“Brown Boxing” The Tarantula Hobby’s Dirty Little Secret

Author’s note: The following topic pertains to the United States tarantula market and doesn’t necessarily reflect the import/export laws of other countries. That said, if you are importing tarantulas into your country, you should be aware of your own national import and export laws.

By now, you’re hopelessly addicted to the hobby and have a wish list so long, it reads like an abbreviated edition of the World Spider Catalog. While shopping online for your next acquisitions, you stumble upon a Facebook post by a vendor you have been following.

NEW IMPORT PREORDER!

Reading the announcement, you feel your excitement build as you learn that said vendor is expecting a huge import from overseas containing a myriad of species. As you feverishly peruse the species list, you notice many of the species that are on your wish list, as well as exotic species you’ve never seen before. Pen in hand, you start jotting down a preliminary list of animals you’ll be pre-ordering and start to formulate a convincing argument for your spouse to justify the several hundred dollars you are about to plop down pre-ordering bugs.

But not so fast.

Although import pre-orders are certainly exciting, and many of us take advantage of these wonderful opportunities, there are some things that keepers really need to be aware of before buying imported stock. Many folks are under the assumption that all publicly announced import is done legally, but this is far from true. Sadly, many folks resort to cheaper and illegal measures to get their livestock into the country, a fact that many hobbyists are unaware of.   

Recently, I covered the topic of shipping tarantulas using the USPS, and how the practice is illegal on a federal level. Many folks are ignorant of this fact and assume that if vendors are advertising the service publicly, it must okay. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Those choosing this method to ship their spiders within the states are breaking the law.

Keeping that in mind, it’s also important to recognize that some of the folks offering “import” are also breaking the law, and on a much larger scale. Anyone buying animals from these disreputable folks are contributing to this issue. Not only does illegal import put customers at legal risk, it undermines legitimate dealers and poses a threat to the import that is currently the lifeblood of the United States hobby.  

What is BROWN BOXING?

Legally importing animals from other countries can be a very time-consuming and costly process. Importing livestock from another country requires permits, expensive shipping and inspection costs, and quite a few logistical preparations. Contrary to popular belief, this holds true for both wild-caught and captive bred specimens. Importing legally can make ordering and receiving animals from other countries a very cost-prohibitive option for those looking to import. I often hear folks complain about paying $40-$50 to ship a package of spiders through FedEx. Well, when shipping air freight (the only legal shipping option for this type of transaction), you can expect to pay several hundred to well over $1000 for your animals.

Unfortunately, some folks find this type of investment unpalatable and decide to cut corners and break the law by “brown boxing” their animals into the country. Continue reading

‘T’ Time Adoption/Rescue Facebook Group- And Interview with Samantha Miller

A brand new group hoping to fill a much needed hole in the hobby. 

Several years back, I got an email from a frantic hobbyist who was preparing to start his freshman year in college. With only a few weeks to go before he was to move into his dorm, he made an unfortunate discovery; this particular school didn’t allow any pets in the freshman dorm rooms. This young man had amassed a modest collection of a half-dozen or so tarantulas, and his mother, an arachnophobe, had already made it quite clear that the animals couldn’t be left behind. Instead of enjoying his last remaining days before starting school, this poor guy was desperately trying to find a new home for his beloved pets. He was even willing to part with them for free if they went to a good home, and he was hoping I might know of some place that would be willing to take his collection and ensure his animals got the proper care.

Over the years, I’ve received several similar emails from hobbyists looking for someone to adopt their pets, and I’ve usually directed them to the classifieds section of Arachnoboards or FaunaClassifieds. The truth is, although there are obviously a plethora of options for folks keeping warm-blooded vertebrates like cats, dogs, ferrets, etcetera, the options for invertebrate keepers are quite limited. Although a few shelters will take in the oddball invert, most know little about their care or are particularly interested in dealing with the “creepy crawlies.” I’ve heard of cases of people with one or two spiders donating them to a school science teacher or a friend or family member, but what does one do when she has several spiders? Or, perhaps someone has outgrown the hobby and recognizes that he no longer has the passion to keep these animals. Where should he go to get them new homes? Sure, Craigslist and the classifieds can work, but selling off larger collections can take time…and emergency situations can lead to strict deadlines.

Then there are hoarding cases or instances in which a keeper dies leaving behind dozens of pets that no one wants or knows how to care for. What happens to these animals after being confiscated by the authorities?

Well, now there may be a new option.

While chatting with hobbyist Samantha Miller, I learned about her idea to create an adoption and rescue service specifically for inverts. Within weeks, she had set up the ‘T’ Time Adoption/Rescue group on Facebook in an effort to see her idea come to fruition. With the membership numbers swelling and the group off to quite the auspicious beginning, I caught up with Samantha to learn more about this fantastic and much-needed new group.

Thanks for taking the time to chat, Samantha! Continue reading

Tarantula Hybridization in the Hobby (Tarantula Controversies #5)

It’s one of the hobby’s most hot-button topics, and one that elicits spirited and emotional responses from both sides of the argument. For many, the topic of hybridization is a fascinating one, and curious hobbyists hear about hybrids and want to find out more about them. Unfortunately, any public inquiries in the hows, whys, and why nots of a potential mixing of species swiftly erupt into heated arguments and debates.

On the one hand, there are the folks that don’t think tarantula hybrids are that big of a deal, with some even expressing that a keeper can do whatever he wants with his spiders, as long as they aren’t sold into the hobby. Many of these keepers believe that the supposed problem of hybridization in the hobby is over exaggerated and that those who are staunchly opposed to it are alarmists.

Others find the idea of purposely crossing species appalling and unforgivably irresponsible under any circumstance. Many of the people on this side believe that hybrids are prevalent enough in the hobby to seriously compromise the purity of many bloodlines. Any attempt to knowingly breed them is a gross disservice to the hobby and, in some cases, a Frankensteinian perversion of nature.

Recently, I was emailed by a young man who was new to the hobby and eager to discuss some of his experiences with a more seasoned keeper. During our exchange, he mentioned that he had managed to obtain a mature female Brachypelms vagans as well as a mature male Brachypelma albopilosom. He really wanted to breed but was having difficulty acquiring a male for his vagans, so he came up with the idea of trying to crossbreed the two species to get, “a cool designer tarantula.” What ensued was a lengthy back-and-forth email discussion about tarantula hybridization and why it is a detriment to the hobby.

It can be difficult for new and casual hobbyists to understand why hybridization is so frowned upon by many serious hobbyists. Even after several emails, this young man still didn’t seem to fully grasp why this practice was considered taboo by many. As I’ve encountered this question many times myself, I thought it was time to tackle the topic in hopes of educating folks who may not understand why it is such a controversial issue.

Below are the arguments and counter arguments and how they usually break down. For clarity, stances supporting hybridization will be in GREEN; stances against will be in RED. 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

The Importance of Respect and Open-mindedness In the Tarantula Hobby

Or, Why we need to eliminate the “My Way or the Highway” Attitude in Tarantula Keeping

No matter the hobby or interest, there are always going to be debates and arguments between those with different views. Whether it be sports, music, movies, or cars, it seems that many folks believe that an integral part of becoming an “expert” in a particular area entails showcasing your vast knowledge in spirited kerfuffles with other enthusiasts. After all, what better way to show how much you know than to verbally beat down someone with less awareness on the subject?

The tarantula hobby, of course, is no exception. Anyone who spends time on a public forum or group dedicated to tarantulas will inevitably encounter some “grab the popcorn” level disagreements about various subjects. Topics like handling, water dishes, supplemental heating, and even basic husbandry can lead to many passionate, often nasty, disagreements between experts and novices alike. The difference between our hobby and others however is, when two folks argue over who has the better baseball team or who the best metal guitarist is, the only thing possibly hurt is an ego. When tarantulas are involved, however, these debates can lead to the propagation of misinformation…and in some cases, dead animals.

Recently, a couple negative interactions with other keepers really got me thinking about some of the issues with our hobby; namely, the close-minded adherence to personal anecdotal evidence and an unwillingness to accept that just because something works for a person, it doesn’t make it the only way to do things…or even the right way to do things.

In one instance (already documented in a previous post) an experienced keeper took issue with the fact that I said under most circumstances, heat and humidity are two things that keepers stress too much about. Said keeper explained that in his 18 years of breeding experience, he had learned that heat was very important, and he used mats to keep his enclosures warmer. He called the article one of the worst husbandry articles he has ever read.

In another instance, a YouTuber commented on a couple of my videos to say that “tarantulas don’t have water dishes in the wild,” and that all Ts can get their water through prey. When I tried to explain my point of view on the matter, I was called an “idiot” for wasting my time supplying these “useless” accessories.

Now, obviously there are jerks and bullies in every hobby, whether it’s gaming, exotic pets, or even cooking, so it’s not surprising that one might share his opinion in such a rancorous manner. Factor in that it’s the Internet, which can embolden even the most meek basement dwelling keyboard jockey, and the potential for useless, trollish banter increases 100 fold.

However, in both of these instances, it sounded as if the posters probably had some serious experience in the hobby. The rude tone of both comments indicated that these folks weren’t just ordinary internet trolls, but hobbyist who felt totally offended by what they saw as completely false and ridiculous statements. Their belief in their way of keeping spiders, one with heat and the other without dishes, was so strong, that they apparently found my statements to the contrary to be offensive. They were lashing out at comments that contradicted what they had witnessed with their own eyes.

It’s not their beliefs that I take issue with; on the contrary, although I don’t necessarily agree with their statements, I respect that it is apparently working for them. I also appreciate that trying to argue that using heat mats or leaving out water dishes is wrong as it would be fruitless. After all, if they are heating their collections and not supplying water dishes and their Ts are doing well, then how can I possibly say that they are wrong?

No, my issue is with the rude way they present their conflicting views, and the fact that they are not offering them as their opinions, but as fact. It’s an example of the whole, “I’m right, therefore you’re wrong” mentality that permeates the hobby. That’s dangerous territory, as there is already enough misinformation and opinion about tarantulas being passed around in cyberspace as fact; we don’t need more.

The problem is that we are taught to believe what we experience with our own senses, so it’s natural to trust our own observations as powerful anecdotal evidence. We keep our tarantulas a certain way, they eat, molt, and grow, therefore we have to be doing everything right. However, this type of evidence is far from scientific, and for it to become truly useful and important, we have to compare our experiences to those of other keepers. And for keepers to feel comfortable enough to publicly share their findings, we need to be a bit more nurturing and receptive as a collective when someone presents ideas that conflict with our own beliefs.

 

The catch 22 of anecdotal data

Is using anecdotal evidence wrong? No, it’s an invaluable part of the hobby. It’s important to remember that our hobby is very much built on the experience of past keepers, the pioneers who first experiment with keeping these unique animals. As more of these keepers recorded and reported on what worked (and sometimes, what didn’t) over the course of several decades, these anecdotes accumulated into something much more substantial and powerful. We could now examine a more sizable sample of data and draw much more accurate and reliable conclusions from it. It was no longer one person saying that certain tarantulas don’t need extra heat or high humidity; it was hundreds.

A single keeper’s observations, although important, are still just anecdotal. Our minds can often cause us to recognize false positives as connections are made too easily and other pertinent information is disregarded or ignored. Personal bias or beliefs can often influence what we think we see, tainting the lens we view the world through. Your perceived experience with one tarantula is not enough to declare an observed connection as fact.

As an example, a beginning keeper posted on a message board that she had come up with a new way of keeping her tarantulas. After reading about their natural habitats, she began mixing sea salt in with their substrate. It appears that one of the habitat descriptions she read mentioned that some live in areas known to have small amounts of salt in the substrate, and she decided to try to create this mix in her terrarium. She lauded this new technique, even going so far to say that her tarantulas were now much more active and healthy since she made the move. Many folks like to experiment with substrate mixtures, and this woman was obviously trying to emulate her spider’s natural environment.

There was only one issue.

Salt is recognized as being poisonous to spiders and tarantulas and, when mixed with water, is used as a chemical-free pesticide by some. The idea of purposely introducing salt into a tarantula enclosure seemed dangerous to many. And, even if this additive wasn’t hurting her tarantulas, it certainly shouldn’t provide any health benefits.

When folks tried to politely inform this hobbyist that she could be putting her animals, especially the fragile slings, at risk, she scoffed at it. Her main argument? They were doing fine, so there must not be an issue. She chose to believe what she thought she was seeing with her own eyes rather than defer to the scientific evidence and collective experience that disproved her theory.

In the above example, I use a keeper who is new to the hobby. However, the same situation can occur with keepers that have been doing this for a while. There are some amazing veteran keepers out there who are keeping up with changes and advancements in the hobby. Then, there are others who feel that if it has worked for a decade or more, it is obviously the “correct” way to do things. I’m guessing that the breeder who took umbrage to my temperature and humidity post fell into this category. These folks feel very strongly that any husbandry that differs from what they do is therefore “incorrect”, and they can be quick to disparage folks that don’t fall in line with them. The problem is, there is a huge difference between, “This is what I do, and it has worked for me,” and “This is what I do, and it is the correct way to do it.” In the second situation, the keeper is relying on his or her observations only to declare something fact.

How can we really tell if they are happy or merely surviving?

Tarantulas are not the most expressive animals, so it can be very tricky to discern their moods or overall state of health or well-being. Many keepers talk about spiders that are seemingly fine one day, then curled up and dead the next. The warning signs of trouble are few and difficult to recognize, especially for those new to the hobby. So, although anecdotal data is very important, it can also be misleading when not compared with the observations of other keepers.

The fact that 10 different keepers can keep a spider 10 different ways and all report that the spider is seemingly thriving is a testament to just how adaptable and hardy these creatures are. It means that they are able to survive in a number of conditions, many of them adverse. Just because a T is eating and molting doesn’t mean that it’s getting the best care possible. Sadly, I’ve seen many folks justify their spotty husbandry by stating, “Well, it’s not dead, so I must be doing something right.” Can you imagine applying the same reasoning to your dog or cat?

To recognize when we are doing a good job with their care, we also need to consider what others are doing.

There is no instruction manual for raising tarantulas, and the handful of good husbandry books available often offer pertinent but limited information when it comes to the individual needs of specific species of tarantulas. After all, with over 900 species in the world, a book that covered the specific and detailed husbandry needs of each one would be one massive volume. That means the majority of the species-specific husbandry information we get comes from the cumulative accounts of those who keep them.

For example, Keeper A picks up a new species, does some research on its natural habitat, sets it up, and reports his observation on a blog, care sheet, forum, or in the comments of a YouTube video. Keeper B finds these accounts during her research, but she keeps her specimen in slightly colder temps and with less substrate. The tarantula appears to be fine, so she reports on her findings. Over the years, more keepers tweak this husbandry recipe until we finally come to having a “definitive” mode of husbandry.

And, on occasion, the generally recognized and accepted husbandry for a particular species proves to be incorrect. Take the genus Avicularia as a recent example. The internet is still rife with care sheets that state Avicularia need to be kept humid with moist substrate and frequent spraying. When hobbyists first began keeping this species, they looked to their natural habitat to determine how they should be kept. As they hail from humid locales, it seemed to make sense to keep them in humid enclosures. However, these species soon got a reputation for being fragile and difficult to keep as more and more hobbyist reported incidences of “Sudden Avic Death Syndrome”as their spiders died suddenly and with no apparent cause.

Then one day, some keeper or keepers got what must have been seen as a crazy idea. What if, instead of keeping them in stuffy and humid enclosures, we tried dry and well-ventilated ones instead?

Having witnessed what can happen in groups or on message boards when someone recommends a radical new husbandry idea, I can only imagine the backlash this poor guy or gal received when first sharing his or her findings. I can just imagine responses like, “Everyone knows avics need high humidity!” or “You can’t keep them dry…they’ll die!” For anyone who has spent time on certain message boards or Facebook groups, you can probably appreciate what a fracas this would have created.

And yet this out-of-the-box thinking not only revolutionized how we keep this species, but also likely saved thousands of spiders. It is now widely recognized that many of those SADS deaths could be attributed to dank, stuffy cages, and folks who keep them dry and well-ventilated report healthy spiders. If this person or people had their voices drowned out by close-minded hobbyists that “knew better”, we might still be keeping these animals wrong.

It is crucial that folks in this hobby feel safe to express new ideas.

Instances like this serve as sterling examples of why it’s always crucial to be open-minded when hearing new techniques or ideas. Does it mean we have to accept everything as true and valid? Of course not. There are going to be times where keepers come up with some outlandish ideas that seem to lack any shred of common sense. I’ve also seen a lot of new hobbyists who read something false then report it as fact in an effort to appear “in the know.” However, the way we respond to these folks is still important. Instead of a dozen people hopping on to decry the keeper as reckless, irresponsible, or stupid, perhaps a more civil reply is in order. Consider these two responses to someone who has reported something suspect:

Ridiculous. That’s a great way to kill your T. Do some more research.”

Or

Interesting. I do appreciate your perspective. However, experience has taught me otherwise. Here is what I’ve found (insert explanation here). Thanks for sharing and good luck!”

As this is a public dialog, the first reply is going to be seen by others who are now likely worried about opening their mouths and sounding stupid. After all, who wants to be rudely and publicly admonished in such a manner? Talk about a great way to choke off discourse. Furthermore, by scolding the poster in such a brash manner they’re likely to become defensive and close off to hearing conflicting viewpoints. Absolutely nothing is gained in this exchange. However, with the second more polite response, the original poster is more likely to at least consider that he may want to rethink his technique. This type of mature reply will also foster a more open and friendly tone for the communication of ideas (good and bad), and invite more folks to share their experiences.

Everyone wins.

Valuable information can be gleaned from alternative viewpoint and strategies.

Recently, popular YouTuber Deadly Tarantula girl shared a video about how she keeps her P. muticus specimens, and the video received quite a bit of backlash. Although the general consensus is that these are fossorial species that require deep substrate in which to dig in order to thrive, Marita explained that she keeps hers terrestrially with a bit of substrate and a hide. Now, although this flies in the face of how most folks choose to keep this species, it should be noted that Marita has been in the hobby for a long time, and although she does some things that might be “controversial”, she has years of experience to fall back on. And, having kept the muticus for over 20 years, she should definitely know a thing or two about their care.

I must admit, when first viewing the video, I was impressed that she would post something that she obviously knew would be incredibly divisive. At the same time I was not quite in agreement, as this was NOT how I kept mine. That said, instead of firing off some snarky knee-jerk comment about the video, I mulled over what she said and took to following the comments being posted about it.

The incident served as the impetus for an amazing dialog between several hobbyists and I about this species, leading many of us to realize that trying to replicate its natural habitat with the deep substrate could be creating some problems with its husbandry. Many folks, me included, reported issues with their specimens sealing themselves up in the bottom of deep burrows and never resurfacing to eat. In some cases, the animals seemingly starved to death after months secreted away in their burrows.

Which is the “correct” way? I don’t have a definitive answer yet, but DTG video spurred the type of thought and discussion that would hopefully lead to better husbandry practices and healthier Ts. Many of us were left rethinking what we thought we knew about this species and its proper care. It clearly illustrates how important the sharing of information can be in this hobby, as well as the importance of always keeping an open mind when being presented with new perspectives.

Now, before someone gets the idea that I’m encouraging wild experimentation in the hobby, that’s not at all my point. Although I think it’s healthy to consider new perspectives while evolving your husbandry, turning your back on scientific evidence or years of generally recognized husbandry can be dangerous. There is a big difference between experience-guided decisions and blind experimentation.

I AM advocating for two very important things; respect and open-mindedness.

Respect the opinions of others, no matter how outlandish or contrary they may seem. I love when those on message boards ridicule or chastise someone for a poor husbandry choice, then justify it by saying that they are “teaching.” That’s not teaching. A teacher will politely address the person, offering clear and non-judgmental feedback as to why they feel the person may be incorrect. The “student” should leave the conversation feeling educated and supported, not ridiculed and attacked.

Of course, respect goes both ways. If you’re the seasoned keeper addressing a newbie who may be suggesting something strange, try to remember what it was like to be new to this hobby and be patient with your reply. Ridicule and browbeating has no place in constructive discourse. If you’re the newbie and a seasoned keeper offers your polite feedback, be respectful of their experience level within the hobby. Becoming snotty and contrary does no one any good.

And I don’t care if you’re a keeper with 10 years of experience or 10 days, it’s always important to keep an open mind. The question you should always use to guide you through keeping is not “Does it work”; it’s “Is there a better way?” Even when confronted with husbandry techniques and practices that differ greatly from what you do, you should try to be open-minded and see if there is something to be gleaned from the experience. After all, what you do may work for you, but it may not necessarily be the best way to do it.

The importance of sharing information without fear of repudiation or admonishment is crucial to the advancement of the hobby. The truth is, no matter how large our collections may grow, they still only represent a micro-fraction of the animals being kept. To really get a better, more accurate view of what “works”, we need a much larger sample than that of just one keeper. We need to collectively pool our experiences, both good and bad, to ensure that this incredible hobby continues to grow and to improve.

Psalmopoeus cambridgei “The Trinidad Chevron” Husbandry Notes

When I first got heavy into the hobby, I was immediately attracted to tarantulas from the genus Poecilotheria. As a result, I skipped some of the “stepping stone” arboreal species that keepers usually start out with to prepare for these advanced Old World spiders. For years, most of the aboreals in my collection (with the exception of two Avicularia) were from this genus. As I acquired more and more pokies, I tended to ignore some of the other amazing arboreal tarantulas available in the hobby. It wasn’t until very recently that I decided it was high time I tried out some of the other genera of tree-dwelling tarantulas; namely Psalmopoeus and Tapinauchenius. As luck would have it, an order from Pet Center USA earned me a free P. cambridgei, or “Trinidad Chevron” sling, kicking off a newfound appreciation for these awesome spiders.

p-cambridgei

When I first received my P. cambridgei in early October 2015, it was about 1″ or so. I housed it in 32 oz deli container ventilated with three rings of holes around the top. I added about 3″ of moist substrate (a combination of topsoil and vermiculite), a piece of cork bark flat with plastic leaves hot glued to it, some sphagnum moss, and a small bottle cap for a water dish. As a sling, I kept part of the substrate moist (not wet) at all times. To do this, I would pour some water down one of the sides, allowing it to percolate through the substrate down to bottom. This kept the lower levels moist while the top dried out a bit. I also tried to keep the water bowl full at all times, although she would often web it up or fill it with substrate.

As with all of my tarantulas, the temperatures ranged from 70-75° in the wintertime, and 75-80° during the hot summer months. Even when the temps were a bit cooler, this T was still very active and continued to eat well.

As a sling, my cambridgei burrowed a bit into the substrate and webbed up behind its cork bark using substrate and sphagnum to make “dirt curtains”. By the time I finally rehoused it, it had webbed up the entire enclosure right to the top. It was very reclusive during this period, quickly bolting into its burrow whenever disturbed. Even as a sling, this spider was very fast, darting out of view in the blink of an eye.

TIP: Many folks hear the term “arboreal” and immediately expect their slings to hang up high on the cork bark. However, many arboreal spiderlings will start their lives on the ground, and some will even burrow a bit. If your Psalmopoeus species sling starts digging, rest assured; there is nothing wrong with it. They usually outgrow this behavior once they put on some size.

While a sling, I would feed it one small cricket twice a week. As it put on some size, reaching about 3″, I moved up to a large cricket once a week. This spider has been a ravenous eater, taking all prey items down with amazing speed and ferocity. It has been a very fast-growing species, having molted five times in 10 months and putting on an impressive amount of size with each molt. At the time of this writing, it is about 4.5″.

In April of 2016, it had outgrown its deli cup, and I rehoused it into a larger enclosure. I used a one-gallon Mainstay clear canister which I ventilated with dozens of holes and hot glued a water dish up in one of the corners. Although I started with the substrate moist, I let it dry out. During the summer months when it is quite humid, I leave it dry and keep the water dish full. In the winter months, when the furnace is running and the air is dry, I moisten it on occasion by pouring a bit of water down the side. As it has webbed quite a bit, I also dribble some water on the webbing when I feed it to give it a choice as to where to drink.

TIP: For some fast and feisty species, rehousings can be the source of a lot of anxiety.  If ever an escape or bite is going to happen to the careful keeper, this is the time. For fast-growing species, like P. cambridgei, many folks choose to rehouse them into their adult enclosures much earlier than they would with other species.  This limits the number of rehousings that the keeper has to perform. 

When first relocated to this new enclosure, the cambridgei was quite shy, building a web and secreting itself behind the cork. Now that it has settled in, it sits right out in the open most of the time.  Unlike some of my other skittish arboreals that will bolt to hide when disturbed, this one will boldly stay put.

After its next molt, I’ll be rehousing it into its adult enclosure. As this species can reach 7″, it will be getting an arboreal enclosure roughly 7 gallons or so.

The P. cambridgei  is a beautiful, fast-growing arboreal species that makes a wonderful showcase spider. That said, they are very fast and many report that their specimens have quite the defensive attitudes. However, this speed and “attitude” make it a great stepping stone species to Poecilotheria without worry of the more potent venom of this Old World genus.

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!