire one proudly share photos like a rich kid showing off his new sports car. And like a status car, these little spiders can come with a shocking price tag that many find ridiculous.

The fact is, new species, especially African ones like the Harpactira pulchripes are first collected and bred by Europeans and exported to the United States in limited quantities. Couple the cost of legally importing tarantulas into the US with their initial limited availability, and you have the makings of one pricey T.

Check out my female in action in the video below!

Early on, the only folks generally interested in paying these prices, often reaching well over $1,000 for a pair, are breeders looking to be the first to breed the species stateside (and make a pretty profit in the process). Other interested hobbyists will often wait a year or two until a new species is successfully bred a couple times, bringing batches of more affordable slings into the marketplace.

When I first saw a photo of a H. pulchripes, I had only been really into the hobby for a short time and I had no idea that I was viewing a newly introduced spider. I was therefore shocked when I saw that .5″ slings were going for about $500. It didn’t take me long to abandon all hope of acquiring this gorgeous spider any time soon.

H. pulchripes adult.

H. pulchripes adult.

In about January of last year, I got a lead that one of the breeders I normally buy from was expecting a shipment of babies, and slings would be available for $300 each or $275 a piece if you bought three. Although I considered making a purchase, that was a still a bit out of my price range. Over the next several months, I watched as prices for .5″ slings decreased from this price point to as low as $225 from one dealer. With a few folks managing to produce slings in the US, prices were already falling.

1" H. pulchripes sling

1″ H. pulchripes sling

Finally, I found an offer that was almost too good to be true. Stamps Tarantulas was offering 2.5″ sexed female juveniles for $300. Even better, he was having a 25% off everything sale. I would be able to get a guaranteed female for less than I almost paid for a single unsexed sling. I jumped at the opportunity and placed my order.

Now, there was a slight mix-up with my order, which lead to me being sent a 1″ sling instead of my female. Steven was quick to rectify the situation, and when all was said and done, I was the proud owner of both a H. pulchripes sling and a sexed juvenile female. To say I was a happy customer would be the understatement of the year (thanks, Steven!).

Enclosures and setup

I used a basic setup for both specimens, a modified 1 quart clear plastic canister for the sling and a 1.5 gallon Sterilite container for the juvenile. I modified both to add ventilation (holes for the canister and round vents for the Sterilite container).

H. pulchripes sling enclosure

H. pulchripes sling enclosure

H. pulchripes sling set up

H. pulchripes sling setup

For substrate, I used a mostly-dry combination of peat and coco fiber. After packing this down in the enclosures, I packed some dry substrate on the top. Both were offered cork bark with some plastic leaves for a hide, and I used my finger to pre-start a burrow for each under the cork bark.

The juvenile has a milk cap for a water bowl, and I keep it filled with fresh water (although my girl has enjoyed filling it with dirt). The sling will be getting a water bottle cap for a dish soon. For the time being, I use a water dropper to add some moisture to the plastic plant and webbing in case it wants a drink.

Both specimens took to their burrows the first night, and they have spent several weeks burrowing a bit and webbing up around the entrances. Although each has constructed a fairly deep burrow in the substrate, they are both out and visible quite often (the sling does move to one of its holes whenever I disturb its enclosure).

H. pulchripes juvenile setup

H. pulchripes juvenile setup

A beauty with a voracious appetite

Both of my pulchripes have been great eaters. I drop a cricket in overnight, and it’s always gone in the morning. When I first got my sling, I didn’t have a cricket small enough for it as I was expecting a 2.5″ juvenile. Therefore, I dropped in a pre-killed cricket for it to scavenge feed on. When I checked in the morning, the sling had dragged the carcass beneath the cork bark and had devoured the entire thing. On average, I feed this specimen three times a week. While the weather is warm, I’ll be taking advantage of its higher metabolism to grow it out of the more fragile sling stage faster.

The juvenile has had no trouble taking down medium-sized crickets; I just drop them in at night, and they’re gone in the morning. She has currently sealed herself up in her burrow for premolt, so I’m eagerly awaiting the impending shed. Before she stopped eating, I was feeding her on a twice a week schedule.

Like most of my baboons, the H. pulchripes  don’t get as fat in the booty 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.

As I acquired these guys in the summer, temps in my tarantula room have been between high 70s to low 80s. I’m assuming that when the winter comes and temps are in the low to mid 70s, their metabolisms will slow down a bit and molts will come more infrequently.

Not as high-strung as most baboons

So far, both H. pulchripes have been relatively calm when compared to other “baboon” species of tarantulas I keep. The female in particular is fairly low-key, staying out in the open most days and calmly seeking shelter if I disturb her enclosure. The sling is a bit more skittish, but so far she is nowhere near as flighty as my M. balfouri, C. darlingi, or my P. murinus juveniles.

This doesn’t mean that I let my guard down with these spiders as I’ve seen their speed and know what they are capable of. The H. pulchripes is a lightening-fast Old World species capable of delivering a very painful, possibly debilitating bite. Also, tarantulas often change disposition after a molt, so I know that the next shed could bring different or more extreme behaviors. Caution and care always need to be exercised with Old Worlds species.

But, is it worth it?

There’s really no denying that the H. pulchripes is a striking tarantula, but is it really worth the money? I guess the answer to this question would vary from keeper to keeper. Some folks who aren’t particularly enamored with the look of this animal would likely argue “no way.” Even many of those who find this species desirable would likely choose to wait until prices fall considerably before trying to procure one. For breeders who are looking to make an investment in an uncommon species, I would guess it would be an enthusiastic “YES.”

Personally, I love baboon species, and I was enamored with the color of this tarantula the first time I saw it. While researching it, I also learned that there wasn’t a lot of care information out there yet for this species, so I was enticed by the idea of possibly getting to blog about its husbandry for future keepers.  And I know I already have one female, so a breeding project will definitely be in the future… I’m quite pleased with my purchase, and I’m looking forward to growing these two to adulthood.

Grammostola iheringi (Entre Rios)

A gorgeous “grammy” with plenty of spunk.

G.-iheringi

About a year ago, I was perusing various topics on a tarantula message board when I came across a spider I had never seen or heard of before. The lucky keeper was posting photos of his newest acquisition, a 4″ female “Entre Rios.” With its bluish-gray body and bright red rump, it was a truly amazing-looking spider. I would later learn that the scientific name of this beautiful specimen was Grammostola iheringi, and it was a much sought after tarantula for many enthusiasts. After reading up on the species, including many accounts from those who actually kept this marvelous spider, I decided that I had to have one.

Fast-forward to just a couple of months ago. I place an order with my favorite vendor, Jamie’s Tarantulas, and due to unfortunate circumstances, one of the animals I ordered couldn’t be shipped. Being the amazing dealer that she is, she offered me a replacement that easily trumped my original purchase…a 2.75″ female G. iheringi. Since receiving her in early May, she has become one of my favorite specimens.

GWA … Grammostola with Attitude!

The first thing that impressed me about this species was its temperament. Those used to other slow-n-steady Grammostola species (porteri, pulchripes, pulchra, etc.) might be taken off guard with the much more high-strung iheringi. This species is quite leggy and seemingly much faster than its cousins, and many keepers have commented on its speed. Upon opening her shipping container to rehouse her, she bolted from deli cup and took two laps around her container before I could blink. This is definitely not a slow, calm spider.

Also, those used to other Grammostola species with more tractable natures should be aware that iheringis are quite skittish and can be defensive. While cleaning out a bolus in my spider’s enclosure, I was startled when she burst from her den, slapped at my tongs, then bolted back to her hole. Although I’m pretty sure that she was rushing what she hoped to be a food item, the experience was still quite eye-opening. This is definitely not a species I would risk holding, and care should be taken for feeding and maintenance.

The G. iheringi has a voracious appetite and will charge at prey with impressive speed and ferocity. Unlike my other Grammostolas, who will generally wait and ambush prey when it gets close, my iheringi will stalk and charge the crickets. I feed my 3+” female two large crickets a week, and she has no trouble taking down the larger prey. The only time she has refused food was shortly before a molt.

Although most Grammostola species are painfully slow growers, the iheringi grows at a medium pace. Mine has already molted once in my care, and because of her amazing appetite, she is quickly packing on the weight. During her last molt, she grew from about 2.75″ to just over 3″. Some consider this species to be one of the largest Grammostolas with a max leg span reaching up to 8″. However, most keepers report their reaching about 7″ in size. Still, that’s a fairly good-sized specimen.

A gorgeous spider with simple husbandry.

Care for this species is quite simple. I keep my female in a repurposed Sterilite plastic shoe box that has been well ventilated to allow for a cross current of air. For substrate, she has about 3″ of coco fiber and peat, and I provided a piece of black PVC pipe for a hide. I keep the substrate dry, but I do provide her with a large water dish for drinking and for keeping the humidity up a bit.

Like most of my tarantulas, she is kept between 70 and about 78° during the winter and 74-84° during the summer months. As with most species, higher temps will usually allow for a faster metabolism and growth rate. This is a long-living species, with females expected to live 20+ years.

My juvenile G. iheringi enclosure made from a re-purposed Sterilite container.

My juvenile G. iheringi enclosure made from a re-purposed Sterilite container.

G. iheringi enclosure set up. I used a piece of black pvc pipe with cork bark for the hide.

G. iheringi enclosure set up. I used a piece of black pvc pipe with cork bark for the hide.

A must for any New World aficionado

The most common complaint I hear about Grammostola species is that their sedentary lifestyles render them “boring” species to keep. This is definitely not an issue with the iheringi; this tarantula has plenty of spunk and personality. For a keeper accustomed to keeping more lively tarantulas, the G. iheringi is fantastic specimen and a must for the collection.

My female G. iheringi after a recent molt. Notice her tiny abdomen.

My female G. iheringi after a recent molt. Notice her tiny abdomen.

 

New England Reptile Distributors (NERD) – A Review!

NERD

NERD is not just for reptiles.

There’s a belief among many serious tarantula enthusiasts that if you’re going to buy tarantulas online, you should only purchase through a reputable tarantula breeder or vendor. Although many reptile dealers also peddle spiders (after all, the two hobbies are quite similar), many times it’s almost as an afterthought. Unfortunately, an expert in snakes does not an expert in tarantulas make, and although these folks usually mean well, they can sell overpriced stock that has not been kept optimal conditions. I’ve heard many horror stories about poorly packed spiders perishing in the mail, or of customers receiving animals of the wrong size, sex, or even species.

This is absolutely NOT the case with New England Reptile Distributors; it’s obvious that owner Kevin McCurley knows his tarantulas.

I’m usually weary of purchasing from businesses whose main focus is reptiles. However, while recently studying up on various species of the Phormictopus genus, I stumbled upon some P. atrichomatus slings for sale at New England Reptile Distributors (NERD for short). I immediately recognized the name from my days collecting snakes, and I remembered them having a stellar reputation. With that info in mind, I decided to place my first order.

Stock

I was immediately impressed by the selection that NERD offered. I expected to find a smaller listing of some of the more common species. Instead, I found a very large and diverse selection that included some hobby regulars as well as some rarer species, like the coveted H. pulchripes. Their prices, overall, were also quite good, and they seem to add new stock fairly often. I do hope they eventually put together a newsletter that announces new stock, but I’ve been on the site enough times now to recognize the new additions.

Communication and Customer Service

I reached out via email first to find out if they could hold my order until the weather warmed up, and if I could add to the order when it came time to ship. Kevin responded immediately, and was very friendly and helpful. He had no problem with holding my spiders until it was safe to ship, and had no issue with me adding to my order while I waited. As it turned out, it was over a month before the weather permitted shipping. During this time, we stayed in communication, and he always responded to emails immediately. I did end up adding a couple Ts to my order, a T. ockerti and an A. chalcodes, and both orders were combined with no issue. When I was ready to ship, the package went out that week.

Shipping and Packing

My tarantulas were shipped FedEx overnight for a very reasonable $35. My order shipped quickly, and I was emailed a tracking number. Kevin was even good enough to have my order held at my local FedEx facility for pick up.

Nerd-Box

My spiders were expertly packed in a foam lined box with a heat pack included. I loved that the heat pack was securely taped to the top panel of foam, keeping it from shifting during transit and cooking the spiders. The five vials and one deli cup that contained my tarantulas were safely nestled in crushed newspaper; they would have been quite safe if the package had been jostled or dropped.
Nerd heat packI’ve mentioned it other reviews, but how the spiders are packed into the deli cups or vials can make the difference between and easy or nightmarish transfer. My new acquisitions were perfectly packed in their travel containers, and they were very easy to rehouse as a result.

Nerd-Vials-in-box

Nerd-Vials

When I opened my box, I was delighted to discover that Kevin had included a freebie with my order. I now have a new 1.5″ Lasiodora parahybana sling to add to my collection. I love free spiders, so this was definitely a plus.

Condition of the animals

All of my new acquisitions were in great shape and had obviously been well cared for. All six of them we plump and well-fed, and they took to their new homes quickly. Five of them have already taken their first meal; the sixth, the LP, is in premolt. It is apparent that these animals received excellent care by the guys at NERD.

A. chalcodes from NERD.

A. chalcodes from NERD.

P. atrichomatus sling from NERD

P. atrichomatus sling from NERD

T. ockerti juvenile from NERD.

T. ockerti juvenile from NERD.

The guys at NERD know their tarantulas!

My transaction with New England Reptile Distributors could not have gone any better. Kevin was  a true pleasure to do business with, and it’s obvious that the guys at NERD know their tarantula husbandry. Their shipping costs were very reasonable, and their packing was excellent. This was an all-around excellent experience; I would recommend NERD to other tarantula hobbyists without reservation!

Chilobrachys guangxiensis – “The Chinese Faun”

Not just another big brown tarantula

C.-guangxiensis-new

I generally put a lot of thought into the each species of tarantula I buy. Like many hobbyists, I have a long wish list of animals that I have thoroughly researched with the anticipation that I will one day acquire them. There are never impulse buys, and when I pull the trigger, it’s usually on something I’ve been eyeing for months. Every so often, however, I take a chance on a species that I’m not as familiar with and that might not have been in Tom’s Top Ten to Be Acquired list.

My C. guangxiensis was one of these species.

My first exposure to this tarantula came when I found a small juvenile female listed for sale at Jamie’s Tarantulas. Although I was familiar with this tarantula’s cousins, Chilobrachys fimbriatus and dyscolus, I had never heard of this Asian terrestrial with the seemingly unpronounceable scientific name.

I quickly Googled this spider and found that, although it didn’t sport the beautiful blues of a C. dyscolus blue, or the amazing tones and patterning of the fimbriatus, there was still something undeniably beautiful about this T.  When I discovered that the care of this species was the same as others from the genus, I decided to grab her up.

A gorgeous, sleek, velvety-brown species from southern China.

Like other species from this genus, the C. guangxiensis is a fast, slightly defensive obligate burrower that requires a bit of extra humidity and deep moist substrate to thrive. As this faster growing species, I afforded her a bit of extra room to grow and gave her a larger enclosure than I normally would for a spider that size. This also allow me more room for maintenance.

Her first home was repurposed 7.2 quart Sterilite plastic storage container that measured about 11″L x 7.5″W x 8″H. Both ends of the container are vented to allow for good cross-ventilation and adequate air flow. Although this species appreciates a bit of extra humidity, I’m always careful to avoid creating the stuffy, stagnant conditions that could harm or kill a T. I provide a water dish at all times for drinking and for added humidity.

When I received my female, she was about 2″, so I gave her an enclosure with about 5″ of substrate depth in which to construct a burrow. For substrate, I use a mixture of 40% coco fiber, 40% peat, and 20% vermiculite. I find that this blend not only holds moisture well, but it also absorbs water more readily when it comes time to moisten it back up. The sub is damp, but not wet; if you squeeze it in your hand, it will hold its form, but no water will drip out. Once a month or so, I will use a bottle modified to be a watering can to make it “rain” and moisten down half of the substrate.

A hide really isn’t necessary for this species, as if it is given enough substrate, it will quickly dig its own burrow. Before I added it to it’s enclosure, I just created a small hole/starter burrow in the corner. It quickly adapted this hole and used it to create its home. It now has two entrance holes and a large open den at the bottom of the enclosure.

I’ve observed no specific temperature requirements for this species. Mine is kept at 70-77° F during the winter and 75-84° F during the warmer summer months. She has eaten well in both ranges, although higher temps usually lead to higher metabolisms and faster growth.

Just add crickets and watch it grow!

The C. guangxiensis is a medium /fast growing species that can reach 7″ in size. My female has molted three times in the eight months that I’ve kept her, and she has gone from 2″ to about 3.5″. She is a voracious eater, taking down prey with lightning speed before quickly dragging it down into her den for consumption. As a juvenile, she was eating 3 medium crickets a week. Now that she is a bit larger, I’ve been feeding her two large crickets a week.

If there will be any knock on this species, it might be that it can be a bit of a pet hole. Of all of my obligate burrowers, this one might be my most secretive. I sometimes catch it out after the lights go out for the night, or early in the morning, but she will bolt back into her den at the slightest disturbance. This has made it very tricky to photograph. Still, when I see her out an about, it is a true thrill.

This one can throw down the silk.

It should be noted that some keepers have been successful keeping their Chilobrachys species on more shallow substrate with a hide. These species can be prolific webbers, festooning their enclosures with copious amounts of thick webbing. Specimens denied the opportunity to dig will build elaborate homes out of their webbing.

Personally, I like to let them burrow as the deeper depths of the substrate can provide them with a secure and more humid place to retreat to when frightened or when they need more moisture.

My C. guangxiensis has webbed up her entire enclosure with thick web. Even though she has a den, she will come out at night to lay down more silk, and she will often web the top of her enclosure shut. As a result, I open her cage several times a week to remove the webbing on the lid.

My C. guangxiensis' enclosure. I have to open this one quite often, even when not performing maintenance, as she will often web the top shut.

My C. guangxiensis’ enclosure. I have to open this one quite often, even when not performing maintenance, as she will often web the top shut.

A beautiful addition to an intermediate collection.

Unfortunately, with so many more colorful and easier to keep tarantulas available, including other members of the Chilobrachys genus, I worry that the C. guangxiensis sometimes gets overlooked. Pictures just don’t do this specimen justice, as its slick, shimmering coat and lithe, athletic build make it a stunning specimen in its own right.

And although I’ve seen many photographs that make it appear to be a simple, plain shade of brown, its true tones are difficult to describe and must be seen to be appreciated. For those used to Asian terrestrials, including their attitudes, speed, and care requirements, the C. guangxiensis would make a great addition to the collection.

 

 

 

 

Theraphosa stirmi (The Burgundy Goliath Bird Eater)

My young adult T. stirmi.

My young adult T. stirmi.

One of the true “bird eaters”.

Although there are hundreds of species of tarantulas currently available in the hobby, nothing seems to get folks more interested (or horrified) than talk about 12″ spiders. We’ve all seen the garish news reports and sensationalized nature shows that seek to disgust and shock rather than educate with reports of ferocious arachnids with leg spans the size of “dinner plates.” For the majority of “normal” people out there, a giant spider of this size is a thing of nightmares…

For the tarantula keeper, however, it is something to be coveted; an enormous spider that could easily become the jewel of a collection.

Years ago, the Theraphosa blondi, or the true “Goliath Bird Eating Spider” was the holy grail for many collectors. Pursued for its supposed legendary size (some folks bragged of specimens reaching 14″!), this giant spider became the Humvee of tarantula collecting. Sure, they were large, beefy, and came with certain bragging rights, but their difficult husbandry requirements made them a bit impractical. Specimens had to be kept in warm, moist conditions that made proper husbandry a nightmare. Kept too moist, the animals would die from the fetid conditions. Kept too dry, and they would perish during bad molts. For many enthusiasts, keeping this exotic T became more bother than it was worth.

With the introduction of Theraphosa stimi into the hobby, keepers were given a more practical and forgiving alternative to the T. blondi.  Easier to breed than its cousin, the T. stirmi not only became more widely available, but captive-bred offspring have proven to be quite hardy in captive conditions. With a max size and appearance almost identical to a blondi, this species has eclipsed its more difficult relative in the hobby.

Several months ago, I was able to purchase a sub-adult, likely wild-caught specimen, and I was immediately in awe of its size and appetite. Since then, I’ve procured two T. stirmi slings, which have each molted once in my care. Although requiring a bit more attention to husbandry than some of my other Ts, this species is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

Moist substrate + good ventilation = Happy Stirmi

Ziploc 60-qt storage bin modified to house a T. stirmi sub-adult.

Ziploc 60-qt storage bin modified to house a T. stirmi sub-adult.

Before purchasing my T. stirmi sub-adult, I spent months reading all the notes I could find by those who have been successfully keeping this tarantula. Although most report that this species is much more hardy and less moisture and heat dependent than the T. blondi, there are still some requirements that make this giant a bit more difficult to keep.  The key to keeping this spider thriving is to supply moist substrate and adequate cross-ventilation.

Check out my T. stirmi husbandry video below!

Although many use 15-20 gallon long aquariums to house their stirmis, I didn’t feel that the glass sides would provide the cross ventilation that I would need. Also, the screen tops that one might normally use on a glass aquarium would allow too much vital moisture to quickly evaporate, meaning that I would either have to cover some of the screen, or replace it with vented Plexiglas. Instead, I kept a lookout for a plastic container that I could repurpose.

A tarantula this large needs a BIG home.

For housing, I chose a 60-quart Ziploc plastic storage box. Although more shallow than a 20-gallon long aquarium, it offered about the same amount of floor space. With six locking clips, it was also wonderfully secure, even for a T this large. I modified the container using 3″ plastic vents and strategically drilled holes (to see how I made this custom enclosure, click away!)

To make sure that my substrate would retain moisture (and allow for moisture to soak in when I needed to wet it down), I used a combination of top soil, peat moss, and vermiculite in about a 60/30/10 mixture. Before adding the main substrate, I also put about 1″ layer of vermiculite on the bottom of the enclosure and soaked it down. I then packed down about 6″ of moist substrate on top of that.  This helps keep the lower levels of the substrate moist as the top layers dry out. The spider than can then retreat to its den if it needs more humidity.

For a hide, I used a 3″ pvc elbow that I angled deep down into the substrate as a starter burrow (which my specimen adopted after entering pre-molt). Although I originally started with one medium water bowl, I soon added another to keep the humidity up a bit within the enclosure.  Finally, I added some plastic vines for cover and some long fiber sphagnum moss to help with moisture retention.

For my slings, I used a 2-quart clear plastic canister with ventilation holes burned on all sides. Both were provided with about 4″ of substrate, as well as cork bark hides and small water dishes . When I first acquired my little ones, they were about 1.5″ long, and these containers were the perfect size for them. However, after only one molt, they’ve put on so much size that I will have to rehouse them after they next shed. Right now, my two are about 2.25″, and both are getting ready to molt again. This is a fast-growing species, so it may make sense to provide enclosures for slings and juveniles that allow room for growth. 

A note about temperature and humidity.

Because it was mid-summer and temps were high when I set this cage up, and the conditions inside were a bit more moist than I usually have, I decided to monitor it for a week or so before getting my spider. Twice, I added more ventilation after I noticed tiny mold spots. I wanted the humidity to be high enough to support the animal, but not so high as to foster mold, mildew, and other undesirable conditions. The combination of heat and humidity can easily create an overly stuffy and ultimately dangerous living environment for even moisture-loving Ts.

To keep conditions favorable, I usually wet down one side of the substrate once a week or so using a bottle I modified into a watering can. This allows me to simulate a downpour and adds more water than simply spraying. Because of the vermiculite, the water percolates down into the lower levels, keeping them damp while the top eventually dries out.

I don’t really monitor the humidity inside the enclosure (I soon pulled the useless Petco hydrometer in the photo above out), but I would estimate that it stays about 65% to 75% most of the year, with the humidity being even higher in the burrow.

As for temperatures, my specimens are kept at about 72-77º during the winter, and about 75-84º during the summer. They have eaten well in both seasons, and I’ve observed no differences in behavior. However, it’s important to note that warmer temps mean faster metabolisms and faster growth.

I have read accounts of some folks raising captive-bread stirmis from sling in temps that hit as low as 68º and with mostly dry substrate with a water dish. Although I don’t know if these are ideal conditions, it’s worth noting that this species can adapt to different micro climates.

It should also be mentioned that keepers have observed that wild-caught specimens are not quite as forgiving as their captive-bred counterparts when it comes to adaptability to low temperature and humidity levels. If you suspect that you have a wild-caught spider, exercise a bit more caution when controlling the environment.

A gigantic T with a gigantic appetite!

This is a species with an amazing appetite, and it must be kept well fed. My adult is around 7-8″, and in its first month with me, it was constantly hungry. During this time, I would feed it twice a week, usually offering 5 or so large crickets one day and a 1.5″ dubia roach the next. To say its feeding response was enthusiastic would be an understatement. Once, when dropping in a roach, I could only watch in awe as this spider leaped from about 7″ away to snatch up its prey. It was an impressive display and a good reminder of just how quickly this big tarantula could move.

My slings are also voracious eaters, consuming two or three medium crickets a week. Once a prey item is dropped into their enclosures, they don’t take long to quickly snatch it up and pull it into their burrows. They definitely possess impressive speed at this size.

It’s important to remember that the stirmi has an amazing appetite, so you are going to want to make sure that you are easily and consistently able to procure larger prey items for it once it reaches its adult size. I’m already looking to procure some Madagascar hissing cockroaches to fatten it up after its upcoming molt.

As always, caution is a must!

As mentioned earlier, both sling and adult stirmis can REALLY move. Despite being a large and heavy-bodied tarantula, this species is deceptively fast. And although mine would rather retreat to their burrows when disturbed, there are many examples of feisty and defensive specimens out there that will stand their ground when they feel threatened.

T.-stirmi-sling

Now, I’ve heard some folks ask about venom potency as if this species mild venom somehow makes a bite from this spider less threatening. That notion, of course, is just foolish. These Ts are known to sport fangs 1″ long or more. Just the mechanical damage from a stirmi bite could cause huge amounts of physical trauma. Couple that with the fact that they would be delivering deep puncture wounds with large fangs covered in bacteria and other contaminants, and the venom level becomes irrelevant. Make no mistake, a bite from this animal would be a nightmare.

Also, what it lacks in strong venom, it surely makes up for with some of the most potent and irritating urticating hairs of any species. Folks have described excruciating levels of burning and itching from T. stirmi hairs, and I’ve seen photos of the many raw, oozing blisters these hairs can cause. Several folks have found these hairs to be so bothersome, that they no longer keep this species. Getting haired by a stirmi is NO joke, and this threat should be taken very seriously.

Whenever working with your stirmi, wearing long sleeves, gloves, and eye-protection is definitely encouraged. Even if your specimen seems calm, all it takes is one good hairing to ruin your week. Some folks even wear face shields to protect their eyes and nasal passages from hairs. It’s also important to remember that tarantulas will often kick hairs around their enclosures, even if you don’t see them do it. That means you should always wear gloves when dealing with old substrate or cleaning dishes.

A gorgeous display tarantula for the conscientious keeper.

There is no denying the awe-inspiring size of this amazing T; it just has to be seen to be appreciated. However, although this is a species on many keepers’ wish lists, this is not an animal to be trifled with. Along with this Ts amazing size comes quite a bit of attitude and the potential for nasty bites and an incredibly painful hairing. Couple that with larger space requirements and trickier husbandry, and you have a spider that is definitely not a good match for an inexperienced keeper.

As always, don’t just take my word for it. If you are considering purchasing a T. stirmi, do your homework, search the forums, and read what other keepers have to say!

Humidity, Temperature, and Tarantulas

We’ve all done it.

After hours of exhaustive research in which we read about a tarantula’s natural habitat and peruse a plethora of care sheets (many of them with conflicting information), we set up what we hope will be the “ideal” habitat for our new pet. We add the appropriate substrate, a cork hide, a water dish, maybe a plant or two, before introducing our new pet to his “perfect” home. All is well for a night or two..

And then the stress begins, as we obsess about keeping temperatures and humidity at the optimal level for this species. The care sheet said 75% humidity, but the $8 ZooMed hydrometer I picked up at Petco says it’s only 60%. Time to spray down the substrate until it’s a muddy slurry, right? Or, the temperature in my house just dipped to 68º, so I’d better put a heat lamp or mat on my critter, correct?

The short answer to both of these questions, in most instances, is a very emphatic NO.

Tarantulas are not as fragile as we make them out to be.

One very important thing to keep in mind when working with tarantulas; they are very adaptive animals. You don’t survive millions of years of evolution and climate change without being able to tolerate a dip in temperature or a bit less humidity. It’s true that some species have evolved over the centuries to adapt to different ends of the climate spectrum. Sure, a T. strimi is accustomed to living in humid conditions that would likely kill an arid species like a P. murinus. However, in between these two extremes, there is a lot of gray area and quite a large margin for error when correctly controlling the environment of your tarantula.

Now, I’m not saying that we want to keep our pets in less than comfortable conditions just to make it easier for the keepers. It’s still important to acknowledge the difference between “comfortable” and “tolerable.” It’s just very important to keep in mind that the high and low temps present in a tarantula’s natural habitat may not not represent the ideal temps for the T.

For example, consider the M. balfouri. On the island of Socotra, high temps can be in the high 90s with low temps around the low 60s. That’s a huge range, about 30º, and neither the high nor low temperatures there would make for a particularly comfortable spider. Therefore, a keeper trying to keep these exact highs and lows would be seriously missing the mark. Yet, some keepers will still obsess over keeping these highs and lows in their home setups.

Burrows = The “X” factor.

We also tend to forget that many tarantula species live in burrows and some dig them deep into the earth. This allows the spiders to escape hostile environments and to seek more humidity (or less) when needed. Temperature and humidity measurements from within tarantula burrows in the wild reveal the climates inside are much different than the outside climates. Considering that many species spend the majority of their time inside their burrows, this would mean that we actually have NO idea what the ideal humidity and temperature levels are for many of these species.

So, what do we take from this? Well, first off, it means that the temperature and humidity “requirements” included on many care sheets are next to useless and that the stress you get from not matching these numbers in your setup is also unnecessary. If you are obsessing over either, you are making the hobby more stressful than it should be.

Normal “room temperature” is okay for most species.

I hear this said on the forums all of the time, and it is a good, if slightly too vague, rule of thumb. For most folks, their normal room temperatures will be sufficient for the majority of species of tarantulas. Generally, if you’re comfortable, then your tarantula will be comfortable, too.

My all-purpose thermometer/hygrometer.

My all-purpose thermometer/hygrometer.

That being said, this rule causes confusion as normal “room temperatures” may vary from home to home. For example, in my house, we like it a bit cooler than most, so my living room at the moment is about 64º. My grandmother, on the other hand, likes it toasty, and her home is around 88º this time of year. Both of these temperatures represent extremes, and some species of Ts kept for long at either end could experience distress.

Therefore, a modicum of common sense is needed when applying this rule. If you’re cuddled up in several sweatshirts and a blanket to watch TV, then this is not a comfortable room temperature for your animals. Conversely, if it’s summer and the 89º heat in your home has your sweaty clothes sticking your body like blistered layers of skin, your Ts are not going to be happy.

The majority of the species will do well in a temperature range between high 60s and mid 80s, and will tolerate temps slightly higher and lower than these for shorter durations. If your home is 67-70º throughout the winter, you don’t have to worry about procuring some sort of alternative heat source or else risk your tarantulas dying. They may not eat as much or grow as fast (warmer temps lead to faster metabolisms) but they will be just fine.

If you should decide that you need supplementary heat…

I’ve read posts by hobbyist who live in drafty houses where the temps consistently get lower than would be appropriate. Or, there are folks like myself who have a room dedicated to raising these animals, and they purposely want to keep temperatures higher to promote growth or breeding. In these instances, it is always best to control the overall temperature of the room and not the individual enclosures.

The space heater I use in my tarantula room.

The space heater I use in my tarantula room.

The best heating option for situations like these is a space heater. There are many types available on the market, including oscillating heating fans and oil-filled electric space heaters. Most also come with built in digital thermostats and timers, allowing for you to create an optimal day/night cycle. If you do go this route, be sure to do your research and look up reviews to get the best, safest heater for your money.

And if you do decide to go with supplementary heating, please remember the following:

  • No heat mats!
  • No heat pads!
  • No heat rocks!
  • Absolutely NO Heat lamps!

Most pet store heat mats, heat pads, and heat rocks are not appropriate heating sources for tarantulas. All three can create hot spots that can injure, dehydrate, and kill a T.

That said, there are some folks that use heat mats combined with rheostats to heat their collections, but doing so takes some experimentation and finesse. If you absolutely can’t use a space heater and feel that heat mats might be a better fit, do some research and speak to keepers who have experience with these setups. Most who use them heat larger areas, like tanks or cabinets, then put the T enclosures into these. Heating individual tanks is much more tricky and risky.

Heat lamps are very dangerous and can dry out and kill a tarantula very quickly. I don’t care how many thermostats and temperature-regulating gadgets the pet industry sells, these heating sources are likely to do more harm than good.

Humidity … Stop Worrying!

NO-HYGROMETERThe anxiety created by dreaded “H” word is likely a leading cause of stress-induced hypertension in new hobbyists. All joking aside, the humidity “requirements” listed in many care sheets have created a massive issue where none should exist. Too many times, a new hobbyist will read some arbitrary humidity level on a care sheet, rush to Petco to pick up one of their cheap, inaccurate (read: USELESS) humidity gauges, then panic when they can’t hit that magic moisture number. This is a waste of time, energy, and stress that can better be spent on sports teams, money, and taxes.

It’s important to keep a few things in mind before obsessing about humidity.

  • Accurate humidity levels are almost impossible to measure with cheap, over-the-counter humidity gauges. In other words, if you’re obsessing over the number on your Zoo Med hygrometer, you are likely stressing over an inaccurate measurement.
  • Humidity requirements listed on care sheets often don’t take into account that humidity levels differ from region to region. If you live in an area with high-humidity naturally, like Florida, and you are misting down your avic, you are likely doing much more harm than good. Always take into account local climate conditions when setting up your enclosures.
  • Most species are able to thrive at many different humidity levels. Even genera like Avicularia, Poecilotheria, and Lasiodora, once thought to need much higher humidity levels, have demonstrated the ability to do very well at lower humidity levels when supplied with water dishes. In fact, some keepers now attribute many Avicularia deaths to overly-humid, stuffy enclosures.
  • Humidity levels in properly vented enclosures are often much different from those in the homes they are in. The humidity gauge in your home may read 45% humidity, but the moisture level in your enclosure may be much higher. If you go spraying the cage down, you might be raising the humidity to dangerous levels. Overly moist enclosures are a death trap.

The fact is, most species do very well in a cage that allows for proper cross ventilation (holes in the sides, not the top) and a water dish. That’s it. For asian species, using deep, moist substrate and supplying a water dish is all that they need. They will construct burrows beneath the sub which will provide the correct humidity level for them.

Now, are there situations where you should keep an eye on moisture and humidity? Certainly. I live in New England where the winters can be cold and my home’s furnace may be running for weeks at a time. This dries the air in my home, often resulting in humidity levels in the teens. In these instances, it makes sense to run a humidifier to keep levels at a safer level (I usually opt for about 40-50%).

Slings are also more susceptible to dehydration, so many folks choose to keep all spiderlings on moist substrate with good ventilation. Slings around .75″ can also be given water bowls, which also aids in preventing them from drying out. For my tiniest slings, I keep the substrate slightly moist on the bottom, then offer sphagnum moss on the top, which I keep moist for drinking.

With proper enclosures and husbandry, humidity level should never be a factor, even if outside conditions seem less than optimal. Here are some husbandry tips that will keep you from every having to fret about humidity.

1. Keep a water dish filled with fresh water at all times.

The easiest way to keep the humidity up in an enclosure is to add a water dish. A large, open dish will allow water to slowly evaporate, raising the humidity inside the enclosure as long as it isn’t overly vented. It will also, obviously, serve as a drinking source for a parched T. For some species, like my T. strimi, I will even include two dishes.

2. Restrict ventilation.

Are you using a screen top on your aquarium, or is your T housed in a critter keeper-type enclosure? Both of these cages will allow for too much airflow and rapid evaporation, which will inhibit you from creating a “micro climate” inside the cage. A good enclosure should offer cross ventilation (holes/vents should be on the sides) and airflow, but should also prevent conditions inside the cage from becoming too dry. You must be careful not to restrict airflow too much, though, as not enough ventilation will create a stuffy, dangerous environment.

3. Use moist soil for tropical or Asian species.

For species that appreciate a little extra moisture, I use moist, not wet, substrate. My go-to mixture for these enclosures is topsoil combined with a bit of peat moss with some vermiculite mixed in for moisture retention. It’s moist enough that it will stay together when squeezed without water wringing out of it. My O. philippinus, P. cancerides, C. discolus, P. antinous, H. gigas, and T. stirmi are all kept on topsoil mixed with some vermiculite to maintain moisture. When the levels in my room are too low, they can retreat to their dens for a more humid environment.

4. Provide enough substrate depth for burrowing.

Many keepers opt to keep Ts on shallow substrate so that they can see them out more. Although this is obviously up to the keeper’s discretion, and most species will easily adapt, it will prevent some animals from burrowing to find more suitable conditions. When in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to give the T extra depth in which to dig. Even for species that don’t dig, the extra depth will allow the bottom levels to remain moist while the top remains dry. As this trapped moisture slowly evaporates, it will elevate the humidity in the enclosure.

5. Don’t spray … make it rain.

An old juice bottle modified with some holes to be a watering bottle.

An old juice bottle modified with some holes to be a watering bottle.

Many hobbyists talk about spraying water into their enclosures to increase humidity. This technique only raises levels for a short period as the surface liquid quickly evaporates. When I want to add moisture to an enclosure, I like to “make it rain.” Using a soldering iron, I put several holes in the top of a large juice bottle and turned it into a handy watering pot. Instead of spraying water into the enclosure, I simulate a downpour and soak down one side. The moisture eventually sinks in, keeping the sub moist as the top dries up.

6. Use a humidifier.

If you live in a region with cold winters, necessitating that you use a furnace, chimney, or wood stove to heat your home, chances are that the humidity levels will get dangerously low. In these instances, even properly set up cages can dry out quickly. The best solution to this is to purchase a humidifier. You don’t need to overdo it if you go this route; a humidity level between 40 and 50% will suffice.

Don’t let needlessly worrying about temperature and humidity add stress to the hobby.

For the majority of the species available, and for all of the tarantulas I named in my Beginner Tarantula guide, room temperature and humidity will be fine. In my opinion, there is NO need to purchase a humidity gauge, as they are woefully inaccurate, and in most instances, supplementary heat is also unwarranted (and sometimes dangerous).

Is there a time where more careful, species-specific micro-climates are necessary? Yes, as those looking to breed species, especially some of the more difficult ones, will look to recreate natural environmental triggers, like high temps, winter lows, or wet seasons to stimulate a mating response. In these cases, some careful management of their tarantulas’ micro-climates will be warranted. However, for the casual keeper or for one new to the hobby, this should never be an issue.

So toss those humidity gauges and heat mats in the closet, leave the spray bottle for the plants, and stop worrying about temperature an humidity. Your Ts will appreciate it.

Beautiful Tarantulas!

Let’s keep it real … tarantula keeping is not the most respected hobby in the world, and tarantula keepers are generally thought to be a bit eccentric at best and creepy at worst. And believe me … I get it.

With the majority of folks either being terrified of spiders, or thinking that they are disgusting animals to be squished on sight, it’s difficult for them to understand why someone would willingly choose to keep larger, hairier, scarier versions of these creatures as pets.

When asked why I don’t keep “normal” pets, I explain that I have three big rescue dogs who I absolutely adore (I’m petting two in between typing this). I also grew up on a small farm, and I look forward to the day when I will get to keep goats again. I don’t eschew common animals to keep giants spiders; I love them all.

Inevitably, when I’m asked what I could possibly find appealing about these “giant, hairy bugs,” I usually mention my fascination with them from an early age (even when I considered myself arachnophobic), and the fact that they’ve been around for millions of years. I try to explain the thrill of watching them molt and mature from fragile slings to large, bold adults. I talk about how feeding and maintenance time becomes a way for me to relax and unwind.

Then, knowing full well what’s coming, I usually explain how I actually find them to be quite beautiful.

“Beautiful?” the person will ask incredulously, a look of pure disgust smeared over his/her face.

“Beautiful,” I answer again, then take out my phone to show a couple pics of my stunners.

And usually, this is when the non-believer mutters a stunned, “Wow, is that real?” then asks to see more pics. It never gets old.

For some, this glimpse of a few of the more colorful species is enough to help them cross the threshold from fear and disgust to curiosity. What do they eat? How long do they live? How to you house them? These are some of the questions that often follow.

Do I win everyone over? No, of course not. People have a right to their opinions, and I understand my love for tarantulas puts me in the minority. Still, more often than not, the next time I talk to one of these people about my hobby, their questions are more genuine and inquisitive and not as judgmental.

Yes, tarantulas can be beautiful. Want proof?

My juvenile O.philippinus.

My juvenile O.philippinus.

B. boehmei

B. boehmei

Female B. smithi

Female B. smithi

Male P. murinus

Male P. murinus

P. murinus (OBT)

P. murinus (OBT)

Hapalopus sp. Large

Hapalopus sp. Large

GBB-two

GBB-December

C. dyscolus

C. dyscolus

A. versicolor

A. versicolor

VERSICOLOR-MOLT

A.-versi-NEW-1

My 1.75" P. metallica sling a week after its last molt. It is finally displaying some of those gorgeous blues it will sport as an adult.

My 1.75″ P. metallica sling a week after its last molt. It is finally displaying some of those gorgeous blues it will sport as an adult.

P. metallica

P. metallica

M. balfouri

M. balfouri

My young adult female E. pachypus.

My young adult female E. pachypus.

C.-darlingi

C. darlingi