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!

Pamphobeteus sp. duran – Husbandry Notes Video

A gorgeous and hardy Pampho!

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

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

Enjoy!

Pamphobeteus sp. duran

Pamphobeteus sp. duran

Quick and Easy DIY Tarantula Enclosure – Arboreal

A simple, attractive, and stackable arboreal enclosure.

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

Enclosure-sterilite

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

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

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

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

1. Ventilating the enclosure

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

Enclosure-iron

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

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

2. Add the substrate.

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

3. Arrange the water bowl and cork bark

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

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

Enclosure-top-down

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

4. Add some sphagnum moss.

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

5. Decorate!

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

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

6. Finally … add your spider!

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

Enclosure-stacked

Grammostola iheringi (Entre Rios)

A gorgeous “grammy” with plenty of spunk.

G.-iheringi

About a year ago, I was perusing various topics on a tarantula message board when I came across a spider I had never seen or heard of before. The lucky keeper was posting photos of his newest acquisition, a 4″ female “Entre Rios.” With its bluish-gray body and bright red rump, it was a truly amazing-looking spider. I would later learn that the scientific name of this beautiful specimen was Grammostola iheringi, and it was a much sought after tarantula for many enthusiasts. After reading up on the species, including many accounts from those who actually kept this marvelous spider, I decided that I had to have one.

Fast-forward to just a couple of months ago. I place an order with my favorite vendor, Jamie’s Tarantulas, and due to unfortunate circumstances, one of the animals I ordered couldn’t be shipped. Being the amazing dealer that she is, she offered me a replacement that easily trumped my original purchase…a 2.75″ female G. iheringi. Since receiving her in early May, she has become one of my favorite specimens.

GWA … Grammostola with Attitude!

The first thing that impressed me about this species was its temperament. Those used to other slow-n-steady Grammostola species (porteri, pulchripes, pulchra, etc.) might be taken off guard with the much more high-strung iheringi. This species is quite leggy and seemingly much faster than its cousins, and many keepers have commented on its speed. Upon opening her shipping container to rehouse her, she bolted from deli cup and took two laps around her container before I could blink. This is definitely not a slow, calm spider.

Also, those used to other Grammostola species with more tractable natures should be aware that iheringis are quite skittish and can be defensive. While cleaning out a bolus in my spider’s enclosure, I was startled when she burst from her den, slapped at my tongs, then bolted back to her hole. Although I’m pretty sure that she was rushing what she hoped to be a food item, the experience was still quite eye-opening. This is definitely not a species I would risk holding, and care should be taken for feeding and maintenance.

The G. iheringi has a voracious appetite and will charge at prey with impressive speed and ferocity. Unlike my other Grammostolas, who will generally wait and ambush prey when it gets close, my iheringi will stalk and charge the crickets. I feed my 3+” female two large crickets a week, and she has no trouble taking down the larger prey. The only time she has refused food was shortly before a molt.

Although most Grammostola species are painfully slow growers, the iheringi grows at a medium pace. Mine has already molted once in my care, and because of her amazing appetite, she is quickly packing on the weight. During her last molt, she grew from about 2.75″ to just over 3″. Some consider this species to be one of the largest Grammostolas with a max leg span reaching up to 8″. However, most keepers report their reaching about 7″ in size. Still, that’s a fairly good-sized specimen.

A gorgeous spider with simple husbandry.

Care for this species is quite simple. I keep my female in a repurposed Sterilite plastic shoe box that has been well ventilated to allow for a cross current of air. For substrate, she has about 3″ of coco fiber and peat, and I provided a piece of black PVC pipe for a hide. I keep the substrate dry, but I do provide her with a large water dish for drinking and for keeping the humidity up a bit.

Like most of my tarantulas, she is kept between 70 and about 78° during the winter and 74-84° during the summer months. As with most species, higher temps will usually allow for a faster metabolism and growth rate. This is a long-living species, with females expected to live 20+ years.

My juvenile G. iheringi enclosure made from a re-purposed Sterilite container.

My juvenile G. iheringi enclosure made from a re-purposed Sterilite container.

G. iheringi enclosure set up. I used a piece of black pvc pipe with cork bark for the hide.

G. iheringi enclosure set up. I used a piece of black pvc pipe with cork bark for the hide.

A must for any New World aficionado

The most common complaint I hear about Grammostola species is that their sedentary lifestyles render them “boring” species to keep. This is definitely not an issue with the iheringi; this tarantula has plenty of spunk and personality. For a keeper accustomed to keeping more lively tarantulas, the G. iheringi is fantastic specimen and a must for the collection.

My female G. iheringi after a recent molt. Notice her tiny abdomen.

My female G. iheringi after a recent molt. Notice her tiny abdomen.

 

H. incei gold Rehousing

Well, this turned out to be a bit of an adventure!

Last year, I purchased three H. incei gold juveniles from Michael Jacobi’s Spider Shoppe. Since then, one ended up a mature male, hooking out and passing away two months later. Last week, I got a good look at the second one, and he, too, has hooked out. The third? Well, I was never able to get a good look at it.

While doing several rehousings this weekend, I decided that it was time to get this little one a new home. I hoped to also get the opportunity to possibly sex it, as this would be the first time I would be seeing it out of its den in a long time.

Once again, my daughter, Sid, handled the camera duties as I took care of the actual rehousing. As these guys can be very skittish and fast, I anticipated that this might not go as smoothly as I hoped.

I was right!

Still, I try to be prepared and to stay calm during all rehousings, and I don’t panic if the spider doesn’t go exactly where I want it to right away (as often, they don’t). I also do all rehousings inside a larger plastic container to put an extra barrier between a fleeing spider and my dinner table. In this instance, this practice served me quite well.

With four kids and three dogs in my household, things can be quite loud and lively. You’ll notice in this video that my concentration was tested, not only by the potential escape, but by barking dogs and a thirsty four-year-old. 🙂

As for my little spider, it looks to be another male. Oh, well…

It came! My Therophosa stirmi (Burgundy Goliath Birdeater)

Just one word…WOW.

After years of admiring this amazing species, and months experimenting and building up to the care requirements that would be necessary to keep this beast, my latest acquisition arrived. The Therophosa strimi I ordered from Stamps Tarantulas (sparkling review coming tomorrow!) arrived today, and I’m floored.

I was just telling my wife that since I got really into the hobby, I’ve lost some of that “awe factor” that I used to have when seeing a tarantula. Well, upon rehousing this amazing specimen, I definitely felt that sense of amazement again. Although I expected a 4-5″ T, this guy is definitely pushing 7″ and he is very stocky and heavy.

My new T. stirmi still in its shipping container. He was a bit reluctant to leave.

My new T. stirmi still in its shipping container. He was a bit reluctant to leave.

Getting him out of his shipping container was an adventure. This is one big T capable of a nasty bite or a very painful hairing. As I pulled out the layers of moist, rolled paper towel used to keep him hydrated and safe during shipping, I had to be careful that he didn’t kick any hairs or burst from the container. When he suddenly turned and exploded from the opening, I made sure my hands were out of the way. The force of his “kicks” as he scrambled out was amazing, and I was immediately impressed by his power.

My T. stirmi in the shipping cup after I removed much of the moist paper towel. Shortly after this photo was taken, he burst out.

My T. stirmi in the shipping cup after I removed much of the moist paper towel. Shortly after this photo was taken, he burst out.

He is now safely rehoused and exploring his new surroundings (for those interested in the story behind the enclosure, click here). Once he settles in, it will be time for his first feeding. I will post more in-depth about his care and husbandry soon.

My T. stirmi exploring its new enclosure. He's about 7".

My T. stirmi exploring its new enclosure. He’s about 7″.

 

 

T. Stirmi Custom Enclosure (In Progress)

The magic of trial an error.

With a 4-5″ Theraposa strimi (Burgundy Bird Eater) on the way, I needed to create a custom cage that would allow me to maintain proper conditions for this animal, namely the higher humidity requirements. I’ve experimented with many smaller setups, and have had good luck maintaining the right balance of airflow circulation and humidity for my moisture-loving species.

However, this enclosure would need to be a much larger. Plus, as Theraphosa require moist soil and consistently higher humidity levels, I needed to make sure that whatever I came up with was working out before my new T arrived.

It’s been about a week since I put it together and, with some experimentation and “revisions”, it is now working great. Waiting to have the T ship until I finished proved to be an incredibly prudent move, as this cage soon became a work in progress. For those interested, here is what I did:

The Materials

I started with a Ziploc 60-Quart Large Watertight Storage Box, which I purchased at Walmart for about $17. This container is quite spacious (23″L x 17″ W x 11″ T) and has six locking clasps around the edges. Nothing will be able to squeeze under the lid of this one. The lid also has a foam gasket in it to prevent precious moisture from escaping. This will make an excellent home until my T gains some more size.

Ziploc 60-qt Storage Bin Modified.

Ziploc 60-qt Storage Bin Modified.

For the initial venting, I used four 3″ white circular plastic vents that I had purchased from roundvents.com for $1.32 each. Using a 3″ hole saw and my power drill, I cut two holes on each of the long sides of the container  (Note: if you don’t have a hole saw, you can trace the vents, then use a regular bit to drill a series of holes all round the edge. Then, using a sharp utility knife, just make cuts and connect the holes).  I then glued the vents in place using Aquarium Silicone. To promote cross-ventilation, I positioned the vents on opposite sides of the enclosure.

Ziploc 60-Quart plastic storage bin with two 3" plastic vents installed on each side.

Ziploc 60-Quart plastic storage bin with two 3″ plastic vents installed on each side.

As the T. blondi will need to kept in moist soil, and I will have to add water from time to time to keep the humidity up, I experimented with soils a bit before coming up with the formula I used. I combined Scotts organic topsoil ($2.10) with organic peat moss ($9.99) mixed at about a 60/40 ratio. To this mixture, I then added several cups of vermiculite ($3.99) to help with water retention and percolation. (Note: As the topsoil comes in .75 cubic feet bags, and the peat moss comes in a huge 3 cubic foot bag, there is plenty of substrate left over for other enclosures).

I added water to this mixture until it was damp enough that it would hold its shape when squeezed, but not so wet that water would run out of it. After adding about 1/2″ of moist vermiculite on the bottom of the enclosure to hold moisture, I packed down about 5-6″ of my substrate mixture on top of it.

For a hide, I purchased a 3″ PVC elbow from Lowes for about $2.76. I wanted something that wouldn’t decompose or mold in the moist soil, hence why I didn’t use cork bark. I turned the elbow on its side, angling one end up for the entrance and pointing the other end toward the substrate. I then buried this, making sure that there was a bit of a hide, but leaving some dirt in it for the T to clear. The T. stirmi can now continue to enlarge his burrow by digging through the submerged end.

3" diameter white PVC elbow hide.

3″ diameter white PVC elbow hide.

Finally, I added a large plastic water dish which I had  on hand, as well as some long-fiber organic sphagnum moss to help with moisture retention. I also mounted a humidity gauge on the side of the enclosure to give me a rough estimate of what the humidity was inside.

With all of this done, I closed up the new enclosure and set it on the shelf for two days to see if it would maintain the correct level of humidity without spawning mold. I was looking to maintain a humidty level between 70 and 80% at about a 75º temperature.

Back to the drawing board.

During this trial run, the humidity in my home was around 75%, and the humidity inside the enclosure was steady at about 88%. When I opened it up after about two days, I immediately detected the slightest smell of mold or mildew. A closer inspection revealed that there was some light molding around the long-grain sphagnum moss. I removed the moss and left the cover off of the enclosure for a day to let some excess moisture evaporate. I later added a much thinner coat of moistened moss.

Obviously, the four vents I had installed wouldn’t be enough to allow for proper ventilation. Time for adjustments…

Using a 5/16″ drill bit, I drilled about 10 holes in the ends opposite where I installed the vents. I was hoping these would supply much needed cross-ventilation and prevent the humidity from remaining so high that mold and mildew occurred.

With these changes made, I closed up the enclosure and left it to sit another day.

Revision three

After about 24 hours, I took the cage out again. During this period, the humidity inside the cage was lower but still in the mid 80s. This wasn’t bad, but if the humidity in my home went up, so would the humidity in the enclosure, leading to levels that would promote mold growth.

This time I added about 15 more holes on each side and sealed it up again to see if this would lower the humidity even further. So far, so good! The humidity is holding right around 78% (the humidity in my home is around 64%)

Holes drilled for extra ventilation during the humid summer months.

Holes drilled for extra ventilation during the humid summer months.

As the humidity levels here can hit 80%, I may drill a few more holes in preparation for those really humid days. In the winter, our furnace dries out the air causing the humidity to plummet to the high teens. When this happens, I will use plastic and tape to cover up some of the holes to restrict some of the airflow and to prevent the cage from drying out.

Preparation and planning was key.

Had I tried to put this cage together without allowing myself time to experiment, this could have been a nightmare. I can’t even imagine trying to clean out the cage and make alterations while a 5″ T. stirmi was lurking inside. As humidity levels can vary depending on time of year and location, I would advise anyone setting up an enclosure for one of the moisture-dependent species to allow themselves some time to monitor levels and to make adjustments as needed. I have two more days before this beauty arrives, so I will continue to keep an eye on the humidity and make more changes as needed.

To be continued…

 

 

Choosing the Right Substrate for Your Tarantula

Pick your poison…

Since getting into the hobby, I’ve spent a lot of time (more than I’d like to admit) experimenting with various substrates. When I bought my first T about 18 years ago, the popular choice for spider bedding was dry vermiculite. A lot has changed since then, however, and better (and more appropriate) options are now recommended.

Ask any group of tarantula keepers what material they choose to keep their prized pets on, and you are likely to get a variety of responses. A recent poll on the Arachnoboards forum did reveal that there are a handful of popular choices that tarantula keepers mix and match to get the properties they desire. Much is up to personal choice, and I actually find it quite fun to experiment with different combinations.  What follows is a list of some of the more popular choices as well as some pros and cons of each.

COCO FIBER (Eco Earth)

Coco fiber

Made from ground up coconut husks, and sold loose in bags or in compressed bricks, coco fiber substrate has become one of the most popular substrate choices for those who keep tarantulas. Although the bags save you the effort of having to re-hydrate the compressed bricks, they are much more pricey. Zoo Med’s Eco Earth is probably the most popular brand, but other companies also produce the bricks (and some are less expensive).

PROS:

  • Fairly inexpensive if you purchase it in bricks. Buying bricks in three packs makes it even more affordable. ($7.99-$9.99 for about 21 liters)
  • Absorbs water well for species that need some moisture.
  • Great when used dry for arid enclosures.
  • Seems to resist mold.

CONS:

  • Can become expensive when filling larger enclosures.
  • Re-hydrating the bricks can be a bit time consuming and messy.
  • Re-hydrated coco fiber has to be dried out before being used in an arid enclosure (I put mine in a large foil turkey pan, then slowly bake in in an oven at about 250°, watching it at all times)
  • When dry, it can be “fluffy” and more difficult for burrowing species to create homes.
  • Dries out quickly (could be a positive with arid species)

TOPSOIL

Topsoil

Regular old run-of-the-mill topsoil can be a great and inexpensive substrate choice. It can be purchased at any Walmart, Home Depot, or Lowe’s in large bags for only a couple dollars. If using topsoil, it’s important to make sure that it’s organic with no fertilizers added (this includes animal waste). I have found myself using top soil mixes more and more due to the cost-effectiveness, availability, and water retaining qualities. It should also be noted that many European hobbyist have been using regular topsoil from their yards for years with no ill effects.

PROS:

  • Very inexpensive (a .75 cubic foot bag runs about $2.25).
  • Easily procured.
  • Mixes well with other substrates to get desired properties.
  • Packs down well; good for burrowing species.

CONS:

  • Inconsistent quality. Often comes with jagged chunks of branches and wood chips that must be filtered out
  • Very heavy when used to fill larger enclosures.
  • If used straight up, spraying/moistening of the substrate can create puddles or mud. It does not absorb water as well as other substrates.

PEAT MOSS

Peat

Peat moss is another readily available and inexpensive substrate alternative. Again, it can be purchased in a variety of places, and the large bags are very convenient for filling up large enclosures. As with the top soil, you want to go with a product that is organic and contains no fertilizers.

PROS:

  • Very inexpensive and comes in large quantities (a 3 cubic foot bag is only $9.99)
  • Packs and forms very well for burrowing species
  • Absorbent when wet down for species requiring moisture.
  • Mixes well with other substrates.

CONS:

  • Can be a bit dusty if used dry
  • Like top soil, the quality from bag to bag can vary. Large chunks or sticks must be filtered out.
  • Can be prone to growing mold or fungus.

As stated earlier, these three are the top choices among enthusiasts, and each can be used alone, or they can be mixed and matched to create a substrate to fit any need. For the majority of my enclosures, I’ve been using a 50/50 mix of coco fiber and peat moss. This has become my “all-purpose” substrate for many of my specimens.

VERMICULITE (As an additive)

vermiculite

Although the days of using vermiculite as a substrate for my Ts are long over, that is not to say that it can’t be very useful. For species requiring more moisture, I put a 1/2″ thick layer of vermiculite on the very bottom of the enclosure, then mix some in with the 50/50 coco/peat combination and use that to fill the rest of it. I find that the vermiculite retains water better than coco or peat alone, and allows for better water percolation. This enables any water I pour in to filter down to the bottom, keeping the lower levels humid and moist like the tarantula’s burrow in the wild. For Ts requiring more humidity, this also allows the water to evaporate more slowly, elevating the humidity inside the enclosure as it does.

The trick is to not add too much, as overdoing it keeps the soil “fluffy” and prevents it from being packed down well. Vermiculite is relatively inexpensive (an 8 quart bag costs about $3.99), and I always keep some on hand.

SPHAGNUM MOSS

Moss

Sphagnum moss is another useful additive when you are trying to maintain humidity in an enclosure. Moss absorbs water like a sponge and holds onto it quite well. When used inside an enclosure, it can be wet down to provide a source of humidity. I like to place some around water bowls to soak up the overflow. Although various mosses are produced by reptile supply companies, clean organic horticultural moss can also be purchased at Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and gardening supply stores.

Some things to avoid when experimenting with substrates:

Anything with jagged sticks or pieces. These could be harmful to the tarantula, as a falling T could rupture its abdomen on something sharp. If you buy substrate with jagged pieces, they must be removed before use.

Substrates with with fertilizers or additives. Make sure to check the labels before you buy. Even some “organic” soils have natural fertilizers added, including animal waste.

Pine chips or products made from cedar. Compounds in conifers and cedar are suspected to be harmful to Ts (Note: it is widely believed that mulches or peat mixes containing pine or cedar products are safe)

Aquarium Gravel. Although used for years, its use as a substrate is now generally frowned upon. Besides holding water too well (it tends to puddle and stagnate beneath the surface), it can trap a tarantulas leg or prove hazardous in a fall.

Poecilotheria Regalis (Indian Ornamental)

The Poecilotheria regalis originates from India, hence its common name of “Indian Ornamental”, and it is probably the most commonly kept of the Poecilotheria genus of tarantulas. This is an arboreal species that, in its natural habitat, lives in tall trees where it catches flying insects as its prey. In captivity, they are a hearty and gorgeous display tarantula for any keeper experienced with fast arboreal species.

My 3" juvenile P. regalis male.

My 3″ juvenile P. regalis male.

A word of caution…

Although the regalis is recognized as being one of the “calmer” members of this genus, it is still blindingly fast and possesses “medically significant” venom. This is not an animal to be trifled with or underestimated. I have seen my juveniles run several laps around their enclosures in blink of an eye. This is definitely an animal that can move faster than human reflexes can react.

In the case of  the P. regalis, when disturbed it would much rather hide  or escape than attack. Their fractile-like patterns serve as amazingly-effective camouflage, so standing still can likely help them to avoid detection in the wild. When approaching any of my Poecilotheria for feeding or maintenance , I tap the enclosures a couple times until I see them either hunker down or scramble to a hiding spot. This hopefully prevents me from spooking or surprising the Ts, which could cause them to bolt frantically around the cage (or, even worse, onto me).

Keeping my guy comfy (while keeping my fingers safe).

To reduce the risk of bite, I keep my P. regalis juvenile in a Sterilite Large Nesting Showoff plastic storage bin modified with cross-ventilation holes for airflow. The container is a bit larger than what I would normally use for a specimen this size, but I like to give myself plenty of room to work when feeding or performing maintenance on my large, fast arboreals.

The enclosure is deep as well as long, as this species requires more height than floor space. I provide it with a cork bark slab, which is put at about a 45 degree angle, as well as some plastic plants and rocks for hiding places. A water bowl is also supplied.

With a max diagonal leg span of 7″, the P. regalis is a good-sized T. This guy will likely end up in a 5-10 gallon-sized enclosure as an adult. Again, I will use something that gives me plenty of room to work for when it comes time for cleaning or maintenance.

Custom enclosure set up for my 3" P. regalis juvenile male.

Custom enclosure set up for my 3″ P. regalis juvenile male.

For substrate, my P. regalis is kept on a coco fiber/peat moss combination with moist sphagnum moss placed around the base of the cork bark to provide extra moisture.  I also moisten the substrate a couple times a week; this coupled with the water dish keeps the humidity inside the enclosure at an sufficient level. I do not obsess over exact humidity levels, and so far my Ts have been doing just fine. This species does, however, benefit from higher humidity. For temperatures, my P. regalis is kept at low 70s to mid 80s.

A fast-growing arboreal with a great feeding response.

My P. regalis has demonstrated a fast growth rate. They are good eaters, and it’s quite amazing to watch them hunt a prey item. I give my 3″ juvenile two medium/large crickets a week. This species seems to have little trouble taking down larger prey items. I procured this particular tarantula in February, and at that time it was about 2″ long. It has molted twice since then, and it’s now 3.25″ long.  I also have smaller P. regalis that I purchased as a 1.25″ sling in January. After three molts, it is now 2.5″.

This is the modified Ziploc plastic container I use to house my 2.5" P. regalis juvenile. He will likely get rehoused after his next molt.

This is the modified Ziploc plastic container I use to house my 2.5″ P. regalis juvenile. He will likely get rehoused after his next molt.

With its beautiful coloration and patterns, impressive size, and slender and athletic build, the P. regalis makes a stunning addition to any tarantula collection. As they are very prevalent in the hobby, the slings are quite inexpensive, running anywhere from $20 to $30, and a juvenile female can usually be purchased for under $100. That being said, this is a large, fast tarantula with very potent venom and not generally a species recommended for inexperienced keepers.

For more information on this wonderful species, visit arachnoboards and search key words P. regalis!

Tarantula Enclosures from Lorex Plastics … A Review

Gorgeous enclosures that wont break the bank

With several of my tarantulas reaching adult sizes, I found it was time to do some enclosure shopping. As I stated in an earlier blog, I use a variety of enclosures, including DIY and premium, professionally-made varieties. Premium enclosures can be costly, and when you have 50 or so Ts, you could end up spending more on the homes than you do on the animals. That said, I do have tarantulas that I consider worthy “showcase animals” that I like to show off to visitors. For these specimens, I don’t mind splurging for classier enclosures.

I had discovered Reptile-Enclosure.com last year while looking for large acrylic enclosures for my Ts. When I was first pricing cages on the site, I discovered the majority of the sizes were no longer in stock, and I wrongly assumed the company was no longer in business. In actuality, Reptile Enclosure.com is owned and run by Lorex Plastics Co, a plastics company that makes reptile and tarantula cages during the slow seasons. For those interested in these enclosures, this is something to keep in mind.

As luck would have it, I stumbled on Lorex’s eBay listing for two of their enclosures, and decided to check out the site again. I was ecstatic to discover that almost all of the sizes and types were in stock, and they were definitely still in business.

Lorex offers several types of enclosures, including arboreal and terrestrial varieties, as well as front-loading and hinged topped designs. For tarantulas, I specifically looked at the 3 mm Series, which includes convenient 2 gallon, 5 gallon, 7 gallon, and 12 gallon sizes.

I ordered three of the 5 gallon enclosures, which measure 17″ x 9″ h x 8″w and retail for $47.50 before shipping. Also, Lorex offers a 15% discount if you buy three or more cages of the same size, so I was afforded those savings as well. I phoned to ask a couple questions about my order, and spoke to Ed. Communication was excellent, and Ed was very friendly and helpful via phone and email.

My order was shipped promptly, and as Lorex is located just on the other side of my state, they arrived via UPS in a day. I always worry when I order acrylic cages, as I know how unforgiving the shipping process can be. However, my new enclosures were packed so well, nothing was going to harm them in transit. Each of the three cages was wrapped in five or six layers of bubble wrap, then individually boxed. These three boxes were then packed into another larger box for added protection. Wow.

One BIG box filled with three of Lorex's 5 gallon enclosures

One BIG box filled with three of Lorex’s 5 gallon enclosures

Each enclosure came wrapped in bubble wrap and in its own box.

Each enclosure came wrapped in bubble wrap and in its own box.

I was very pleased to discover that each enclosure was wrapped in 5-6 layers of bubble wrap.

I was very pleased to discover that each enclosure was wrapped in 5-6 layers of bubble wrap.

The cages themselves are well-constructed and just gorgeous. Each top-hinged door has a lip that overhangs the front and locks with a hasp. As these can be used for reptiles as well, they’ve been designed to have a 1/2″ of clearance beneath the bottom to allow for an under the tank heat mat (note: do not use heat mats for Ts). I love the look of the aluminum vents, although I’ll have to keep an eye on them as some terrestrial Ts have been known to chew through wire.

My only nit-picky issue is that the vents are not glued or otherwise permanently affixed to the cage, but this is a very small issue. I do love the position of the vents, as they allow for a deeper level of substrate than some of my other cages afford. The enclosures also feel very solid and sturdy, which is great.

5 gallon Lorex Acrylic Enclosure. Notice the lip and locking hasp.

5 gallon Lorex Acrylic Enclosure. Notice the lip and locking hasp.

I definitely recommend Lorex acrylic enclosures for anyone looking for a premium cage to display one or more of their prized tarantulas. They come in a number of convenient sizes, they are wonderfully constructed, and even with shipping, the prices are lower than other comparable acrylic enclosures sold elsewhere. Customer service was top notch, and Ed at Lorex was a pleasure to deal with. I’m already eyeing a couple of the 12-gallon versions for when my L. parahybana and P. antinous get a bit larger.

To check out these wonderful enclosures, click here!

My enclosure decorated and now the new home of my L. itabunae.

My enclosure decorated and now the new home of my L. itabunae.