The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ruling on Sri Lankan Poecilotheria Species.

A heads up to “Pokie” lovers…this one is going to sting a bit…

Note: The following information impacts ONLY hobbyists in the United States.

In July of this year, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service released its final report and ruling on Poecilotheria species. Per this ruling, five species of Poecilotheria from Sri Lanka were deemed endangered species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and added to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The five species impacted by this decision are:

  1. Poecilotheria fasciata
  2. Poecilotheria ornata
  3. Poecilotheria smithi
  4. Poecilotheria subfusca
  5. Poecilotheria vittata

This rule becomes effective on August 30, 2018. As a result of this new law, there are some major changes in how these five species can be imported and sold in the United States. Here is how it breaks down and how keepers may be impacted.

Does this mean that it is now illegal to keep these species?

No, it is NOT illegal to keep these species. Those who currently have any of these five species in their collections may continue to keep them without fear of seizure or penalty.

Can I still buy these species after the deadline?

This is where things get a little more tricky. YES, you can still purchase species on this list as long as you are buying from a person, breeder, or dealer in your own state. For example, if I live in North Dakota, then I may legally buy from another person, dealer, or breeder in North Dakota. I may NOT, however, buy from someone in another state through mail order or by personally picking them up and transporting them over the border. Interstate sales and commerce with these five species is now illegal and prohibited. Online vendors will soon be listing these species as only for sale to folks that live in the same state.

Is there any way to legally import or sell these across state lines?

Technically, yes. Folks who wish to legally import or sell across state lines would have to apply for and receive a Captive Bred Wildlife (CBW) permit. HOWEVER, there are some major caveats for those looking to procure one. For starters, the cost to apply for the permit is $200 per incident, and both the seller and buyer need to get one. Unfortunately, those in the know say that it is nearly impossible for a standard hobbyist or breeder to get approved for the CBW. Worse still, your $200 fee is non refundable should you apply and be rejected, and it can take months for the decision. For most folks, obtaining one of these permits is very unrealistic.

The impact on the hobby

The good news is, we are still legally able to keep these species in our collections. Also, many other species of Poecilotheria, like the hobby favorite P. metallica, were NOT included in this ban. For the time being, the Indian species are safe and can still be imported and sold across state lines. Many in the hobby are trying to view this as a “could have been worse” scenario.

However, the consequences of this ruling are damaging and could have a far-reaching impact on the hobby. Folks living in states with smaller tarantula markets will likely have a very difficult time finding these species. The prices of these species will also vary widely from state-to-state, with some paying exorbitant costs for these animals. As transport across state lines is illegal without the CBW permit, gene pools in some states will begin to stagnate without the introduction of new blood lines.

Finally, I recently did an article about the practice of “brown boxing”, an illegal activity that involves circumventing costly and complicated legal importing procedures by shipping spiders using the U.S. postal service. Unfortunately, rulings such as this, especially with the interstate ban, will encourage more folks to break the rules in order to get their spiders. The hobby has been very transparent for years, possibly to our detriment, with species openly sold and traded in public forums. Rulings such as this one will unfortunately encourage more folks to “bend” the rules and conduct more commerce “underground.” Although this type of activity should never be condoned, it will be an unfortunate consequence.

What about breeding loans or the gifting of a spider?

Under this ruling, breeding loans are legal as long as no money is changing hands and no one is making a profit. Also, it is legal to gift a spider to another person across state lines in legitimate instances (NOT in an attempt to circumvent the law). In both cases, the shipments should contain the correct documentation explaining the activity).

More information on exclusions can be found HERE.

(A huge thanks to Steve Doud for supplying this information and the link!)

What should we do?

With the deadline looming, many looking to procure some of these species from out-of-state retailers will need to act quickly. Tarantula dealers are already reporting increased Poecilotheria species sales as hobbyists look to “stockpile” some before the ban takes effect. Many folks who have been interested in keeping Poecilotheria are making the move to obtain the Sri Lankan species before their options narrow.

It is vital for hobbyists to start to identify the breeders and dealers in their state who will likely be responsible for keeping these five species from phasing out of the hobby. Those looking for one of these spiders will have severely limited options once this ban goes into effect. It’s important that hobbyist coalesce state-by-state to ensure that a system is in place to ensure the survival of these Poecilotheria species in local collections.

An important step

In an upcoming post, I will be soliciting the names of reputable breeders /dealers/vendors from state to state in order to compile a comprehensive and accurate list for hobbyists looking to legally procure these species. Between this current FWS ruling and the recently surfaced legal issues surrounding the importation and interstate sales of Brazilian species (more on this to come), it is CRUCIAL that hobbyists know who they can buy these species from in their states.  Please, keep a lookout for this post and respond if you have information to offer.

Quick Summary of the new rule.

LEGAL

  • Hobbyists may still legally keep these species
  • Hobbyists may buy and sell these species in their own states
  • Hobbyists may send breeding loans across state lines (no money can be involved)
  • Hobbyists may send a tarantula as a gift.

ILLEGAL

  • Foreign importation or exportation of these species*
  • Inter-state commerce involving these species*
  • Possession of illegally taken spiders
*without a CBW permit

Those interested in reading the full report from the FWS can follow this link:

http://usark.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/ESA-2018-Sri-Lanka-Tarantulas-final-rule-1.pdf

 

 

Breeding Project: Poecilotheria Regalis

What better way to start the new year than with some breeding projects?

With many of my females maturing, it’s time for me to get going on some of the breeding projects I’ve been anticipating. First up is a pairing between my mature male and female Poecilotheria regalis. I was very fortunate that this male and female, purchased separately as a sling and a juvenile respectively, matured at about the same time. Although I was cutting it a bit close (the male had his final molt a couple months ago), everything eventually fell into place nicely.

Background

7" mature female P. regalis

7″ mature female P. regalis

The female was purchased as a 2.25″ unsexed juvenile about 22 months ago. Her last molt was on December 2, and since then I’ve fattened her up a bit with three large dubia roaches and a hissing cockroach.  She is currently about 7″ in length.

6.5" male P. regalis

6.5″ male P. regalis

The male was purchased about 14 months ago as a 1.5″ sling and had its final molt in early November. He’s been observed tearing down sperm webs a couple times over the past several weeks, so he’s been ready to go.  Although I would have ideally used this male earlier to breed, I wanted to wait until my female molted out one more time and gained a bit more size. He is currently about 6.5″.

Introducing the male and female.

I’d considered a few ways to introduce the two potential mates to each other. Courtships can last quite a while for Pokies, and I reasoned that I might not be able to sit by with a camera and hope to catch the process. I was also hoping to leave them overnight as to offer a dark, noise-free breeding environment. As Poecilotheria species are rather tolerant of each other (as evidenced by the many successful communal set-ups out there), most keepers reported that they allowed the two specimens to remain in the same enclosure unsupervised anywhere from overnight to a week. I planned to keep them together for an evening.

I had read about “shark tanking/shark caging”, which is when the male is added to the female’s enclosure for a few days while inside a smaller enclosure to protect him. The idea is to allow the pair to get accustomed to each other while still keeping the male our of harm’s way. Eventually, the male is released so that he can mate, hopefully with less risk of getting eaten by the female.

I know that several keepers have used this technique with some success, but the breeders who I have spoken to had not used shark tanking with the successful pairings of their Poecilotheria species. Also, the size of my female’s enclosure wouldn’t have allowed the space needed for this practice, so it became a moot point.

I also considered capturing the male and carefully introducing him directly into the female’s enclosure. Again, however, I worried that the size of the enclosure might not be conducive, as a spooked male might run directly into the female, getting munched before he could do his thing. Also, if the male was able to successfully insert, my female’s enclosure would offer minimal space for escape should she then decide she was hungry.

After measuring the two containers that housed my specimens, I decided that I would buy a much larger enclosure that would accommodate both the cages. With this setup, I would be able to put both enclosures in, open the tops, and let the spiders find each other on their own. This would avoid spooking the tarantulas during the introduction and allow them to encounter each other as they might in the wild. This breeding tank also offered plenty of free space should the male need to beat a hasty retreat.

A "breeding chamber" for my P. regalis pair. Both pokie enclosures were place inside this larger enclosure and their lids removed.

A “breeding chamber” for my P. regalis pair. Both pokie enclosures were place inside this larger enclosure and their lids removed.

The tank I chose was a 27-gallon latch-able Sterilite container that offered enough floor space and height to allow the spiders to mingle on neutral territory. I used my soldering iron to put ventilation holes in both sides to allow for air flow, and I placed it on a small table in a corner of my tarantula room that doesn’t get much traffic.

The pairing

I placed both enclosures in the breeding chamber earlier in the day, but I waited until the evening to take the tops off. Within an hour, both had started to crawl out of their cages to explore. Just before bed, I observed both the female and the male drumming their legs as they courted. I’m taking this as a good sign that their may have been an insertion after I went to bed. When I turned the lights out, they were still at opposite ends of the enclosures continuing their courtship ritual.

I left them in unsupervised overnight, and when I checked on them in the morning, both were fine and perched in opposite ends of the larger enclosure. All told, they spent about 14 hours together, with about 10 of that being in darkness. I left them a bit while I had my morning coffee so I was awake enough to wrangle them both back into their cages. As it turns out, I didn’t need the coffee; each had returned to his and her respective enclosures while I was gone. I couldn’t have asked for an easier pairing.

The next step

Although I’m pretty optimistic that the two mated last night, I’m going to go ahead and try again next weekend while I still have the male. After that, it will be a watch-and-wait game as I hope to discover the female is gravid. With any luck, I’ll have a sac in a few months. I will not only post a blog update if I have any news, but I will also update this post.

Next up … it’s time to find a date for my female P. vittata.

Wish me luck!

Pet Center USA – A Review

Dealer Pet Center Us

In an earlier post about how to shop for tarantulas online, I provided a list of reputable dealers. Among the names I included was Pet Center USA, a vendor I had yet to make a purchase from, but whose stellar reputation demanded that it be included on the list.

Well, I can now wholeheartedly recommend Pet Center USA from my own experiences.

An amazing selection and a great reputation.

Pet Center USA is run by Paul Becker, a very well respected and knowledgeable tarantula dealer. At any given time, Paul offers a staggering number of tarantula species for sale, and his prices are often lower than many other dealers. He is also recognized as being very approachable and helpful to anyone new to the hobby or even more established collectors who have questions.

When I noticed that he was offering Poecilotheria hanumavilasumica slings at an extremely reasonable $55, I knew the time had come to make my first purchase from him. After finding C. dyscolus blue slings on sale for the holidays, I placed my first order for two of each species.

Paul’s communication was excellent throughout. He responded to correspondences quickly, and his  emails were always very affable and polite. I always enjoy when a vendor makes a little small talk, as it adds a personal touch to the transaction (and increases the likelihood that I will buy there again in the future). As an added courtesy, Paul also sends out an informative email after you order which details how he keeps the tarantulas and includes directions on how to properly rehouse them. I thought this was a very nice touch, and I expect this information would be especially appreciated by someone new to the hobby.

My order was shipped promptly via FedEx overnight, and it arrived at my local FedEx facility on a Tuesday. As expected, the packing was topnotch; the specimens were shipped in a foam-lined cardboard box with a heat pack included (temps were currently in the 30s in my state). The spiders were packed securely in plastic dram bottles, which were then wrapped up and taped in newspaper. The rest of the box was also padded out with damp newspaper.

My package of new Ts from Pet Center USA.

My package of new Ts from Pet Center USA.

Pet Center sent the Ts in a foam lined box with a heat pack and damp newspaper for padding.

Pet Center sent the Ts in a foam lined box with a heat pack and damp newspaper for padding.

When I opened up the package, I was delighted to discover that Paul also included a freebie (and who doesn’t love a freebie?). I now have an adorable little Aphonopelma anax sling. Very cool.

For extra protection, the bottles were wrapped and taped in newspaper.

For extra protection, the bottles were wrapped and taped in newspaper.

My new Ts still in their dram bottles.

My new Ts still in their dram bottles.

The animals themselves arrived in great shape, and all five have been rehoused and fed. For these specimens, I decided to follow Paul’s instruction and just pop the top, pull the paper towel plug, and let the animals come out on their own (this is a technique I’ve also used in the past with aggressive/defensive species). Four of the Ts were out and had secreted themselves away by the morning. The fifth, an adorable little P. hanumavilasumica sling, had adapted its shipping container as a hide. Oh, well!

A perfect experience all around!

For those looking for a tarantula vendor with a great selection, low prices, great packing, and fantastic service, Pet Center USA is definitely a shop to check out. And, if you’re new to the hobby or just have questions about tarantulas, don’t hesitate to drop Paul a line.

One of my C. dyscolus slings purchased from Pet Center USA

One of my C. dyscolus slings purchased from Pet Center USA

The Poecilotheria metallica – Yes, Tarantulas Can Be Beautiful

When  I first started researching the different species of tarantulas currently available in the hobby, I stumbled across a photo of a Poecilotheria metallica (common name “Gooty sapphire ornamental”). This stunning tarantula sported an amazing metallic blue coloration with a gorgeous fractal pattern on its abdomen and vibrant yellow marking on its legs. The tarantula in the photo was so mind-blowingly beautiful, that I immediately assumed that it was just a clever photoshop job. After all, there was no way a tarantula could be this blue; the picture had to be a fraud.

My 1.75

My 1.75″ P. metallica sling a week after its last molt. It is finally displaying some of those gorgeous blues it will sport as an adult.

It was close to a week later when I encountered another amazing photo of this species, and this time, I decided to do some investigating. Not only did I learn that this was, indeed, a real animal, but also that it was one of the most coveted species in the hobby. Despite being quite readily available, this species still commanded prices as high as $100 for a small sling. Also, although captive breeding efforts provided for healthy numbers in the hobby, this incredible animal is critically endangered in the wild. Limited to a 100 square kilometer region in India, its habitat is being threatened by deforestation.

Although these tarantulas are undeniably pretty, they are still members of the Poecilotheria genus. As such, they possess blinding speed and, though usually reluctant to bite, very potent venom. At the time, I decided that that I needed some more experience with faster species before trying my hand at keeping a P. metallica, so I moved on to other species.

Several months later, my wife took me to a semi-local exotic pet store called Cold Blooded Pets & Supplies for my birthday so that I could peruse their stock of Ts and choose a few for my gift. It just so happened that they had several P. metallica slings among their rather diverse stock. Needless to say, we left with one that afternoon.

Gorgeous … and So Fast!

Although I’ve found most poecilotheria slings to be high-strung and skittish, my P. metallica is particularly prone to make dashes whenever disturbed. Anyone who thinks that they could possibly react in time to a fast fleeing T should watch this little bugger zip around its enclosure four or five time in the blink of an eye. I’m extra cautious when opening its enclosure for feeding or maintenance, as to lose focus could result in an escape.

Like my other pokies (nickname for Poecilotheria), my P. metallica has been growing quickly, having molted two times since late February and picking up .5″ in growth or more. For an enclosure, I use a tall Ziploc Twist ‘n Lock container modified with numerous ventilation holes allowing for good cross-ventilation. Because this is a an arboreal species, the height offered by the enclosure is more important than floor space. Although it is provided with cork bark hide with a thick faux vine for climbing, it tends to just stay at the top of the enclosure. As P. metallica’s are known to be particularly photosensitive, I keep this T in a darker corner of a shelf where it is shielded from light a bit.

The current enclosure for my 1.75-2

The current enclosure for my 1.75-2″ P. metallica sling.

Although kept at the same high 70s day/low 70s night temperatures, I do keep the humidity a bit higher for this T. I moisten, not soak, the substrate a bit once a month. To do this, I don’t spray as it would drive the little guy nuts. Instead, I dribble some water on the substrate.  Besides that, a water dish keeps the humidity inside the enclosure slightly higher.

My P. metallica is a great eater, consuming two medium sized crickets a week. The only time it refuses food is when it’s in premolt. As it does not like bright light, I usually drop a cricket in before bed, and it will grab and consume it overnight.

Ventral shot of my P. metallica sling. Despite the poor quality of the shot, you can still make out the yellow banding.

Ventral shot of my P. metallica sling. Despite the poor quality of the shot, you can still make out the yellow banding.

Update: 2/27/2016

As it’s been over a year since this post, and my P. metallica has been doing quite well. Time for an update!

The P. metallica, suspected female, has molted three times since the original post and is now about 4″ in total length. Currently, she is kept at temperatures between 80° during the day and about 74° at night. She eats two large crickets a week and has proven to be a lively and proficient hunter.

It’s worth noting that the P. metallica went through a lengthy period of almost six months in which she didn’t molt at all (previous to this, she would molt every two months or so). This period began in November and lasted until May and coincided with the winter months. It was a particularly cold and brutal winter in which the furnace was running constantly. Although the temps in the tarantula room never dipped below 70°, the humidity was in the teens for several months. The P. metallica had a water dish, and I would periodically moisten the substrate, but I’m convinced that these lower humidity levels and slightly-lower temperatures triggered some type of response in the specimen that led to the lengthy time between molts.

P.-metallica

It should be noted, however, that the P. metallica DID continue to eat during this period. However, due to the fact that its abdomen was quite large and distended, I reduced it’s feeding schedule to one cricket every week or so. Therefore, it appears that although it didn’t show any signs of distress as the humidity levels became less than ideal, it certainly slowed its growth rate a bit.

When it did finally molt, it was time for a rehousing. For its next home, I used a repurposed Sterilite “Showoff” container (15 1/4″ L x 9 3/4 W x 11 1/2″ H), which I ventilated with several holes in the sides for cross-ventilation. After packing in about 3″ of coco fiber, peat moss, and vermiculite substrate, I added a water dish, a cork bark flat, and some plastic plants. I also added some long fiber sphagnum moss to hold moisture. When winter approaches, this new enclosure will make it much easier to maintain a micro climate with higher humidity.

Enclosure-top-down

Temperament wise, I think that I got lucky with this one. Once very skittish and photosensitive, she now sits mostly out in the open and tends to crouch down rather than bolt when disturbed. That’s not to say that she doesn’t have frantic speed bursts left in her; she can still run when startled.

Poecilotheria metallica

Poecilotheria metallica

A Stunning Species for the More Experienced Keeper

When someone gives me that incredulous look after I say a tarantula can be beautiful, I usually show them photos of P. metallicas. Even to folks who don’t “get” tarantulas, they are undeniably pretty. Many keepers count them as the most beautiful species available. Still, they are Poecilotheria, and as such, are not a beginner species. This T has slightly more involved husbandry requirements, and its blinding speed and potent venom make it a potentially dangerous pet for an unwary keeper. For those experienced with fast-moving arboreal Ts, the P. metallica is a must for the collection.

For more information on this gorgeous species, please visit Arachnoboards and search for P. metallica care. 

Poecilotheria vittata (Ghost Ornamental)

Possibly the most exotic and beautiful of all the genera of tarantulas, in my opinion, is Poecilotheria. These large, graceful, lightning-fast arboreal tarantulas originate from India and Sri Lanka and are known for their lithe, athletic builds and amazingly striking patterns and colorations that make them experts at camouflage.

My female P. vittata (upper right) using it's amazing camouflage to blend in with it's surroundings in the classic pokie pose.

My female P. vittata (upper right) using it’s amazing camouflage to blend in with it’s surroundings in the classic pokie pose.

Although quite beautiful and striking, Poecilotheria possess a combination of speed and a higher venom potency (per bite reports) that make them more of an advanced species (or one for the the cautious and aware keeper). It has been said that the the speed of a Pokie, as enthusiasts amicably refer to them, must be experienced to be truly appreciated. A keeper used to working with slower species might find himself ill-prepared to deal with a 9+” spider that can be out of its cage and on your arm faster than you can blink.

Still, those experienced in keeping these amazing creatures adore them for their beauty and elegance, and argue that, for the experienced keeper, they are a most rewarding animal to keep. The majority of the species in this group can be described as more secretive and skittish than aggressive, and many will resort to sitting still and using their natural camouflage to hide them as a first line of defense. A keeper who is aware of his animal, its habits, and its location, and who avoids spooking it, will likely have little problems.

When selecting my first pokie, I hit the message boards, reading first hand accounts from those who had successful kept Poecilotheria for years. As this was going to be my first pokie, I specifically wanted one of the species known for being “calmer” and less prone to be defensive. P. regalis and P. vittata were both mentioned repeated as good beginner pokies, so I kept my eyes open. When Ken the Bug Guy offered a 3″ female P. vittata on his site, I jumped at it.

When she arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to discover her to be a full 5″ (Ken often gives his customers a bit of a size upgrade). As I wanted this T to be one of my display tarantulas, I purchased an 8″x8″x12″ Exo Terra Nano for her, along a water dish, a cork bark slab, and Flukers bendable vines to create some more hiding areas. I arranged the tank in such a way to give her several places to hide and to feel secure. Although I keep the substrate mostly dry, I overflow the water dish a bit each time I water her, and let it dry out in between.

Because the screen top of the Exo Terra provides a bit too much ventilation, and doesn’t allow for me to maintain a higher humidity during the winter, I will block the front three quarters of it off with plastic during the colder months when my home’s heat dries out the air. The evaporation of water from the wide water dish keeps the air properly humidified without the need to spray and unnecessarily disturb the T.

My P. vittata hanging out on the side of her enclosure after a meal.

My P. vittata hanging out on the side of her enclosure after a meal.

My P. vittata is an excellent eater, and I always get a thrill when I see her perk up from wherever she is hiding after sensing a prey item nearby. Often when she hunts, I get glimpses of her blinding speed as she pounces for the kill. Besides keeping the humidity in her enclosure a bit higher than I do for many of my other Ts, I also have to do a bit more maintenance than usual. As arboreals often do, my vittata frequently shoots her feces around the enclosure, hitting the glass and producing some rather unsightly white drips and spatters. These can be carefully cleaned off with wet paper towels (no cleaner).

My P. vittata settling down to enjoy a fat cricket.

My P. vittata settling down to enjoy a fat cricket.

Before cleaning or feeding, I will tap the enclosure a couple times to “warn” her that I am coming. This will cause her to hide and hunker down wherever she is at, allowing me to carefully open the cage to drop in a cricket or to clean. If she is at the front door when I want to open up, I wait until she is in a more safe location at the back of the tank.

My P. vittata quickly became one of my favorite Ts. She is just gorgeous to look at, and spends much of her time out in the open for us to admire. When she does hide, my family and I enjoy trying to see how quickly we can pick her out of her surroundings. I am very much looking forward to her next molt and watching as she develops her striking adult coloration. At a max size of 7+ inches, she is sure to grown into a beautiful showcase tarantula.

A ventral shot of my P. vittata spread out on her enclosure door.

A ventral shot of my P. vittata spread out on her enclosure door.

However, having seen how quickly she can move, and understanding that a bite from this species would be VERY unpleasant, I completely recognized why Poecilotheria are considered to be an advanced species. This is not an animal to be trifled with, and it deserves not fear, but a healthy measure of respect and attention.