An interview with Jason Calhoun, creator of Tarantul.as
Recently, I got an email from Jason Calhoun, an experienced web developer and new hobbyist who was looking to debut an image-hosting website for tarantula enthusiasts cleverly called Tarantul.as. As I had never quite cottoned to Instagram, and I found using Photobucket to host the images I posted on message boards to be a bit of a pain, I was very intrigued. After all, a social networking site geared specifically towards posting tarantula photos seemed just too good to be true.Continue reading →
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 with this feature is to present both sides of these gray-area arguments so that keepers can develop their own informed opinions and make equally informed decisions. For the second installment, I’ve decided to tackle the “explosive” topic of tarantula handling.
I’ve mentioned many times in various posts and videos that when I bought my first tarantula 20 years ago, it was partially to get over my fear of spiders. I had arachnophobia since I could remember, and I was hoping that by keeping, observing, and eventually handling my new G. porteri, I could overcome what I perceived to be an irrational and embarrassing fear. I thought that by holding this animal without freaking out, I would prove to myself that I had finally overcome my phobia.
However, my fear of these animals, however ridiculous, proved a bit more difficult to conquer. After keeping this tarantula for about six years, my first attempt at handling her almost resulted in a bite (and in me passing out) as she attacked the brush I was trying to prod her with. Although I had read for years that “rosies” were a gentle species that enjoyed being handled, my inexperience with testing temperament coupled with my specimen’s excellent feeding response nearly resulted in both of us getting injured. After all, my reflex would have been to pull my hand away, likely launching my pet into the air and to her death.
So, for years I endured ribbing from friends and family who couldn’t understand why I kept an animal that I was afraid to handle. After all, wasn’t the point of keeping tarantulas to hold them?
It wasn’t until years later that I learned that the answer to this question is an emphatic NO.
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When I got serious into the hobby, I was actually surprised to discover the topic of handling was such a hot-button issue. I just assumed everyone held their tarantulas and that it was a big part of the hobby. However, after reading several message board debates on this topic, I soon learned that many saw handling as an outdated remnant of the hobby’s beginnings when the market was filled with mostly docile New World species. Many “serious” hobbyist were vehemently against this practice, labeling those who chose hands-on interactions with their pets as irresponsible and reckless. There was talk about stressing the animals, putting the keeper and animal at risk, and even more frightening, possibly putting the very hobby at risk if a bad bite should make it to the news. They argued that tarantulas should be treated the same way one might approach keeping tropical fish; you can look, but don’t touch.
Instead of folks being ridiculed for not having the courage to handle a big, hairy spider, people were being admonished for handling their animals.
Of course, not all agreed with this sentiment. There were those on the other side of the proverbial fence, seasoned keepers and newbies alike, who thought that this alarmist attitude was ridiculous. Many have reported years of handling experience without incident, and some ridicule the hobbyists who label the practice as potentially hobby-killing. These folks argue that, if done responsibly and intelligently, handling can harmless habit that only enhances a keeper’s enjoyment of his or her pets.
So, which side is correct? Should it be up to the keeper as to whether or not to engage in this seemingly harmless practice, or are those against it correct in labeling handling as a selfish, dangerous habit that puts the hobby at risk? As always, the answer is likely somewhere in the middle. Below are the arguments and counter arguments and how they usually break down. For clarity, stances supporting tarantula handling will be in GREEN; stances against will be in RED.
Handling is an archaic, outdated practice from a period when only docile New World’s were being kept. Those against handling are very quick to point out that when the hobby first began, the majority of the species available to the pet trade were docile New World’s like the G. rosea and the B. smithi. Although these species are able to bite, their venom is quite mild to humans, and the discomfort has been likened to a bee sting. Those who received a bite would likely only suffer from an hour or so of localized pain and would be no worse for wear the next day. It’s also important to remember that these giant hairy spiders were a bit of an exotic novelty back then, and very little was known about their temperaments and behavior. Many people treated them in the same way they would a gerbil, hamster, or other small, furry mammal. In short, folks back then really didn’t know any better.
Today, the hobby has changed drastically. No longer are the only tarantulas available relatively docile Grammastola and Brachypelma species. The hobby is now filled with larger, more aggressive New World tropical genera like Phormictopus and Pamphobeteus, as well as a plethora of Old World species. Many argue that the majority of the hundreds of species now available on the market are not appropriate for handling. Folks who are not aware of the temperament and venom potency differences between species could be setting themselves up for a world of hurt if they try to get some hands-on time with a large tropical or an ornery Old World. The majority of species now kept in the hobby should probably not be handled due to temperament and/or venom potency, and the ones that are tractable get nothing from it. Handling has no purpose in the hobby and serves only to put the keeper and the animal in unnecessary danger.
Handling has been practiced for decades without major incident. Sometimes when debating an issue, it’s best to look at it in a historical context. Since the beginnings of the hobby in the 1970s, folks have handled their spiders, and not once has a bite made it to national news to threaten the hobby. Even when the hobby exploded in the ’90s, with many new species being offered at pet stores and exotic pet expos, you never heard stories of unsuspecting keepers being ravaged by their animals. The fact is, many of those who keep tarantulas consider them pets. As such, it is quite natural that they should want to interact with them as closely as possible and, in some ways, show them physical affection by handling them. Although the alarmists may want to paint handling as a reckless and dangerous habit, it’s a common and age-old practice that has yet to lead to any hobby-threatening tragedies.
Handling of a G. rosea. Thanks to my friend, C.J. Peter for permission to use his photo!
In truth, tarantulas have been kept for decades, and in that time, many folks have handled without incident. Even as the number of species available in the hobby has swelled to hundreds and the number of people keeping these giant spiders has exploded, there’s yet to be a death or major incident reported. For those who keep and love these animals, handling can be a very natural an integral part of the hobby. To insinuate that someone who holds their T is being irresponsible is just silly.
Handling tarantulas causes them unnecessary stress and puts them at risk. In the wild, if a large animal suddenly grabs up a tarantula, that unfortunate spider is probably about to be made a meal. Tarantulas often live in hostile environments where they can be predated on by larger animals, including human beings. Anyone who has seen a startled T display the posture where it pulls all of its knees up over it body knows that they can, in the very least, experience stress. Although some spiders seem to cotton to handling, it must be jarring for them to be on substrate one minute then prodded onto a giant human hand another. Some can respond by hunkering down, sprinting away, or kicking hairs in defense; all behaviors that point to an unhappy spider. This can lead to escapes, a bite, or an injured or dead tarantula if it should fall. Folks in this camp believe that part of the responsibility of keeping these giant arachnids is to provide them with a safe, comfortable, stress-free environment. Handling only causes them unnecessary stress and risks triggering their survival instincts. It also increases the risk of escapes or injury from a fall or mishap.
If done correctly, handling causes no stress to the animal. Those who handle will often concede that just sticking your hand in and scooping up your pet is not the best way to go about it. When handling, it’s important to check your spider’s mood and temperament before putting your hand in, often by touching the back leg with something like the soft tip of a paintbrush. If the spider reacts favorable (or doesn’t react much at all) it is probably game for a bit of hands-on action. If it attacks the brush or kicks hair, you forgo handling, therefore sparing the tarantula unnecessary stress and yourself from a bite or a handful of hairs. It’s important to remember that these are animals that can be shipped cross-country in unfavorable climate conditions and emerge from their packages active and ready to eat. They have proven to be very capable of dealing with and bouncing back from stress.
Some folks who engage in this practice also express the belief that many tarantulas can become more comfortable with, and even enjoy, a keeper’s touch with with regular and systematic handling. Others even believe that tarantulas can learn to “trust” their keepers as long as a regular handling regiment is followed. As evidence, they are happy to share videos of them handling and petting their eight-legged friends, who seem perfectly relaxed. To these hobbyists, the idea of not handling your pet spiders is ridiculous, and those who decry it as harmful or reckless are equally as ridiculous.
However, not so fast…the thought of tarantulas enjoying close human contact is just absurd. Many who keep these amazing animals are certain that they are not hardwired to recognize and appreciate physical acts of affection, and they certainly can’t be trained or expected to learn new tricks. These are animals that don’t rely on intelligence or emotion, but instead operate on pure instinct. They definitely didn’t survive millions of years by cozying up to larger creatures for affection. This means that although you may enjoy holding your animal and stroking its abdomen or carapace, at the most your spider will be indifferent. It certainly isn’t going to enjoy the attention or reciprocate like your family dog might under the same circumstances. People on this side feel that if a spider allows you to handle it without incident, it doesn’t mean that it enjoys the interaction; no, it’s more likely that it is tolerating it. They are not a domestic animal like a dog or cat that has been evolved to adapt to close human interaction. They are wild animals that have existed and survived on hardwired primal instinct for millions of years. To these hobbyists, the mere suggestion that these arachnids could get any benefit from handling is simply ludicrous.
Some specimens are just really tame and tractable, so there’s no harm in handling them. There are many species of tarantulas that are recognized for having very docile temperaments and being okay for handling. If a keeper has a spider that she’s kept for a long period of time, observed its behavior, tested its temperament and handled in the past, what is the harm in it? Many folks, especially ones who use some of their spiders for demonstrations, have particular specimens that they handle frequently and without incident. It’s all about knowing your animals and recognizing their personalities.
C.J. Peter handling his G. porteri
These are wild animals and, as such, can be unpredictable.Some would say that tarantulas can be tame … until suddenly, they aren’t. There are plenty of stories out there from keepers who used to hold a particular specimen until it bolted or attacked, seemingly without warning. Sure, a tarantula may allow its keeper to handle it for a period of time, but all that means is that in those instances, it was tolerating the behavior. Have you ever accidentally blown on a T and seen its reaction? It doesn’t take much—an errant breath, a draft from a window, a slight jostle—to send a calm specimen into a frantic state. This makes them VERY unpredictable. There are also many stories of once docile Ts molting into nasty little monsters (and sometimes molting back to docile again). Their temperaments are NOT always predictable or consistent, and many will change as they age. Ts that tolerate handling one day could easily freak out the next.
Even if one were to get bit, no one has ever died from a tarantula bite, so the risk is minimal. Well, at least from a tarantula’s venom. Although there have been two cases in which a person has died from complications from a tarantula bite, both due to secondary infection, their venom is not lethal. The fact is, these aren’t venomous snakes or an animal that could kill you. A bite from one of these animals, particularly an Old World species, will lead to quite a bit of pain and discomfort, but there is no antivenin or hospital visit needed. Just a cursory look at the bite reports on Arachnoboards makes it very apparent anyone bitten walks away from the unpleasant experience. Those in this camp often complain that folks who describe them as potentially dangerous animals are grossly exaggerating.
Although not lethal, a bite can be debilitating … and could lead to a hobby ban. Now, obviously we’re talking about Old World bites here, and most people that choose to handle do so with more docile (and less potent) New World species. However, although most folks know better than to try to handle Old World tarantulas, a quick search on YouTube will reveal dozens of keepers who throw common sense to the wind to showoff their handling skills with these animal. These videos often have thousands of views and dozens of likes, and one can only assume that they could inspire copycats. Worse still, many new to the hobby don’t understand what differentiates New World and Old Word tarantulas and may emulate this type of handling without any idea of the danger they are putting themselves in.
Sure, a tarantula bite won’t kill you. That said, a bite from an Old World species can be much more than a simple inconvenience, and many bitten by these species end up in their local emergency rooms as they look for relief from the pain. And all it would take is one highly-publicized, sensationalized bite to make the press for folks to start asking why people are even allowed to keep venomous arachnids. It’s a fact that tarantula sales have already been banned in some countries and states for less. Tarantula keeping, although gaining popularity, is still a fringe hobby. If a legislator decides to push a ban on these “dangerous” bugs, there wouldn’t be much in the way of public opposition. Many feel that it’s hobbyist responsibility to maintain a hands-off relationship with their pets in order to minimize the chances that a bad bite could bring damaging publicity.
Handling for demonstrative purposes can be educational, help people get over their fear of these animals, and bring interest to the hobby. Some who keep tarantulas will put on demonstrations at elementary schools and expos, and usually a big part of these presentations involves the keeper handling a T or allowing others to handle it. If done properly and safely, those in attendance are in no danger as they get to experience these often demonized animals up close. It’s no secret that many people are both repulsed and fascinated by the idea of a giant hairy spider, so getting to experience one up close harmlessly being handled is a good way to stimulate that interest while assuaging some of that fear. Plenty of current hobbyists will tell of the first time they saw a tarantula up close or handled one during a presentation; in many cases, this interaction served as a catalyst for their interest in the hobby. The fact is, these types of presentations offer folks a chance to see these animals as the harmless, beautiful creatures they are and often lead to more of an appreciation and interest in the hobby.
The only purpose demonstration handling serves is to teach future hobbyists bad habits. For those who are against handling, these types of presentations are animal-centered freak shows that paint an inaccurate picture of what the hobby is about. If you were trying to generate an interest in the exotic fish hobby, for example, you certainly wouldn’t pass a poor fish around to be handled by dozens of gawkers. There are better ways to introduce folks to the hobby that don’t involve a practice that many hobbyists are vehemently against. Those against handling feel that people walk away from these demonstrations with the belief that handling is the norm and that all tarantulas will tolerate it. Because these are essentially wild animals with bites and urticating hairs that can make for a very unpleasant day, those being introduced to the hobby should be introduced to these animals as fascinating but deserving of respect, not as toys to be touched and played with.
Handling can be useful and necessary for maintenance. I include this one on the list as I’ve personally heard a few people explain that in order to perform maintenance in the most stress-free way, it is best for the keeper to remove the tarantula from its enclosure by hand. They argue that the use of tongs and plastic cups to poke, corral, and capture the spider only causes undue stress. If a keeper handles his/her spiders and gets them use to the process, it’s better to just pick them up and move them when doing cage transfers or cleaning. For these folks, years of experience has taught them to read subtle behavioral signs and to recognize when a tarantula might be tolerant of handling, and they feel comfortable using their hands and not a plastic cup to relocate their prized pets.
There is absolutely, positively NO need to pick up your tarantula for transfers and cleanings.There are many methods hobbyists use to safely transfer their pets, whether it be cupping, the bag method, or the bottle technique. Physically picking up the Ts to move them usually doesn’t come into the discussion. The vast majority of keepers would never consider using their hands for transfers. Although this may work for some of the more docile species, many collections consist of the more fast and feisty Old World tarantulas, and the general consensus is that these species should never be handled. Are you really going to pick up your OBT or Poecilotheria species to rehouse it? Besides, the logic behind a gentle cupping being more stressful than being picked up by a giant hand is suspect at best. A cup can be quickly placed over most tarantulas without them panicking, allowing the keeper to safely move his or her T anytime with minimal stress and danger to the keeper and animal. Using your hands? Not so much.. If the tarantula should bite or bolt, you could end up with an escaped or missing spider.
Let me start by saying that I truly feel that this is not a black and white issue and that both sides have very valid points. Do I appreciate why both sides are so passionate about their opinions on the subject? I sure do. From a personal standpoint, I do not hold my tarantulas. Although I’ve engaged in the practice in the past, and am pleased that I can cross “handle large hairy spider” off of my bucket list, the concept of getting hands on time with my Ts quickly lost much its novelty. Although I love my spiders and think of them as pets, I also perceive them as wild animals that really get nothing from close human contact. If I want to cuddle or pet something, I have four attention-thirsty dogs ready to take one for the team.
For me, it really comes down to risk vs. reward, both for me and the spider I try to hold. If I do hold my T and it goes well, I really don’t get much out of it except I can tell folks that I’ve handled a giant bug (and, admittedly, many folks would find that quite cool). And what would the spider get out of it? Absolutely nothing. At best, it tolerates its big, creepy keeper passing it back and forth between his sweaty hands for a few moments. The biggest issue for me is the safety of my animals. I know that if I get bit, my knee jerk reaction is going to be to quickly pull my hand away. This would likely result in me sending my tarantula airborne and possibly killing it. It’s a reflex that I can’t control, so no amount of preparation could ever prevent this from occurring if I were to be bitten. And, as much as I feel like I’m good at reading my tarantulas’ body language and behavior to assess their moods, I recognize that I could never be 100% sure that one wouldn’t bite me.
Then there’s the fact that the majority of my collection consists of large skittish New World tropical species and Old Words, so many of my animals would be hands-off anyway. I’m always in the habit of being careful to keep my hands away from some of my defensive baboons, so it just doesn’t even cross my mind anymore to pick up any of my specimens. For me, they are there to be admired, and I feel that by not handling, I’m putting the safety of my pets first.
All this said, does this mean that I look down on those who do choose to handle their pets?
I’ve been around the hobby long enough and met enough folks to appreciate the draw of handling and to recognize when it’s being done responsibly. And, having been around animals my entire life, I definitely agree that, to some degree, an observant keeper who is familiar with his spider’s behavior and mood is likely at little risk of being bit. I know many folks, many who are friend from the hobby, who keep these animals and really get enjoyment out of taking them out and spending a little hands on time with them. Considering in some countries, these gorgeous creatures are hunted, cooked, and eaten, a little time spent watching TV with a careful keeper doesn’t seem all that bad in comparison.
And if I’m being completely honest, I have a couple specimens that I’ve found to be so docile and, quite frankly, adorable that I am very tempted to hold them. Furthermore, although I’ve never taken my Euathlus sp. red and female B. albopilosum out specifically for handling, I may have had each in my hand more than once. Although it’s not something I would shoot a video on or encourage others to do, I certainly understand the attraction. If I didn’t have my dogs or some other cuddly domestic pet, perhaps I would feel a little different about handling.
Like all things in this amazing hobby, I think that education and preparation are key. Those looking to handle their tarantulas should make sure they are aware of the risks and research the correct and safest way to go about this activity. There are plenty of videos on YouTube that demonstrate how to correctly and safely go about holding a tarantula. A keeper who makes the correct preparations and handles their spider in a responsible manner should be posing very little risk to herself, the spider, or the hobby. That said, I do think that tarantulas should be kept out of the hands of friends and family as a bite could lead to a bad situation (and likely result in a lifelong fear of Ts for the victim).
The hobby, although bigger than ever, has been around for a long time. And in that time, many people have handled their pets with no serious consequences. Whether hobbyist agree on handling or not, it’s going to to continue to happen regardless of the protests and admonishments of those who see it as risky to the animals and the hobby. Regardless of which side of the fence you land on, when the topic inevitably comes up, healthy debate and informed discussion is much more effective and productive than admonishment or brow-beating.
Although I can see both sides of the handling argument, I stand firm that I see absolutely no reason for anyone to chance holding Old World species. I understand that some keepers handle their baboon and Poecilotheria species without incident, but I’ve also seen folks put their heads in crocodiles’ mouths and kiss king cobras. Just succeeding in doing something reckless and dangerous does not make it right. Furthermore, I think that folks that post videos of this type of activity are being incredibly irresponsible, as young or ill-informed keepers may be inspired to replicate this daredevil behavior. Even if you do have the world’s most docile OBT, let’s not mistakenly convince folks that this behavior is the norm and not a huge exception.
I DO believe that there is some merit to the idea that a publicized bite could lead to legislation restricting their sale. I live in Connecticut where it is already illegal for pet shops and expos to sell venomous inverts including tarantulas. After a horrible chimp attack in my state in 2009, legislators put forth a bill that would have banned just about ALL exotic pets. Although this bill ultimately failed, the fact that it managed to gain any traction at all is a scary reminder that to most folks at large, exotic animals like tarantulas shouldn’t be kept as pets. Sure, we as hobbyist might recognize that these animals are harmless overall, but the general public at large is not nearly as informed as we are.
As keepers, it is our responsibility to respect our animals and protect the hobby by not taking unnecessary and careless risks with them. However, whether or not handling is an “irresponsible behavior” really depends on the circumstances and the keeper.
What are your thoughts on handling? Feel free to chime in through the comment section below!
Special thanks the C.J. Peters for the excellent handling photos!
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?”
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.
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.
Feels Just Like a Bee Sting…If the Bee was 7″ Long!
When I decided that I was going to acquire some new tarantulas after keeping a G. porteri for many years, I started researching some of the other species that were now available. Although I remembered that, back in the 90s, there were some feisty and defensive species available that were very quick to bite, I also recalled many books and dealers saying that a tarantula bite was “no worse than a bee sting.” As legend had it, these giant spiders actually had very mild venom, and bites were described as no more than painful inconveniences.
I had always secretly wondered about the accuracy of this statement even as I naively regurgitated it to family and friends who asked about tarantula bites. After all, there were just so many species available; surely one of these had more potent venom than the others? Still, the internet was still in its infancy at that time, and accurate information on tarantulas was a bit more difficult to come by.
Years later, as I prepared to bring more of these creatures into my home, a home I share with my wife, four kids, and three dogs, I decided to research this theory. After all, I didn’t want to endanger my family and beloved pets due to laziness and ignorance. It didn’t take me more than five minutes into a Google search to realize that this statement was far from true.
Sure, a bite from a small New World species could probably be compared to a painful bee or hornet sting, albeit one that could sting with two stingers at once. However, this statement COMPLETELY fails to take into account three very important points:
Larger tarantulas have larger fangs, and this means more potential for mechanical damage.
Tarantula fangs are not clean, and a bite leaves puncture wounds, meaning increased chance for secondary infection.
Old Word tarantulas have much more potent, medically significant venom than their New World counterparts.
Those are three VERY important points, and three that no hobbyist, whether new or established, should ever forget.
Downplaying bites in an effort to protect the hobby.
Recently I’ve come across some social media posts in which keepers are bragging about taking bites from their pet tarantulas. In a couple of these incidents, the keeper was on an alcohol-fueled quest to demonstrate his supposed masculinity by handling a defensive T. I’m not going to address these instances of unadulterated jack-assery (although it may be fun to call out some of these brain-dead adrenaline junkies in another post!).
Instead, I’d like to focus on a couple folks that made careless keeper mistakes and paid with painful bites. In both of these instances, the keepers took photos of their injuries and downplayed the seriousness of the bites. And, in both instances, the keepers assured anyone reading that tarantula bites were “harmless” and not much more painful than bee stings.
Now, I appreciate that the keepers didn’t sensationalize the bites in a way that made them seem worse than they were. And, as both were bitten by New World species, I’d imagine the pain from the venom wasn’t particularly bad. However, anyone not familiar with tarantulas would read that statement to mean all tarantula species’ bites are that mild.
And that is just not the case.
I definitely applaud anyone who makes a point to show that tarantulas are not as scary as most people make them out to be, and I agree completely that they do not deserve their reputation as dangerous little monsters. However, I do think that one must be educated about their bites, the varying potency of venom between species, and the consequences one could face if he or she is bitten.
Therefore, a little more explanation is needed about their bites (and the potential harm they can cause).
Yes, it’s true that New World species lack potent venom.
Species from the Western Hemisphere (North and South America and the Caribbean islands) are referred to as “New World” tarantulas. These tarantulas have evolved to have “urticating hairs”, or barbed, highly irritating “hairs” that they can kick from their abdomens in way of defense. As a result, these species of tarantulas do not need particularly potent venom to defend themselves. Don’t be mistaken, these spiders can and will bite if provoked. It’s just their venom won’t cause much more than localized pain and swelling.
All of the more tractable and beginner-friendly species, like G. porteri, B. albopilosum, G. puchripes, and G. pulchra are all New World tarantulas, and these species, consequently, are the ones most handled in the hobby. Generally speaking, when one gets bit by one of these species, the victim suffers little more than pain, swelling and bleeding, and they usually describe the injury as mild.
In this case, the “bee sting” analogy would probably work. Unfortunately, that statement paints a VERY incomplete picture. Let’s take a more in-depth look at those three points every tarantula keeper should be aware of:
1. The size of the tarantula sometimes matters more than venom potency.
I was once reading a message board post in which the owner of a 8″ T. stirmi asked how potent the venom of that species was just in case he got bit. I had to snicker a bit, as this poor chap was overlooking a very important fact: a T. stirmi that size has at least 3/4″ fangs. Venom aside, fangs that large could do massive physical damage to a finger, hand, or any part of the body.
T. stirmi fangs. Photo copyright of Thaddeus.
Sure, the venom itself might not do more than sting a bit, but those two large puncture wounds are sure going to smart. And just imagine if one of those fangs were to hit a tendon; now you’re looking at a serious injury that would likely involve surgery.
Again, this does NOT happen often, but it’s something that should be considered when working with large New World species like G. pulchripes and A. geniculata or some of the larger genera like Phormictopus and Pamphobeteus. Potent venom or not, a bite from a larger, full-grown tarantula is going to be a very unpleasant experience and would definitely cause more damage than a simple bee sting.
2. There is always risk of infection
A bite from a tarantula essentially leaves one or two puncture wounds, and this type of injury is much more prone to infection. With a puncture wound, foreign contaminants and bacteria are driven deep into the flesh. Although the wound may not bleed much and may heal quickly on the surface, the superficial healing only traps the contaminants inside the wound, allowing them to fester. The depth of the wound and the type of foreign bodies on the object that caused the injury can both affect the chance of infection.
Now, just take a moment to picture your favorite tarantula feasting on one of those dirty crickets. Heck, just take a moment to consider the environment it lives in. Whether you use cocofiber, peat, or just plain dirt, you would hardly be able to describe your T’s enclosure as a sterile environment. As much as you try to keep that enclosure clean, your T’s cage is harboring unseen traces of fecal matter and decaying organic material. And you can bet those fangs are covered with things you would not want injected into your body.
It’s often stated that there are no records in modern times of a human dying from the venomous bite of a tarantula. Do a search, and you’ll find that, for the most part, this quite true. However, there are few reports of individuals dying, not from the venom, but from complications from the bites. In one instance in the late 19th century, an individual bitten by an Old World species of tarantula succumbed to gangrene after the wound became infected. In another report from 1901, a farmer bitten by a large spider described as a “tarantula” eventually died from blood poisoning.
Although these instances are dated and obviously quite rare, and proper medical attention should prevent a fatal outcome, a serious infection, especially from an untreated wound, is a realistic possibility.
3. Old Word species pack a wallop of a bite that can be both excruciating and debilitating.
Old World species (tarantulas from Asia, Africa, India, Australia, etc.) are known for having MUCH more potent venom that is often referred to as “medically significant.” Unlike their New World counterparts, these species rely on their venom as a defense mechanism, and they are very willing to bite to protect themselves. Some species are also known to bite repeatedly, leaving several wounds and pumping in even more venom.
Although this venom won’t kill you, the effects can be brutal and in some cases, can last for months. The “fun” starts with immediate localized pain that some have described as a 10/10; that pain then works its way up the extremity, affecting more of the body. Those who have sought medical treatment for this pain say that nothing prescribed touches it. Then there can be the other “fun” symptoms, including:
Old word species commonly available in the hobby that are known to pack potent bites are the P. murinus (OBT) or any “baboon” tarantula, H. maculata, H. lividum, H. gigas, any Poecilotheria species, and L, violaceopes. These species are all fast, defensive and, in most cases, not afraid to bite.
I’ve also heard some folks (mainly younger males) state that they are “prepared” for a bite from an Old World and are not afraid to get bitten. Well, take a look at the video below posted by Tarantulaguy1976 (and when you’re done, check out the rest of his amazing tarantula videos!). Rob C is an experienced keeper and a big, bad dude. Observing him as he describes his symptoms from a 10″ Poecilotheria ornata bite should convince anyone of just how severe an Old World bite can be.
As always, education is the key.
As a tarantula enthusiast, I do want people to realize that tarantulas are not the monsters they are often portrayed as. Can a tarantula kill you with the venom in its bite? No. However, I also think that the myth that all tarantula bites are “no worse than a bee sting” needs to be put to rest. It all depends on the species and the size of a specimen, and even a bite from a New Word species has the potential for more serious consequences not directly caused by venom toxicity.
These are wonderful animals and fascinating pets for informed and respectful keepers. That said, they are also wild, untamable animals that need to be respected and not trifled with. A responsible keeper will not only familiarize herself with the the consequences of a bite, but will also be sure to educate any family or friends who may come into contact with these animals.
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…
Let’s keep it real … tarantula keeping is not the most respected hobby in the world, and tarantula keepers are generally thought to be a bit eccentric at best and creepy at worst. And believe me … I get it.
With the majority of folks either being terrified of spiders, or thinking that they are disgusting animals to be squished on sight, it’s difficult for them to understand why someone would willingly choose to keep larger, hairier, scarier versions of these creatures as pets.
When asked why I don’t keep “normal” pets, I explain that I have three big rescue dogs who I absolutely adore (I’m petting two in between typing this). I also grew up on a small farm, and I look forward to the day when I will get to keep goats again. I don’t eschew common animals to keep giants spiders; I love them all.
Inevitably, when I’m asked what I could possibly find appealing about these “giant, hairy bugs,” I usually mention my fascination with them from an early age (even when I considered myself arachnophobic), and the fact that they’ve been around for millions of years. I try to explain the thrill of watching them molt and mature from fragile slings to large, bold adults. I talk about how feeding and maintenance time becomes a way for me to relax and unwind.
Then, knowing full well what’s coming, I usually explain how I actually find them to be quite beautiful.
“Beautiful?” the person will ask incredulously, a look of pure disgust smeared over his/her face.
“Beautiful,” I answer again, then take out my phone to show a couple pics of my stunners.
And usually, this is when the non-believer mutters a stunned, “Wow, is that real?” then asks to see more pics. It never gets old.
For some, this glimpse of a few of the more colorful species is enough to help them cross the threshold from fear and disgust to curiosity. What do they eat? How long do they live? How to you house them? These are some of the questions that often follow.
Do I win everyone over? No, of course not. People have a right to their opinions, and I understand my love for tarantulas puts me in the minority. Still, more often than not, the next time I talk to one of these people about my hobby, their questions are more genuine and inquisitive and not as judgmental.
Yes, tarantulas can be beautiful. Want proof?
My juvenile O.philippinus.
Female B. smithi
Male P. murinus
P. murinus (OBT)
Hapalopus sp. Large
My 1.75″ P. metallica sling a week after its last molt. It is finally displaying some of those gorgeous blues it will sport as an adult.
My A. insubtilis tarantula after succumbing to DKS. It’s been flipped on its back, but this is the standard tarantula “death curl”.
The “death curl” … What is it?
Perhaps no phrase causes more fear and confusion for those new to the hobby than that of the dreaded “death curl”. I follow several tarantula message boards and at least once a week, a panicked keeper will come on asking how to save his/her dying pets. In some cases, it’s the real deal, and the animal passes away or is saved by quick intervention. In others, photos of the T reveal that the specimen was never in a “death curl” at all, and that the keeper misidentified an innocuous position as something more deadly.
When most tarantulas die, they don’t flop onto their backs as many believe (this is actually a MOLT!), or just stop what they are doing and die in a normal legs spread position. In the majority of instances, their legs curl beneath them in a very unmistakable position, one that hobbyists refer to as a “death curl”.
To see what this looks like, make a spider with your hand by arching your fingers and putting your fingertips on a hard surface like feet. Now, loosely curl in your fingers until your thumb and fingertips are touching and your hand is resting on your third knuckles. Congrats! Your hand is now doing a “death curl”.
My H. villosella sling in an ICU after I found it in a death curl. Unfortunately, it did not make it.
Now, tarantulas are known to rest in all sorts of strange and sometime awkward positions, and unfortunately, a few of these normal postures can resemble a curl. Finding a T in this position can throw those new to the hobby into hysterics as they worry that their prized pet is checking out. For example, a stressed tarantula will often pull all of its legs up close to its body so that its knees cover its face and carapace. This position in particular freaks out many a keeper and, unfortunately, usually leads the concerned owner to takes steps (like moving the animal, spraying it, or poking it) that will only lead to more stress.
This tarantula above is NOT in a “death curl”, but is bringing its knees up over its head because it’s stressed after a rehousing. A special thanks to Caroline Dellinger for letting me use her photo!
My mature male H, incei gold after dying of old age. Notice how the legs are curled completely beneath his body.
H. incei gold mature male in a death curl. Notice how the legs are curled beneath the animal.
A side view of a death curl (an H. incei gold mature male). Notice again how the legs curl beneath the specimen’s body.
The death curl can occur when the tarantula is either too weak from sickness or old age, has sustained an injury leading to the loss of hemolymph (the tarantula’s “blood”), or is dehydrated. If these instances are severe enough, the spider will have difficulty maintaining the pressure required to keep its legs outstretched, and its limbs will start curling in underneath it.
For a tarantula entering a death curl-like position, all hope may not be lost. Although for some specimens, the curl might signify an irreversible, natural death, for others it could serve as a last chance warning sign that action is needed. If you suspect that your tarantula is in the “death curl”, here are a few a few question you should immediately ask yourself:
Is the species old or a mature male? Although many species are long-lived, they all eventually die. Also, mature males of many species generally don’t live for too long after their ultimate molts, and some folks are surprised when a seemingly vibrant and energetic adult T suddenly curls up and dies. Many folks also buy supposed adult “female” tarantulas from local pet stores only to discover later that they are matured males on the last legs of their lives. Always take age and sex into consideration first.
Has the T been injured? Accidental loss of a limb or a fall from a large height can lead to injury, bleeding, and death. So can a particularly bad molt. Examine the species to see if there is any milky white fluid (hemolymph) leaking from its joints or its abdomen. If so, you can try clotting the wound using corn starch, then put the animal in an ICU (a smaller container with moist paper towels, access to drinking water, and a little extra warmth if possible).
Is the animal possibly dehydrated? This is common one, and one that can be prevented or fixed if caught soon enough. A dehydrated spider will begin to go into a death curl as it lacks the fluids to maintain proper pressure. Slings are particularly susceptible to dehydration as they are not able to hold their fluids as well as their juvenile and adult counterparts. Those who use heat lamps or other direct heat measures on their T enclosures also run the risk of baking the animal, thus dehydrating it. If you suspect your T is dehydrated, get it into an ICU immediately. Most will bounce back after they get some fluids. And if the animal was dehydrated, then its time to reexamine your husbandry.
There are obviously other ailments that can lead to a tarantula death curling (mites and nematodes are sometimes mentioned), but the three options listed above are the most likely.
And, as a friendly reminder…
IF IT IS ON ITS BACK, IT IS NOT DEAD OR IN A DEATH CURL!
That’s right, this is normal behavior; this is the position they get in to molt.
DO NOT touch a spider in this position.
DO NOT flip over a spider in this position.
DO NOT throw away, flush, or bury a spider in this position.
DO NOT blow on it.
DO NOT spray it with water.
DO leave it alone and let it complete the exhausting task of molting in peace. Molting is a natural occurrence for a tarantula, but it is also a period where they are quite vulnerable. Any fiddling with the animal could prove deadly to the T.
My A. schmidti on her back and ready to molt. Note: this T is NOT dead!
If you have a further question about whether or not your tarantula may be in a death curl, try a Google Image search for “tarantula death curl” and compare. Or, visit Tarantula Forum or Arachnoboards to seek the advise and opinions of other keepers.
Those looking for a large, gorgeous, fast growing display tarantula need look no further.
For my birthday last year, my wonderful wife brought me out to a local exotic pet store to do some tarantula shopping. Among the acquisitions I made that day was an A. brocklehursti, or Brazilian Black and White, sling. At the time, I had been looking for an A. geniculata, and this species, with its similar coloration and thinner leg banding, would fit that spot nicely. Since then, my little guy has quickly become one of my favorites.
From the sunny tropics of Brazil
When I first began looking at A. geniculata and A. brocklehursti as species I might want to acquire, I was worried about whether or not I would be able to suitably provide the heat and humidity a species from Brazil would likely need. However, now that I’ve kept this species for some time, I realize that my apprehensions, although well-intentioned, might have been unwarranted.
This is a species that can benefit from a bit of extra humidity, so I made sure to use an enclosure set up that would allow for me to better control these levels. Until it was about 2.5″, I kept my A. brocklehursti in a 2.5 quart Sterilite stackable container repurposed to serve as a tarantula enclosure (at about 3″ now, I keep it in the 7.2 quart version). These containers are secure and can be custom vented to control the level of airflow and prevent fast evaporation.
For substrate, I use a mixture of coco fiber, peat moss, and a bit of vermiculite to hold some moisture (about 40/40/20). Before I fill the enclosure up with substrate, I put a 1/2 layer of vermiculite on the bottom and pour in some water to make it nice and moist. I then pack my main substrate mixture on top of it. This allows for a moist layer of sub on the bottom that won’t mold and that will provide a bit of extra humidity as it slowly evaporates.
Although my T was provided with deep enough substrate to permit burrowing, mine never constructed a burrow even as a sling. It did do some excavating, moving sub around its enclosure, but it has always been content to sit on the surface in full view.
I provide a water bowl for my specimen, but it loves to fill it full of substrate the first opportunity it gets. Once a month, I will sprinkle water on one side of the substrate (think downpour) and let it percolate down to the bottom. This area usually dries in a couple days, keeping the top dry and the lower levels moist. This keeps the humidity level in the enclosure a bit higher.
I do not, however, obsess over the humidity by any stretch of the imagination. There is no humidity gauge in the enclosure, and I sometimes allow the cage to completely dry out before “making it rain” again. Although I think that they appreciate some extra humidity, the species is quite adaptable and can live comfortably in drier environments if provided with a water dish.
Make no mistake, this is a species that will thrive in higher temperatures. That being said, they are a hearty species that will also do quite well in lower temperature ranges. My A. brocklehursti is kept at 72º-77º in the colder winter months and 76º-84º in the warmer summer months. During this time, it has molted thrice, and I’m guessing that its fourth molt is imminent. Even in the lower temperatures ranges, it has always been active and has continued to eat well. I never let the temps dip below 70, however, and I always keep it in the warmer side of the room.
A fast-growing eating machine
This tarantula is widely recognized for having a fast growth rate, but it’s important to note that lower temps will also mean a lower metabolism. Although my specimen is lively and eating very well, a specimen kept at higher temperatures throughout the year will likely experience faster growth rates. With consistent temps in the 80s, some keepers report this species growing 3-4 inches in a year. This is a larger T, with a max size normally between 7 and 8″ with some individuals reaching 9″, so keepers need to be prepared to correctly house a specimen this size.
This species is known for having a voracious appetite, and My A. brocklehursti is no exception. Prey items last a matter of seconds when dropped into its enclosure, as it snaps them up with amazing speed and ferocity. It also eats a lot; as a 1.5″ sling, it would easily wrestle and subdue medium crickets twice a week (or, quite frankly, as much as I would feed it). This is one of the few Ts I keep that also ate right up to a few days before a molt. That’s impressive.
My A. brocklehursti is about 3″ now, and it eats two or three large crickets a week. It has yet to refuse a meal.
My A. brocklehursti (Pet Trade) munching on a cricket.
A bold but not necessarily aggressive T
As a sling, my brock was quite skittish, sprinting around its enclosure at the slightest disturbance. It has become calmer now that it has put on some size and will usually just sit calmly when I open up its cage. It has never shown me a threat pose. However, there are reports out there of this species being feisty, and some are very prone to kicking hairs.
It is important to note that this genus has a reputation for having some of the most potent and irritating urticating hairs of all of the New World tarantulas. Although I have never been haired, I take great care to not get any on me when I perform maintenance. Also, although its venom is not known to be potent, this large T could easily do some serious mechanical damage with its fangs if it should bite. I would not recommend holding this T.
A note about A. brocklehursti and A. geniculata:
These two species look very similar, and there are many instances when one is confused with another. Brocks are generally recognized by thinner leg banding than their cousins, however.
Recently, taxonomists have determined that both the “pet trade” form of A. brocklehursti and A. geniculata are both color varients of the same species, and that the pet trade A. brocklehursti is actually now A. geniculata narrow band. They also contend that the true “A. brocklehursti” is now actually “A. theraphosoides.”
Confused? So are a a lot of people.
It may be a while before this is all sorted out and the change is “official” and widely accepted. However, if you own this species, you’ll want to keep an eye on how the taxonomy, and its scientific name, might change.
A beast of a display tarantula
With a max size of around 8″, this striking and heavy-bodied T is not shy and would make an amazing display tarantula for any collection. A hearty species with an amazing appetite, I would recommend a keeper start with a sling so that she/he can enjoy watching the growth while observing the animal’s temperament as it matures.
A beautiful alternative to the Lasiodora parahybana!
When I first encountered the Lasiodora itabunae, it was while perusing Ken the Bug Guy’s site. Although I had heard of several Lasiodora species, this one was brand new to me. A quick Google search yielded very little information on this species, and I had trouble even coming up with a common name or photo for it. To say that I was intrigued would be an understatement. After finding a couple keeper reports in which they described basic husbandry requirements for this species, I decided that I would add one to my collection.
The 2.5″ juvenile that arrived was a light brown in color and a bit skittish in behavior. It quickly adopted a rounded piece of cork bark for its enclosure, and spent most of its time waiting just inside its makeshift den for me to drop a cricket in. Prey items were snatched up quickly, and it only refused a meal during premolt. During this period I would occasionally catch my little guy out, but if I touched the enclosure, he would quickly dart back into his den.
Although this is a hearty species with no strict humidity requirements, I have made some observations that have lead me to adjust how I keep him. Initially, I kept my itabunae on dry coco fiber substrate and supplied a water dish that I kept filled. However, after noticing that my little guy stood directly over the dish for hours at a time during premolt, I started wetting down a third of the enclosure. This species seems to appreciate a bit of extra moisture at times, so I now give it the option of dry or damp. I do not, however, measure the humidity in the enclosure.
For temperatures, I keep this guy at about 77º during the day with a drop to about 70-72º at night. In the summer, the temperature range is around 74-84º. I did not notice a difference in eating habits between winter and summer; it ate well regardless. It seems to do very well at room temperatures, even if the temps dip briefly into the high 60s.
My L. itabunae young adult just chillin’.
Some surprises at around 4″
This is a fast growing species that molts regularly and puts on decent size during each molt. Within two molts, it jumped from about 2.5″ to a much thicker 4″. It was during this second molt in my care that I noticed some impressive physical and behavioral changes. Physically, the overall brown coloration was gone, replaced by a gorgeous deep blue/black overall coloration with reddish hairs peppering its abdomen. This is a very handsome tarantula with a striking appearance.
Behaviorally, gone were the days of this T cowering in its den whenever someone touched its enclosure. After this molt, it stood boldly on top of its cork bark as it waited for prey, never budging when I moved or opened its cage. The crickets I dropped in for it barely had a chance to hit the substrate before they were snatched up, and twice it grabbed the cricket directly from my tongs before I could drop it in.
To be clear, this specimen did NOT become aggressive or defensive. It is just much more bold and has a more ruthless food response. It has never charged at me or kicked a hair when I’ve opened its enclosure to do maintenance or to change the water. Due to its new-found attitude, it has now become one of my best display animals, as it is always out in the open.
This species has a great appetite, and I feed my 5″ specimen 3 crickets or a large dubia roach once a week. This is a large T that can grow to 7-8″ in leg span, so I’ll look forward to watching it put on even more size.
My L. itabunae a week after its most recent molt. It morphed from a light reddish-brown to steely blue with red hairs on its abdomen.
I currently house my 5″ specimen in a 5 gallon acrylic enclosure from Lorex Plastics. The substrate is now a mixture of coco fiber, topsoil, vermiculite, and peat moss, and I’ve provided a cork bark hide (which it has only used to molt). A water dish filled with fresh water is always provided, and I use a plastic bottle with holes burned in the top to sprinkle water on this side of the cage. I usually let this side dry out before repeating (although I keep it moist during premolt).
My enclosure decorated and now the new home of my L. itabunae.
L. itabunae is a hardy, fast-growing, striking tarantula that would compliment any collection.
Those looking for an uncommon and handsome tarantula with simple husbandry would be wise to check out Lasiodora itabunae. I will definitely always have one of these unique spiders in my collection.