An Underrated North American Beauty
When I first began expanding my collection, I was so enamored with the hundreds of exotic species available from far away locales that I all but ignored some of wonderful tarantulas that could be found in my own county. As much as I hate to admit it, I paid little attention to the Aphonopelma genus, subconsciously designating the species it contained as a bit mundane. After all, why keep a tarantula that I could essentially find in my back yard (well, give or take several thousand miles!) when I could have something found across the world?
Now that I’ve established a pretty good-sized and diverse collection, I’ve turned my attention to some of the species I might have previously overlooked. Although I’ve kept an Aphonopelma schmidti for over a year, it was only recently that I had a change of heart about this genus. While looking at a fellow collector’s photos, I was taken by the gorgeous earthy grays, browns, and blonds of these spiders, something I had long admired in my schmidti. Having already added an A. anax sling to my collection, I was keeping my eyes open for a A. chalcodes. When I found a young adult for sale, I jumped at it.
Temperatures and set up
The A. chalcodes’ natural range is in the Sonoran deserts of southern Arizona and northern Mexico, which experience two major rainy seasons in the summer and winter. Although this animal flourishes in dry conditions, it can definitely tolerate more humid climes. In the wild, this animal experiences high temps in the mid 80s in the summer, and lows of 52º F in the winters. A burrowing species in the wild, the A. chalcodes would avoid both of these extremes by retreating to its den.
With this in mind, I set my chalcodes up on four inches of dry substrate made up of a 50/50 mixture of coco fiber and peat. To stimulate its natural burrowing tendencies, I included a short section of black PVC pipe as a starter burrow. I also supplied a water dish and some sphagnum moss. I do not overflow the water dish. Currently, it does not use its burrow, but instead chooses to sit out in the open. This is perfectly fine by me, as this little blonde ball of fluff is quite the looker.
This is a species that does very well at room temperature. Mine is currently kept between 70 and 75º F; in the summer, this range will be between 75 and 85º F. For folks who have colder temps in their homes during the winter, this would be a good spider to consider keeping.
Species in the Aphonopelma genus are notoriously slow-growing, and the chalcodes is not an exception. Although keeping this animal at higher temps will stimulate its metabolism, leading to faster growth rates, you can still expect this spider to take many years before it reaches maturity. Males of this species are expected to live 5-8 years, dying a year or two after reaching sexual maturity. It is estimated that a female could live 25+ years.
Size, feeding, and temperament
The A. chalcodes is a medium-sized tarantula reaching a max size of about 6″. So far, mine has proven to be an excellent eater, and I’m currently feeding her 2 large crickets a week. However, I have noticed that my other Aphonopelmas seem to pick up on environmental factors during the late fall months, and they will forgo eating for most of the winter. In the wild, this species will spend the winter fasting in its burrow, so I wouldn’t be surprised if mine did the same once the temps drop again.
This spider is often recommended as a great beginners species due to ease of husbandry and a tractable disposition, and for the most part, this is a good tarantula for novices. However, behavior varies wildly between individual specimens. Many folks report their chalcodes being a bit more feisty and prone to biting; others keep specimens that are quick to kick hairs. This information is important to keep in mind when performing maintenance or interacting with your animal. My A. chalcodes can be a bit skittish, but she has yet to show me a threat pose or any defensive behaviors. Still, her bald abdomen is an indication that she may kick.
The A. chalcodes is a beautiful, relatively calm spider with easy husbandry requirements that make it a wonderful addition to any collection. If you’re a collector in the States, don’t make the mistake I did and pass up this little gem.