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

Pamphobeteus sp. duran – Husbandry Notes Video

A gorgeous and hardy Pampho!

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

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

Enjoy!

Pamphobeteus sp. duran

Pamphobeteus sp. duran

Harpactira pulchripes (Golden Blue Leg Baboon)

H.-pulchripes-NEWEST

The new “jewel” of the hobby.

Over the years, there have been dozens of newly introduced tarantulas species that have caught the eyes of hobbyists with their undeniable beauty and the appeal of being a rarity in the hobby. More recently, the Poecilotheria metallica and Monocentropus balfouri were two spiders that delighted keepers with their gorgeous blues while draining wallets with their steep costs for even the smallest slings. Even today, with both species being readily available in the hobby, they still command high prices.

Today, many keepers consider the Harpactira pulchripes, a striking orange bodied and metallic blue legged beauty, the hobby’s latest crown jewel. This relatively new African species pops up on many keepers’ wish lists, and folks who manage to acquire one proudly share photos like a rich kid showing off his new sports car. And like a status car, these little spiders can come with a shocking price tag that many find ridiculous.

The fact is, new species, especially African ones like the Harpactira pulchripes are first collected and bred by Europeans and exported to the United States in limited quantities. Couple the cost of legally importing tarantulas into the US with their initial limited availability, and you have the makings of one pricey T.

Check out my female in action in the video below!

Early on, the only folks generally interested in paying these prices, often reaching well over $1,000 for a pair, are breeders looking to be the first to breed the species stateside (and make a pretty profit in the process). Other interested hobbyists will often wait a year or two until a new species is successfully bred a couple times, bringing batches of more affordable slings into the marketplace.

When I first saw a photo of a H. pulchripes, I had only been really into the hobby for a short time and I had no idea that I was viewing a newly introduced spider. I was therefore shocked when I saw that .5″ slings were going for about $500. It didn’t take me long to abandon all hope of acquiring this gorgeous spider any time soon.

H. pulchripes adult.

H. pulchripes adult.

In about January of last year, I got a lead that one of the breeders I normally buy from was expecting a shipment of babies, and slings would be available for $300 each or $275 a piece if you bought three. Although I considered making a purchase, that was a still a bit out of my price range. Over the next several months, I watched as prices for .5″ slings decreased from this price point to as low as $225 from one dealer. With a few folks managing to produce slings in the US, prices were already falling.

1" H. pulchripes sling

1″ H. pulchripes sling

Finally, I found an offer that was almost too good to be true. Stamps Tarantulas was offering 2.5″ sexed female juveniles for $300. Even better, he was having a 25% off everything sale. I would be able to get a guaranteed female for less than I almost paid for a single unsexed sling. I jumped at the opportunity and placed my order.

Now, there was a slight mix-up with my order, which lead to me being sent a 1″ sling instead of my female. Steven was quick to rectify the situation, and when all was said and done, I was the proud owner of both a H. pulchripes sling and a sexed juvenile female. To say I was a happy customer would be the understatement of the year (thanks, Steven!).

Enclosures and setup

I used a basic setup for both specimens, a modified 1 quart clear plastic canister for the sling and a 1.5 gallon Sterilite container for the juvenile. I modified both to add ventilation (holes for the canister and round vents for the Sterilite container).

H. pulchripes sling enclosure

H. pulchripes sling enclosure

H. pulchripes sling set up

H. pulchripes sling setup

For substrate, I used a mostly-dry combination of peat and coco fiber. After packing this down in the enclosures, I packed some dry substrate on the top. Both were offered cork bark with some plastic leaves for a hide, and I used my finger to pre-start a burrow for each under the cork bark.

The juvenile has a milk cap for a water bowl, and I keep it filled with fresh water (although my girl has enjoyed filling it with dirt). The sling will be getting a water bottle cap for a dish soon. For the time being, I use a water dropper to add some moisture to the plastic plant and webbing in case it wants a drink.

Both specimens took to their burrows the first night, and they have spent several weeks burrowing a bit and webbing up around the entrances. Although each has constructed a fairly deep burrow in the substrate, they are both out and visible quite often (the sling does move to one of its holes whenever I disturb its enclosure).

H. pulchripes juvenile setup

H. pulchripes juvenile setup

A beauty with a voracious appetite

Both of my pulchripes have been great eaters. I drop a cricket in overnight, and it’s always gone in the morning. When I first got my sling, I didn’t have a cricket small enough for it as I was expecting a 2.5″ juvenile. Therefore, I dropped in a pre-killed cricket for it to scavenge feed on. When I checked in the morning, the sling had dragged the carcass beneath the cork bark and had devoured the entire thing. On average, I feed this specimen three times a week. While the weather is warm, I’ll be taking advantage of its higher metabolism to grow it out of the more fragile sling stage faster.

The juvenile has had no trouble taking down medium-sized crickets; I just drop them in at night, and they’re gone in the morning. She has currently sealed herself up in her burrow for premolt, so I’m eagerly awaiting the impending shed. Before she stopped eating, I was feeding her on a twice a week schedule.

Like most of my baboons, the H. pulchripes  don’t get as fat in the booty as some of my New World terrestrial Ts get when they are about to molt. Despite powering down several crickets, their abdomens never seem to get overly plump.

As I acquired these guys in the summer, temps in my tarantula room have been between high 70s to low 80s. I’m assuming that when the winter comes and temps are in the low to mid 70s, their metabolisms will slow down a bit and molts will come more infrequently.

Not as high-strung as most baboons

So far, both H. pulchripes have been relatively calm when compared to other “baboon” species of tarantulas I keep. The female in particular is fairly low-key, staying out in the open most days and calmly seeking shelter if I disturb her enclosure. The sling is a bit more skittish, but so far she is nowhere near as flighty as my M. balfouri, C. darlingi, or my P. murinus juveniles.

This doesn’t mean that I let my guard down with these spiders as I’ve seen their speed and know what they are capable of. The H. pulchripes is a lightening-fast Old World species capable of delivering a very painful, possibly debilitating bite. Also, tarantulas often change disposition after a molt, so I know that the next shed could bring different or more extreme behaviors. Caution and care always need to be exercised with Old Worlds species.

But, is it worth it?

There’s really no denying that the H. pulchripes is a striking tarantula, but is it really worth the money? I guess the answer to this question would vary from keeper to keeper. Some folks who aren’t particularly enamored with the look of this animal would likely argue “no way.” Even many of those who find this species desirable would likely choose to wait until prices fall considerably before trying to procure one. For breeders who are looking to make an investment in an uncommon species, I would guess it would be an enthusiastic “YES.”

Personally, I love baboon species, and I was enamored with the color of this tarantula the first time I saw it. While researching it, I also learned that there wasn’t a lot of care information out there yet for this species, so I was enticed by the idea of possibly getting to blog about its husbandry for future keepers.  And I know I already have one female, so a breeding project will definitely be in the future… I’m quite pleased with my purchase, and I’m looking forward to growing these two to adulthood.

Tarantula Feeding – What, when, and how much to feed

P.-crassipes-eating

Now that I’ve got a tarantula, how do I go about feeding it?

Whether you have a dog, a cat, a hamster, or a pot-bellied pig, if you’re a pet owner, you’ve become accustomed to certain standards of care for your wards. For those of us who have kept these more domesticated pets, we are very used to feeding and providing fresh water to our pets daily, often more than once, and having a variety of conveniently-packaged foods available for their consumption. Most of these pet foods come with handy instructions on just how much to feed your pet, dependent upon the size of the animal. When our furry little friend doesn’t eat for a couple days, we take it as an immediate sign that something is very wrong and seek veterinary care.

Well, now you own a tarantula, and suddenly, all of the rules you’ve learned about pet care go right out the window.

No one sells “Tarantula Chow”, and there are a plethora of feeder insect that would make a good meal for your new pet. There are no “portions”, and determining what size item to drop in with your hungry spider can be cause for stress. As for a feeding schedule, some healthy adult species only need to be fed once a week. And if your T doesn’t eat for a while, it is no cause for immediately alarm. This is an animal that can go months at a time without eating and still stay healthy.

Tarantulas don’t come with instructions, and learning some of the rules and tricks around feeding them can be a stressful and tricky endeavor that involves experience and research. The message boards are often full of posts by newbies asking feeding-related questions like, “How often should I feed?” or “What size item should I offer?” Here, I hope to answer some of the most asked questions and give those new to the hobby one less thing to stress about.

I. Frequency of feedings:

There are a few important points to consider when coming up with a feeding schedule. The life stage of the tarantula, the size of the prey you are feeding it, and the species you are feeding should all be carefully considered when devising any sort of feeding schedule.

Sling? Juvenile? Adult?

Younger tarantulas, like slings and juveniles, are doing a lot of growing and are much more vulnerable than their adult counterparts. Slings are particularly fragile, and keepers report more sudden and unexplained deaths in the sling stage than in adults. In the wild, a spiderling  is particularly vulnerable to predators early in life, so it behooves the young T to eat as much as possible as often as possible so it can quickly grow out of this precarious stage. Therefore, most keepers choose to feed their slings as often as they’ll eat. For many, a feeding schedule of every two or three days for slings is perfect. However, if they are being offered a large prey item, once a week will certainly work.

A lot of folks express concern that they can overfeed a sling. Although some have insisted that a tarantula can become too fat, resulting in organ failure and molting issues, there has been no scientific proof of this, and most keepers believe it to be a myth. Most slings will chow down until they are ready to enter premolt, then they will stop. They will NOT eat until they explode. The only danger posed to a fat T is a possible abdomen rupture from a fall.

Once the tarantula reaches the “juvenile” stage at around 1.5-2″ or so, most keepers ease off on the feeding a bit. A spider of this size is usually out of its fragile sling stage, and growth at this point will slow down a bit. Although you can certainly continue with a more aggressive feeding schedule at this point (see “power feeding” below), it is no longer necessary. At this stage, I usually feed my animals a larger prey item once or twice a week.

For adult tarantulas, you need to also consider the species before settling on frequency. An adult Grammostola porterie/rosea needs only four or five crickets a month to be healthy. Conversely, an adult Therophosa or Pamphobeteus species would eat that in a single meal a couple times a week. Generally, the feisty tropical genera (Therophosa, Phormictopus, Pamphobeteus, Acanthoscurria, Nhandu, etc.) will need larger and more frequent meals.

As an example, my 6″ Pamphobeteus antinous female eats five crickets and one 1.5″ dubia roach in a single week. My 6″ female G. porteri, on the other hand, eats four crickets a month. Both species are healthy and plump, but the feeding schedule for one would definitely not work for the other.

Know the species of T you keep and listen to other keepers about its appetite. If you have questions, ask. Observe the feeding responses and growth rates to determine if more or less is needed.

A word about “power feeding”.

If you’re around the hobby long enough, you’ll hear folks talk about “power feeding” their tarantulas. Power feeding is when the keeper jacks up the heat and feeds his tarantulas as much as they will eat in order to grow them to maturity faster. This is usually done in an effort to get breedable adults as quickly as possible. Although this could shorten a tarantula’s lifespan as it is rushed through various instars (some males may mature in less than a year), there is no proof that this is harmful for the T.

II. What size feeders to use?

A.-theraphosoides

The size of the feeder being given to the tarantula can certainly impact the frequency that you feed the animal. Some keepers choose to feed their specimens smaller prey items more often. Others will offer their Ts much larger insects, then feed them only once a week or so. There is really not any right or wrong way, and the size and schedule comes down to the keeper’s discretion. Personally, I tend to feed medium-sized items a couple times a week.

Many keepers stress about the size of prey they should offer to their spiders. A rule of thumb many keepers use is that the prey item should be no larger than the abdomen of the tarantula. So, a juvenile with a abdomen length of about 5 mm would likely be comfortable with a pinhead cricket. Personally, I feed my slings and juveniles prey items slightly smaller than the total length of their bodies, and adults I feed items no larger than their abdomens. I’ve found that this works very well for me, although it is by no means law. Again, it comes down to the personal preference of the keeper. When in doubt, it makes sense to err on the side of caution and give your T smaller, more manageable prey.

Use your discretion.

Now, these are just guidelines, and it is okay for keepers to deviate from them. Case in point, some species of Ts will actually only attack smaller prey items. My M. balfouri and H. incei gold juveniles, for example, would only take much smaller prey for the longest time. Even when my balfouri juvies were about 1.75 inches, they would only attack small crickets. Conversely, my P. cancerides juveniles would easily take down sub-adult crickets at that size. Observe your Ts and their feeding habits, and feel free to go up or down a prey size as needed.

What to do for tiny slings?

For very small slings (1/4-3/8″ or so) small food can be very difficult to come by. Although B. lateralis roach nymphs can be a good alternative due to their small size, they are not always easy to come by. In these instances, it may be necessary to pre-kill and cut up a larger prey item into a more appropriate size. Spiderlings will scavenge feed, so this is a great way to make sure that they can eat as much as they want while not putting them in danger by dropping in an overly-large prey item.

Although this may sound a bit gross (and, well, it really is!), cutting the leg off of a larger cricket, or cutting a meal worm into smaller pieces is a perfect way to feed your tiny sling. Just carefully place the food chunk in the enclosure and, if the sling is hungry, it will find it. Just be sure to remove any excess the next day, as they may not consume the whole piece. If they don’t finish the item, you might want to wait several days before offering another item.

III. How many items should I feed at a time?

In the cases of slings and juveniles, I would say one prey item per feeding is completely appropriate. At this size, they usually have their hands full with an appropriately-sized food item, and adding a second would only serve to stress the animal.

For some adults, dropping in a more than one item can be an appropriate option. Personally, I tend to use larger insects, like dubia roaches, rather than bombard my tarantulas with a half-dozen spastic crickets. I’ve also seen animals become visibly agitated when more than one item is dropped in.

If you do drop in multiples, be sure anything that isn’t eaten is removed in a timely manner and that animal seems comfortable with taking down multiple feeders.

IV. What are my feeder options?

There are many possibilities when deciding what to feed your Ts. Personally, I find the many inverts available as feeders to be quite convenient, and I will often mix up what I feed my spiders to create a more diverse diet. Here are some of the more common feeder insects available as well as some pros and cons for each.

NOTE: Some folks supplement their larger tarantulas’ diets with vertebrates such as mice, geckos, and snakes. Personally, I’m not a fan of this. Besides being a rough death for the vertebrates, the mess left behind after the tarantula feeds can be a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and pests.

CricketsCrickets: Crickets have long been the go-to feeder insect in the hobby. They are sold at most pet stores in several sizes that make them a convenient feeder insect for almost any size T, and they can be purchased in bulk for those with large collections. They can also be relatively inexpensive if purchased in large quantities. TIP: To keep extras alive, use a large critter keeper or modified plastic storage container, provide egg cartons for a hide, and feed dry oats or fish food. Humidity kills them, so I supply slices of potato for moisture.

PROS:

  • Available in every pet store
  • Convenient pinhead, small, medium, large sizes
  • Non-invasive if they escape

CONS:

  • They can smell quite horrible
  • Can be difficult to keep alive
  • Can eat a molting T
  • Can be pricey when purchased in small quantities

mealwormMealworms: Another readily-available food source for tarantulas. Not only can mealworms be purchased in many different sizes, but they can also be raised rather easily. Unlike other prey items on this list, they can be kept in a refrigerator, meaning you can keep some on hand for when you need them. They are also very easy to reproduce and raise (for a tutorial on how to start a colony, click away!).  TIP: These are a prey item that will dig (often to return later as a black beetle that the T won’t eat), so I will often crush the heads before dropping them in to keep them from burrowing.

PROS:

  • Sold at most pet stores
  • Can be stored in a refrigerator for future use
  • No odor
  • Very easy to raise

CONS:

  • A bit small for some of the larger Ts
  • Can burrow and disappear if given the chance.

SuperwormsSuperworms: Like mealworms, superworms are another beetle larvae that can make for a good tarantula feeder. They are relatively inexpensive, and their larger sizes make them a better choice for larger Ts. They can also be raised and bred in colonies for those interested in always keeping some on hand. However, it needs to be mentioned that these worms WILL bite and eat a tarantula. TIP: To prevent a superworm from injuring or killing a T, either cut off or crush its head before offering it.

PROS:

  • Sold at many pet stores
  • Larger sizes are great for large Ts
  • Can be bred in colonies

CONS:

  • Not all pet stores carry them
  • They bite and injure/kill a T
  • Are a little more involved to raise
  • Can’t be refrigerated for storage

B.-lateralisB. lateralis roaches: Also known as “rusty reds” or “red racers”, these roaches make a wonderful alternative to crickets. They are fast moving, bold little bugs that will stay out in the open rather than dig. Their propensity to explore and move around when dropped into an enclosure makes them a very attractive prey item for Ts. Adults are also a bit larger than crickets, making them a little better for larger Ts. These can be purchased online in bulk, or kept in colonies. TIP: These are fast little roaches who are quite good at escaping when given the chance. Unlike the next roach on this list, given the right conditions, this one could thrive and be a pest in the home.

PROS:

  • Readily available online
  • Don’t burrow
  • Fast movements seem to attract Ts
  • Can be raised in colonies
  • Nymphs are great for small slings

CONS:

  • Not normally available in pet stores
  • If they escape, they can breed in the home
  • Fast and tricky to catch

bdubiamaleandfemale5B. dubia roaches: This tropic roach species can hit sizes of 1.5-2″ making them a great feeder choice for larger tarantulas (I feed most of my large tropical species with B. dubia). They can be purchased as colonies (about $30 shipped), which will produce nymphs of many sizes, providing a food source for slings, juvies, and adults. The one main drawback to this species is that some tarantulas won’t take them. TIP: This roach will freeze and “play dead” when a tarantula approaches, often leading to the T passing it up. They can also dig and hide (I’ve had ones I thought were eaten reappear months later). To prevent either of these scenarios, crush their heads before dropping them in. This will cause them to wander aimlessly keep them from burrowing and playing dead.

PROS:

  • Easy and cheap to raise
  • Adults are large and great for big Ts
  • No odors
  • Won’t breed in most homes if they escape

CONS:

  • Some tarantulas won’t eat them
  • They can burrow and hide
  • They play dead when a T approaches
  • Not usually found in pet stores

These are just a handful of the feeder options available, and some ones that I have experience with. I know hobbyists in the UK often use locusts, which sound like a fantastic food source. There are also waxworms, earthworms, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and lobster roaches. Feel free to experiment with any or all of the available feeders; a diverse diet is always a good thing.

For a wonderful article about some pros and cons of crickets, B. dubia, and B. lateralis roaches, check out A Roach in a Coach is Still … Food !

V. How to feed your tarantula in three easy steps!

I often read about the strange, complicated, and often totally unnecessary rituals some keepers go through when they feed their Ts. Now, I’m not judging, and if it works for you, great. However, I do think that some folks make this process a lot more complicated then it needs to be. In most situations, a tarantula can be feed in three easy steps…

  1. OPEN the enclosure –  Be sure to know where your T is when you take this step, and only open the enclosure as much as you have to.
  2. Drop in the prey item – You don’t have to hold it in front of the T or make it dance with tongs. Just drop it in!
  3. CLOSE the enclosure – Make sure the cage in securely latched and closed.

Congratulations, your tarantula has been fed!

P. vittattaAll joking aside, there is no need to do anything other than what is described above. This is an animal that has evolved over millions of years; they wouldn’t have made it this far if they couldn’t figure out how to eat. Tarantulas are excellent hunters and, in most circumstances, they will have no problems detecting and snatching prey. Don’t worry about dropping the feeder right next to the spider either, as you will chance startling the T. I like to drop it across the enclosure from the tarantula to give it a chance to detect the prey animal and to get a chance to hunt. It is quite fascinating to see how the different species go about capturing their food.

It worth it to note that many tarantulas are nocturnal, so you may want to do your feedings at night before bed. If the feeder hasn’t been consumed by the next morning, remove it. That being said, I feed the majority of mine in the afternoon, and I’ve seen the majority of them, even the “pet holes”, eat.

VI. But what if it doesn’t eat?

If your specimen starts refusing meals, don’t panic. Tarantulas will often refuse food during premolt (read about premolt here), and some species will fast for long periods of time. This is an animal that can go months without eating and still remain healthy, so missed meals are no reason to freak out.

When a T isn’t eating, don’t keep dropping bugs in with it every day. Instead, wait a week or two, drop in a prey item, and watch to see if there is any interest. If the T doesn’t eat, take the item out and try again in another week. Always make sure that fresh water is available.

VII. Tongs are for maintenance!

Finally, in most instances, there is no need to tong-feed your tarantula. I hear so many people new to the hobby using tongs to essentially hand-feed their animals. In most cases, this is completely unnecessary and serves only to put the keeper and the T in danger. Not only can a spider injure a fang if it attacks the tongs, but they’ve been known to run up tongs to escape or bite their owners. And, as someone who keeps feisty and fast Old World tarantulas, trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to try tong feeding an OBT or a pokie!

When in doubt, ask!

This is a hobby in which research and, more importantly, experience brings confidence. Although many of the issues one might encounter when feeding have been addressed above, there are always situations that pop up that might be unusual or rare. Luckily, there are forums and sites like this one that you can go to for help and guidance. Before you panic, though, always remember that tarantulas are tough, adaptive animals that have survived millions of years of evolution and, sometimes, questionable husbandry.

C. cyaneopubescens Feeding Video

It’s been a while since I posted one of these!

While feeding my Ts the other night, I though it would be fun to catch the GBB eating on video. Usually, this little guy grabs its food with almost unmatched speed and ferocity…

This time? Well … not so much.

On this occasion, my guy took a little while to realize that he had a very edible visitor in his enclosure. And, when he finally made the grab, it was less than spectacular. Still, I think that it’s fun to see this gorgeous specimen in action.

Warning: Once again, I have four children and three dogs, and there is often quite a bit of noise in my house at any given time. As a result, I’ve replaced the cacophony of screaming kids and barking dogs with some melodious metal (it’s the only music I have saved on my computer!). If you’re not a fan of the harder stuff, please hit MUTE before playing!

 

P. crassipes Feeding Video

Finally, I caught it…my P. crassipes feeding!

pcrassipesnew

I have spent the last several weeks trying to get a feeding video of my juvenile Phlogius crassipes. Although this smokey-gray beauty has become a bit more brazen as it has gained some size, it usually retreats to one of its many burrow entrances at the slightest disturbance. My first attempt in catching it hunting didn’t end in a kill, but served as a wonderful example of just how fast this species can be.

Well, last night, I was shocked to find this little guy just standing on the surface as I took the top off of its enclosure to feed it. After snapping a few pics of it just calmly hanging out in the open, I then dropped a cricket in. My T first bolted to its den. However, as I broke out the phone to catch it on video, it immediately went into hunt mode…yes!

My juvenile P. crassipes just chilling out on the surface.

My juvenile P. crassipes just chilling out on the surface.

Although I’ve seen this guy make much more extreme kills (it once bolted four inches from the burrow opening, grabbed a cricket, then literally tumbled back into another entrance in the blink of an eye) I was still glad to catch it. This species is voracious eater and a fast grower, and I love the sleek and powerful build of it. I will definitely be adding more of this genus to my collection very soon…

M. balfouri Feeding Video

Look who stepped out for a bite!

Of all the species I currently keep, my little M. balfouri juveniles have been some of the more quirky and reclusive. After all three buried themselves for several months during the cold of winter, they emerged in the spring with better appetites and slightly less coy dispositions. I now see all three regularly, and I’ve even been afforded the opportunity to see two of them eat. That’s a pretty big deal considering that, from November to March, I didn’t even SEE them at all.

Well, after its recent molt, one of my M. balfouri juveniles has become extra bold, often coming out of his den to hunt, and remaining in the open even when I jostle his cage while feeding him. My first attempt to catch him feeding on film proved to be an epic failure as I ended up catching only the cover of his cage. However, I fared much better with the second attempt, and managed to catch him gently grabbing a cricket I tossed in (sorry, no brutal take-downs in this one). Although it starts off a bit blurry, I do adjust the framing several seconds in.

For anyone who wants to read more about this species, click here!

Now, onto the video…

Custom Dubia Roach Enclosure and Care

Over the past six months, my tarantula collection had grown a great deal in both the quantity of Ts kept and the size of individual specimens. I now had several adult/sub-adult Ts that required larger prey items, and I was looking for an alternative to the crickets. I decided that it was now time for me to start raising my own food source. So, a couple months ago, I purchased my first dubia roach starter colony of 125+ roaches. After doing some online research on dubia husbandry and breeding in which I discovered dozens of enclosure designs and roach-chow recipes, I was ready to set up my own colony.

What follows is what I have come up with to house and feed my roaches. This is, by no means, the only way to do it, nor can I take credit for coming up with these designs or methods. This is, however, what is currently working for me.

Start with a 7 gallon Sterilite Stacker Tote

I picked up my 7 gallon Sterilite at my local Walmart. You can definitely use a larger size of container, and many do, but I needed something that would fit comfortably on a shelf that I already used. Although these containers are offered in clear plastic, you want something that blocks most of the light out (roaches, as you may know, are NOT fond of the light).

UPDATE 11/2016: My colony grew rather quickly, so I now use a 58-quart Sterilite container.

I found this to be a great size for my roach colony enclosure.

I found this to be a great size for my roach colony enclosure.

Add some ventilation.

I always have some of these convenient plastic vents on hand from Round Vents , so I used them for my enclosure. These 3″ vents only run $1.32 each, and I find cutting two holes to install the vents MUCH easier and faster than drilling dozens of air holes. However, either way would work.

3" white plastic vents from Round Vents.

3″ white plastic vents from Round Vents.

To install them, I just used a 3″ hole saw and my cordless drill to make a hole on either side of the container. I used hot glue around the edges then just popped them in. (Again, you can drill a series of holes, and it will serve the same purpose and cost a bit less).

The vents have been installed on opposite end of the Sterilite enclosure. Vents should be closer to the top.

The vents have been installed on opposite end of the Sterilite enclosure. Vents should be close to the top.

Start saving those egg cartons!

You’ll need something inside the enclosure for the roaches to climb on and hide in. Cardboard egg cartons or egg trays work perfectly. If you have the forethought (and you eat a lot of eggs) save some of the ones you get when you buy eggs from your local grocer. You can also find them at tractor or farming supply stores. I bought mine at a local Agway. Many use the 6 x 6 egg trays, but for my smaller enclosure, the regular 2 x 6 egg cartons fit better. The larger trays can be purchased in bulk online.

Put these inside your enclosure for the roaches to climb on and hide in.

Put these inside your enclosure for the roaches to climb on and hide in.

 Roaches need food bowls, too.

It makes it MUCH easier to clean and feed your roaches if you supply food bowls. For mine, I used two Ziploc small square containers (5″x 5″), which I trimmed down with a pair of scissors to fit better and to add an entrance for the smaller roaches. One of these I fill with fresh organic fruit (nectarines, oranges, peaches, strawberries, grapes, apples, etc.). The other I fill with my homemade “roach chow”.

Two of these are supplied: one for fresh fruit and the other for the dry roach chow.

Two of these are supplied: one for fresh fruit and the other for the dry roach chow.

 Carefully fit everything into the enclosure.

On one end, stand up the egg cartons. I have two rows of five in mine, and the roaches seem to do fine. At the other end, place the two food bowls with the openings facing the egg cartons. When you get your roaches, carefully dump them on the egg cartons; they will quickly scramble down between them to hide.

The roaches will climb and hide in the egg cartons. The two food bowls contain fruit and roach chow.

The roaches will climb and hide in the egg cartons. The two food bowls contain fruit and roach chow.

A word about roach food.

It’s a fact: roaches will eat just about anything. As a result, there is no set, scientific diet for your feeder roaches. Do a quick search online, and you’ll find dozens, if not hundreds, of possible food choices. Moistened dog food, chicken mash, crushed cereal, organic tabbouleh…all are on the menu. While researching, I stumbled upon this cheap, simple recipe for “roach chow”, and so far it’s worked great. There are only two ingredients.

Flaked fish food.

Whole Oats

Goldfish flakes and whole oats combined and blended make great roach food.

Goldfish flakes and whole oats combined and blended make great roach food.

Just drop the oats and flakes in a blender (I do about 60/40 oats to flakes), blend to a powdery mash. Simple. I purchase large canisters of both, then blend up extra so that I always have it on hand. As both the flakes and oats can be purchased at Walmart for a few dollars, you can make enough food for months without hurting your wallet. I supplement the roach chow with fresh fruit to provide a more balanced diet. For water, I spray down one side of the enclosure just above the fruit dish every night, which has been fine and keeps things from getting too moist.

UPDATE 11/2016:  I have altered my roach chow recipe a bit. I now use oats, corn meal, and fish flakes in a 40/40/20 ratio or so. I drop these in a blender, grind them up good, then store them in an airtight container.

I also don’t offer fruit as often anymore, as it spoils very quickly (especially during the summer) and attracts fruit flies. I’ve switched to mostly carrots, potatoes, and some apples.

My container of "roach chow" (blended oats and fish flakes).

My container of “roach chow” (blended oats and fish flakes).

The hotter, the better.

If you want happy roaches and an ever-growing supply of feeders, you’d better be prepared to jack up those temperatures. Dubia thrive in warm environments. and you’ll need to keep them in the mid 80s to mid 90s if you’d like them to mate and reproduce. As these temps are too high for many T species, you will likely have to keep your feeders in a separate room. During the dog days of summer, I keep mine in my attic, where temps are almost always around 88-90 degrees.

UPDATE 11/2016: They do not need temps in the high 80s to low 90s to reproduce. Mine are kept much of the year in the 70s, and they still have young. That said, you get more offspring the warmer you keep them. If you can’t get your room temperatures up high enough to stimulate faster reproduction, you can use a heat mat on one side of the enclosure to raise temps inside. If you’re using a Sterilite bin, try mounting the heat mat on a wall, then position the cage next to it.

Keep in mind that high temperatures will cause fresh fruit to rot very quickly, so be sure to change the fruit bowl often to avoid fruit flies and decomposition.

In the winter months, they should really be kept 65-70 minimum. However, although this will be high enough to keep them alive, they will not be reproducing.

Cleaning is breeze.

My wife and I clean our colony every week, and we’ve found that it’s quite simple. Just lift out the egg cartons and place them in an empty cardboard box while you work. Remove the food dishes and any stragglers, then just dump the feces (which is tiny and dry) into the garbage. Use a damp cloth to clean up the bottom, dry it, then put everything back in. They are actually quite clean overall, and produce no real odor.

Simple and cheap!

So, there you have it. Again, this is not the only way to keep roaches, but this is how I’m currently keeping mine. It is also quite inexpensive to put together, costing around $20 for everything.  However, feel free to experiment or do whatever works for you. Dubia, generally speaking, are quite hardy and will adapt to other food sources or set ups.

 

 

 

 

Peekaboo…My O. philippinus Makes a Cameo!

Well, look who popped out to say hello!

Okay, I know I already posted a short video featuring this same O. philippinus (Philippine Tangerine) in the process of dragging a cricket into its den, but this time I caught the entire “hunt.” Even better, my juvenile O. philippinus actually completely emerged from its den for a few seconds.

Now, I’m fortunate in that my other O. philippinus constructed a den down the side of its enclosure, so I get to see him all of the time. Still, for this other specimen who usually comes out only at night when I’m in bed, this was pretty special.

Note: This species requires moist substrate, so I periodically moisten the coco fiber to keep it comfortable. The majority of of the water percolates through the substrate, keeping the lower levels (where its den is) moist. The water on the side evaporates before morning. I had applied water shortly before this video was shot.

H. incei gold Feeding Video

I recently acquired a trio of juvenile/sub-adult H. incei golds, and I immediately discovered what a truly beautiful and interesting species they are. These lively little dwarfs sport gorgeous gold and orange tones that make them wonderful display spiders. They also like to decorate their enclosures with copious amounts of thick webbing, making them one of the more prolific webbers of the species I keep.

One of my H. incei golds after being housed. Not the best picture, as the flash has washed out it's colors.

One of my H. incei golds after being housed. Not the best picture, as the flash has washed out it’s colors.

All three have been excellent eaters, snatching medium crickets from the mouths of their burrows with lightning speed. Although they were furnished with identical enclosures with cork barks and starter burrow holes dug into the substrate, only two of my H. incei golds adopted these as homes. Both of these two dug deep burrows before lining the opening of their dens in a liberal coating of silk.

The third built what I can best describe as a silken teepee over its cork bark hide. This specimen did not dig, but instead sits on the surface, sometimes beneath its hide, waiting for prey. It makes for a wonderful showcase animal, as it is more often than not visible. It is this T that is featured in the feeding video.

A modified Ziploc container. This H. incei dug a deep burrow; the circle marks the lower chamber.

A modified Ziploc container. This H. incei dug a deep burrow; the circle marks the lower chamber.

I keep my H. incei golds in the same temperatures as my other Ts; high 70s during the day with low 70s at night. I also keep the substrate for these guys on the moist side (not wet), by sprinkling water on the surface twice a week. They are currently eating one medium cricket every three or four days.

While feeding my surface-dwelling incei, I decided to get a bit of video with my cell phone. Below is a brief clip of my little guy snatching up a cricket. My apologies for the raucous soundtrack; it is covering up my daughter telling me a story in the background. 🙂

For lovers of dwarf tarantula species, or even just those who want a gorgeous, heavy-webbing T, the H. incei gold makes a wonderful pet.