Guest Blog post: Neoholothele incei (gold) Communal by Casey J. Peter

Introduction

As tarantulas are recognized as solitary creatures (mostly due to the fact that they view other spiders as lunch on eight legs) many find the idea of several tarantulas cohabitating peacefully to be a bit of a mind-blower. Perhaps that’s why successful communal setups garner so much curiosity and attention. A year ago, I started my first communal with 9 Monocentropus balfouri slings, and it has been incredibly rewarding and fascinating to watch these spiders interact. And, as I’ve shared my experiences through my blog and YouTube channel, it has also attracted a lot of attention from folks who would very much like to begin their own tarantula communals.

Although M. balfouris seem to present as one of the best species to successfully thrive in this set up, they are not the only species to display these tendencies. In fact, when I was originally giving thought to the idea, I was eyeing Neoholothele incei as a possible candidate. This species has been observed living communally in the wild, and a bit of research would produce several compelling accounts of successful group setups in captivity.

Even better, they were readily available and slings were much less expensive than those of the pricey M. balfouri, making such a venture less cost prohibitive. As communal setups always run the risk of cannibalization, many people would find the smaller investment much more palatable. I’ve received a lot of questions about H. incei communals, and having no first hand experience with them, I’ve had to refer these people to other keepers’ accounts.

With that in mind, I asked my buddy and fellow hobbyist, Casey J. Peter, if he could guest blog on Tom’s Big Spiders and relate his experiences with his H. incei communal. Casey began his setup a few months back, and he’s been keeping me updated as it progressed. Casey’s care and husbandry are top notch, and as a writer, he was no stranger to the written word, so I hoped he’d be game to pass off some of his knowledge.

He (obviously) graciously accepted the invite. A huge thank you to Casey for taking the time to share his valuable experiences. Now, enough from me. On to the article …

Continue reading

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?