Hysterocrates gigas – “Cameroon Red Baboon”

A gorgeous, if a bit reclusive, baboon species.

H.-gigas-full

Back in August of 2014, I ordered a couple .75-1″ Hysterocrates gigas slings from Jamie’s tarantulas. At this time, I had been acquiring several baboon species, and I had become fascinated with the gigas since discovering YouTube footage of one seemingly diving into water and swimming. I had never heard of this behavior from  a tarantula before, so I decided that I definitely needed one in my ever-expanding collection.

Upon receiving the two timid slings, I housed them in 32 oz Ziploc deli containers. The T. gigas is a fossorial species that loves to build intricate and extensive burrows, so the taller cups allowed for several inches of moist substrate for tunneling. Within a day of being introduced to their new homes, both of my slings burrowed straight to the bottom.

The first several months I kept my gigas slings, I rarely saw them. I keep a number of fossorial speices, and I usually have good luck catching them out and about in the morning when I come down for work and first turn on the lights. These guys, however, were much more reclusive and difficult to spot. Occasionally, I’d catch a glimpse of a back leg as one quickly slunk down into its burrow, but that was about it.

I did know that they were eating well. Twice a week or so, I would drop in a cricket, and it was almost always gone by morning. On the rare instance that the prey item was still there the next day, I would just assume the spider was in premolt and wait a week to try again. Due to the amount they were eating, I guessed that they had to have put on quite a bit of size during this period. However, the fleeting glimpses I was able to catch of them made it difficult to assess their size.

My H. gigas young adult retreating to her den.

My H. gigas young adult retreating to her den. Check out those thick back legs…

For temperatures, they were kept 72-75° in the winter and 75-80° in the summer months. I didn’t notice any difference in how much they ate due to seasonal temperature changes. This is a species that does not tolerate dry conditions, so I made sure to keep the substrate moist by periodically pouring water in and letting it percolate down the sides of the enclosure. This helped to keep the lower levels of its den damp even as the top of the substrate dried out a bit. I also provided each with a small water dish (both were unceremoniously buried several times).

Definitely a fast-growing tarantula.

Finally, in March of 2015, about 7 months after I first acquired them, I opened one of the enclosures to find a gigas perched right on the surface. I was floored. My little sling was now easily a 3″ tarantula. I had heard that this species had a fast growth rate, but I wasn’t prepared to discover a spider this large. It was time for a rehousing.

The H. gigas is an Old World species recognized as having a nasty disposition and a potent bite, so I was particularly cautious when rehousing these two. They both proved to be a bit skittish, but I saw no defensive behavior from either. That said, tarantulas are known to experience temperament changes as they mature, so they could easily develop a bit more attitude in the future. Many keepers have reported that their specimens are quite defensive and willing to bite. Currently, both of my specimens are spending more time on the surface, and I usually catch them out in the mornings. If disturbed, they will immediately bolt back to their burrows (which made getting these photos a joy!).

My, H. gigas enclosure

My, H. gigas enclosure

Now that they are about 5″ each, they are housed in large Sterilite plastic containers with about 7″ of moist substrate and water bowls. Both  dug to the bottom and have excavated huge burrows beneath the surface.  I currently feed them each one large dubia roach once a week. After their next molts, I will likely rehouse them into their final enclosures, which will offer a bit more space and about 10″ of moist soil to dig in. I’m also still giving some thought to creating a custom enclosure for one that would allow for a deep water area in one end. It sure would be cool to observes some of that swimming behavior in  person…

The H. gigas is readily available in the hobby with slings usually fetching about $15-20. For those interested in fast-growing Old World fossorial species, that price is an absolute steal. This is a beautiful and interesting species, if a bit shy, and a wonderful to addition to any baboon tarantulas enthusiast’s collection.

Phormictopus Species Husbandry

Awesome intermediate species tarantulas with plenty of character.

Anyone that follows me on Tom’s Big Spiders, Tumblr, or YouTube has probably picked up on my Phormictopus obsession. I currently keep seven different Phormictopus species, and I am attempting to acquire all the species and color variations available. These spiders have quickly risen to the top of my list of favorite terrestrials. and I’m looking very forward to some future breeding projects with them.

But why the fascination?

I first encountered this genus while perusing the Jamie’s Tarantulas website for something new and interesting. She had just listed some Phormictopus cancerides or “Hatian Brown” slings for sale, and something about them caught my eye. At this point, I had a much smaller collection, and the majority of the specimens I was keeping were the more docile beginner terrestrials. I decided to do some research, and I discoved that most described the P. cancerides as a large brown, ornery tarantula with a bad attitude.

Phormictopus sp. purple

Phormictopus sp. purple

Large and brown? Having just acquired an A. versicolor and two C. cyaneopubescens, I was on the market for more colorful tarantulas. The idea of a “blah” brown spider didn’t quite appeal to me. Of course, after some investigating, I learned that males from this species were a gorgeous purple, and females were more a metallic bronze. This was far from just a big “brown” spider.

P. cancerides female

P. cancerides female

Ornery with a bad attitude? THAT, on the other hand, caught my attention. Most of the Ts I kept were quite calm and well-behaved, and I felt that it was time for me to graduate to something a bit more spirited and “advanced”. The idea of a larger, more feisty spider appealed to me.  It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to add a giant eight-legged terror to the collection, but I felt I was ready for the challenge if this species turned out to be less than friendly.

In my research, I also learned that this species apparently “required” moist substrate, which was a husbandry requirement that I hadn’t yet contended with. As I had my eye on some Asian terrestrials down the road, this would be a good stepping stone to keeping spiders with more complicated husbandry.

Beautiful blue slings with vicious appetites

After a week or so of research, I decided to pull the trigger and order two P. cancerides slings. When I unpacked them, I was immediately amazed by the color. These two little 1.25″ slings sported a gorgeous a metallic blue sheen that looked nothing like the supposed “brown” tones sported by their adult counterparts. I rehoused each and, as is usually my habit, I offered each its first meal.

And I instantly fell in love.

I watched in awe as one of these gorgeous blue slings bolted across the enclosure and LEAPED on a cricket with so much force that it actually rolled over onto its back for a few seconds while it wrestled with the bug on top of it. I had never seen anything like it. I quickly fed the other and was delighted to discover a similar response.

P. atrichomatus sling

P. atrichomatus sling

Since then, I’ve discovered that all of my Phormictopus species attack their prey with the same fervor, and it honestly never gets old to see one of these guys launch itself at a roach or cricket.

As slings, Phormictopus species do appreciate deep, moist substrate, and the majority will burrow if given the opportunity. For substrate, I use a mix of topsoil, peat, and some vermiculite, and I keep it moist enough that it will hold its shape when squeezed but no water will drip out. As the spiders become established I let the top layers of the sub dry out a bit. This allows the T to burrow to the more moist depths to find the correct humidity level. If I need to add water, I’ll use the end of a paintbrush to carefully put some holes down the side of the enclosure and allow the water to filter down to the lower levels.

Phormictopus sp. purple sling

Phormictopus sp. purple sling

As slings, these guys are voracious eaters. During this period I will feed them 2-3 times a week, depending on the size of the prey. Unlike other species, I’ve found that Phormictopus have no trouble taking down larger prey, so I will often give my little ones crickets that aren’t much smaller than they are. They have only ever refused a meal when in heavy premolt, and even then I had one eat just a couple days before molting.

Get ready for an amazing growth rate

As I’ve stated in my other husbandry articles, my spiders are kept between 70-76° in the winter and about 75-80° in the summer. Although higher temps would obviously lead to faster metabolisms and growth, my Phormictopus species do very well in these ranges. Not only is this a species that will molt very regularly (at one point, mine were molting about every 5-6 weeks as slings), but the amount of size they gain between molts is amazing. After keeping slow-growing Brachypelmas and Grammostolas for a while, I was floored when my P. cancerides slings first molted, putting on about .5″ of size as well as impressive girth.

Phormictopus-before-after-m

Although I started off with small slings, it didn’t take too many months or molts before I had large, hairy bronze spiders. In their first year, my 1.25″ P. cancerides slings reached about 3.5″ in size. Imagine the growth rate if they were kept at higher temps. On the other hand, my 1″ Phormictopus sp. purple slings grew from about 1″ to a leggy 3.75″ (I’m sure the fact that I bought them closer to the summer had something to do with the slightly faster growth rate). So far, my atrichomatus specimens, which I purchased in April as 1.25″ slings, are about 2.75″ or so.

Once mine hit about 2.5″ or so, I slow down the feeding schedule. I currently feed my juveniles a large cricket every five days. For my sub-adult specimens, they get a couple large (1-1.5″) dubia roaches once a week or so. If I have extra large crickets, I’ll sometimes toss a couple in as well for variety.

Housing for Phormictopus species

Due to the fast growth rate, I tend to house my Phormictopus species in larger enclosures than I would for other species. As slings, I usually use 2-quart clear plastic jars or the small Sterilite stackables containers (I believe it’s about 1.75 quarts or so). After filling them up with moist substrate, I supply them with a bottle cap water dish, a cork bark hide with a plant, and a starter burrow.

PhormiCAGE-Canister

2-quart plastic canister (purchased at WalMart for about $2)

Although enclosures this size might seem a little large at first for a 1″ sling, they grow fast and need a bit of extra space to eliminate the need for frequent rehousings. Trust me, they will quickly grow into their new homes.

Small Sterilite stackable container.

Small Sterilite stackable container.

Once my guys reach about 2.5-3″ or so, I will move them to their juvenile enclosures. For these, I use Sterilite clear plastic shoeboxes and set them up more like a terrestrial. They’ll get about 3″ of moist substrate, a cork bark hide, and a water dish. I find that at this size, my Phormictopus have become more bold and will mostly hang out in the open. They no longer burrow, but will retreat to a hide if disturbed.

My Phormictopus sp. blue female's enclosure (a clear Sterilite shoe box)

My Phormictopus sp. blue female’s enclosure (a clear Sterilite shoe box)

My largest specimens (5″ or over) are currently housed in Sterilite 15-quart “ClearView” containers (purchased at the local Target). Once again, they are set up terrestrially with cork bark hide, water dish, and 3-4″ of damp substrate.

Although a lot of the early care information I read about Phormictopus indicated that they needed to be kept moist, I’ve discovered that they do fine if the sub dries out a bit in between as long as they are provided water dishes. Although I start all of mine on moist sub, I let it dry out a bit and periodically moisten down part of the dirt when they are near a molt. I’ve noticed that they don’t seem to gravitate to this moist area, and are quite content to sit on the dry end.

I will note that other keepers still make sure to keep their Phormictopus species moist at all times, and those interested in breeding are often much more careful in keeping the moisture levels up.  However, unlike my Pamphobeteus and Theraphosa, I don’t obsess about it with these guys. If you buy one of these species and the enclosure dries up a bit, they will be fine as long as they have water.

A note about temperament

Phormictopus species have developed a bit of a reputation for being a bit ornery and defensive. I’ve found slings of this genus to be quite fast and skittish, often bolting around their enclosures or to their burrows if disturbed. As they gain some size, they become a bit more bold, often sitting out in the open when their enclosures are opened. Still, they can move quite quickly when motivated, and I’ve heard of instances where they are not reluctant to use their fangs.

Phormictopus sp. Purple

Phormictopus sp. Purple

Out of the seven species I currently keep, I’ve only ever received a threat posture from my sp. purples; they seem to be a bit more high strung than my other species. Personally, I’ve found that if I’m careful not to disturb them when I perform maintenance or feed them, they are relatively calm when they get older. They also seem quite reluctant to kick hairs, which is a huge plus in my book. To date, only one has ever kicked hairs that I’ve witnessed.

Still, these guys get pretty large, with some reaching 8″, and their amazing feeding responses often have them charging anything that enters their enclosure (including a keeper’s tongs or paint brush). Caution should be exercised whenever feeding or performing routine maintenance.

A wonderful stepping stone to faster and feistier species.

For those who have successfully kept some of the beginner species and are looking to graduate to faster, more defensive intermediate species would do well to check out some of the  spiders the Phormictopus genus has to offer.  These are large, hardy,  fast-growing tarantulas with relatively simple husbandry that are very similar to the super-popular Pamphobeteus species in terms of build and temperament.

It’s also worth mentioning that males of these species are often quite colorful, with some sporting beautiful purples and blues after their ultimate molts. This makes discovering that your spider is a male quite a rewarding experience…after all, who doesn’t like purple spiders?

Phormictopus species I currently keep:
  • Phormictopus cancerides
  • Phormictopus sp. purple
  • Phormictopus sp. green
  • Phormictopus sp. blue
  • Phormictopus atrichomatus
  • Phormictopus cautus violet
  • Phormictopus sp. south hispaniola

Euathlus sp. red Husbandry Video

With school in full swing (I’m a teacher by trade), I’ve had less time to sit in front of the computer and write my blog posts. Writing time has basically been limited to weekends for the time being.

However, as I am always diddling around in my tarantula room, it is quite convenient to whip out the camera and catch some footage as I work. It’s been a bit of an awkward transition (talking to an audience you can’t see is a LOT different from teaching a classroom full of kids), but I’m actually finding it a lot of fun.

This video was particularly fun to film, as this cute little girl just did not want to stay in her enclosure! She is easily the most inquisitive tarantula I keep.

A little side note: if you’re interested in this species and you find one for sale, buy it.  With Chili closing it’s borders to the exportation of their species (many of the young adults offered on the market were wild caught) and with few people breeding them, the Euathlus is becoming very difficult to come by.

Help … My Tarantula Buried Itself!

Help-topic

It’s probably one of the most common, yet stressful, scenarios for a new tarantula keeper. After months of research and homework, you purchase your first tarantula sling. Your anxiety level is high as you are new to the hobby, and despite all the preparation, you are still worried that you will make a husbandry mistake. You set up what you think is the perfect enclosure, rehouse your new little guy without incident, and take a moment to admire your new pet. Satisfied that you’ve done everything right, you head off to bed.

However, when you awake the next morning and check on your T, you find the enclosure empty … or at least it first appears to be empty. Closer examination reveals that your little guy has been busy, and he has now burrowed deep beneath the substrate. Not finding any hole or passageway, no way for your spider to resurface again, you begin to freak out. You did your research, and you read that this species is terrestrial, not fossorial …  why has it buried itself? Fearing for your new acquisition’s safety, questions swirl through your brain.

Is he in danger?

Is he trapped?

Is he dead?

Should I dig him out?

In most instances, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO.

But what should I do?

And the short answer to this oft-asked question is: Do NOTHING.

Burrowing is normal behavior with many species of slings, including some arboreals.

Although this is a topic I’ve touched upon in a few different blogs, the question is asked often enough that I felt it deserved its own topic. After all, if you begin keeping tarantulas as a hobby, you are likely to experience this behavior at some point or another.

One of my P. sazimai slings sealed in its burrow. I'm expecting a molt from this one soon.

One of my P. sazimai slings sealed in its burrow. I’m expecting a molt from this one soon.

When I first got heavy into the hobby, I experienced this scenario with my L. parahybana sling. After a couple weeks of it sitting out in the open, greedily snatching prey and using a piece of cork bark for a hide, I awoke one morning to find that it had buried itself. Now, at first I didn’t panic because I could see the little webbed-over hole that marked the mouth of its den. However, when I discovered that this hole had been filled in a couple days later, panic set in. As weeks passed, I became thoroughly convinced that my little guy had buried himself alive. He wasn’t visible, he wasn’t eating, and the tunnel looked as if it might have collapsed. I was ready to dig him up to “save” him when I decided to first do a bit of research first.

It was a good thing I did, too.

I discovered that it is perfectly natural behavior for slings to bury themselves. Because we are keeping these animals as “pets”,  behaviors that are perfectly normal and essential for a wild spider’s survival can seem perplexing in captivity. Although a T burying itself seems like a dire sign to us, it is in fact very normal.

My little LP opened its burrow again after a few weeks, and although I never saw it out, the prey I dropped in soon disappeared. It lived like this, hidden in its hole, for another year before finally growing large enough to feel confident living outside of its burrow. It’s been out in the open ever since.

Let’s consider some very important facts:

1. Tarantulas bury themselves for security. Tarantula slings are especially vulnerable in the wild. As a result, it behooves them to stay out of sight where larger predators like birds can easily gobble them up, or where they could easily dehydrate beneath the sun’s heat. In the wild, a sling’s burrow protects it from predators and the elements and provides it a safe home-base from which to hunt when night comes.

Sure, we keep the temperatures optimal in their enclosures, and there are not threats from predators in the safety of our homes, but they don’t know that. Their evolutionary programming is telling them that they need to burrow for security.

This behavior isn’t limited to only terrestrial Ts, either. I keep several arboreals, including eight species of Poecilotheria and L. violoceopes, and all have burrowed as slings. I could see this causing a bit of stress for a keeper expecting these spiders to be up on a branch or piece of cork bark.

2. Many tarantulas will bury themselves during the molt process. Even larger specimens may disappear into burrows when it comes time for a shed. Again, it comes down to the tarantula feeling safe and secure. The molting process is incredibly taxing and leaves the spider exhausted and very vulnerable. Not only is the spider physically taxed, but its new fangs and exoskeleton are soft and need time to harden. Therefore, many Ts will secret themselves away in their burrows when premolt approaches to wait out the process.

In these instances, the tarantula might cover over the entrance to its burrow with dirt or webbing.  If your spider suddenly buries itself after previously being out in the open and eating well, chances are it’s just in premolt. It will emerge again eventually, a bit larger and sporting a brand new exoskeleton.

3. Tarantulas normally don’t die in burrow collapses. Many new keepers fear that if their tarantula buries itself, it could perish from a cave in. I have heard of exactly ONE instance where this happened, and it was because the spider managed to burrow under a heavy rock the keeper was using as a decoration. This instance was a freak accident and nothing more.

The fact is, tarantulas will line their burrows with webbing, and that helps hold the walls together. If you’ve ever had to dig a tarantula out for rehousing, you’ll understand how tough and put-together these web-lined tunnels can be. Also, tarantulas are quite strong and very good diggers. Even if a tunnel was to collapse, as long as there was nothing heavy above it, the T would just dig its way out.

4. Your tarantula will not suffocate beneath the ground. Another misconception is that if a T closes off its den, it can suffocate to death. Again, not true. Tarantulas need much less oxygen than other animals, and most would naturally spend their lives in tight burrows dug far into the earth. As long as there is proper ventilation in the enclosure, they won’t suffocate.

When in doubt, always remember the golden rule of tarantula keeping: the tarantula always knows best.

In our quests to be the best tarantula keepers possible, we often forget a very important detail: tarantulas have evolved over millions of years and know how to survive. Unlike their human keepers, they are not prone to “irrational” decision-making. In most situations, they know what they are doing and what’s good for them. If your T suddenly buries itself, it’s not arachnid suicide. It’s only doing what it’s been programmed to do. Although you may have to wait a while to see your favorite pet again, understand that it’s not in any danger.

On of my P. atrichomatus slings buried at the bottom of its enclosure. This one spent almost a month sealed in.

On of my P. atrichomatus slings buried at the bottom of its enclosure. This one spent almost a month sealed in.

So, to review, if your tarantula suddenly buries itself, there is only one thing to do…

…NOTHING! 

Resist the urge to dig it up to “check on it.” If you succumb to the urge, you risk needlessly stressing it or, if it’s in the process of molting, KILLING it.

Also, do NOT try to open up the mouth of the burrow to “give it some air” or to allow for its escape. Again, just leave the animal be. It may be a week, it may be a couple months, but your spider will emerge eventually.

And finally, NEVER shove live prey down the hole if it’s not eating. Not only will this stress the animal out, but the prey item could kill the spider if it’s in the middle of a molt. Also, if the spider dispatches but doesn’t eat the intruder, you may now have a rotting bug corpse stuck in the burrow with your T.

At what point should I worry and dig up my specimen to check on it?

In 99% of the instances, it will be entirely unnecessary to dig up a tarantula. However, I’ve had folks ask how long they should wait before worrying. I would say if you have a small sling that has been buried for six to eight months without taking any food or making an appearance, it might be time to worry. The fact is, some slings will die; it’s an unfortunate part of nature that all specimens aren’t healthy enough to live.

If it’s a small specimen and more than a half-year has gone by, it might be time to do some investigating. After all, you don’t want to be keeping a dead T as a pet. Still, be sure to be very careful when digging the animal up, and keep in mind that you could harm it if it’s molting. Also, larger spiders can spend more time safely in their burrows as they are not fragile and prone to dehydration or starvation. For larger specimens, I would wait even longer.

That being said, I offer this anecdote for anyone considering digging up one of their tarantulas. I had a 3/8″ Maraca cabocla that burrowed deep in its enclosure last year and completely covered the entrance to its burrow. From late October until almost April, it did not eat and I saw no sign of it. At first, I thought it was just staying in its den for the winter. I’ve had many Ts do this, and it had never caused me any alarm. However, as more time passed, and I saw no movement within the vial, I assumed the worst.

Finally, I convinced myself that the small T had probably died over the winter, so I set to digging it out. I spent almost a half hour carefully removing the substrate and spreading it out on a white dinner plate so that I could hopefully find the tiny body. At one point my heart sank as I pulled out a masticated form I mistook as the spider’s corpse.

Nope … only a molt.

Finally, as I was removing the last bit of dirt, my little guy scurried out and stood upon the heaped contents of its enclosure as if to say, “dude…what the heck?” Needless to say, I felt silly (as well as a bit bad for the spider). Yup, I had jumped the gun; my tarantula was quite healthy and in no danger. By digging out its substrate, I had jeopardized its health and caused it needless stress.

I won’t make that mistake again.  

Your tarantula has buried itself? Just relax!

Like many aspects of this hobby, patience and experience are key. As you experience this situation more and more, it becomes much easier to recognize it as the normal behavior it is. The next time your precious little one decides to play hide-and-seek on you, don’t let it be cause of worry.

And if you find yourself getting impatient, do what many of us do … just buy more tarantulas!

For more on MOLTING and signs of a molt, check out the article below!

MOLTING

Quick and Easy DIY Tarantula Enclosure – Arboreal

A simple, attractive, and stackable arboreal enclosure.

Having spent the last year burying and repurposing just about every conceivable container for use as tarantula cages, I’ve finally settled on a few sizes and styles that I plan to use from this point on.

Enclosure-sterilite

I’ve found the large Sterilite Show Off containers, which are designed to hold hanging files, are very versatile and perfect for both fossorial (burrowing) and arboreal enclosures. Measuring 15.25″L x 9.75″ W x 11.5H, they leave plenty of depth for deep substrate or height needed when housing an arboreal.

If I’d planned ahead, I might have ordered some 3″ plastic vents from roundvents.com, However, this would have been a more aesthetic choice; holes work just as well.

To put together one of these enclosures, all you’ll need is:

  • Sterilite container
  • Soldering iron (for burning holes)
  • Glue gun
  • Substrate (I’m using a mixture of top soil, coco fiber, peat, and a bit of vermiculite).
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Cork bark flat
  • Water dish
  • Fake plants (optional)

1. Ventilating the enclosure

First off, if you find yourself making a lot of DIY tarantula cages, then immediately head over to Amazon and invest in a soldering iron. The one I use is manufactured by J&L, and it costs just over $10 (money VERY well spent).

Enclosure-iron

Using the soldering iron, I make a series of holes horizontally starting about an inch below the lip of the container. As you’ll be housing large juveniles to adults in this setup, you can use a bit more pressure on the iron to make larger holes. I will do about five to six rows of these on each side, spacing the holes about 1/4″ apart or so. For the arboreal enclosure, you are going to have more vertical space, so it’s okay to put holes lower on the side of the enclosure. However, for a fossorial species, you’ll want to keep the holes toward the top to allow for adequate substrate depth.

You can add holes to the other sides as well if you prefer, but keep in mind that if you’re trying to create a micro-climate, too much ventilation will make it very difficult for you to maintain optimum conditions. I do not add holes on the lid, as this just allows moisture to evaporate faster.

2. Add the substrate.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. For an arboreal enclosure, you want to add 2-3″ of packed-down substrate. Appropriate substrate can be coco fiber (Eco-earth), peat, organic (no animal products added) top soil, or any mixture of the those. For more on substrates, feel free to check out this link.

3. Arrange the water bowl and cork bark

Because we’re setting up an arboreal enclosure, we’re going to be using a cork bark flat set at an angle. Now, cork bark can be quite pricey when purchased at a pet store, so I’ve been buying mine from New England Herpetoculture (NE Herp). Not only do they carry an amazing supply of everything you would need to decorate an enclosure (fake plants, bamboo, cork bark, etc.), but their prices are fantastic. A 13-16″ long slab costs about $10 and yields you enough bark for about three enclosures if you section it.

You want to lay your piece of cork bark at an angle, wedging the bottom of it into the substrate so that it doesn’t slip down. When positioning it, try to ensure that it doesn’t cover up your air holes as well.

Enclosure-top-down

I will usually put the water dish at the base of the cork bark, just off to the side. You don’t have to get fancy with what you use for your dish, either. Some folks use souffle cups or other “found” items. I like to use these small, white ceramic water dishes that I found at Petco. I know Petco has a rep for being over-priced, and the items sold in their brick and mortar stores usually are. However, if you sign up for their online newsletter, you’ll discover that they are constantly having 25-40% sales, often with free shipping after a certain amount. I usually end up paying only about $1 per water bowl, which I think is pretty darned good. I’ve also managed to score some gorgeous fake plants there for 50% off.

4. Add some sphagnum moss.

I generally buy long fiber sphagnum moss from my local Home Depot. It’s about $5 a bag, and it is enough to set up several enclosures. I add the moss behind the cork bark (my poecilotheria species like to use it to build “curtains”) and around the water bowl. For species that require a little more humidity, you can moisten down the moss to help keep the moisture levels up.

5. Decorate!

Now, if I’m being honest, the majority of my enclosure setups are rather spartan. However, for some of my big arboreals, I like to go the extra mile. Not only does it make for a beautiful display enclosure, but by adding some faux foliage, I give my spider more places to hide.

For this enclosure, I used my glue gun to glue some plastic leaves to my piece of cork bark. I also added an artificial plant next to the cork bark to give the animal more security (and, it looks darn pretty). I purchased both of these on sale at Petco during a 40% off sale. For the leaves, I buy the plastic vines then just pop the leaves off to use as needed.

6. Finally … add your spider!

It takes me about an hour to set up three or four of these enclosures, and most of that time is spent melting the ventilation holes in the plastic. As for cost, the Sterilite container retails for $5.99, the water dish was $0.99, the cork bark was about $3, and the plant (which is optional) was $5.99. So, this enclosure cost me about $16. Considering that it will housing my gorgeous, and pricey, female P. metallica, I think it’s well worth it.

Enclosure-stacked

Chilobrachys guangxiensis – “The Chinese Faun”

Not just another big brown tarantula

C.-guangxiensis-new

I generally put a lot of thought into the each species of tarantula I buy. Like many hobbyists, I have a long wish list of animals that I have thoroughly researched with the anticipation that I will one day acquire them. There are never impulse buys, and when I pull the trigger, it’s usually on something I’ve been eyeing for months. Every so often, however, I take a chance on a species that I’m not as familiar with and that might not have been in Tom’s Top Ten to Be Acquired list.

My C. guangxiensis was one of these species.

My first exposure to this tarantula came when I found a small juvenile female listed for sale at Jamie’s Tarantulas. Although I was familiar with this tarantula’s cousins, Chilobrachys fimbriatus and dyscolus, I had never heard of this Asian terrestrial with the seemingly unpronounceable scientific name.

I quickly Googled this spider and found that, although it didn’t sport the beautiful blues of a C. dyscolus blue, or the amazing tones and patterning of the fimbriatus, there was still something undeniably beautiful about this T.  When I discovered that the care of this species was the same as others from the genus, I decided to grab her up.

A gorgeous, sleek, velvety-brown species from southern China.

Like other species from this genus, the C. guangxiensis is a fast, slightly defensive obligate burrower that requires a bit of extra humidity and deep moist substrate to thrive. As this faster growing species, I afforded her a bit of extra room to grow and gave her a larger enclosure than I normally would for a spider that size. This also allow me more room for maintenance.

Her first home was repurposed 7.2 quart Sterilite plastic storage container that measured about 11″L x 7.5″W x 8″H. Both ends of the container are vented to allow for good cross-ventilation and adequate air flow. Although this species appreciates a bit of extra humidity, I’m always careful to avoid creating the stuffy, stagnant conditions that could harm or kill a T. I provide a water dish at all times for drinking and for added humidity.

When I received my female, she was about 2″, so I gave her an enclosure with about 5″ of substrate depth in which to construct a burrow. For substrate, I use a mixture of 40% coco fiber, 40% peat, and 20% vermiculite. I find that this blend not only holds moisture well, but it also absorbs water more readily when it comes time to moisten it back up. The sub is damp, but not wet; if you squeeze it in your hand, it will hold its form, but no water will drip out. Once a month or so, I will use a bottle modified to be a watering can to make it “rain” and moisten down half of the substrate.

A hide really isn’t necessary for this species, as if it is given enough substrate, it will quickly dig its own burrow. Before I added it to it’s enclosure, I just created a small hole/starter burrow in the corner. It quickly adapted this hole and used it to create its home. It now has two entrance holes and a large open den at the bottom of the enclosure.

I’ve observed no specific temperature requirements for this species. Mine is kept at 70-77° F during the winter and 75-84° F during the warmer summer months. She has eaten well in both ranges, although higher temps usually lead to higher metabolisms and faster growth.

Just add crickets and watch it grow!

The C. guangxiensis is a medium /fast growing species that can reach 7″ in size. My female has molted three times in the eight months that I’ve kept her, and she has gone from 2″ to about 3.5″. She is a voracious eater, taking down prey with lightning speed before quickly dragging it down into her den for consumption. As a juvenile, she was eating 3 medium crickets a week. Now that she is a bit larger, I’ve been feeding her two large crickets a week.

If there will be any knock on this species, it might be that it can be a bit of a pet hole. Of all of my obligate burrowers, this one might be my most secretive. I sometimes catch it out after the lights go out for the night, or early in the morning, but she will bolt back into her den at the slightest disturbance. This has made it very tricky to photograph. Still, when I see her out an about, it is a true thrill.

This one can throw down the silk.

It should be noted that some keepers have been successful keeping their Chilobrachys species on more shallow substrate with a hide. These species can be prolific webbers, festooning their enclosures with copious amounts of thick webbing. Specimens denied the opportunity to dig will build elaborate homes out of their webbing.

Personally, I like to let them burrow as the deeper depths of the substrate can provide them with a secure and more humid place to retreat to when frightened or when they need more moisture.

My C. guangxiensis has webbed up her entire enclosure with thick web. Even though she has a den, she will come out at night to lay down more silk, and she will often web the top of her enclosure shut. As a result, I open her cage several times a week to remove the webbing on the lid.

My C. guangxiensis' enclosure. I have to open this one quite often, even when not performing maintenance, as she will often web the top shut.

My C. guangxiensis’ enclosure. I have to open this one quite often, even when not performing maintenance, as she will often web the top shut.

A beautiful addition to an intermediate collection.

Unfortunately, with so many more colorful and easier to keep tarantulas available, including other members of the Chilobrachys genus, I worry that the C. guangxiensis sometimes gets overlooked. Pictures just don’t do this specimen justice, as its slick, shimmering coat and lithe, athletic build make it a stunning specimen in its own right.

And although I’ve seen many photographs that make it appear to be a simple, plain shade of brown, its true tones are difficult to describe and must be seen to be appreciated. For those used to Asian terrestrials, including their attitudes, speed, and care requirements, the C. guangxiensis would make a great addition to the collection.

 

 

 

 

Humidity, Temperature, and Tarantulas

We’ve all done it.

After hours of exhaustive research in which we read about a tarantula’s natural habitat and peruse a plethora of care sheets (many of them with conflicting information), we set up what we hope will be the “ideal” habitat for our new pet. We add the appropriate substrate, a cork hide, a water dish, maybe a plant or two, before introducing our new pet to his “perfect” home. All is well for a night or two..

And then the stress begins, as we obsess about keeping temperatures and humidity at the optimal level for this species. The care sheet said 75% humidity, but the $8 ZooMed hydrometer I picked up at Petco says it’s only 60%. Time to spray down the substrate until it’s a muddy slurry, right? Or, the temperature in my house just dipped to 68º, so I’d better put a heat lamp or mat on my critter, correct?

The short answer to both of these questions, in most instances, is a very emphatic NO.

Tarantulas are not as fragile as we make them out to be.

One very important thing to keep in mind when working with tarantulas; they are very adaptive animals. You don’t survive millions of years of evolution and climate change without being able to tolerate a dip in temperature or a bit less humidity. It’s true that some species have evolved over the centuries to adapt to different ends of the climate spectrum. Sure, a T. strimi is accustomed to living in humid conditions that would likely kill an arid species like a P. murinus. However, in between these two extremes, there is a lot of gray area and quite a large margin for error when correctly controlling the environment of your tarantula.

Now, I’m not saying that we want to keep our pets in less than comfortable conditions just to make it easier for the keepers. It’s still important to acknowledge the difference between “comfortable” and “tolerable.” It’s just very important to keep in mind that the high and low temps present in a tarantula’s natural habitat may not not represent the ideal temps for the T.

For example, consider the M. balfouri. On the island of Socotra, high temps can be in the high 90s with low temps around the low 60s. That’s a huge range, about 30º, and neither the high nor low temperatures there would make for a particularly comfortable spider. Therefore, a keeper trying to keep these exact highs and lows would be seriously missing the mark. Yet, some keepers will still obsess over keeping these highs and lows in their home setups.

Burrows = The “X” factor.

We also tend to forget that many tarantula species live in burrows and some dig them deep into the earth. This allows the spiders to escape hostile environments and to seek more humidity (or less) when needed. Temperature and humidity measurements from within tarantula burrows in the wild reveal the climates inside are much different than the outside climates. Considering that many species spend the majority of their time inside their burrows, this would mean that we actually have NO idea what the ideal humidity and temperature levels are for many of these species.

So, what do we take from this? Well, first off, it means that the temperature and humidity “requirements” included on many care sheets are next to useless and that the stress you get from not matching these numbers in your setup is also unnecessary. If you are obsessing over either, you are making the hobby more stressful than it should be.

Normal “room temperature” is okay for most species.

I hear this said on the forums all of the time, and it is a good, if slightly too vague, rule of thumb. For most folks, their normal room temperatures will be sufficient for the majority of species of tarantulas. Generally, if you’re comfortable, then your tarantula will be comfortable, too.

My all-purpose thermometer/hygrometer.

My all-purpose thermometer/hygrometer.

That being said, this rule causes confusion as normal “room temperatures” may vary from home to home. For example, in my house, we like it a bit cooler than most, so my living room at the moment is about 64º. My grandmother, on the other hand, likes it toasty, and her home is around 88º this time of year. Both of these temperatures represent extremes, and some species of Ts kept for long at either end could experience distress.

Therefore, a modicum of common sense is needed when applying this rule. If you’re cuddled up in several sweatshirts and a blanket to watch TV, then this is not a comfortable room temperature for your animals. Conversely, if it’s summer and the 89º heat in your home has your sweaty clothes sticking your body like blistered layers of skin, your Ts are not going to be happy.

The majority of the species will do well in a temperature range between high 60s and mid 80s, and will tolerate temps slightly higher and lower than these for shorter durations. If your home is 67-70º throughout the winter, you don’t have to worry about procuring some sort of alternative heat source or else risk your tarantulas dying. They may not eat as much or grow as fast (warmer temps lead to faster metabolisms) but they will be just fine.

If you should decide that you need supplementary heat…

I’ve read posts by hobbyist who live in drafty houses where the temps consistently get lower than would be appropriate. Or, there are folks like myself who have a room dedicated to raising these animals, and they purposely want to keep temperatures higher to promote growth or breeding. In these instances, it is always best to control the overall temperature of the room and not the individual enclosures.

The space heater I use in my tarantula room.

The space heater I use in my tarantula room.

The best heating option for situations like these is a space heater. There are many types available on the market, including oscillating heating fans and oil-filled electric space heaters. Most also come with built in digital thermostats and timers, allowing for you to create an optimal day/night cycle. If you do go this route, be sure to do your research and look up reviews to get the best, safest heater for your money.

And if you do decide to go with supplementary heating, please remember the following:

  • No heat mats!
  • No heat pads!
  • No heat rocks!
  • Absolutely NO Heat lamps!

Most pet store heat mats, heat pads, and heat rocks are not appropriate heating sources for tarantulas. All three can create hot spots that can injure, dehydrate, and kill a T.

That said, there are some folks that use heat mats combined with rheostats to heat their collections, but doing so takes some experimentation and finesse. If you absolutely can’t use a space heater and feel that heat mats might be a better fit, do some research and speak to keepers who have experience with these setups. Most who use them heat larger areas, like tanks or cabinets, then put the T enclosures into these. Heating individual tanks is much more tricky and risky.

Heat lamps are very dangerous and can dry out and kill a tarantula very quickly. I don’t care how many thermostats and temperature-regulating gadgets the pet industry sells, these heating sources are likely to do more harm than good.

Humidity … Stop Worrying!

NO-HYGROMETERThe anxiety created by dreaded “H” word is likely a leading cause of stress-induced hypertension in new hobbyists. All joking aside, the humidity “requirements” listed in many care sheets have created a massive issue where none should exist. Too many times, a new hobbyist will read some arbitrary humidity level on a care sheet, rush to Petco to pick up one of their cheap, inaccurate (read: USELESS) humidity gauges, then panic when they can’t hit that magic moisture number. This is a waste of time, energy, and stress that can better be spent on sports teams, money, and taxes.

It’s important to keep a few things in mind before obsessing about humidity.

  • Accurate humidity levels are almost impossible to measure with cheap, over-the-counter humidity gauges. In other words, if you’re obsessing over the number on your Zoo Med hygrometer, you are likely stressing over an inaccurate measurement.
  • Humidity requirements listed on care sheets often don’t take into account that humidity levels differ from region to region. If you live in an area with high-humidity naturally, like Florida, and you are misting down your avic, you are likely doing much more harm than good. Always take into account local climate conditions when setting up your enclosures.
  • Most species are able to thrive at many different humidity levels. Even genera like Avicularia, Poecilotheria, and Lasiodora, once thought to need much higher humidity levels, have demonstrated the ability to do very well at lower humidity levels when supplied with water dishes. In fact, some keepers now attribute many Avicularia deaths to overly-humid, stuffy enclosures.
  • Humidity levels in properly vented enclosures are often much different from those in the homes they are in. The humidity gauge in your home may read 45% humidity, but the moisture level in your enclosure may be much higher. If you go spraying the cage down, you might be raising the humidity to dangerous levels. Overly moist enclosures are a death trap.

The fact is, most species do very well in a cage that allows for proper cross ventilation (holes in the sides, not the top) and a water dish. That’s it. For asian species, using deep, moist substrate and supplying a water dish is all that they need. They will construct burrows beneath the sub which will provide the correct humidity level for them.

Now, are there situations where you should keep an eye on moisture and humidity? Certainly. I live in New England where the winters can be cold and my home’s furnace may be running for weeks at a time. This dries the air in my home, often resulting in humidity levels in the teens. In these instances, it makes sense to run a humidifier to keep levels at a safer level (I usually opt for about 40-50%).

Slings are also more susceptible to dehydration, so many folks choose to keep all spiderlings on moist substrate with good ventilation. Slings around .75″ can also be given water bowls, which also aids in preventing them from drying out. For my tiniest slings, I keep the substrate slightly moist on the bottom, then offer sphagnum moss on the top, which I keep moist for drinking.

With proper enclosures and husbandry, humidity level should never be a factor, even if outside conditions seem less than optimal. Here are some husbandry tips that will keep you from every having to fret about humidity.

1. Keep a water dish filled with fresh water at all times.

The easiest way to keep the humidity up in an enclosure is to add a water dish. A large, open dish will allow water to slowly evaporate, raising the humidity inside the enclosure as long as it isn’t overly vented. It will also, obviously, serve as a drinking source for a parched T. For some species, like my T. strimi, I will even include two dishes.

2. Restrict ventilation.

Are you using a screen top on your aquarium, or is your T housed in a critter keeper-type enclosure? Both of these cages will allow for too much airflow and rapid evaporation, which will inhibit you from creating a “micro climate” inside the cage. A good enclosure should offer cross ventilation (holes/vents should be on the sides) and airflow, but should also prevent conditions inside the cage from becoming too dry. You must be careful not to restrict airflow too much, though, as not enough ventilation will create a stuffy, dangerous environment.

3. Use moist soil for tropical or Asian species.

For species that appreciate a little extra moisture, I use moist, not wet, substrate. My go-to mixture for these enclosures is topsoil combined with a bit of peat moss with some vermiculite mixed in for moisture retention. It’s moist enough that it will stay together when squeezed without water wringing out of it. My O. philippinus, P. cancerides, C. discolus, P. antinous, H. gigas, and T. stirmi are all kept on topsoil mixed with some vermiculite to maintain moisture. When the levels in my room are too low, they can retreat to their dens for a more humid environment.

4. Provide enough substrate depth for burrowing.

Many keepers opt to keep Ts on shallow substrate so that they can see them out more. Although this is obviously up to the keeper’s discretion, and most species will easily adapt, it will prevent some animals from burrowing to find more suitable conditions. When in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to give the T extra depth in which to dig. Even for species that don’t dig, the extra depth will allow the bottom levels to remain moist while the top remains dry. As this trapped moisture slowly evaporates, it will elevate the humidity in the enclosure.

5. Don’t spray … make it rain.

An old juice bottle modified with some holes to be a watering bottle.

An old juice bottle modified with some holes to be a watering bottle.

Many hobbyists talk about spraying water into their enclosures to increase humidity. This technique only raises levels for a short period as the surface liquid quickly evaporates. When I want to add moisture to an enclosure, I like to “make it rain.” Using a soldering iron, I put several holes in the top of a large juice bottle and turned it into a handy watering pot. Instead of spraying water into the enclosure, I simulate a downpour and soak down one side. The moisture eventually sinks in, keeping the sub moist as the top dries up.

6. Use a humidifier.

If you live in a region with cold winters, necessitating that you use a furnace, chimney, or wood stove to heat your home, chances are that the humidity levels will get dangerously low. In these instances, even properly set up cages can dry out quickly. The best solution to this is to purchase a humidifier. You don’t need to overdo it if you go this route; a humidity level between 40 and 50% will suffice.

Don’t let needlessly worrying about temperature and humidity add stress to the hobby.

For the majority of the species available, and for all of the tarantulas I named in my Beginner Tarantula guide, room temperature and humidity will be fine. In my opinion, there is NO need to purchase a humidity gauge, as they are woefully inaccurate, and in most instances, supplementary heat is also unwarranted (and sometimes dangerous).

Is there a time where more careful, species-specific micro-climates are necessary? Yes, as those looking to breed species, especially some of the more difficult ones, will look to recreate natural environmental triggers, like high temps, winter lows, or wet seasons to stimulate a mating response. In these cases, some careful management of their tarantulas’ micro-climates will be warranted. However, for the casual keeper or for one new to the hobby, this should never be an issue.

So toss those humidity gauges and heat mats in the closet, leave the spray bottle for the plants, and stop worrying about temperature an humidity. Your Ts will appreciate it.

Avicularia Versicolor (Antilles or Martinique Pink Toe)

A.-versicolor

 One pretty little arboreal…

Despite being very common and established in the hobby, there is perhaps no tarantula available right now, save maybe the T. blondi, that causes owners more stress over the husbandry than the A. versicolor. When I first got into the hobby, I was immediately amazed by this gorgeous arboreal, which starts as a stunningly-blue sling and morphs into a fuzzy, multi-colored adult.

However, my research into its husbandry proved to be frustratingly confusing and contradictory. On one side were the keepers that said this species was difficult to keep due to strict humidity requirements. On the other side were folks who argued that humidity was not as important as good cross ventilation, and that a stuffy, humid cage would prove to be a death sentence for this animal.

Then, there was also the constant mention of SADS, or “Sudden Avic Death Syndrome”, the name of the phenomena where a seemingly healthy Avicularia (often a versicolor) suddenly dies for no apparent reason. The message boards were rife with stories of these little blue spiders curling and dying suddenly and without an obvious cause.

Although these reports made me a bit gun-shy to try this species, I eventually caved and picked up a .75″ sling from Jamie’s Tarantulas. It’s been almost two years since I acquired my Versi, and I’ve found her to be a very rewarding tarantula to keep.

Avicularia versicolor

Avicularia versicolor

It’s all about the ventilation

When I first received my little blue versicolor, I was convinced that this fragile little girl would inevitably perish in my care. As Jamie had listed this species as her favorites (and had experience with them), I chose to house this specimen in one of Jamie’s Arboreal spiderling enclosures. These clear rectangular cages sported a round 1″ vent in the front and offered good ventilation (although, no cross ventilation). I used about an inch of moist coco fiber substrate in the bottom and a tall piece of cork bark to encourage webbing. My little versicolor was quick to create a web funnel between the cork and the side of the enclosure, and she spent most of her time in this hide.

Now, about that humidity… Although the substrate started off moist, it soon dried out. As time went on, I would moisten one corner of the enclosure by dribbling water on the web and the coco fiber about twice a week (I did not mist). Occasionally, I would see this specimen drink from water on the web. Although I was still very concerned that the humidity wouldn’t be high enough, the little girl seemed to be thriving in these conditions. She ate very well and was molting every two months like clockwork. Even during the winter months when my furnace was bringing humidity down to the teens, she still ate and molted regularly.

In my experience, high humidity is NOT necessary for older specimens. In fact, many now believe that stuffy, overly-moist enclosures are a death sentence for this species. Instead, good ventilation seems to be key. Once my avic reached about 1.5″ or so, I added a water dish and stopped moistening the substrate. Now that this specimen is about 3.75″, she is kept on dry substrate with the only humidity provided by her water dish.

For temperatures, my A. versicolor was kept between 70 and 76 degrees during the winter and between  72 and 84 during the summer. I did not notice a large difference in growth rate between these two periods. In these temperatures, this species grows at a medium pace, going from .75″ to about 2.5″ in 11 months time. She is now about 3.75-4″ or so, and it was about five months between the latest molts.

A modified Ziploc container that I use to house my A. vesicolor juvenile. Holes have been melted into both sides to provide cross ventilation. A piece of cork park has also been provided for a hide.

A modified Ziploc container that I use to house my A. vesicolor juvenile. Holes have been melted into both sides to provide cross ventilation. A piece of cork park has also been provided for a hide.

A gorgeous spider with a healthy appetite.

From day one, this tarantula has been an awesome eater. As a sling, I would usually use tweezers to load a tiny red racer roach into the bottom of its funnel web to make it easier to find prey (a couple times, I dropped a prey item in on the substrate only to find it alive a few days later). After several months, this cute little girl would come right to the edge of the funnel web whenever I opened her enclosure and take the item right from my tongs. Learned behavior? It sure seemed like it…

A.-versi-NEW-1

As she put on some size, I needed only to drop the item in, and she would eventually locate it. This T has proven to be a veracious eater, taking down larger prey items with ease. Like many of my Ts, this one only refuses a meal when in promolt. She currently feeds on smaller large crickets, and it’s always fun to watch this cute little beauty stalk and take them down.

A stunning tarantula and a must for any collection.

Although she was quite skittish as a sling, my little versicolor is definitely calming down with age. Instead of bolting into her web when I open her enclosure, she now waits patiently as I drop a prey item in or perform maintenance. It has also been very rewarding watching the color changes on this specimen as she has molted, and I eagerly await her adult colors. The A. versicolor is a lovely little gem of a species that, with the right care (ventilation!) will thrive and delight for many years.

 

These pics were literally snapped about 12 hours apart. Obviously, there was a molt in between.

These pics were literally snapped about 12 hours apart. Obviously, there was a molt in between.

Tarantula Sling Enclosures

Now that I’ve got my new sling, what do I house it in?

When I made the decision to purchase my first tarantula slings, I next needed to choose which enclosures I would use to house my new acquisitions. I had researched many alternatives, from deli cups to dram bottles, and I wanted to be sure to choose something that would allow me to maintain the appropriate environments my spider’s would need. Too much ventilation and I would risk the enclosure, and my T, drying out. Not enough ventilation, and the stuffy, overly-moist conditions could prove a death trap. I also had concerns about security; namely, would my T be able to escape from ventilation holes (or would the design of the home make it easy fro the spider to scoot out when it was opened for feeding or cleaning?).

As luck would have it, my first sling purchase was made at Jamie’s Tarantulas, and I took advantage of a couple deals she was running that included both a sling and one of her wonderful sling enclosures. I still use these enclosures, as they offer many perks that I will get to later. However, since then, I’ve done a lot of experimenting with other types of homes for my slings, and I’ve discovered some “found enclosures” that are also quite useful and versatile. So, if you’re on the lookout for a good sling enclosure, you may consider the following.

Deli Cups

A couple simple deli cups. Note: if using these to house a sling, I would not use the screened top as it would allow for too much airflow.

A couple simple deli cups. Note: if using these to house a sling, I would not use the screened top as it would allow for too much airflow.

Deli cups are an enclosure staple in the hobby, and for good reason. They are inexpensive, versatile, come in many sizes, and are easily-acquired. They are also stack-able, which can allow those with large collections to easily conserve space. Full disclosure: I personally don’t use deli cups to house my Ts; I have always used other alternatives. But to ignore deli cups on a list of suitable alternatives would be ridiculous.

PROS:

  • Inexpensive
  • Come in many sizes
  • Readily available
  • Versatile
  • Easily adapted
  • Stack-able

CONS

  • Not the most attractive (for those looking to display)

Jamie’s Tarantulas Spiderling Enclosures

Three sling enclosures from Jamies tarantulas. I have a dozen of these, and I love them.

Three sling enclosures from Jamies tarantulas. I have a dozen of these, and I love them.

To date, I’ve purchased about a dozen of these, and I still love and use them. For those buying slings from Jamie’s site, picking up one of these little beauties is almost an academic decision. Not only do they look great, but for a very reasonable $7.95, you get all the fixings, too (cork bark, silk plant, coco substrate, and moss), which is SO convenient. They look great on a shelf, and I’ve safely housed over 20 slings in them without incident.

Before using one of these enclosures for the first time, you will want to open and close it several times, as the cover fit can be quite stiff initially. Personally, I like how you can basically “hinge” the top on the bottom when feeding Ts, which keeps the opening small and prevents escapes. She sells these enclosures in both terrestrial and arboreal versions.

PROS:

  • Very convenient when purchasing slings from Jamie’s site
  • Good value with all of the fixings
  • Gorgeous display enclosure
  • Very secure
  • Good visibility
  • No modifications needed
  • Rectangular shape and top vents means you can fit many on a small shelf

CONS:

  • Can be pricey when compared to “found enclosure” alternatives
  • Can’t be stacked on each other.

Plastic Dram Vials

Plastic vials used to house small slings.

Plastic vials used to house small slings.

Like the deli cups, plastic dram vials are used by many keepers to house their slings. They are inexpensive, easily adapted, and fantastic for keeping in precious humidity. Plastic dram vials come in many sizes, including very small sizes perfect for tiny slings. Pictured above are two that are currently housing 1/2″ Hapalopus sp. Columbia slings, and a smaller dram which is home to a 2/5″ B. albopilosum sling. All of these slings started off much too small for my other enclosures, and the smaller sizes of the plastic drams proved the perfect alternative.

PROS:

  • Inexpensive
  • Readily available
  • Come in many sizes (Great for tiny slings)
  • Secure
  • Easily adapted
  • Wonderful for holding in moisture
  • Great visibility

CONS:

  • Not safely stack-able

Ziploc Twist n Lock Storage Containers

Modified Ziploc storage containers. These are very versatile and can be used to house burrowing, terrestrial, and arboreal Ts.

Modified Ziploc storage containers. These are very versatile and can be used to house burrowing, terrestrial, and arboreal Ts.

I started using these several months ago after buying a boatload of plastic containers at Walmart to experiment with as enclosures. Since then, they have quickly become my go to enclosure for slings 1″ or larger. Although they come in two sizes, I have switched almost exclusively to the taller size shown above. As you can see, you can fill it with more substrate, meaning burrowing species can dig elaborate burrows (H. gigas), or use less substrate and a piece of cork bark for arboreal species (the P. metallica on the right).

These enclosures are easily modified with a hot nail or soldering iron, and they are wonderful at holding in moisture. They feature secure, twisting lids that offer wonderful security, and they are stack-able, which is great for space-saving. At about $2.50 for two, they are also very inexpensive. I love using these for faster-growing species, like my Phomictopus, as they are roomier than other enclosures and allow more room for growth.

PROS:

  • Inexpensive
  • Very versatile (can work for burrowing or arboreal)
  • Secure
  • Easily adapted
  • Stack-able
  • Attractive

CONS

  • Blue lid makes it tough to see in from the top

Just the tip of the iceberg…

These are, by no means, all of the possiblities out there. Tarantula message boards are rife with other examples of “found enclosures” that keepers have used. It’s fun to experiment with different types of cages, so creativity should definitely be explored. Just keep in mind that a good cage should:

  • Be secure
  • Be appropriately sized
  • Able to maintain the optimal environment inside
  • Appropriately ventilated

I will continue to try to find new and interesting enclosures, and if anything should prove particularly effective, I will definitely add it to this list.

Hapalopus sp. Colombia – The “Pumpkin Patch”

A gorgeous little dwarf tarantula with plenty of attitude!

I was first introduced to this amazing little species by a Viper69, a member of the Arachnoboards forum. I was on the lookout for new and beautiful tarantulas to add to my growing collection, and Viper69 was kind enough to send me pics of his own Hapalopus sp. Colombia large (tarantula enthusiasts love to spread their addiction!). I was immediately floored by the appearance of this unique T. As orange is one of my favorite colors, I was enamored by the bright orange abdominal markings that lend this animal its common name of “Pumpkin Patch”. The fact that they were known to be hearty captives with huge appetites and fast growth rates made this “pygmy” species jump up to the top of my wish list.

Young adult female Hapalopus sp. Columbia large

Young adult female Hapalopus sp. Colombia large

Well, several months ago, I finally procured a trio these feisty little spiders from Autumn’s Eight-Legged Experience. I was amazed to discover that, even in the sling stage, these little guys already sported their adult coloration. I’ve been used to slings that look MUCH different from their adult counterparts, so this was definitely a unique trait and a wonderful surprise.

One of my three Hapalopus sp. Columbia large slings.

One of my three Hapalopus sp. Columbia large slings.

Keep that “Pumpkin Patch” moist.

As my slings started at about 3/8″ long, I housed these guys in 30 dram bottles with tiny ventilation holes poked into the top with a small needle. This is a species that requires a bit of extra moisture, so for substrate, I used a mixture of moist (not wet) coco fiber mixed with peat moss. For added moisture retention—and to supply a place to hide—I also added a pinch of sphagnum moss. Using the handle of a paintbrush, I also created little starter burrows down the side of each enclosure.

These little guys were quick to settle in, adopting the pre-dug burrows while webbing up the entrances. Within days, all three had dug extensive underground burrows, and two had begun webbing on the surface. Unlike some of my “pet hole” species, as slings these guys usually bolted out of their dens and into the open whenever their enclosures were disturbed. They are quite bold for little spiders.

Check out my husbandry video for this species below!

As young adults, all three are currently kept in ½ gallon enclosures made from repurposed Sterilite plastic storage bins. Although they were given several inches of moist substrate and cork bark burrows, they used their webbing and some sphagnum moss to create their own homes. All have water bowls, and I moisten down the substrate once a month or so by simulating rain with a make-shift watering bottle.

Hapalopus sp. Columbia Large young adult enclosure. This one is about 1/2 gallon.

Hapalopus sp. Columbia Large young adult enclosure. This one is about 1/2 gallon.

All three have webbed up their enclosures heavily. They are not particularly shy, and they have no problem sitting right out in the open waiting for prey. This is particularly nice, because this is a truly unique and beautiful tarantula. Haplalopus sp. Colombia is a very fast and skittish species, though, and they will bolt to their dens when disturbed. Care should be shown every time their enclosure is opened for feeding or maintenance.

Voracious eaters with amazing appetites.

When I first acquired my slings, they were still too tiny to take down small crickets, I cut two crickets in half and dropped in the smaller pieces for them to scavenge feed on. All three greedily accepted their pre-killed meals. To date, they have proven to be voracious eaters, only refusing meals when in pre-molt. Once they reached about 1/2″ in size, they were able to easily take down a small cricket on their own.

Kept between 70-76 degrees during the winter and 75-80 degrees during the summer, and fed two times a week, they grew quite quickly. During the first six months,  they molted about every month and a half.  In 11 months, they’ve grown from 3/8″ to about 2.25″.

I currently feed each of my sub-adults one medium cricket twice a week. When in premolt, they will stop eating and generally become more reclusive, hiding out in their dens and staying out of sight.

Males mature quickly, with mine hooking out at about 11 months at about 2.25″. Females will live longer, reaching a max size of about 3.5-4″. There is a smaller “dwarf” version of this species that reaches a max size of about 2″, but the Colombia Large is not quite small enough to be a true dwarf.

A stunning species for the keeper used to fasts ‘n feisty Ts.

Hapalopus sp. Colombia may be a small species, but what they lack in size, they make up for in attitude and personality. H. sp. larges are generally recognized as being fast and defensive, with many keepers also branding them as escape artists that will make a mad dash for any opening. Mine have actually proven to be quite well behaved, choosing to retreat to their burrows rather than try to escape.

Although this species is a bit high-strung, none of mine have shown any aggression. I do think that a beginner with some experience could keep this species if she/he is cognizant about their speed and care. They are very hardy, and their great appetites and quick growth rate make them an ideal species to raise from sling to adult.