Tarantula Sling Care Guide – The Video Version

A picture is worth a thousand words…

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

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

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

Tarantula Controversies – Is keeping Tarantulas in Captivity Wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

CEC’s Action Plan for Sustainable Trade in Tarantulas

Important Reading For all Hobbyists

Recently, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) released five action plans “to promote legal, sustainable and traceable trade in selected North American species” (West & Cooper vii) listed in CITES. 55 taxa were identified and organized into five groups: parrots, sharks, timber species, turtles and tortoises, and tarantulas. These plans were created under the guidance of the CITES Authorities of Mexico, Canada, and the United states, the three countries involved in the legal trade of these species.

Megan Ainscow from the CEC was gracious enough to pass the report on tarantulas to me so I could share it with my readers. For those interested in reading the report (and it’s actually very easy reading and quite interesting) just click the picture above or the link below.

READ THE REPORT HERE

To encapsulate, the CEC brought together the main stakeholders in the Brachypelma tarantula trade—Canada, Mexico, and the US—for a workshop in October 25-26 in Mexico City, and the reports were generated from consultation with these stake holders. Continue reading

B. smithi is Now B. hamorii – A Breakdown of the Taxonomic Revision Paper

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – William Shakespeare

It was talked about and anticipated for years, and on April 26, it became official. Jorge Mendoza and Oscar Francke’s paper on the revision of the Brachypelma red-kneed tarantulas was officially published.  This paper had many informed hobbyists sighing in resignation as they reached for their label makers and bade farewell to a familiar name. As a result, the beloved Brachypelma smithi that has proliferated collections for decades has a brand new name…Brachypelma hamorii.

Continue reading

Avicularia Genus Revision – A Quick Breakdown

Time to get out those label makers and to bid a fond farewell to your “Avicularia versicolor

At one time containing 47 species and two sub species, the genus Avicularia has long been in need of a revision. Many folks have patiently been waiting for some changes since 2011 when Fukushima first published her then incomplete thesis on the genus. Word quickly spread through the forums and social media that the paper may call for the creation of up to four new genera, and hobbyists couldn’t wait to hear the final result. However, with the original 2013 release date coming and going, serious hobbyists were long left to wonder about what changes this much-needed revision would bring. What would the new genera be called? Which species would be eliminated? How many species would remain? Continue reading

If I Knew Then What I Know Now -Tarantulas FAQ

Or, the very basic information every new tarantula keeper needs to know.

Anyone who has followed my blog or YouTube page has likely heard me talk about the first tarantula I ever acquired. About 20 years ago, after being an arachnophobe for my entire life, I decided that I would get a tarantula to help me get over my irrational fear. This was an animal that fascinated me as much as it terrified me, and I was hoping that handling a big, hairy spider would be an eventual cure. Finding one for sale in the Bargain News, I drove to a fellow exotic pet keeper’s home to procure my new pet. $20 later, I was the proud owner of Grammostola porteri (which I knew only as a “Rose Hair” tarantula). Although I had several dozen snakes at the time, this fluffy little spider was the biggest “oddity” in my collection, and folks often asked to see her when they visited

The fact that this tarantula survived all of my husbandry missteps and general arachno-ignorance those first few years (there wasn’t a lot of great information back in the mid-’90s!) is a testament to just how hardy this species is. Every mistake that could be made, I likely made it, and I truly feel terrible for my poor girl … hence why she has a fancy cage kept right in the center of my vast collection now!

I spend a lot of time talking to new keepers, and when I get asked questions that they think might be foolish or obvious, I try to point out that it really doesn’t feel like that long ago that I had the very same questions. We all start somewhere and, for some of us, many mistakes were made along the way. After doing some reminiscing about my beginnings in the hobby, I thought it might be fun to put together a list of some of the information I wish I knew back then along with some anecdotes about by own missteps and misinformation. With any luck, this will be a fun and informative way for those new to the hobby to learn some basic information about these fascinating creatures while I share some personal (and sometimes embarrassing) anecdotes. For those who are more established, perhaps you will have some stories of your own to add…

And now, things I wish I knew when I first started keeping Ts!

A tarantula on its back is not dead; it’s simply molting. I worry that this misconception has lead to much misery and more than a few dead spiders. During my first year keeping my G. porteri, I discovered her on her back one morning. I called my wife over, and we were both very upset that I had apparently lost my spider. As luck would have it, I had to go to work, so I left her in her enclosure with the full intent of burying her later. When I returned home that night, I opened her cage and stared in total confusion. Not only was my girl still alive, there were now TWO tarantulas in the enclosure!

Itabunae-post-molt

My L. itabunae just moments after fully casting off its old exoskeleton.

It took me a few minutes to realize that my T hadn’t miraculously spawned a duplicate a-la Gremlins; she had molted her exoskeleton. I had come dangerously close to burying my new pet alive. Sadly, I’m not the first keeper to experience this, and I’ve heard many horror stories about owners who mistakenly tossed their pets thinking them dead. When tarantulas molt, they turn onto their backs for the process. If you see your tarantula on its back, there is no need to panic. Sit back, relax, and enjoy one of nature’s most fascinating events.

Mature males live far shorter lives than females. The second tarantula I ever bought was an adult Aphonopelma seemanni that I acquired at a reptile convention. I took my new pet home, built him what I thought was an awesome enclosure with deep substrate, a pre-made burrow in florist’s foam, and a water dish. I put it in its new home and waited for it to acclimate and eat.

Well, it never did. Instead, it spent all of it’s time climbing the enclosure walls in a seemingly endless effort to escape. I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong, and I worried that my husbandry was leading to his restlessness. My fears were seemingly realized when, several months later, my new pet curled up and died.

It was years before I stumbled onto an article about spiders that helped me to understand what really happened. My A. seemanni had been a mature male at the end of its life cycle. Many mature male spiders don’t eat ever again and spend all of their time wandering and looking for a female. At this point, they are on borrowed time; they will either be devoured by the female during copulation, or die of old age. A dealer had likely unloaded this specimen on me as it had either already bred or he didn’t have use for it.

Over the past several years, I’ve talked to many folks who were either sold a mature male, or had a sling mature into one and had no idea why it was restless and wouldn’t eat. This can be very upsetting to folks who blame their husbandry for nature taking its course.

There are major differences between Old World and New World tarantulas. For years, I thought that a tarantula bite was like a bee sting. Luckily, this wive’s tale didn’t end up biting me (no pun intended) in the can. At the same show I bought my A. seemanni at, a dealer was selling a magnificent and terrifying spider labeled “Thailand Black Tarantula.” This large ebony beauty was in a five gallon tank, and it was baring its fangs and spastically slapping at anything that moved (which, in this crowded show, was a lot). I was totally enamored with this animal, and came very close to buying it. Although my wife worried about it’s temperament, I assured her that if it did bite me, it would only be about as bad as a bee sting.

WRONG!

The fact is, HAD I bought that T, and HAD it bitten me, I would have been in for a very nasty surprise. As an Old World species, this tarantula’s bite was medically significant. Although the bite wouldn’t have killed me, I would have been in excruciating pain and suffered other complications like cramping, nausea, and vomiting.

New World species, or tarantulas from North America, South America, and the Caribbean islands, kick urticating hairs from their abdomens as a means of defense. These barbed, irritating hairs get caught in skin, eyes, and nasal passages causing extreme discomfort. New World species have weaker venom, and in many instances, their bites are about the same as a bad bee sting. However, the hairs can be just as nasty and effective.

NEW-WORLD-COMPARISON

Old World species of tarantulas (Ts from Asia, Africa, Australia, etc) on the other hand, lack the urticating hairs of their New World counterparts and will therefore use their fangs and more potent venom for defense. Although a bite from an Old World species won’t kill you, it can cause excruciating pain, dizziness, full body cramping, and nausea. Simply put, the can put a real hurtin’ on you. These fast ‘n feisty spiders demand a bit more caution and experience to care for.

I still talk to many folks who are new to the hobby that don’t realize that the “bee sting” comparison is a myth and don’t know the difference between New and Old World tarantulas. Even more disconcerting, I have many try to tell me that they’re not worried about being bitten by a T because it can’t kill them. Yikes. For those interested in learning more about tarantula bites, you can check out the article “A Word About Tarantula Bites”.

You don’t have to handle your tarantulas to be a “real” keeper. When folks find out that I have tarantulas, one of first questions they usually ask is, “do you hold them?” Back when I first got my G. porteri, my friends and family were constantly asking when I would handle her, and I’ll admit to feeling like a bit of a chicken for having never attempted it. After all, that was the point I got her, right?

Finally, the day came. Mustering up all of my courage, I sat her enclosure on my floor, opened it up, and set my hand inside. Using my other hand and a paintbrush, I carefully poked her back legs. With a speed I had never seen from her before, she wheeled around and latched onto the brush with her legs and fangs.

And this sudden violence, a feeding response most likely, shocked me so badly, that I actually passed out. Yup, like out cold.

I woke up a bit later, confused,light-headed, and slumped against the wall, to find my girl perched right at the lip of her enclosure almost as if she was laughing at me. I regained my composure, shooed her back into her cage, and decided that was the last time I would ever attempt to hold a tarantula.

Since that embarrassing experience, I’ve completely overcome my fear of spiders, and I’ve actually held a few of them without incident. However, I choose not to handle them anymore as they get nothing out of it and I know that if I get bit, I’m likely to toss the T, hurting or killing it.

Euathlus sp. red

Euathlus sp. red after she crawled out of her enclosure and into my hand. Note: I normally do not handle my Ts

Now, can you hold your pet? If you’ve done the research and have a tractable specimen, of course. However, handling is certainly not mandatory, and many serious keepers have a hands-off policy with their arachnids. I’ve spoken to many new keepers who seem to think that all “expert” tarantula keepers hold their animals, which is definitely not the case. It’s personal decision best left up to the responsible keeper to decide.

Care sheets and their “ideal” temperatures are total nonsense.  When I first acquired my G. porteri, I got a tri-folded care sheet from a convention that supposedly detailed the correct husbandry for this species. This document mentioned “ideal” temperatures in the 8os and (wait for it) humidity levels around 80%. Even worse, it suggested using heat lamps or heat rocks for added warmth and recommended spraying the T and its enclosure once a week.

Of course, this is a species that does well in temps in the mid 60s, so this ideal of 80 is nonsense. At the time, I didn’t realize that, so I used to keep the enclosure dangerously close to one of my snake’s heat lamps to keep it nice and warm. It was a minor miracle that I didn’t fry my poor spider doing this, as the heat could have very well have dehydrated my G. porteri.

Even worse, this guide made me think that I had to keep my spider moist, when in fact, this species abhors moisture. For a while, I kept half of the substrate in the enclosure moist, as I thought that this species needed high humidity. It was only after I noticed that she seemed to avoid the wet areas like the plague that I stopped the needless spraying and just started using a water dish.

As it stands, this bogus care sheet led to me accidentally torturing my poor spider with inhospitable conditions (although it could have been much worse). The fact is, generic care sheets usually do more harm than good, and anything mentioning “ideal” temperatures or humidity requirements should immediately tossed in the garbage. I would be willing to bet that many tarantulas are lost due to folks obsessing over false temperature and humidity requirements. Pet stores will often try to sell folks supplementary heat items, like lamps, heat rocks, and mats, and the fact is, these can prove deadly to tarantulas. In most cases, no supplementary heat is needed; they do fine at room temperature.

For more on temperature and humidity, check out “Humidity, Temperature, and Tarantulas“. Or discover more about why care sheets are to be avoided in “Tarantula Care Sheets – an Unnecessary Evil”.

When a tarantula buries itself, there’s no need for panic. Although I never had a problem with my G. porteri burrowing, this became a issue for me when I got my first slings. After about a month of watching my Lasiodora parahybana sling take down every prey item I dropped into its enclosure, I awoke one morning to discover that it had completely closed off the entrance to its den.

Was this purposeful? Had the den caved in? Was it dead? How would it eat?

As the days passed with no sign of my LP, my anxiety grew. I was convinced that the little guy was dead, and I even made the terrible mistake of trying to push a roach into the area I thought to be its webbed up its den entrance (something one should never do). I continued to keep a corner of the substrate moist, and just assumed that I had lost my first sling. Luckily, after a bit of research, I learned that this was normal behavior, and I decided to leave the poor thing along. Sure enough, about a month later, it reopened the mouth of its burrow and sat at the top, hungry and a bit larger.

The fact is, when a tarantula buries itself, it’s the T’s way of putting up the “Do Not Disturb” sign. This is a very natural occurrence, and the keeper just has to trust that their spider knows what it’s doing. It’s not buried alive, it’s not starving, it’s not dead … it just wants to be left alone for a bit. Still don’t believe me? Check out “Help…My Tarantula Buried Itself!”.

Tarantulas can be terrestrial, arboreal, or fossorial. Back when I first got into the hobby, I was heavily into snakes and attended many reptile conventions. At these events, there were always a few dealers who were peddling tarantulas with most displaying them in large terrariums to garner a bit of extra attention. I keenly remember that a few of the species seemed particular ornery as they sat in the center of barren enclosures on a couple inches of vermiculite, angrily slapping at everything.

I now realize that part of the problem was that many of these species were being kept incorrectly, either due to display purposes or just bad husbandry. Back then, I could remember dealers telling folks that all species do well in a 10 gallon aquarium with a couple inches of substrate. This one size fits all approach to tarantulas was of course quite wrong.

I now know that there are three basic types of tarantulas.

Terrestrial tarantulas live on the ground and do well with a few inches of substrate and a hide (often a piece of cork bark). It should be noted that many terrestrial species will burrow as slings, but will outgrow this behavior and stay out in the open as they mature.

Fossorial tarantulas live in burrows under ground. These species need deep substrate to construct their homes, and do not need to be offered hides as they will dig their own. Many fossorial species will spend the majority of their time underground, proffering their keepers only glimpses of their front legs as they wait for prey.

Arboreal tarantulas live off the ground in trees in their natural habitat. These species need more height for their enclosures and branches or cork bark to climb on. For most, substrate depth isn’t important as they will spend the majority of their time on the decorations or walls.

In the same vein, there are also arid species that require dry substrate and moisture-dependent species that need moist substrate to thrive. A keeper who does his or her research will be careful to consider all of these factors when setting up a proper home for a new spider.

Tarantulas are amazing escape artists. This one almost bit me in the butt with my A. seemanni. The first tank I put her in was meant for fish, so the acrylic top had a smallish hole in it for a filter. Considering that this tarantula was about 5″ long, I figured there was no way he could fit through the hole.

Boy was I wrong.

While at work, I got a frantic call from my mother who was babysitting my son at my apartment. Mom was terribly arachnophobic, and it took a lot of convincing to get her to come to my home because of the spiders. Well, while she was there, my A. seemanni squeezed out of the hold and was sitting right on top of the enclosure when she entered the room. She grabbed her keys and my son and refused to come back.

Although the story is quite funny now, this oversight on my part could have led to the death of my spider. The fact is, these animals can squeeze through any gap that will allow their carapaces to fit through. They are also quite strong and able to lift up the corners of unsecured tank tops. Do you have a fancy enclosure with wire mesh vents? Well, you might want to replace them as tarantulas can chew right through them with little effort.

When choosing a home for your new acquisition, it’s always important to make sure that it is secure enough to adequately contain your new ward.

chewed-vent

A wire mesh vent that my L. itabunae nearly chewed completely through.

Tarantula common names, although sometimes cool, are often quite useless. For years, I referred to my G. porteri as my “Rose Hair” or simply my “rosie”. I was used to referring to my pets by breed names, like labrador retrievers, pit bulls, etc for my dogs, or common names for snakes, like boa, corn, or king. It never occurred to me that I should ever have to learn the scientific name of anything.

Unfortunately, the hobby is rife with overlapping, inaccurate, or just plane bogus common names for the various species of tarantulas available. There are so many “bird eaters” and “striped legged” spiders currently available that it’s enough to make a person’s head spin. In some instances, species don’t have common names at all. The fact is, those truly into the hobby only use the scientific names when describing their animals. Most tarantulas dealers also list their stock alphabetically by scientific name, with many not including the common name at all.

Now, that’s not to say that there is anything wrong with using common names. It’s just with the amount of overlap and the fact that some are literally made up by dealers, the best way to accurately identify a tarantula (or theraphosidae) is by their scientific names. Those interested in learning a bit more about scientific names can check out “Tarantulas – The Importance of Learning (and Using!) Scientific Names”.

Tarantula can drink just fine out of water dishes. For the first several months I kept my G. porteri, I had a chunk of natural sponge in its water dish. After all, I was told that tarantulas couldn’t drink from just a normal dish, and that they needed a sponge to “suck the water out with their fangs.”

I can’t even begin to explain how embarrassingly wrong this is.

First off, tarantulas have mouths to drink and eat. Their fangs are meant to inject venom, not to suck up water like two pointy straws. Trust me, I’ve seen mine drink directly from their water dishes many times. Secondly, sponges are incredibly unsanitary and will soon turn a water bowl into a veritable petri dish of bacteria. They serve no purpose in a tarantula’s home.

This hobby is ridiculously addictive. If you’ve been keeping tarantulas for a while, this needs no further explanation. If you’re brand new to this amazing hobby, consider yourself warned…

Did I miss anything? What do you wish you knew before getting into the hobby? Please, chime in using the comments section!

Pamphobeteus sp. duran – Husbandry Notes Video

A gorgeous and hardy Pampho!

With some encouragement from my 10-year-old daughter (who’s a bit YouTube obsessed), I’ve decided to post some more videos and work on my channel a bit. I’ve already filmed a couple transfer videos, and I’ll be doing some fun feeding features as well. However, as someone just asked me about how I care for my Pamphobeteus species, I figured it would be cool to start with  a husbandry video about my Pamphobeteus species duran.

Instead of doing a normal husbandry blog, I broke out my Nokia 1520 and filmed the little guy/gal as I spoke. I won’t lie … this was a bit more fun than just sitting in front of the computer and writing about them. Hopefully, this is entertaining and not too irritating…

Enjoy!

Pamphobeteus sp. duran

Pamphobeteus sp. duran

Tarantulas – The Importance of Learning (and Using!) Scientific Names

Scientific-names-header

What’s in a name?

For many years, I kept what I referred to as a “rosie” or “rose hair” tarantula, and I introduced it as such to any family members or friends who would show an interest in my unique pet. It wasn’t until years later that, while searching for the lifespan of rosies (mine was pushing 20 at this point), I stumbled upon its scientific name, Grammostola porteri.

Cool, I though, as I wondered why on earth anyone would ever want to use such a cumbersome name. After all, “rosie” had a warm and fuzzy feel to it, and it was certainly easier to say. As I continued my search, the scientific name was quickly off my lips and out of my mind.

It would be several more months (and many Ts later) that I began my quest to actively work to learn these scientific names. Part of this new-found drive came from the frustration I was facing when I searched for information on unfamiliar species. I was also starting to get many of the names mixed up, as some are quite similar (God, how many bird eaters are there?). Then, there came the hassle of trying to shop for Ts when they were all listed alphabetically by scientific name.

And, if I’m going to be honest, I was really falling in love with the hobby, and I wanted desperately to be able to converse with colleagues using the proper lexicon.

It wasn’t easy at first, and I found myself repeatedly mixing up my Brachypelmas, Grammostolas, and Avicularias. However, learning is always easier when you’re engrossed and motivated by the subject, and I was soon finding that the scientific names were rolling off my tongue with relative ease and confidence.

Try to find the common name for Pamphobeteus sp. Duran ... there currently is none.

Try to find the common name for Pamphobeteus sp. Duran … there currently is none.

Scientific names; not just for “elitists”!

I’ve seen folks bristle when they ask a question of the forums using a common name, and other keepers immediately remind them to use the scientific name. Nobody likes to feel stupid, and unfortunately hobbyist have a tendency to be a bit blunt when making suggestions. Although I certainly don’t condone elitist behavior (there is always a nice and constructive way to correct or remind someone), I do understand some of the frustration. The fact is, those seriously into the hobby don’t know the common names. Many of them would love to help out, but they aren’t sure which species are being referred to.

Our wonderful hobby has a language all to its own, and for keepers to have productive discourse, we all need to be speaking that language. Every hobby, be it sports, art, collecting, martial arts, herpetology, or even beer brewing, has its own terminology and jargon. Part of the fun of participating in a hobby is mastering not only the activities and techniques, but also the common language that goes along with it.

Much of the common language in the tarantula hobby just so happens to be a bit more … well … scientific. And that can be intimidating, especially for folks who don’t have a background in zoology or Latin.  But as someone who, not that long ago, had to consult Google for the common name for an “ornamental spider”, I can tell you that it feels great when you master these names.

Why are scientific names important?

Let’s take a moment to consider when and where these names become important to the budding or established hobbyist.

Most reputable dealers will list spiders alphabetically by scientific name first. Shopping was always a blast when I first got into the hobby, as I was only familiar with some of the common names. For example, I knew I really wanted one spider referred to by the common name of “Greenbottle Blue” and another called a “Salmon bird eater.” So, I put together a list of several dealers I might buy from and started price and size checking for these species. Unfortunately, all of the tarantulas on these sites were listed under their scientific names.

Chromata-what? Lasio-huh? What the heck were those?

After perusing the photos, looking for something that resembled the spider pics I had drooled over, I realized that it would be much easier if I just researched the scientific names for these two species and kept them nearby. I began keeping a journal of sorts in which I would list the scientific names first, then the common names in an effort to learn these more difficult monikers. When I searched an online store for a species I was interested in, I’d play a little game and try to remember the scientific name without looking. I would often have to cheat at first, but it got much easier as the months passed and my collection grew.

Experienced keepers use scientific names, and many are not familiar with the common names.  If you find yourself posting a question on a message board or approaching an experienced keeper for advice, it’s always much more efficient and helpful if you can use the scientific name. The fact is, many of these gals and guys have been using scientific names for so long that they no longer remember many of the common names. And if you’ve spent time on the boards, some folks have little tolerance or use for these informal labels. If you want to be taken seriously, it’s always best to use the scientific names when asking for help.

Personally, I know that many folks just entering the hobby have not familiarized themselves with the nomenclature for the tarantula hobby, so I’m not at all put off when folks ask questions using the common names. I have, however, had to take to Google a couple times to look up a common name to see what species they were talking about!

To properly search for quality information on a species, it’s important to use the scientific name. This is particularly important when searching for less common species. Whether you’re using Google or the search function of Arachnoboards, if you’re looking for quality care tips from some of the folks that actually keep the spiders, then you will find so much more by using the scientific name. This is especially true for forums, which can contain some of the most current and accurate information. Folks posting on the boards rarely use the common names to refer to their animals, therefore, a search for the common name might filter many important threads out.

Many species share common names, and others don’t have common names at all. Last year when I went to write my husbandry article on my Lasiodora itabunae, I hopped online to Google the common name. What did I find? Well, there really isn’t one. After going through several pages, I found someone who referred to it as a “Amazon Fire Hiney”, or something equally silly and unbelievable, but no real consistent name. The fact is, there are many tarantulas out there that have no common names, or multiple ones. Acanthoscurria geniculata, for example, is referred to as “The White Knee”, “The Brazilian White Knee”, “Brazilian White Banded Bird Eater”, “Black and White Bird Eater”, “Giant White Knee,” and several other names.

Plus, some common names are so similar, it’s easy to confuse them. I remember searching up information for a B. smithi by its common name, Mexican redknee. Unfortunately, I kept getting it confused with Mexican flame knee (B. auratum) and spent hours reading up on a similar, but ultimately the wrong, species.

In the case of scientific names, there is only one assigned per species, so you don’t have to worry about the overlap (or not finding one at all).

And, a little tip…

Those who use common names for care sheets or for listing tarantulas for sale are often not very knowledgeable. Incidentally, if you find a pet store or dealer who only lists the species using their common names, I would avoid buying from them. This is surefire indication that said retailer does NOT know much about tarantulas, and all bets are off as to if the species is even the correct one. Recently, Petco has been selling “rosies” that are actually not G. rosea or porteri, but Phormictopus cancerides. This would be a bit like buying a house cat and getting a tiger.

Likewise, I’ve seen many “keepers” offering up care sheets in which they refer only to a species common name (or, put the scientific name second). That’s a great indication that this person has not been in the hobby long, and I would be very skeptical taking any type of advice from this individual.

Bottom line, common names are fun when you first start out and are okay when used to introduce family and friends to the animals (although, I usually use the scientific names as well). As many contain the name of the area the spider is found, they can also be helpful for folks to understand and remember where they come from. However, as your collection swells and you make the move to becoming a true hobbyist, it’s time to make the switch to the hobby-accepted scientific names.

As always, there are some exceptions to the rule.

Are there some species where it’s acceptable to use common or nicknames. Absolutely. P. murinus is commonly referred to as the “OBT”, and folks immediately know what spider you’re talking about when you break out that acronym. The C. cyaneopubescens is commonly referred to as the GBB (for greenbottle blue), even by experienced hobbyists. The L. parahybana is often referred to as an LP; again, most everyone accepts this informal name.

Okay, I’ve learned the names … but how the heck do I pronounce them?

This is where it gets fun, as if we’re keeping it real, no one is quite sure of the correct pronunciation of many of these names. Most folks were not “fortunate” enough to take Latin in high school or college, and those that did often pronounce the names differently. Also, besides Latin, many of the scientific names also have Germanic, Greek, and other roots (as the species is often named for the person that discovered it or the geographical location it was found in). This means in some instances, a truly “correct” pronunciation might not exist, and we’re left with generally accepted ones.

Take T. stirmi for example. I have heard it pronounced stir-ME and stir-MY, and both seem to be acceptable. Same with the B. smithi, which I’ve heard pronounced as smith-EE and smith-EYE. Then there is the genus Poecilotheria, pronounced as Pea-see-luh-THEE-rea. However, due to its popular nickname “pokie” (POE-key), folks often pronounce it as Poke-ee-luh-THEE-rea. To complicate things even further, American pronunciations are often different than the British ones.

Have a headache yet?

Anyone who has spent time perusing the many clips posted on YouTube of keepers talking about their tarantulas have probably heard the names pronounced a variety of ways. The fact is, if you are in the ballpark, no one is going to give you a difficult time.

If you’re interested in learning how some pronounce these names, you can check out this page on The American Tarantula Society site. It’s a bit outdated and incomplete, but it makes for a fun starting point.

Or, you can click on the link below for a printable PDF version:

PDF-button

And if you read one of these and find that you were pronouncing it differently, don’t beat yourself up. This is just one person’s interpretation; who knows if it could even be called “correct”!

Tarantula Care Sheets – An (Un)necessary Evil

No-care-sheets

 

We’ve all done it.

While perusing a tarantula site, you come across a new species that totally catches your eye, but whose care and husbandry you are unfamiliar with. Eager to learn about this specimen, you hop onto Google (or bing, if you’re an iconoclast) and frantically type in the scientific name of species as well as the following words…

CARE SHEET

As you start clicking on the results, one-by-one, your excitement inevitably turns into confusion … and later frustration.

You see, each of the care sheets you read seems to contradict the one you read before it. One says the species enjoys low humidity while a second says they’ll die if not kept moist. One lists an ideal temperature range of 68-80° while another explains that temps below 80° can be deadly. A fourth sheet says the species can reach a maximum size of 9″ while a fifth states the size taps out at around 5″.

Now what?

Most of us learned years ago that the internet can be a literal sewer of misinformation and lies spoken as irrefutable truth. It takes a bit of patience, internet savvy, and general common sense to wade through the knee-high piles of internet detritus to find those useful and accurate nuggets of information.

Never is this principle more clear than when searching for information on tarantulas.. The amount of misinformation online is staggering, and it often feels like the bad information far outnumbers the good.

Care-sheet-nightmares-final

The fact is, many of tarantula care sheets are just plain WRONG.

For the sake of this argument, let’s define “care sheets” as those brief, usually single-page basic care instructions for specific pets or animals. These sheets usually offer the basics like what and when to feed, ideal temperatures, humidity, and set-up. They are basically distilled, stripped-down instruction manuals for your exotic pet.

There’s a reason experienced keepers abhor care sheets, and that’s because most offer incomplete or incorrect information. Many present outdated information that, if used, could lead to the death of your beloved spider. Others are written by folks who have little to no experience in the hobby who, in their misguided attempts to share their love for the arachnoculture, simply regurgitate earlier information they read on another inaccurate site or blog (or, even better, cut and paste from a Wikipedia page). Although I can appreciate wanting to write about an activity you love, doing so with no valid experience is a bit irresponsible.

Look at some care sheets for common species and you’ll soon see it; several different pages offering the EXACT same information, word for incorrect word. In some of the more comical examples, they even share the same typos and grammatical mistakes.

GBB-DEATH-FINAL

Personally, when I look for information, I’m looking to hear from folks who have successfully kept the species I’m researching. I don’t want some generic and random temperature ranges and bogus humidity requirements from some self-professed tarantula expert whose only experience comes from incorrectly keeping a G. rosea for ten years. In the very least, I want notes from someone who has proven they have kept this species alive and thriving for a reasonable amount of time.

The problem for many is that to correctly research a specimen, it takes time and patience, and those are two things that many of us lack. Care sheets offer a quick and easy read; something we can glance over in less than five minutes and feel that we’ve been adequately informed. However, as many in the hobby will point out, tarantula keeping is NOT something you want to take a haphazard approach to.

If you really want to learn about that new species, here’s how to go about it.

Tips for finding accurate information

1. Check the message boards for information and to speak to other keepers.

Arachnoboards and The British Tarantula Society forums are both amazing places to get current and relevant information about tarantulas. Start by using the forums’ search functions to find archived info about these animals. Look specifically for posts made by those who actually keep the species you’re looking for. If you still have questions, make a post and ask folks for their opinions on how they keep these species.

2. Speak to reputable dealers and breeders and ask for advice.

Many of the tarantula vendors online are very experienced and willing to help with your questions. In my personal experience, Jamie from Jamie’s Tarantulas and Paul from Pet Center USA are both incredibly approachable and eager to help. If you have a question about a species and are having no luck finding information, don’t forget to use the dealer as a resource.

3. Check the dates of the information you find.

The hobby is constantly evolving, with new species being introduced often. When searching for specific care notes, whether it be on a website or, even better, a dedicated forum, check to make sure that the information was posted recently. That’s not to say that older information can’t be correct; however, you’ll want to cross-reference it with a more current source to be certain.

4. Check the credentials of those offering advice.

If you’re on a reputable forum like Arachnoboards, or getting advice directly from a breeder, you’re likely in good shape. However, if you stumble on a tarantula site purporting to proffer expert advice, be sure to research the credentials and experience of the folks running it. Anyone can set up an intuitive and professional site these days, and a slickly-designed web presence does not necessarily equal quality information. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to toss the person an email inquiring about what species they currently keep. If they don’t or haven’t kept the species you are researching, move on.

5. Compare, compare, compare…

If you stumble across what you think is a good source, don’t stop there. Take the time to look at what some other keepers say. Then, when you’ve got a few sources, take a moment to compare and contrast them. What are the commonalities? Where do they differ? Are there questions that aren’t yet answered? If not, continue to research (or see numbers 1 and 2 of this list).

Take your time and do it right…your Ts will appreciate it.

In the early days of tarantula keeping, before Google became the go-to research tool, the only way T keepers could find information was to read often outdated books or speak with other dealers and keepers. Back then, photocopied care sheets detailing rudimentary animal care were commonly handed out at pet expos or in pet stores so that the customer had an idea of how to care for his/her new pet.

Back then, this was a necessary evil.

However, the hobby has grown immensely in the past twenty years, and advent of this little thing called “the internet” has made it simple to locate accurate and appropriate information for just about any species. Static, archaic, and often just plain inaccurate care sheets should be allowed to go the way of aquarium gravel for substrate.

It might take a little extra effort, but the next time you want to learn about a new species, take some time to do some research and to reach out to those who have experience. You’ll not only receive richer, more useful information than any care sheet could provide, you might just also make a new friend in the hobby.

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.