The Communal Project series will document my setup of a Moncentropus balfouri communal, starting with the planning and acquisition of both the enclosure and tarantulas and continuing through as they mature. This is the second installment in the series; the first part is “Communal Project Part 1: An Enclosure by Brooklyn Bugs.”
After a couple of years of research and daydreaming, I will finally be setting up my first communal.
I’ve been fascinated by communals since I first saw photos of H. incei setup on a forum several years ago. I had always known tarantulas to be cannibalistic, so I was intrigued by the idea that a group could live together harmoniously without it turning into a survival of the fattest bloodbath. Since then, I’ve read articles and blogs, watched YouTube videos, and even spoken to a couple keepers who have tried it. I’ve researched the many species said to tolerate a communal living situation, including Poecilotheria species, Heterothele villosella, Neoholothele incei, Pterinochilus murinus, and of course, the Monocentropus balfouri.
Although all of these species have demonstrated the ability to co-habitate with other members of their species without immediately resorting to cannibalism, the level of true “communalism” can vary greatly. Every keeper would love to witness a true tarantula community where members actually benefit from living in close proximity to each other, possibly hunting and even eating together. But the fact is, many of these species are forced to live closely together in the wild due habitat constraints; they don’t naturally prefer it. Therefore, when they are forced to live together in an enclosure, the relationship between the inhabitants more closely resembles a fragile tolerance than a strong communal bond.
As a result, many keepers who have tried to keep communals have found the need to abort the projects upon discovering that their ten lithe specimens had suddenly become five portly ones. With many of the communal setups, cannibalism is a constant threat, and the thought of needlessly loosing often expensive Ts is enough of a deterrent for many keepers. Personally speaking, I love my spiders and pride myself on not having many deaths in my collection. The possibility that by creating a communal I might putting a group at risk of unnecessary death was a tough concept for me to get by.
One species has always stood out for me in the communal list…
One of the species that seemed to demonstrate some legitimate communal tendencies was the Monocentropus balfouri. I had discovered early on that this beautiful tarantula had some of the strongest motherly instincts of any species, and a quick Google search of “M. balfouri mother with slings” brings up some amazing photos of this maternal spider seemingly nurturing its young. This is an animal that keepers have witnessed killing prey to feed its spiderlings, as well as standing guard over them like a protective parent. Hobbyists that have kept this species communally report slings huddling together in the same burrow, even when given space, and feeding on the same prey…together. I have read several accounts by folks who have set up more than one balfouri in an enclosure, and it seems that it doesn’t matter the size of the specimens that are introduced together, they all live quite harmoniously.
After reading several accounts by keepers who had tried communal setups, it seemed that the chance of casualties was low…ridiculously low. I only found one instance where one of a group of about a dozen disappeared, but there was nothing to indicate it didn’t just die a natural death (and not at the fangs of one of its cage mates). Even more promising were the many photos of juveniles and adults living and even feeding together peaceably.
It seemed like if I was going to attempt a communal setup, M. balfouri would be the species to do it with. However, although the prices on these gorgeous Ts have continued to drop over the years, they still run about $60 or so for slings. It would be quite an investment to get one of these going, especially if I wanted to start with more than just a handful. For a little while, it seemed like it would remain a bit of a pipe dream.
Enter Tanya from Fear Not Tarantulas
After my last fantastic experience buying from Fear Not Tarantulas, I got to chatting with Tanya about spiders, the blog, and her breeding projects. It’s been fantastic conversing with someone who is not only knowledgeable, but also thoroughly entrenched in this amazing hobby. During one of our conversations she made an amazing offer; she would hook me up with enough M. balfouri slings to finally start that communal I had been pondering for years. To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement.
The original plan was to start with five or six specimens, so I had to go ahead and set up an enclosure that wouldn’t be too large for the .75-1″ slings, but that would also allow for plenty of room for growth (for more on the enclosure, click here!). Once the enclosure was ready, I gave Tanya the go ahead to ship my tarantulas. I had shared my photos and ideas for the design of the enclosure with Tanya, and when it arrived I explained that it was a little larger than my first idea, but I thought that it would work out well. After texting me with updates on the packing (as well as a photo of the A. amazonica I was was also getting), Tanya informed me that she was actually sending nine M. balfouri. NINE. I was absolutely floored. The extra space would definitely go to good use.
She shipped them promptly and they arrived expertly packed, labelled, and in fantastic shape. As a picture is worth 1000 words, I’m guessing that a video is worth even more. Below is the video of the unpacking along with the rehousing of the nine M. balfouri slings into their new homes (the rehousings start at about 3:32). I will admit to feeling just a bit of apprehension as I started loosing the slings into their new enclosure together. A part of me really worried that they might turn on each other or I might capture friction on camera.
It soon became apparent that my fears were unwarranted as the rehousing went off without a hitch and the nine little slings scuttled to the pre-formed burrows without a single incident of aggression. Even better, when I checked on them later in the day, a few of the slings had actually taken residence in the same burrow.
I’m finding the communal setup utterly fascinating, and I’ve been checking on them constantly to see how they are getting along. So far, so good. As these little guys continue to make this new enclosure their home, I will continue with updates including my observations and video/notes on any behaviors of interest. A few questions I hope to answer are:
Will the slings all gravitate to one burrow?
Do they really eat together and without friction?
Is their any difference in behavior in M. balfouri slings kept communally as apposed to kept individually (I raised three from slings previously)
Will their ability to get along change as they mature.
Next up…M. Balfouri Communal Project Part 3: First Week’s Observations (and Video of Group Feeding!).
Back in August of 2014, I ordered a couple .75-1″ Hysterocrates gigas slings from Jamie’s tarantulas. At this time, I had been acquiring several baboon species, and I had become fascinated with the gigas since discovering YouTube footage of one seemingly diving into water and swimming. I had never heard of this behavior from a tarantula before, so I decided that I definitely needed one in my ever-expanding collection.
Upon receiving the two timid slings, I housed them in 32 oz Ziploc deli containers. The T. gigas is a fossorial species that loves to build intricate and extensive burrows, so the taller cups allowed for several inches of moist substrate for tunneling. Within a day of being introduced to their new homes, both of my slings burrowed straight to the bottom.
The first several months I kept my gigas slings, I rarely saw them. I keep a number of fossorial speices, and I usually have good luck catching them out and about in the morning when I come down for work and first turn on the lights. These guys, however, were much more reclusive and difficult to spot. Occasionally, I’d catch a glimpse of a back leg as one quickly slunk down into its burrow, but that was about it.
I did know that they were eating well. Twice a week or so, I would drop in a cricket, and it was almost always gone by morning. On the rare instance that the prey item was still there the next day, I would just assume the spider was in premolt and wait a week to try again. Due to the amount they were eating, I guessed that they had to have put on quite a bit of size during this period. However, the fleeting glimpses I was able to catch of them made it difficult to assess their size.
My H. gigas young adult retreating to her den. Check out those thick back legs…
For temperatures, they were kept 72-75° in the winter and 75-80° in the summer months. I didn’t notice any difference in how much they ate due to seasonal temperature changes. This is a species that does not tolerate dry conditions, so I made sure to keep the substrate moist by periodically pouring water in and letting it percolate down the sides of the enclosure. This helped to keep the lower levels of its den damp even as the top of the substrate dried out a bit. I also provided each with a small water dish (both were unceremoniously buried several times).
Definitely a fast-growing tarantula.
Finally, in March of 2015, about 7 months after I first acquired them, I opened one of the enclosures to find a gigas perched right on the surface. I was floored. My little sling was now easily a 3″ tarantula. I had heard that this species had a fast growth rate, but I wasn’t prepared to discover a spider this large. It was time for a rehousing.
The H. gigas is an Old World species recognized as having a nasty disposition and a potent bite, so I was particularly cautious when rehousing these two. They both proved to be a bit skittish, but I saw no defensive behavior from either. That said, tarantulas are known to experience temperament changes as they mature, so they could easily develop a bit more attitude in the future. Many keepers have reported that their specimens are quite defensive and willing to bite. Currently, both of my specimens are spending more time on the surface, and I usually catch them out in the mornings. If disturbed, they will immediately bolt back to their burrows (which made getting these photos a joy!).
My, H. gigas enclosure
Now that they are about 5″ each, they are housed in large Sterilite plastic containers with about 7″ of moist substrate and water bowls. Both dug to the bottom and have excavated huge burrows beneath the surface. I currently feed them each one large dubia roach once a week. After their next molts, I will likely rehouse them into their final enclosures, which will offer a bit more space and about 10″ of moist soil to dig in. I’m also still giving some thought to creating a custom enclosure for one that would allow for a deep water area in one end. It sure would be cool to observes some of that swimming behavior in person…
The H. gigas is readily available in the hobby with slings usually fetching about $15-20. For those interested in fast-growing Old World fossorial species, that price is an absolute steal. This is a beautiful and interesting species, if a bit shy, and a wonderful to addition to any baboon tarantulas enthusiast’s collection.
Recently, I sat down to write an article about some of the divisive, hot-button topics that dog the tarantula hobby and often ensnare uninitiated keepers in heated debates. These are subjects that new hobbyists are often interested in learning about, but an internet search or an innocent forum query produces two equally heated and opposing answers. My hope was to present both sides of these gray-area arguments so that keepers could develop their own informed opinions.
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As this feature took shape, it was apparent that there were enough of these topics that to try to cover them in one blog post would prove daunting (not to mention provide for a particularly long-winded blog post). The logical decision was to instead cover these topics as a series, focusing on one issue at a time. And, I could think of no better way to kick off this feature than by starting with one of the most incendiary topics in the hobby today…
Should OBTs be kept by beginners?
Like politics, climate change, taxes, gun control, or any other hot button issues sure to spawn heated debates, the subject of OBTs in the hands of beginners is perhaps one of the most divisive and incendiary topics in the hobby today. At least once a week, some unsuspecting newcomer will start an OBT thread on Arachnoboards that quickly de-evolves from a constructive discussion to ruthless one-sided admonishment replete with petty name calling. Things heat up so quickly when this infamous animal is mentioned, that threads have been known to hit several pages in an hour.
Talk about a popcorn thread.
When I first got seriously into the hobby and was spending the majority of my free time researching which tarantula I might want to get next, I stumbled upon a blog post titled “Top Ten Beginner’s Tarantulas”. As it was currently the top site to come up with my search, I assumed that the blog must be a fairly reputable source. Although the majority of this article listed spiders I had already read were good beginners, #10 on the list was one I hadn’t encountered before…an OBT.
The Pterinochilus murinus was a stunning orange tarantula, and I was immediately fascinated by this gorgeous animal. Although the author of this list mentioned that this species was an Old World with a “bad attitude and dangerous venom”, the majority of the post detailed the ease of husbandry and hardiness. This spider immediately shot to the top of my wish list, and I set off to do some more research on it. Had I not spent the next several days scouring the boards for more info about this species, I might have immediately hopped over to Jamie’s tarantulas and snatched up a couple of the slings she had for sale.
However, a quick search revealed that this was a bit more than a spider with a “bad attitude”; in fact, this animal was literally infamous for its vicious temperament, blinding speed, potent venom, and propensity for biting. A quick review of Arachnoboard’s Bite Report section convinced me that this was a spider not to be trifled with. It didn’t take me long to determine that I wasn’t ready for the feisty beauty affectionately referred to as the “Orange Bitey Thing”.
Not all newer keepers wait to acquire this fascinating and notorious T, and this can prove quite problematic to hobbyists that consider this species to be an “expert-level” spider. They believe that the P. murinus is potentially dangerous tarantula that is best kept in the hands and collections of seasoned keepers. However, not all agree with this assessment. On the other side of the fence, hobbyists argue that this species is okay for beginners. Although this used to be an argument favored more by folks newer to the hobby, I’ve seen at least one reputable breeder and several experienced hobbyists come out in support of this idea. Below are the arguments and counter arguments and how they usually break down. For clarity, stances supporting OBTs for beginners will be in GREEN; stances against will be in RED.
Ease of care is what defines a good “beginner” tarantula, and there is none easier than the OBT The P. murinus is widely recognized as one of the hardiest Ts on the market. They do well set up as terrestrials or semi-arboreals, meaning they can adapt to just about any enclosure type. They have no moisture or temperature requirements and thrive on bone dry substrate; many folks don’t even give them water dishes due to their propensity to web them over. OBTs eat well and grow fast, meaning your precious spider will be out of its fragile sling stage quickly. Finally, they are readily available in the hobby and quite inexpensive, which makes them a great, low-risk introductory spider.
As for the OBT’s legendary and unpredictable temperament, some argue that the notoriety it receives for being hyper aggressive and fast actually renders them predictable. Informed newbies who acquire this animal will have already heard scores of stories about its nasty nature and will likely be overly cautious when working with it. Although this spider is more of a handful than other beginner tarantulas, a bit of caution and common sense would go along way. For those just getting into the hobby, this would be a great hands-off introduction to tarantula keeping.
Temperament MUST be considered when choosing a beginner tarantula, and the OBT’s attitude renders it inappropriate for a beginner. Folks in this camp tend agree that there’s more to a good “beginner level” tarantula than ease of husbandry. Although the OBT is an undeniably hardy tarantula, with many joking that they can thrive if kept on shattered glass for a substrate, their temperaments, speed, and venom potency render them potentially dangerous in the hands of people who don’t have a lot of experience keeping tarantulas.
Although ease of husbandry is definitely a priority, temperament should also be a consideration, especially for species packing medically significant bites. A mistake with a docile tarantula, like a Grammostola or Brachypelma, could lead to a bite that is little more annoying than a bee sting; a mistake with an OBT could lead to a hospital visit. Bites from this species can lead to excruciating pain, nausea, cramping, and other unpleasant symptoms in a full-grown adult.
Transfers are also a major part of husbandry, and this is an area where OBTs can be their most troublesome. Escapes are a major concern for those working with tarantulas, and a keeper not used to these spiders’ sudden speed bursts often experience the panic of suddenly having a large spider on the loose in his or her home. For slower New World terrestrial species, this isn’t as much of an issue as they are usually easily cupped and returned to their enclosures. As for the OBT, these speedy little devils can be a nightmare to wrangle.
With proper research, and new keeper can prepare to correctly care for an OBT.Any responsible hobbyist is sure to do adequate research for any species he or she is looking to acquire, and it’s no different with the P. murinus. Keepers new to the hobby can prepare to receive an OBT by spending some time researching this species. This research should include speaking to experienced folks, watching the YouTube videos illustrating their speed and attitude, and reading accounts from those who keep them.
These folks also argue that NO ONE is ever really ready for a defensive and unpredictable species like the OBT, and even an experienced keeper isn’t necessary going to be any more prepared for an escape or a bolting spider than someone new to the hobby. After all, isn’t an experienced keeper who’s getting an OBT for the first time in the same boat as a newbie as neither has kept this species before? Experience is gained by doing, so the best thing to do before procuring this species is to read up and prepare.
Research isn’t enough; experience is necessary.On the other side of this debate are generally more experienced keepers and those newer to the hobby who feel that reading about a species is in no way the same as the experience garnered from actually keeping them. Many of these folks have been around long enough to see inexperienced keepers acquire this species only to later become afraid of it, and some have even acquired OBTs from folks who became terrified of them. Respect for any tarantula is necessary, but fear can can be dangerous to the keeper and the spider. This intimidation can lead to poor husbandry, as the keeper is unable to clean or rehouse their pet.
Keepers who have already worked with calmer species for a while will have honed basic skills like cleanings, feedings, and rehousings, which will make dealing with a spider that can be this defensive, fast, and unpredictable much safer. They argue that an experienced keeper getting a P. murinus for the first time might not have experience with that particular spider, but their hands-on experience with other species and an understanding of T keeping fundamentals will leave them much better prepared for mishaps.
Many keepers believe in the “Ladder System”, or the idea that people new to the hobby should work their way up to more advanced Old World species only after gaining experience by working with more docile New World beginner species. In this scenario, a keeper might start by keeping a “calm” species like a B. smithi or B. albopilosum before “graduating” to something a bit larger and more feisty, like an A. geniculata. After spending a couple years with these species, this keeper might then move to getting a beginner Old World, like E. pachypus or C. darlingi.
In this system, the keeper spends time working with tarantulas for at least a couple years as he or she develops the skills and instincts needed to successfully and safely deal with advanced species like the OBT. Proponents of this system argue that reading about spiders only gets you so far; the best knowledge comes from actually keeping them. They believe that inexperienced keepers that skip this step are setting themselves up for problems. For example, you wouldn’t give someone with only a few months of experience driving a moped a Ninja to ride; they would have to work up to the more advanced bike.
Obviously, many folks new to the hobby have kept OBTs over the years without incident, so it’s no big deal.Head to any online tarantula vendor to check out their stock, and you’re likely to find that they have plenty of P. murinus slings available for purchase (and at really low prices). The OBT has been a hobby staple for quite some time, and there’s a good chance that the majority of the hundreds, if not thousands, of slings sold each year are going to folks who are not tarantula keeping experts.
The fact is, for all of the alarm and condemnation when a newbie to the hobby procures this species, there really aren’t a lot of reports out there about a newbie losing, getting bit by, or being overwhelmed by his/her new pet. After all, if hundreds or thousands of these spiders are out there, there should in the very least be dozens of bite reports, right? In several instances, those who have been in the hobby for a while will eventually admit to acquiring an OBT early on and raising it without incident, seemingly debunking the theory that they are an “expert species”.
It puts the hobby at risk.For folks on this side of the fence, the issue also goes beyond the welfare of the individual keeper and spider; they feel that a well-publicized bite report could lead a species ban or a ban on tarantula keeping in general. In all likelihood, the majority of bites aren’t reported on public forums, meaning there is no way to tell how folks are handling this animal. However, many feel that all it would take is for one bite report to make the news in a sensationalized manner for the hobby to be put in jeopardy.
If we’re being honest, tarantula keeping is a bit of an eccentric, niche hobby. Anyone who has been in the hobby a while has gotten used to the strange, often judgmental looks when you tell folks that you like to collect giant spiders. And, as many people are very ill-informed about these animals, fallacious stories abound about deadly spiders capable of horrendous violence against their keepers and their unsuspecting families. One publicized trip to the emergency room could lead to a campaign to ban these animals by an over-zealous politician.
On a personal note, I live in Connecticut where it is already illegal to sell venomous animals (including tarantulas) in pet stores and at public conventions. Even worse, after the highly-publicized chimp attack in 2009, legislators proposed a bill that would have banned ALL exotic pets. Folks who worry about a partial or full ban on the hobby are not being alarmists; it could happen.
Again, like many debatable topics, this topic really isn’t a black and white issue. If you’re a keeper who is still panicking because your spider has buried itself for a molt or who has never had to transfer a spider from one enclosure to another, you really should avoid the OBT until you have some more experience. I do feel that base experience is necessary before one attempts to keep an OBT, but I also feel the amount of experience needed is going to vary greatly from keeper to keeper. Are the majority of new keepers ready for an OBT? I’ve spoken to many over the years, and my experience tells me “no.” There are just so many basic skills necessary for this hobby that are much more easily mastered and perfected with slower New World species. However, there are those I have encountered who are more than ready, and do a great job transitioning well into keeping this feisty T.
Again, it’s not black and white.
I’ve seen many instances of new keepers announcing that they’re ready for an OBT only weeks after posting a panicked cry for help because their T has flipped to molt. Or, they post that the transfer of their B. smithi was a total debacle, then later explain that the same thing won’t happen if they get a P. murinus. These are the types of alarming statements that raise the ire of more experienced keepers and get those OBT threads heating up…
Furthermore, I truly believe that if you’re taking to a public forum to ask if you are ready, the answer is most assuredly NO. As much as many folks would like to pretend that there are some set ground rules for who can get an OBT and when, that’s really not the case. Asking folks on a forum only evidences that the keeper is probably not ready for this animal and is looking for confirmation from other keepers (and believe me, that keeper will get it!). Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to make the responsible and informed decision as to if he or she is ready for this animal.
I do feel strongly that this is an species that should only be purchased by someone who, in the very least, has the basics of husbandry under control. This means, cleaning, recognizing common issues, feeding, transferring, and other common housekeeping aspects. As many accidents and escapes happen during rehousings, I believe that it’s particularly important that keepers have a practiced and safe system for transfers. Once you have the basics of tarantula keeping down and you’ve worked with a few species of spiders, then it might be time to consider some more advanced species.
Again, fear is dangerous in this hobby, and this species is one of the “scarier” spiders available. If you’re thinking of getting an OBT, but the idea of having one of these speedy orange devils scares you a bit, wait. Respect and caution is paramount when dealing with fast-moving defensive spiders; fear can lead to mistakes which then lead to a bite or a dead spider.
I do believe that some individuals are just more inherently capable of correctly caring for an OBT and dealing with its attitude without as much experience as others. That’s a fact. However, it’s not up to me or other keepers to determine who those folks are. I have noticed that many of the folks that post about getting one on the forums seem to be the ones I would rather not have them.
I also think that this species should be for adults only. There is also the very real issue of younger keepers who are still living at home acquiring this species. Although OBTs will not kill you with their venom, a bite from this species will definitely make an adult individual miserable. Now, imagine for a moment that one of these spiders escapes and ends up biting the family dog, cat, or a child in the house. By their nature, teenagers, can be a bit reckless. Heck, I used to be one, and I still marvel at some of the less-than-informed decisions I’ve made. Hop on YouTube and you can find a plethora of videos featuring younger keepers proudly displaying reckless behavior with their Ts, and more than a few featuring the OBT.
Obviously, there are likely some fine young keepers out there who innately possess the maturity and skills needed to safely care for this animal. However, I do think that parents need to be informed and a big part of the decision process for a teen who is looking to acquire a P. murinus, as a mistake could affect the whole household. In the very least, a younger keeper still living at home needs to do his or her best to inform parents or anyone else in the household about these animals so that a decision can be made as a family as to whether or not to keep one.
The P. murinus is a gorgeous and amazing species of tarantula that I personally believe is a great addition to any collection. That being said, it’s notoriety as a vicious, unpredictable speed demon is well deserved, meaning that this is a species not to be trifled with. A quick glance at bite reports for this species illustrate that it is quick to bite, will bite repeatedly, and its strong venom can produced intense pain and lingering full-body cramping.
In other words, the OBT has all the makings for a really bad day.
That said, responsible keepers with a modicum of common sense and a basic understanding of tarantulas and their husbandry might be tempted to keep this unique an notorious spider. However, before any hobbyist, new or experienced, brings one of these Ts into the home, she should ask herself, “am I ready?”
When I first encountered this unique tarantula, it was known as the Maraca cabocla or “Brazilian Redhead”, and I was immediately enamored with its build (and, if I’m being honest, with its funny name). With its deep red carapace and long, lithe, tapered legs, it bore more than a passing resemblance to a true spider, and I wondered why this species wasn’t more prevalent in the hobby. While doing research on its husbandry, I discovered that information was rather sparse and often conflicting. Some kept it dry while others kept it moist. Some reported fast growth rate while other reported less frequent molts with modest size gains. I was fortunate enough to find tips from a keeper who had successfully bred this species to get me started. Having kept these guys for a while, and with several folks asking me about their care, I figured it was time to share some of my observations.
A hardy species offering some husbandry wiggle room.
I acquired my two slings about a year ago at about .3” or so. Both were housed in dram bottles with about 2.5” of moist substrate, and both quickly dug a system of complex tunnels straight down to the bottom. It seems if given the substrate depth, this species will dig. Over time, I allowed the substrate to dry out a bit and just periodically moistened part of it by carefully pouring some water down the sides of the bottles. Although I’ve heard some keepers report that their B. caboclas gravitated toward moisture, mine haven’t shown any preference for it. In their natural habitat, this species experiences a several months long dry period followed by a rainy period, so it seems to be physiologically equipped to deal with the two extremes.
My B. cabocla specimens have proven to be slower growers. Both are currently kept at temperatures that range 72-76 in the winter and about 75-80 in the summer. Since I acquired them, they have both molted about three times each and are both just over 1” in size now. Both are now showing some of their adult colorations as well, which is quite cool. As tiny slings, I would feed them pre-killed baby crickets or pieces of mealworm. When still very small, my two specimens were not particularly voracious eaters; they would occasionally refuse meals when not in premolt and seemed intimidated by live prey. Once they put on a bit of size, they seemed to develop better prey responses. Mine now have no trouble chasing down small crickets.
I have spoken to a keeper who has experienced slightly faster growth rates with hers as she keeps it in warmer temperatures year round. As always, warmer temps will lead to faster metabolisms and growth rates, so it’s very possible that caboclas kept at higher temps will grow much faster than mine have.
A note about burrowing…
During the first winter that I kept my cabocla slings, both buried themselves, covering up the entrances to their burrows completely. In one instance, I was able to see the sling at the bottom of his burrow through the pill bottle. The other sling, however, covered up all openings, and it almost appeared that the tunnels had possibly collapsed. Now, I warn keepers all of the time not to disturb their spiders if they should bury themselves. After all, tarantulas know what they are doing, and if they suddenly disappear into their dens, you can bet that there’s a good reason for it. However, after three months of seeing no signs of life, I succumbed to my impatience and carefully dug through the sub to find the little guy. What I first mistook to be a shriveled corpse proved to be a molt; the actually spider, a bit larger now and obviously upset, popped out a moment later.
That’s the last time I don’t follow my own advice.
Now that the slings have put on a bit of size, I have moved them both to16-oz deli cups with a couple inches of substrate, cork bark for hides, and bottle cap water dishes. Both have taken to the hides and have done a bit of digging.
Temperament-wise, they have proven to be a bit skittish, often bolting directly to their burrows when disturbed. Once the largest of the slings hit the 1” mark, it began hanging out on the surface much more and seems a bit less likely to run when disturbed. It also has no problems chasing down and subduing small crickets, seemingly having outgrown its fear of moving prey. As far as the experience level needed for this species, I would think that it could easily be kept by someone new to the hobby as long as they were cognizant of it’s flighty behavior.
Check out one of my B. cabocla slings in the video below!
For those looking for a unique, beautiful, medium-sized T that’s tough as nails, the B. cabocla should definitely be a consideration. I’ve been seeing more an more of these guys on the market, and I’m hoping that they start getting the attention that they deserve.
When I noticed some chunky yellow mold forming in my P. atrichomatus‘ den, I figured it was time for this specimen to get a new home. I’m guessing that the little guy left a bolus or two down in the moist lower levels of the enclosure, which led to the break out. Now, normally I don’t freak out if I find a bit of mold in an enclosure; if kept in check, it poses no threat to the animals. I will just used a spoon to spot clean and let the affected area dry out. However, as this mold was inaccessible, and the spider would outgrown the enclosure with its next molt, a rehousing was in order.
Because my daughter, Sid, has been encouraging me to do more YouTube videos, we broke out the camera and headed out to the garage to make a rehousing/husbandry video. I’m hoping that folks that aren’t enamored with my often long-winded care blogs might find the videos a bit more accessible (and my daughter not-so-secretly hopes these vids will launch her YouTube career…).
A typical fast-growing, hardy Phormictopus species
Although I cover most of this species husbandry in the video, I’ll share a bit more in-depth info for those who don’t watch it.
I picked a trio of these guys up as 1.25″ slings from NERD back in April and, like my other Phormictopus species, they’ve proven to be voracious eaters and fast growers. The largest of the three is now pushing 3″ or so, and the other two are around 2.5″. As slings, I keep all of my Phormictopus on deep, moist substrate. All have exhibited a propensity to burrow, so I encourage the behavior. Slings are a beautiful shade of blue, and despite having burrows, most will remain visible at the entrances as they wait for prey.
As they hit the juvenile stage (about 1.75-2.5″ or so), I don’t worry much about keeping the substrate moist. At this point, they will have a larger water dish for drinking and humidity, and I’ll pour some water over the substrate every month or so, letting it dry out in between. I still give them deep substrate to burrow in, which allows the deeper portions to remain moist and maintain more humidity. However, I’ve observed that by the time they hit the 3″ mark, most will stay right on the surface and will only race to their dens when spooked.
These guys like to eat
Like Theraphosa and Pamphobeteus species, Phormictopus are great eaters and fast growers. Even though mine are kept on the cooler end at times (70-26 in the winter and 75-80 in the summer) they still grow like weeds. The size gained between molts is truly impressive, with larger specimens picking up an inch (and quite a bit of thickness) during a shed.
With that quick growth comes a healthy appetite, and my Phormictopus species gobble up crickets and roaches like they’re tic tacs. I generally feed my juvenile 3-4 crickets at time, and watching these spiders scramble to snatch them all up is incredibly entertaining. They will literally zigzag across the enclosure at startling speed as they chase down crickets.
A large, “spirited” terrestrial
Although this is a very hardy tarantula with relatively simple husbandry requirements, it might not make the best beginner T. Phormictopus species grow into rather large, quick tarantulas with plenty of attitude, which could make them quite intimidating to those used to calmer terrestrials. As slings, species in this genus tend to be more skittish than defensive.
However, with size comes attitude.
I have observed that their infamous attitudes seem to start to manifest more as they get larger. My sub-adult specimens are quite bold and wont hesitate to stand their ground or come at you when you disturb their enclosure. Although I have yet to have one flick hair, I have seen some fangs. An amazing feeding response coupled with a defensive nature can make for some heart-stopping moments with these guys. Although I’ve been fortunate in that most of my Phormictopus species tarantulas have been relatively calm, I have seen what can happen when a large specimen is spooked (or mistakes the tongs for a cricket). Personally, I love their spirited behavior, but other keepers might find it a bit off-putting.
However, for those with some experience under their belts who are interested in large, fast-growing terrestrial tarantulas, P. atrichomatus or any other Phormictopus species should not be overlooked.
Well, this turned out to be a bit of an adventure!
Last year, I purchased three H. incei gold juveniles from Michael Jacobi’s Spider Shoppe. Since then, one ended up a mature male, hooking out and passing away two months later. Last week, I got a good look at the second one, and he, too, has hooked out. The third? Well, I was never able to get a good look at it.
While doing several rehousings this weekend, I decided that it was time to get this little one a new home. I hoped to also get the opportunity to possibly sex it, as this would be the first time I would be seeing it out of its den in a long time.
Once again, my daughter, Sid, handled the camera duties as I took care of the actual rehousing. As these guys can be very skittish and fast, I anticipated that this might not go as smoothly as I hoped.
I was right!
Still, I try to be prepared and to stay calm during all rehousings, and I don’t panic if the spider doesn’t go exactly where I want it to right away (as often, they don’t). I also do all rehousings inside a larger plastic container to put an extra barrier between a fleeing spider and my dinner table. In this instance, this practice served me quite well.
With four kids and three dogs in my household, things can be quite loud and lively. You’ll notice in this video that my concentration was tested, not only by the potential escape, but by barking dogs and a thirsty four-year-old. 🙂
As for my little spider, it looks to be another male. Oh, well…