Tarantula Controversies – Is keeping Tarantulas in Captivity Wrong?

And How to Address This Question when It Inevitably Comes up.

Recently, I received the following email from hobbyist, Hugo Pinheiro:

Hope you’re doing well. I was talking to someone I’d just met and we ended up talking about tarantulas and they asked something that kinda left me defenseless or at least lacking a convincing point. They asked: “don’t you feel like you’re depriving a tarantula from its freedom?” – immediately I thought this person was judging me and my impulse response was something along the lines of “well, technically, you’re doing the same when you get a dog…” But this answer didn’t feel right to me, tarantulas aren’t dogs after all. If they see a chance to escape and follow their own path, they will. Dogs stay because they get attached and want to stay. At the same time I feel like we’re giving them an opportunity of having a very chilled life, no predators, all the food they want and a decent enclosure. Do you ever get this question? What’s your take on this controversial topic? Once again, thanks for your time!  

The short answer was, yes, I’ve been asked this many times, mostly through comments on my blog or YouTube channel. Furthermore, I’ve run into this mindset quite a bit in the comment section of other keepers’ videos. Although I love animals myself, and appreciate that there are folks out there who truly care about their well-being, it can be incredibly frustrating to try to convince some of these people that we are not mistreating our tarantulas. And, like Hugo realized, it can be very difficult coming up with that killer response on the spur of the moment to defend our hobby.

With that in mind, I asked Hugo if it would be okay for me to address this topic in a special Tarantula Controversies. After all, we all get asked this question at some point, and hopefully this article can serve as a go-to resource on the subject. For those who have read my other Tarantula Controversy articles, I usually try to present the arguments in a point/counterpoint format. As I honestly don’t agree with the other side one iota, I’ll be spending the majority of the time defending the hobby in this article. Continue reading

Tarantula Impaction Revisited

Tarantula Fecal Impaction Revisited

Back in September of 2014, I lost a seemingly healthy juvenile H. villosella a couple months after its most recent molt. Said specimen seemed to experience no difficulties during the shedding process, and after a hardening period, resumed eating as normal. She ate twice, displaying the ravenous appetite I had come to expect from this spider as she easily consumed two larger prey items. However, when I dropped in what would be her third meal after her recent molt, she refused it. A week later, she refused her fourth.

A few weeks later, she was dead.

At first, I was totally perplexed as to what could have caused her untimely death. She had been provided water, and I had caught her drinking on a couple occasions. She had been eating okay after her molt, which I thought would indicate that there were no issues. A closer examination of her revealed some clues. Despite the fact that she hadn’t been eating, her abdomen was quite plump and a bit hard. She also had chalky white stuff—stool—caked around her anus. When I looked closely, I could also see a tiny hard plug blocking the opening itself.

A dead H. villosella sling. Notice the white around the anus, and the yellowish spot that formed beneath the corpse (likely feces loosened by the moist towel.

After doing a bit of research, I realized that I had likely experienced my first occurrence of tarantula fecal impaction. An impaction occurs when the tarantula’s anus becomes obstructed, rendering it unable to defecate. The spider will often continue to eat and drink normally, giving the keeper little indication that something is amiss even as the waste builds up inside it. Eventually, the poor animal will become sluggish before finally succumbing to the ailment and dying. Continue reading

Poll – Was Your First Tarantula a “Beginner Species”?

If I could get just a moment of your time …

This is going to be a short and sweet blog post. Although I’m working on an article that the results of this poll would be really useful for, this question comes more from curiosity.

How many of you in the hobby began with a “beginner species?”

For the sake of argument, let consider the following a “beginner species.”

All Aphonopelma, Brachypelma, and Grammostola species, C. cyaneopubescens (GBB), Avicularia avicularia or metallica, Lasiodora parahybana (LP), E. capestratus, and Euathlus species.

And, for the more “advanced” species, let’s go with:

All “baboon” species, Pamphobeteus species, Phormictopus species, Nhandu species, Acanthoscurria species, Hapalopus species, Tapinauchenius species, Psalmopoeus species, and Poecilotheria species, and any other “Old World” tarantula not listed above.

If you’re not sure where yours falls, please take a moment to put it in the comment section.

And, anyone who wants can also name their first species in the comment section.

 

I’d really LOVE to get as many people as possible to answer this to get an accurate look at what the percentage is. Feel free to share this with anyone who keeps Ts and might be interested in participating.

Thanks!

Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The catch 22 of anecdotal data

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

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

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

There was only one issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or

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

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

Everyone wins.

Valuable information can be gleaned from alternative viewpoint and strategies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Tarantula Species For Beginners Revisited (Video Version)

“What is the best tarantulas species for a beginner?”

I’ve spent a lot of time answering this question over the years, and for those just dipping their toe into this amazing hobby, it’s an excellent and important question to ask. Several years ago, I wrote my article “The Best Tarantula Species for Beginners” in which I detailed the species I thought make excellent first tarantulas for someone just starting out. In this first version, I included only species I kept and cared for so that I could share my own experiences and anecdotes on them.  To be truthful, my opinions on some of the species (I’m looking at you A. chalcodes, A. avicularia, and B. vagans!) have changed over the years, so I’ve continued to periodically revise the original text to jigger the order and to add new species deserving of the title. With the post nearing 50,000 views, it was important to me that it remain current and accurate.

Recently, I had someone ask me about whether or not an Acanthoscurria geniculata (Brazilian white knee) would make a good first tarantula. This individual had never owned a tarantula in her life, was a bit scared of spiders, and had just begun doing research on their husbandry. When I informed her that I love the species, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to someone with no experience, she seemed a bit taken aback. Her reply: “Oh, but I just watched a YouTube video where the guy said it’s a good beginner tarantula.”

I was a bit surprised, as I know the species is popular in the hobby, but its size, skittishness, and reputation for being a bit ornery would make it bit too much of a spider for most novices. I asked for a link to the video, and was floored to discover that there were quite a few spiders listed that could give newbies fits, including several very fast and nervous species.

Look, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and that keeper is obviously free to post whatever he wants. In his defense, he did at least mention that the A. geniculata might be more on the intermediate side of things. I also know a couple keepers who started with this species and did fine, so it’s not outrageous to think that others might do the same. That said, after watching said video, I couldn’t help but feel like his list wasn’t composed with much thought or experience; instead, it seemed like he was trying to raise a couple eyebrows by making increasingly controversial choices with no real regard to standard or criteria. Also, instead of choosing species that would be appropriate for new keepers, he appeared to just be rattling off his favorite tarantulas.

In my opinion, a good “beginner” species should be a spider that can be kept by even the most green keeper without issue. I talk to a lot of folks who are either just starting out or who are doing their research in preparation for getting their first spider. Many are admitted arachnophobes who are hoping a tarantula might help them to quell their irrational fear. Some have never cared for an exotic pet before.  Then, there are the younger keepers, adolescents and teens still living a home with parents and siblings who are looking to get a cool new pet.

You’re really going to recommend a fast and feisty spider to these poor folks?

When making a list, it’s crucial to consider your potential audience. If you can’t picture a 12-year-old enthusiast or the older arachnophobe dealing with a certain species, then maybe it shouldn’t be on the list.

Does that mean that folks can’t start off with species considered to be more advanced? Of course not. It honestly depends on the individual and his or her personal skill set. I’ve heard many stories about keepers jumping in the deep end with baboon species and pokies successfully.  That being said, most folks just joining the hobby aren’t ready for that much spider.

And that’s where these lists become important…

So, with this video in mind, I decided that it was high time I made my own comprehensive YouTube video guide with an updated list of what I believe to be the top beginner tarantulas. I appreciate that my blog post on the subject may be a bit wordy and long-winded for some, and although I have husbandry videos for the species on that list, there was nothing with them all together. This new video would hopefully become a one-stop resource for those looking for information on where exactly to start in the hobby.

The Criteria

To create the following list, I first drew from my own experience and observations. I then reviewed several forum threads on good beginner Ts from three different message boards and recorded the species that came up the most.  I looked at three main criteria:

  1. Temperament – Although temperament can vary from specimen to specimen, there are some species that are generally considered to be more docile than others. As a result, I picked species that have a reputation for being calm and left off the faster, more skittish spiders.
  2. Ease of husbandry and Care – As many novices aren’t up to speed on husbandry, only spiders with easy care requirements were considered. The species on this list can all be kept at room temperature on dry substrate with water dishes and a hide. With the exception of the Avicularia, all of these can be kept in basic terrestrial set ups and do not have moisture requirements.
  3. Price and availability  Finally, most people just getting into the hobby don’t want to spend a lot on their spider, nor do they want to hunt high and low for a particular species. As a result, I tried to take availability into account.

It’s also important to mention that, although I don’t personally handle tarantulas for fun and I have written about the handling “controversy”, I know many folks who do. More importantly,  many of those I speak with that are new to the hobby think that handling is an essential part of keeping spiders and are therefore intent on handling their new pet.  As a result, I assume that whoever might read this list will likely be looking for some hands-on time with their tarantula. Although I mention handling in the video, I’m not encouraging it, but merely recognizing that it can and will happen. Remember, temperament varies from specimen to specimen, and just because a species has a reputation for being tractable doesn’t mean that your spider will tolerate handling.

As always, I encourage folks to go out and seek other keeper’s opinions. Although I feel strongly that my picks are good ones, they only represent one keeper’s perspective. If you have a question about a particular species, as always, don’t be afraid to ask someone who actually keeps that spider.

Now, on to the video!

 

Avicularia juruensis “Yellow Banded Pinktoe” Husbandry Notes

a-juruensis-sling

While looking for a unique arboreal species, I noticed that Tanya at Fear Not Tarantulas had some Avicularia juruensis slings for sale.  Although I already had a couple of avics, including an A. versicolor and an A. metallica, for a while I really wasn’t too interested in getting any more. However, I had been on a bit of an arboreal tear the past couple months, and I was seeing this genus in a new light. I Googled some photos of adults and was immediately enamored with this fluffy little spider with the pink feet and golden bands that give it the common name “Yellow-Banded Pinktoe”. Excited to acquire a spider that I hadn’t heard much about, I picked up a 1.25″ sling in April of 2016.

This little guy/gal has definitely spurred a renewed interest in this genus.

Housing

For housing, I set my juruensis up in a 32 oz deli cup that I vented with three rows of holes along the top. I added about 2″ of slightly moist substrate to start (which I allowed to dry out), a mixture of topsoil and vermiculite. Coco fiber or peat would work just as well. I also included a piece of cork bark flat placed at an angle for hiding, a plastic plant, a pinch of sphagnum moss, and small bottle cap for a water dish.

TIP: To encourage webbing, it’s advisable to include plastic plants and foliage in order to provide the T with plenty of anchor points to attach it to. Cages barren of decorations tend to lead to less webbing and often unsettled avics.

After being introduced into its new home, my sling took residence between the top of the cork bark and cover of the container. There, it started webbing a bit of a silk “sock” to hide in, a sign that it was settling in well.  Although it webbed a section of the cover closed, I could easily open the enclosure from the other side for maintenance and feeding without tearing up the web. Whenever disturbed, the tarantula would retreat to this web to hide.

My A. juruensis enclosure.

TIP: Avicularia species love to make their homes in the highest corners of their enclosures. This can give keeper fits, as many use top-opening designs to house their animals. Although I use 32 oz deli cups, folks have become quite creative when setting up enclosures for their arboreal species. A quick Google search will bring up some great possibilities. 

For prey, I have a red runner roach colony, and I always have the pinhead roaches on hand, so I started by feeding it these. I would drop in a couple twice a week or so and they’d be gone in a day.

It molted for the first time about a month after I got it, hiding out in its web hide for close to two weeks before taking its first meal. It molted again in September and once again took over a week before it ate its first post-molt meal.  This species seems to take a bit longer in premolt, as well as some extra time to eat again after molting. It is about 1.75-2″ at the time of this writing. Now that it’s put on a bit of size, I’ve switched to medium crickets, which it has no trouble subduing. It’s been an excellent eater so far, and it has only refused food when in premolt.

Once it hits about 3″ or so, I will rehouse it into a 1 gallon clear plastic jugs I get at my local Walmart. They are crystal clear, easy to vent, and a great size for juvenile arboreal tarantulas. At that point, it will be getting one large cricket a week. When it inevitably outgrows that container, it will get rehoused into something around 5-7 gallons.

TIP: Now, most Avicularia will come out hunting at night and will have no issue locating prey on the ground. That said, I have kept a couple of specimens that seemed to be missing the prey that I dropped on the ground. When my Avicularia versicolor was a tiny sling, she would never venture on to the substrate to hunt (as evidenced by the fact that prey items I dropped in were still there days later). To make sure she ate, I would prekill a pinhead and place it in one end of her web sock. It got to the point that she’d wait at the opening for prey, and I could carefully use tweezers to drop live prey at the lip, and she’d snatch it right up. Now that she’s an adult, she hunts fine, and I haven’t had to continue bringing the food to her. So far, this has definitely not been an issue with the juruensis

Temperature and humidity

A lot of care sheets talk about the high-humidity requirements of Avicularia species, encouraging keepers to keep them on moist substrate and to spray to keep moisture levels up. However, many keepers are now realizing that the majority of these species do better when kept mostly dry with good ventilation. For years, folks spoke about “SADS” or “Sudden Avic Death Syndrome”, a phenomenon where a seemingly healthy Avicularia species would suddenly die for no apparent reason. Many seasoned keepers now believe that the moist conditions encouraged by care sheets were the culprit, as the stuffy, stagnate cages proved to be death traps for these animals. This genus seems to thrive in a drier environment as long as fresh water is provided.

a-juruensis-sling

I keep my A. juruensis the same way I keep my other avics (A. versicolor, A. metallica, and A. sp. Amazonica); plenty of ventilation, dry substrate, and a full water dish.  When I fill the water dishes, I overflow a bit, but I let it dry out in between. Once in a while, I’ll spritz some water on the side of the enclosure and webbing just in case it wants to grab a drink up high, but that’s only on occasion. It has done very well in this setup.

As for temperatures, my Ts are kept between 70-75° in the winter and 75-80° in the warmer summer months. When I first acquired it in April, the temps in my spider room were still on the low-end, and she ate and grew fine.

TIP: When in premolt, many avics will web themselves up in little “cocoons”, closing off both ends. If you see this behavior; don’t panic and don’t open up the web and try to push prey through! It just means that a molt is imminent. After it molts, the spider will stay in this web for a while; again, don’t tear down the web trying to get it out. It will emerge when it is ready.

Temperament-wise, this little guy/gal has been fairly calm. When disturbed, it scoots to its silk sock or behind the cork bark, but it doesn’t frantically bolt like other arboreal species I keep. Now that it’s larger, it also sits out in the open more often. Those who have kept this species usually describe them as calm.

The Avicularia juruensis is turning out to be a hardy, relatively fast-growing, and beautiful tarantula that would make an excellent addition to any collection.

* A WORD ABOUT MY HUSBANDRY NOTES: This article is not meant to be a “care sheet”, but rather an account of my observations as well as a description of what works for me. As always, I encourage folks to research all species thoroughly and seek multiple perspectives.

A Nasty Email (and Temperatures and Humidity Revisited)

Well, it was bound to happen.

After several years of writing for Tom’s Big Spiders, I finally received my first piece of nasty correspondence. Honestly, the streak had to end eventually, as to date, 100% of my interactions with other keepers has been completely positive. These conversation are the single greatest perk of having the site and my YouTube channel.

However, after a rather stressful week, I sat down to answer some emails on Friday afternoon and got a bit of a surprise. I had a collection update from hobby friend (Hi, Dallas!), a question about a P. crassipes “goliath’s” odd eating behavior, a request for help by a fellow teacher whose class tarantula wasn’t doing well after a recent molt, and an email from a keeper to who needed help identifying the mislabeled T she bought from Petco.

And then, there was this little gem:

Name: [Redacted]

Email: [Redacted]

Website:

Comment: This is one of the worst care sheets I’ve read in my 18 years of breeding t’s! Humidity DOES matter! Heat DOES matter. Heat mats work well with burrowing t’s! As long as you use a probe to keep the heat set at about 80 and have deep enough material that they can pick a level they prefer. I’ve done no heat before and they will stress out if not kept properly. Won’t breed well either.

I currently own around 240 t’s and many have heat added to their tanks,via heat mats. Dry tanks = bad molts.

Time: September 30, 2016 at 3:03 pm

I’m assuming that the “care sheet” this person was referring to was my article “Humidity Temperature, and Tarantulas”, but this is only an educated guess. This is a blog I wrote a while back to help folks understand that they didn’t need to agonize over achieving the “ideal” temperature and humidity levels they encountered in care sheets. Since publishing this article, it’s been viewed over 6,000 times and has sparked numerous conversations with hobbyists who were worried about their temps.

TEMP-AND-HUMID.jpg

Unfortunately, this email really rubbed me the wrong way for two reasons. First, it was rude. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent years trying to teach high school students to intelligently state and defend their positions (sorry, but “it sucks” is not a good argument…give me examples of why it sucks.), so it drives me insane when someone makes an curt, argumentative statement but does little to support it. If this guy had approached me politely with a “Hey, Tom, I completely disagree with this article, and this is why…” it could have turned into a fantastic discussion.

Second, and most importantly, it came off as another sterling example of an advanced keeper who seems to think his way of doing things is the gold standard. I’ve discussed with many folks the issue I have with seasoned keepers who pontificate on forums and Facebook and chastise any keeper who doesn’t follow their lead to the letter. Although I obviously give advice through Tom’s Big Spiders, I always endeavor to say my piece and let the keeper decide what to do with it. Even when someone chooses to not take my advice, I’ll continue to try to help them in any way I can.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: just because something works for you, doesn’t mean that it is the “only” way to correctly do things.

Now, maybe this guy is good dude who was having a bad day. It happens. I have all the respect in the world for someone with close to two decades of breeding experience. No joke. Who knows, I may even have some spiders this guy bred in my collection. However, just because you’ve done something for 18 years doesn’t mean that there aren’t other ways to do it.

Now here’s where things get a little interesting.

After emailing back to ask him to get clarification on which article he read before I replied, and getting no response, I decided to start writing my retort. Although I planned on working on my pet store article this weekend, I was instead wasting time responding to this email. Perhaps I became a bit too obsessive, but I take a lot of pride in presenting current and accurate information on my site, and I felt the need to thoroughly refute the statements made in that email. 

Once I passed around 1,500 words or so, I decided that it would be a waste to just send this to someone who will likely not read it or not care. After all, if this individual really thought this information was that bad, why not post it in the comment section so it could be addressed publicly? I had always planned on revisiting the temperature and humidity article, and this could be an entertaining way to do so. I had also planned to start a feature where I print some questions I receive from keepers and the responses I give (as a lot of them are common and the answers could benefit others). This could be a fun way to kick that off.

Therefore, I’m presenting my response in this blog post. I’ve redacted the breeder’s name and email address, but the original message is being presented as I received it. Hopefully, this will again raise some awareness on this topic, as I still get several emails a month by folks who are stressed out because they can’t match the temps or humidity they found in a care sheet. Also, it will hopefully served to further clarify my thoughts on the topic. 


Hello, [redacted]!

Unfortunately, you didn’t respond to my polite request for clarification, so I’m left to guess which article offended you so. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess it was “Humidity, Temperature, and Tarantulas.” First off, I’m not sure if it was the general theme of this article you took umbrage to, or just one of the statements I made within that caused you to fire off such a rude email.

It’s a shame you couldn’t have approached me in a more polite manner, as I usually enjoy mature discourse over some of the hobby’s controversial topics. I’ve had many polite and professional debates with both new and established keepers, and I always enjoy the opportunity to hear a different perspective as it relates to tarantula keeping. Heck, I even try to thoroughly present both arguments, even the ones I might disagree with, in my Tarantula Controversies articles. As you are obviously an experienced keeper with a vast amount of knowledge about tarantula keeping and breeding, we could have discussed the article maturely and productively.

Instead, I’m left with a hyperbolic and insulting statement backed with scarce supporting “evidence” that comes across more as a pot shot that a mature attempt to discuss differing opinions. With that in mind, please allow me to retort…

I think it’s important to consider that much of the information on my site and channel is targeted to those just getting started in the hobby. Although I enjoy traffic from some amazing advanced collectors who are looking for species info or for my “fun” opinion articles, I’m not currently giving breeding advice. In fact, I’ve stated many times that hobbyists looking to breed need to research elsewhere for their info for the time being. Besides, I’d like to think that most advance hobbyists don’t find it necessary to hunt online for basic husbandry info.

Being as seasoned as you are in the hobby, I’m certain you understand that keeping tarantulas as pets and breeding tarantulas are two VERY different situations. As a breeder, you will often have to try to emulate local temps and seasonal changes, or wet and dry seasons, as you try to stimulate breeding behavior in your tarantulas. That will require more careful creation and monitoring of your micro-climates and will likely necessitate the need for individual heat sources. In that case, heat mats or other heating devices might be needed to raise temperatures in single enclosures (instead of just heating the entire room).

However, this is something a breeder would worry about, not the average hobbyist.

Also, you make a point to mention your “18 years of breeding t’s [sic]”, likely as a way to tout your credentials as an expert in the hobby and someone who knows their stuff. I totally respect that; it’s folks like yourself that produce the captive-bred tarantulas we all buy. But again, let me point out that being a breeder, you likely have different goals and needs for your animals. For example, many breeders I’ve spoken to keep the temperatures in their T rooms higher than normal to stimulate faster growth in order to get breedable mature males and females faster.

Again, not something the average keeper will be worrying about.

I don’t know if you finished the article, but I actually concede these points at the end. To quote:

“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.”

That said, although you may have to keep a certain species at 80 degrees for breeding purposes, that absolutely does NOT mean that this animal has to be kept this high for it to be healthy and stress-free. Most species do very well at room temp (and I did put a cutoff in the article so that folks know when their “room temperature” might be too cold.) and require no extra heat.

And where, exactly, did you come up with 80 degrees as the ideal? Am I to read this to mean that ALL tarantulas have to be kept at 80 degrees? Or is this just “burrowing species?” If so, I find that to be a pretty ridiculous notion. Sure, higher temps lead to faster metabolisms and faster growth rates. However, to insinuate that all tarantulas need temps in the 80s is just silly; they don’t. And this fact is not only evidenced by my personal collection of 140+ with 75+ species (not as impressive as yours, I concede, but a sizable sample nonetheless) but also as dozens if not hundreds of other keepers’ collections who frequent forums like Arachnoboards and the Tarantula Forum. Heck, on Arachnoboards, there was just a thread that addressed temps today with many hobbyists explaining to a new keeper that he shouldn’t worry about the temps in his home.

I don’t know how much interaction you have with other hobbyists, but the ideas presented in this article are by no means new or revolutionary. The majority of informed hobbyists now recognize that the bogus “ideal” humidity and temperatures listed on countless care sheets are useless. As we’ve kept these creatures and learned more about them, many are straying from obsessively monitoring temperatures and instead adhering to the “room temperature” rule. Basically, if you are comfortable, your T will be as well. You’ve found that 80 degrees works for you, and that’s great. I’ve found the 70-80 works for me. Is either one of us wrong? Nope. However, the fact that the spiders in my collection are thriving does prove that although temps in the 80s will work, they are by no means necessary.

The majority of species available come from areas that experience seasonal shifts that include temperature extremes as well as wet and dry seasons. We often look at one extreme (Wow, it’s 88º in June and July with 20 inches of rain!) and assign arbitrary ideal humidity and temperature requirements based off of this. The truth is, for many tarantulas, the optimal number is probably somewhere in the middle. Also, Ts that experience rainy seasons as well as droughts are obviously able to live in less than humid conditions.

Now, if your 80 degrees only pertains to burrowers, I have to ask which species are you referring to? I currently keep several fossorial species, including T. gigas, C. guanxiensis, C. dyscolus, C. lividum, P. muticus, M. balfouri, E. pachypus, O. philippinus, H. albostriatum, P. crassipes, and L. crotalus. Not one has heat, and all are currently eating, burrowing, and doing all of the things a seemingly content spider will do. It’s about 71º in my tarantula room now, and it will remain between 71 and about 75 throughout the winter. I should also add that several of the species listed above I raised from slings to adults in those exact same temperature ranges.

And what signs are you using to determine if the animal is stressed? Not eating? Odd behavior? Leaving its burrow? I often hear “stress” tossed around, but I’m very curious as to what indicators you are using.

It’s important for you to consider that many of the folks reading this article have just picked their first spider up at a local pet shop and are currently researching their new pet online. They are being exposed to a staggering amount of misinformation as well-meaning keepers and bloggers regurgitate bad husbandry advice, many just cutting and pasting info about animals they have never even kept. This causes panic, as this poor soul is now convinced her new G. pulchripes will die if not kept at exactly 82º and at 65% humidity.

I know…I’ve been there. When I first got my G. porteri in ’90s, I probably could have killed her by giving her a heat rock and spraying her constantly. 

Do you seriously think folks that are picking up G. roseas or B. albopilosums at their local Petcrap store are going to buy complicated probes, rheostats, and heat mats? No. If they are sold anything, it’s going to be a cheap Zoo Med rheostat, and heat rock or heat lamp, and one of those useless hygrometer/thermometer combos. Having not used these devices before, they will then set up this useless heating system, stressing over an “ideal” temperature that they read in some care sheet they dragged up online or due to the poor advice of an ill-informed clerk. And in many cases, you know what happens next?

They end up with a dead spider.

I could honestly show you over a dozen emails, maybe more, from keepers who tried to heat their tarantula enclosures with mats, rocks, lamps, etc. and ended up with dead Ts. The fact is, most end up doing more harm than good when trying to heat these enclosures. You obviously have years of experience and know how to properly set up heat mats with rheostats as to pose no harm to your animals; the average keeper new to the hobby does NOT. And, please keep in mind that the majority of these folks are keeping Brachypelma, Grammostola, Aphonopelma, and other species that experience natural seasonal temperature shifts in the wild and do not, under most ordinary circumstances, require extra heat or humidity.

Furthermore, tarantulas, unlike reptiles, are notorious for gravitating toward, and parking themselves on, heat sources like mats and basking spots and not moving, even as they become overheated and eventually dehydrated. I literally just received an email less than two weeks ago by a keeper who was using an under-the-tank heat mat to warm up his B. vagans because he was told it had to be kept at 80°. He came home from work to find the spider in a death curl in the heated corner. Luckily, he rehydrated the T and removed the heater, and it survived.

Often, they do not.

And let’s examine your blanket “Dry tanks = bad molts” statement. Which species are you talking about here, all of them? C. cyaneopubescens? G. porteri? P. murinus? M. balfouri? Surely you’re not insinuating that all tarantulas, even arid species, require moist conditions…

How many keepers out there have unwittingly subjected their tarantulas to damp, stuffy, potentially deadly conditions as they over sprayed their animals in an attempt to keep the humidity unnecessarily high? As you know, too much moisture with not enough ventilation can lead to mold and other undesirables.

Might I also point out that in many cases, heating sources = dry cages. Obviously, any type of supplemental heat can dry an enclosure (and a spider) up, right? This means that someone who is heating their enclosure individually will now have to pay extra careful attention to make certain their T doesn’t dehydrate, especially if this is a moisture-dependent species (as many fossorial species are).

I understand and appreciate that using mat and heating cables is a popular way to heat and especially favored by many European collectors. However, not only can these setups be pricey, but it takes a lot of experimentation and finesse to use them appropriately and safely. Then you have to take into account that majority of folks getting into this hobby are starting with one of the “beginner species” that doesn’t require supplementary heat. I’ve had some folks contact me over the years, many from overseas, who unfortunately experience winter temps in their homes that are a bit too low for their spiders. In these instances, I’ve suggested a space heater or pointed them in the direction of articles/blog posts that explain how to safely use mats to heat their animals.

Also, I don’t believe I state in my article that heat DOESN’T matter or that humidity DOESN’T matter; no, the entire point is that folks shouldn’t obsess over these arbitrary ideal temperatures and humidity requirements named in many terrible online care sheets. If I believed that moisture and temperature wasn’t at all important, would I have spent so much time discussing both?

The whole impetus of this article was hearing from huge number of keepers who were causing themselves unneeded stress (and putting their spiders at risk) by desperately trying to maintain elevated temperature and humidity levels because of some care sheet they read.

I could see you getting upset if I said that temperature doesn’t matter at all, but I didn’t. In fact, I spent a chunk of the article clarifying “room temperature” and defining an acceptable range for most species.

I could see you getting upset if I said moisture doesn’t matter, but I didn’t. I spent some time talking about just HOW to keep moisture levels up for tarantulas that require it.

I could see you getting upset if I said that there are NEVER instances where supplemental heat is needed, but I didn’t. I actually recommend the use of space heaters and concede that mats can be used, but can be tricky to set up.

And, I could see you getting upset if I said that ALL species should be kept the same way, but I didn’t.

So, when you say that “This is one of the worst care sheets [you’ve] read in 18 years of breeding t’s [sic]”, I’m left to wonder if you just completely got hung up on one detail in it, perhaps the part about heat mats, and therefore missed the entire point of the piece. To be clear: I’m not telling people that temperature and humidity doesn’t matter. I’m telling them not to stress over arbitrary, often incorrect ideals.

I do thank you for emailing me (although I wish your phrasing was more constructive) as it seems to indicate that the message of this piece could be misinterpreted. Although the response to this article has been overwhelmingly positive, I could always tweak it to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. I would also like to personally thank you for your breeding projects and contributions to the hobby. Without folks like you, the hobby would progress in the way it has. Also, I will be using this email and my response as the subject of a blog post, as although our “debate” was lacking, it could create some positive and useful discourse with other keepers

All the best!

Tom Moran

 

Communal Project Part 4: Sling Buffets and Spider Piles

The Communal Project series will document my setup of a Moncentropus balfouri communal, starting with the planning and acquisition of both the enclosure and tarantulas and continuing through as they mature. You can read the other installments of this series by clicking the following links: “Communal Project Part 1: An Enclosure by Brooklyn Bugs.” ; “Communal Project Part 2: Nine M. Balfouri Slings” ; and “Communal Project Part 3: First Week’s Observations” .


As time has passed, I’m still finding myself completely captivated by the feedings.

At first, I watched my slings eat with equal measures of apprehension (I couldn’t help but to worry that one would attack another) and fascination (They WEREN’T attacking…they were getting along just fine!). Years of keeping tarantulas had me hardwired to think that any spider-to-spider contact would inevitably result in only one fat spider. And, having personally observed thousands of feedings, I had a great appreciation of just how powerful a tarantula’s feeding response could be. I’ve seen spiders launch themselves at the slightest vibration on their substrate.  How would they be able to override their hard-wired prey response in time to recognize the difference between prey and a hungry sibling?

However, now that we’re deep into month two, it appears that my fears are completely unfounded. I’ve now witnessed about a dozen feedings, and there hasn’t been any friction. The most “contentious” episode I witnessed involved two sling that were feeding on the same piece of roach. After a short tug-of-war over the carcass, they both broke pieces off, then calmly sat and ate their meals. Many times, I’ve caught up to five, legs intertwined, peaceably feasting on the same prey animal. It’s something I wouldn’t have believed if I didn’t see it myself.

These little guys are eating machines!

One thing that has truly impressed and surprised me is just how much these little guys and gals have been eating. I’ve been offering them three pre-killed red runner roaches or crickets three times a week. Although I’ve tried introducing live prey into the enclosure in the form of red runner roaches, they’ve shown no interest in them. If I drop a prekilled roach or crickets in front of the burrow entrances however, they are usually on it within the hour. I know that, in the wild, the mothers prekill prey and leave it for their spiderlings to eat, so I’m left to wonder if this is an instinctual behavior for them.

Although the three times a week feeding is obviously an ambitious schedule, I wanted to make sure that the slings were well fed to prevent any possible cannibalism. It was also a bit difficult to discern at first what size and portions to offer nine .75″ slings. I began by offering one large roach, which they decimated in less than an hour. I then started giving them two. Both were gone the next morning.  For the past couple weeks, I’ve been giving them three, and that seems like it will work for the time being. However, they’ve all just molted, so I’m assuming that I might have to increase the amount I give them soon.

It should be mentioned that it’s been a rather warm summer, and temps in the tarantula room have routinely been hitting 80° and slightly above, so this might have jacked up the little guys’ metabolisms. That said, the last three specimens I kept and that were in separate enclosures didn’t eat well even during the hot summer months, so I have to consider that the appetites might be partially due to the group dynamic. Unfortunately, all I can do is speculate.

Balfouri-SLings-NEW

My first scare…

As I’ve had the fear of cannibalism in the back of my mind, I’ve been pretty obsessive about counting the slings every time they are all out. Well, starting two weeks ago, I was only able to count eight at any given time. At first I just suspected that one was always hiding in a burrow, which made it appear that there were only eight. However, as more time passed and I failed to ever catch all nine out, I worried that the ninth had possibly died. I honestly didn’t suspect cannibalism, as I had never witnessed any friction between the slings. I did, however, worry that there might have just been a weak sling that wasn’t destined to make it.

Well, shortly after posting a YouTube update on the communal and mentioning that I was missing one, I caught all of the slings out and about again. This time, I there were clearly nine present. Apparently, they were all still doing just fine.

All nine balfouri slings out and about

All nine balfouri slings out and about

Introducing, the “spider pile”

Another unique behavior I’ve witnessed is something I’ve been referring to as the “spider pile”. Many times when the slings emerge to sit on the surface, they huddle together into one large tangle of bodies and limbs. It’s really something to see, and I was fortunate enough to catch one of these events in the video below (it’s after the footage showing all nine of the slings).

Now, they don’t always assemble into a spider pile when they are out; often, they all just sit next to each other along the wall on the top edge of the webbing. I’m not sure what purpose this behavior serves, but I’ll definitely look forward to seeing if it continues as they mature.

Takeaways

With some of these latest developments, I feel comfortable answering a couple of the questions on my list.

  • Will the slings all gravitate to one burrow? An enthusiastic YES for this.
  • Do they really eat together and without friction? Although I’ll continue to monitor the interactions as they mature, I’m comfortable in saying that YES, the slings do eat together without conflict or issues. I’ve personally witnessed a dozen feedings and I’ve seen no aggression between the slings. 
  • Is their any difference in behavior in M. balfouri slings kept communally as apposed to kept individually (I raised three from slings previously)
  • Will their ability to get along change as they mature?
  • Do M. balfouri slings kept communally eat more and grow fast than those kept alone?  Right now, the answer appears to be a YES. The new slings have already molted at least twice in my care, and they have been eating as much as I’ll give them. This is in sharp contrast to the first three I kept that were very finicky and sheepish eaters. 

As always, I will continue to make updates and post whenever something interesting occurs!

Communal Project Part 3: First Week’s Observations

The Communal Project series will document my setup of a Moncentropus balfouri communal, starting with the planning and acquisition of both the enclosure and tarantulas and continuing through as they mature. This is the third installment in the series; the first part is “Communal Project Part 1: An Enclosure by Brooklyn Bugs.” and the second part is “Communal Project Part 2: Nine M. Balfouri Slings” .


How will they adapt to the communal setup?

Now that the nine M. balfouri slings were housed in their new enclosure, it was time to let them settle in and to observe their behaviors. Although I had read plenty of accounts that should have assured me the risk for casualties was minimal, I still worried that that the tiny little slings would somehow turn on each other as they staked out territory and fed. After hearing for years how cannibalistic tarantulas were, it was very difficult for me to subdue the nagging feeling that this wasn’t going to work out.

However, I would soon learn that my fears were completely unfounded.

Within 24 hours, I started to see signs that my new wards would indeed be able to live peaceably. The following details my observations over the first week, including any details I thought were important or interesting.

DAY ONE: The evening they arrived, I decided to offer food right away. For the first meal, I dropped in 10 tiny B. lateralis pinhead roaches. I won’t lie; when I woke up the next morning, I rushed down to check on the communal partially expecting to find signs of spiderling cannibalization. Instead, I discovered that the little ones had been busy the night before, and fine curtains of webbing now covered some of the den entrances and cork bark.

Even cooler, four of the slings were bustling in and out of one burrow opening. Despite having shot off in several directions upon being housed, it seemed that the slings really had started to gravitate to the same den.

I also watched nervously as two slings encountered each other in another corner of the enclosure. At first, I was convinced that the larger of the slings was going to attack and kill the smaller. As they met, he froze, then reached out carefully with his first set of walking legs, almost as spiders do when they sense a prey item nearby. However, the other sling quickly reciprocated by putting out his fist sets of the legs. The two entwined for a bit, much in the same way males and females do when mating, as they continued to feel each other out. Then, about a minute later, they both walked off in different directions.

No attacks.

No bites.

No devoured sling.

I was amazed by the encounter; it appeared that they could differentiate between one of their own species and a prey item. There was no friction whatsoever. After watching many spiders reflexively pounce on anything that moved in their enclosures, I couldn’t help but to feel a bit mind-blown by this development.

As for feeding, I wasn’t sure if any of the roaches were devoured, and there still appeared to be several of them running around the enclosure. The slings either didn’t notice or didn’t care as they continued working on their den. I decided to give it another day to see if I could catch one or more feeding.

DAY TWO: Having seen a few of the roaches I dropped in still roaming around without a care in the world. I worried that some of the slings might not be eating. Remembering that the M. balfouri mothers often kill prey for their young, I killed a large cricket, mashed it up a bit, and dropped it in front of the den entrances. My hope was that I could catch some of this group feeding I had read about.

I popped in to check on the little guys before bed, and was floored by what I saw. Several of the slings were feeding on the cricket at the same time. Even more interesting, there was no fighting or friction between the feasting tarantulas. They very calmly approached the cricket, tore off a chunk of meat, and simply ate their meals.

I also observed that at least FIVE of the slings now occupied the same burrow. They really were purposely gravitating to the same burrow despite having enough space to stake out their own homes. This was true communal behavior I was witnessing, not just a bunch of spiders sharing space because they were forced to.

DAY THREE:  I crept down late at night to see what my communal was up to (darned insomnia), and I discovered that all nine slings were apparently sharing the same den. For a full five minutes, I watched as they moved in, out, and around the single den entrance with at least four of the slings laying down webbing. They weren’t just living together; it appeared that they were cooperating with each other to build their home. AMAZING.

DAY FOUR: Failing to capture the group feeding on film the first time, I dropped another cricket in on the third night hoping that I might be able to get the next meal on video. I awoke early the next morning to discover several of them eating off of the same cricket. Like a buffoon, I sat their ogling this for bit before remembering to record it. By the time I grabbed my phone, a couple of the spiderlings had toddled off. Still, I managed to catch a few of them eating in the video below. Again, there were no spats or fighting to speak of, and the slings obviously recognized the difference between the prey and the other spiders.

DAY SEVEN: It’s official: all of the slings have adopted the center den as their home, and all are living communally in a single den. The amount of webbing in this area has increased with all lending a hand (or their webbing) to the construction. There are now several entrances including the main one, and the slings spend much of their day going in and out of them.

So, I can cross one of my questions off my list.

  • Will the slings all gravitate to one burrow?

Yes, they sure will…and cooperate to build it apparently.

Having raised three M. balfouri slings to adulthood that were kept alone, I do have a couple observations:

  1. I’ve noticed that these slings are out in the open MUCH more than my specimens kept separately ever were. Although I’d catch mine out and about every so often, they were very skittish and would spend the majority of their time hidden in their burrows. Perhaps my communal subjects will display more of that secretive behavior as they become more mature, but so far they seem to be much bolder than my last specimens. Could this be because they feel more secure when kept communally? I’m not sure.
  2. My first batch of slings were very finicky eaters, often going weeks without eating and often refusing prey one week only to indulge the next. They would also be intimidated by normal sized prey items, and I’d have to feed them crickets that were smaller than what I would usually feed slings that size. As a result, they grew slowly often taking several months between molts. These new slings, however, have been eating like machines. I drop a cricket in and they are on it in minutes. Now I’m wondering if these slings will eat more and grow faster in the communal setting.

With these latest developments, I would have to revise my list of question I wanted to answer.

  • Will the slings all gravitate to one burrow? An enthusiastic YES for this.
  • Do they really eat together and without friction? (I want to catch more feedings)
  • Is their any difference in behavior in M. balfouri slings kept communally as apposed to kept individually (I raised three from slings previously)
  • Will their ability to get along change as they mature?
  • Do M. balfouri slings kept communally eat more and grow fast than those kept alone?

As I move ahead, I’ll look to answer these questions and will post updates whenever I observe, photograph, or film something of interest!

Next up…M. Balfouri Communal Project Part 4: How Many M. Balfouri Slings Does It Take to Eat a Large Roach?

 

Communal Project Part 2: Nine M. balfouri Slings

The Communal Project series will document my setup of a Moncentropus balfouri communal, starting with the planning and acquisition of both the enclosure and tarantulas and continuing through as they mature. This is the second installment in the series; the first part is “Communal Project Part 1: An Enclosure by Brooklyn Bugs.”


After a couple of years of research and daydreaming, I will finally be setting up my first communal.

I’ve been fascinated by communals since I first saw photos of H. incei setup on a forum several years ago. I had always known tarantulas to be cannibalistic, so I was intrigued by the idea that a group could live together harmoniously without it turning into a survival of the fattest bloodbath. Since then, I’ve read articles and blogs, watched YouTube videos, and even spoken to a couple keepers who have tried it. I’ve researched the many species said to tolerate a communal living situation, including Poecilotheria species, Heterothele villosella, Neoholothele incei, Pterinochilus murinus, and of course, the Monocentropus balfouri.

Although all of these species have demonstrated the ability to co-habitate with other members of their species without immediately resorting to cannibalism, the level of true “communalism” can vary greatly. Every keeper would love to witness a true tarantula community where members actually benefit from living in close proximity to each other, possibly hunting and even eating together. But the fact is, many of these species are forced to live closely together in the wild due habitat constraints; they don’t naturally prefer it. Therefore, when they are forced to live together in an enclosure, the relationship between the inhabitants more closely resembles a fragile tolerance than a strong communal bond.

As a result, many keepers who have tried to keep communals have found the need to abort the projects upon discovering that their ten lithe specimens had suddenly become five portly ones. With many of the communal setups,  cannibalism is a constant threat, and the thought of needlessly loosing often expensive Ts is enough of a deterrent for many keepers. Personally speaking, I love my spiders and pride myself on not having many deaths in my collection. The possibility that by creating a communal I might putting a group at risk of unnecessary death was a tough concept for me to get by.

One species has always stood out for me in the communal list…

One of the species that seemed to demonstrate some legitimate communal tendencies was the Monocentropus balfouri. I had discovered early on that this beautiful tarantula had some of the strongest motherly instincts of any species, and a quick Google search of “M. balfouri mother with slings” brings up some amazing photos of this maternal spider seemingly nurturing its young. This is an animal that keepers have witnessed killing prey to feed its spiderlings, as well as standing guard over them like a protective parent. Hobbyists that have kept this species communally report slings huddling together in the same burrow, even when given space, and feeding on the same prey…together. I have read several accounts by folks who have set up more than one balfouri in an enclosure, and it seems that it doesn’t matter the size of the specimens that are introduced together, they all live quite harmoniously.

After reading several accounts by keepers who had tried communal setups, it seemed that the chance of casualties was low…ridiculously low. I only found one instance where one of a group of about a dozen disappeared, but there was nothing to indicate it didn’t just die a natural death (and not at the fangs of one of its cage mates). Even more promising were the many photos of juveniles and adults living and even feeding together peaceably.

It seemed like if I was going to attempt a communal setup, M. balfouri would be the species to do it with. However, although the prices on these gorgeous Ts have continued to drop over the years, they still run about $60 or so for slings. It would be quite an investment to get one of these going, especially if I wanted to start with more than just a handful. For a little while, it seemed like it would remain a bit of a pipe dream.

Enter Tanya from Fear Not Tarantulas

After my last fantastic experience buying from Fear Not Tarantulas, I got to chatting with Tanya about spiders, the blog, and her breeding projects. It’s been fantastic conversing with someone who is not only knowledgeable, but also thoroughly entrenched in this amazing hobby. During one of our conversations she made an amazing offer; she would hook me up with enough M. balfouri slings to finally start that communal I had been pondering for years. To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement.

The original plan was to start with five or six specimens, so I had to go ahead and set up an enclosure that wouldn’t be too large for the .75-1″ slings, but that would also allow for plenty of room for growth (for more on the enclosure, click here!). Once the enclosure was ready, I gave Tanya the go ahead to ship my tarantulas. I had shared my photos and ideas for the design of the enclosure with Tanya, and when it arrived I explained that it was a little larger than my first idea, but I thought that it would work out well. After texting me with updates on the packing (as well as a photo of the A. amazonica I was was also getting), Tanya informed me that she was actually sending nine M. balfouri. NINE. I was absolutely floored. The extra space would definitely go to good use.

She shipped them promptly and they arrived expertly packed, labelled, and in fantastic shape. As a picture is worth 1000 words, I’m guessing that a video is worth even more. Below is the video of the unpacking along with the rehousing of the nine M. balfouri slings into their new homes (the rehousings start at about 3:32). I will admit to feeling just a bit of apprehension as I started loosing the slings into their new enclosure together. A part of me really worried that they might turn on each other or I might capture friction on camera.

It soon became apparent that my fears were unwarranted as the rehousing went off without a hitch and the nine little slings scuttled to the pre-formed burrows without a single incident of aggression. Even better, when I checked on them later in the day, a few of the slings had actually taken residence in the same burrow.

I’m finding the communal setup utterly fascinating, and I’ve been checking on them constantly to see how they are getting along. So far, so good. As these little guys continue to make this new enclosure their home, I will continue with updates including my observations and video/notes on any behaviors of interest. A few questions I hope to answer are:

  • Will the slings all gravitate to one burrow?
  • Do they really eat together and without friction?
  • Is their any difference in behavior in M. balfouri slings kept communally as apposed to kept individually (I raised three from slings previously)
  • Will their ability to get along change as they mature.

Next up…M. Balfouri Communal Project Part 3: First Week’s Observations (and Video of Group Feeding!).

* A very special THANKS to Tanya at Fear Not Tarantulas who made this whole project possible!