“Brown Boxing” The Tarantula Hobby’s Dirty Little Secret

Author’s note: The following topic pertains to the United States tarantula market and doesn’t necessarily reflect the import/export laws of other countries. That said, if you are importing tarantulas into your country, you should be aware of your own national import and export laws.

By now, you’re hopelessly addicted to the hobby and have a wish list so long, it reads like an abbreviated edition of the World Spider Catalog. While shopping online for your next acquisitions, you stumble upon a Facebook post by a vendor you have been following.

NEW IMPORT PREORDER!

Reading the announcement, you feel your excitement build as you learn that said vendor is expecting a huge import from overseas containing a myriad of species. As you feverishly peruse the species list, you notice many of the species that are on your wish list, as well as exotic species you’ve never seen before. Pen in hand, you start jotting down a preliminary list of animals you’ll be pre-ordering and start to formulate a convincing argument for your spouse to justify the several hundred dollars you are about to plop down pre-ordering bugs.

But not so fast.

Although import pre-orders are certainly exciting, and many of us take advantage of these wonderful opportunities, there are some things that keepers really need to be aware of before buying imported stock. Many folks are under the assumption that all publicly announced import is done legally, but this is far from true. Sadly, many folks resort to cheaper and illegal measures to get their livestock into the country, a fact that many hobbyists are unaware of.   

Recently, I covered the topic of shipping tarantulas using the USPS, and how the practice is illegal on a federal level. Many folks are ignorant of this fact and assume that if vendors are advertising the service publicly, it must okay. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Those choosing this method to ship their spiders within the states are breaking the law.

Keeping that in mind, it’s also important to recognize that some of the folks offering “import” are also breaking the law, and on a much larger scale. Anyone buying animals from these disreputable folks are contributing to this issue. Not only does illegal import put customers at legal risk, it undermines legitimate dealers and poses a threat to the import that is currently the lifeblood of the United States hobby.  

What is BROWN BOXING?

Legally importing animals from other countries can be a very time-consuming and costly process. Importing livestock from another country requires permits, expensive shipping and inspection costs, and quite a few logistical preparations. Contrary to popular belief, this holds true for both wild-caught and captive bred specimens. Importing legally can make ordering and receiving animals from other countries a very cost-prohibitive option for those looking to import. I often hear folks complain about paying $40-$50 to ship a package of spiders through FedEx. Well, when shipping air freight (the only legal shipping option for this type of transaction), you can expect to pay several hundred to well over $1000 for your animals.

Unfortunately, some folks find this type of investment unpalatable and decide to cut corners and break the law by “brown boxing” their animals into the country. Continue reading

Caribena versicolor (Antilles pinktoe) Breeding Notes … and Babies!

Spoiler: The Breeding Was a Success!

For those interested in possibly breeding the Caribena versicolor in the future, here is an account of my pairing. All in all, it was a rather simple endeavor from start to finish, and I would encourage others to try it. And for those looking to acquire some of these little blue beauties, be sure to read to the bottom of the article…

The Pairing – November 26, 2017

In November of 2018, I paired my mature female Caribena versicolor with a mature male lent to me by Tanya at Fear Not Tarantulas. I had raised this female from a sling, and she is currently about 5 years old. She was fed very well leading up to the pairing and was quite plump before the breeding attempt. I have never attempted to breed her before this pairing.

Upon opening both enclosures, the male, who was incredibly active, came right out and approached the female within 30 seconds. The female appeared startled at first, and a quick “scuffle” ensued which caused the male to back off for a few moments. However, he quickly regrouped and approached her again, and she was very receptive. After a very brief courtship in which they entangled legs and the male tapped on her a bit, they coupled. I observed two insertions before the two disentangled and the male calmly walked away. I did not try to pair them a second time, as I was pretty sure the first pairing was successful.

The entire event took only about 5 minutes total from beginning to end. The female showed no aggression toward the male and did not try to consume or pursue him when they had finished.

The Female Makes a Sac – December 27, 2017

About two days after the pairing, the female webbed herself up completely in a funnel web down the side of the enclosure. Although she had webbed up a bit of a “chamber” for her last molt, she thickened the sides, especially on the Plexiglas, and closed off the ends. I tried offering her crickets the day after she was bred, but she showed no interest in eating.

Caribena versicolor

On December 28th, I noticed that she had finally created an egg sac. This sac was about 1″ in diameter. During the incubation period, I kept her enclosure on a high shelf that ranged in temperature from about 78° F to 80°F.  I kept her water dish full, and once a week I would open the enclosure and use a large bottle with holes in the top to simulate a rain shower. I would use this technique to moisten part of the substrate so that enclosure wouldn’t become too dry.

For this breeding, I chose not to pull the sac and instead left it with the mother. She continued to care for it perfectly during the incubation period, constantly rolling and moving it to keep the eggs from sticking or getting crushed. She was an excellent mother throughout the entire process.

2nd Instar Spiderlings Emerge – February 18, 2018

Finally, I came down on the morning of February 18th to find that several little blue 2nd instar slings had emerged. Over the next three days, the rest of the brood freed itself of the sac, and little blue spiderlings lined the entire inside of their mother’s web den.  Instead of immediately spreading out and leaving the web, the slings huddled together while the mother stood over them.

As the mother’s enclosure offered several means of escape for the tiny slings, including gaps and vent holes, I had to sling-proof it before any of the little ones could get away. I used some cheesecloth and clear cellophane tape to cover up the vents and gaps. The cheesecloth kept the slings inside without restricting ventilation.

Despite my best efforts, I apparently missed a corner, and I woke up one morning to find a sling’s toe poking from the breach. With the slings now starting to spread out and wander a bit, it was time to separate and house them.

Separated and Rehoused the Slings – February 21, 2018

We started by carefully opening the cage and removing the mother. Using a paintbrush, I coaxed her away from the slings and into a deli cup. Although she was reluctant to move, she did not become defensive or nasty. With mom out of the way,  Billie and I spent the next hour getting the slings out of the web and into their enclosures (dram bottles and small deli cups). Fortunately, the slings didn’t attempt to scatter, but instead congregated in groups as they tried to hide. This made things MUCH easier. We had placed the mother’s enclosure inside a large Sterilite container in case the babies tried to bolt, but it never became an issue.

When all was said and done, we had 148 lively slings! Being 2nd instar, the slings were very active and ready to eat. I gave the ones I kept a couple days to settle in and to start webbing before offering the first meal. For the first feeding, I used pinhead red runner roaches, which I prekilled and dropped in each sling’s webbing. So far, all have eaten twice.

Versi Babies for Sale!

Unfortunately, with all I have going on with the blog, YouTube channel, and now my podcast, I don’t have the extra time I would need to raise and sell my own slings. Although several folks have inquired about buying directly from me, that’s just not practical for me at this time. However, for those who want to get their hands on a couple of these gorgeous blue slings, you’re not out of luck.

A few days after the slings were rehoused, we got a visit from Tanya Stewart and Rachael Pan from Fear Not Tarantulas. They picked up all but a few of the baby C. versicolors (I held onto five for myself), and they will selling them online from their store and at expos. Tanya is a very well-respected and trusted dealer in the hobby, and folks will have the option of getting more for their shipping money by possibly ordering other species from her diverse selection.  Even better, Fear Not is offering 15% off the price of a C. versicolor sling if you use the code “tom” at checkout. C. versicolor are always in demand, and the slings are going fast, so be sure not to wait too long if you want to grab one.

Moving ahead, I will continue to pursue breeding projects that interest me and with species there is a demand for.  At the moment, I’m hoping to have my M. balfouri and H. pulchripes both bred after what appeared to be successful pairings. I will obviously keep folks updated if and when anything develops!

‘T’ Time Adoption/Rescue Facebook Group- And Interview with Samantha Miller

A brand new group hoping to fill a much needed hole in the hobby. 

Several years back, I got an email from a frantic hobbyist who was preparing to start his freshman year in college. With only a few weeks to go before he was to move into his dorm, he made an unfortunate discovery; this particular school didn’t allow any pets in the freshman dorm rooms. This young man had amassed a modest collection of a half-dozen or so tarantulas, and his mother, an arachnophobe, had already made it quite clear that the animals couldn’t be left behind. Instead of enjoying his last remaining days before starting school, this poor guy was desperately trying to find a new home for his beloved pets. He was even willing to part with them for free if they went to a good home, and he was hoping I might know of some place that would be willing to take his collection and ensure his animals got the proper care.

Over the years, I’ve received several similar emails from hobbyists looking for someone to adopt their pets, and I’ve usually directed them to the classifieds section of Arachnoboards or FaunaClassifieds. The truth is, although there are obviously a plethora of options for folks keeping warm-blooded vertebrates like cats, dogs, ferrets, etcetera, the options for invertebrate keepers are quite limited. Although a few shelters will take in the oddball invert, most know little about their care or are particularly interested in dealing with the “creepy crawlies.” I’ve heard of cases of people with one or two spiders donating them to a school science teacher or a friend or family member, but what does one do when she has several spiders? Or, perhaps someone has outgrown the hobby and recognizes that he no longer has the passion to keep these animals. Where should he go to get them new homes? Sure, Craigslist and the classifieds can work, but selling off larger collections can take time…and emergency situations can lead to strict deadlines.

Then there are hoarding cases or instances in which a keeper dies leaving behind dozens of pets that no one wants or knows how to care for. What happens to these animals after being confiscated by the authorities?

Well, now there may be a new option.

While chatting with hobbyist Samantha Miller, I learned about her idea to create an adoption and rescue service specifically for inverts. Within weeks, she had set up the ‘T’ Time Adoption/Rescue group on Facebook in an effort to see her idea come to fruition. With the membership numbers swelling and the group off to quite the auspicious beginning, I caught up with Samantha to learn more about this fantastic and much-needed new group.

Thanks for taking the time to chat, Samantha! Continue reading

Tom’s Big Spiders – The Podcast

After much debate, I’ve decided to start a weekly podcast about tarantulas and other arachnids. I had been asked about starting a podcast a few times over the years, and as I really didn’t know too much about them, I scoffed at the idea. I just couldn’t imagine I would have enough to say to make one interesting, or that folks would be even remotely interested in hearing it. I know it may sound in my videos like I love hearing myself talk, but I can’t stand the sound of my own voice (really, who does?).

But after a recent discussion with my brother, an admitted podcast junkie, and another chat with a keeper, I decided to do a bit of research to see if it was a realistic outlet for me. For the past several months, I’ve been making a list of possible topics as well as folks I would like to either work with or interview. As luck would have it, I’ve been doing much more voiceover work in my YouTube videos as of late, so I have also gotten some good experience with talking and staying on subject.

Last month, I asked some of my friends on Facebook if this was something I should pursue, and the reaction was very positive. It seems that there are a lot of hobbyists out there that like podcasts, and not a whole lot of people doing them. Excited by the possibility of branching out into new media, I signed up for a plan, downloaded some programs, and sat down to test it out.

So far, I’m loving it.

Many times when putting the videos together, I have to shorten my explanations because I don’t have enough footage to accommodate for all of the dialog. I’ve found that recording the podcasts allows me to go into much more detail with the discussion. There are also topics that might not make for the most interesting videos or articles that might be better delivered in a more conversational format. Even better, this format would make interviews much more natural and easier for the interviewees.

It won’t replace my articles or videos, but I do believe the format will allow for another excellent outlet for tarantula information.

To start, I will be releasing one 30-minute episode every week on Sunday. As I know folks that follow podcasts like them to be released consistently, I’m recording several ahead of time to start so that I will always have one ready to go even if life intervenes. As I get more comfortable with the format and schedule, I’ll look to start mixing in interviews and even live episodes. If all goes well, they will be available on both iTunes and Google Play as well.

Below is my first “pilot” episode in which I field a question about feeding dead prey to tarantulas and discuss shipping in the winter, as well as a bonus episode featuring a Q & A. I’m also including a link to my podcast page. Hopefully you all find it enjoyable and continue to check out future installments. I’ve got some cool ideas going forward, and I think that I’ll continue to improve with each outing.

EPISODE 1: Tom’s Big Spiders … The Podcast! (Pilot)

BONUS EPISODE … Q & A

 

Follow the podcast here: http://tomsbigspiders.buzzsprout.com/

 

Tarantula Hybridization in the Hobby (Tarantula Controversies #5)

It’s one of the hobby’s most hot-button topics, and one that elicits spirited and emotional responses from both sides of the argument. For many, the topic of hybridization is a fascinating one, and curious hobbyists hear about hybrids and want to find out more about them. Unfortunately, any public inquiries in the hows, whys, and why nots of a potential mixing of species swiftly erupt into heated arguments and debates.

On the one hand, there are the folks that don’t think tarantula hybrids are that big of a deal, with some even expressing that a keeper can do whatever he wants with his spiders, as long as they aren’t sold into the hobby. Many of these keepers believe that the supposed problem of hybridization in the hobby is over exaggerated and that those who are staunchly opposed to it are alarmists.

Others find the idea of purposely crossing species appalling and unforgivably irresponsible under any circumstance. Many of the people on this side believe that hybrids are prevalent enough in the hobby to seriously compromise the purity of many bloodlines. Any attempt to knowingly breed them is a gross disservice to the hobby and, in some cases, a Frankensteinian perversion of nature.

Recently, I was emailed by a young man who was new to the hobby and eager to discuss some of his experiences with a more seasoned keeper. During our exchange, he mentioned that he had managed to obtain a mature female Brachypelms vagans as well as a mature male Brachypelma albopilosom. He really wanted to breed but was having difficulty acquiring a male for his vagans, so he came up with the idea of trying to crossbreed the two species to get, “a cool designer tarantula.” What ensued was a lengthy back-and-forth email discussion about tarantula hybridization and why it is a detriment to the hobby.

It can be difficult for new and casual hobbyists to understand why hybridization is so frowned upon by many serious hobbyists. Even after several emails, this young man still didn’t seem to fully grasp why this practice was considered taboo by many. As I’ve encountered this question many times myself, I thought it was time to tackle the topic in hopes of educating folks who may not understand why it is such a controversial issue.

Below are the arguments and counter arguments and how they usually break down. For clarity, stances supporting hybridization will be in GREEN; stances against will be in RED. Continue reading

Webbed Together – Midwest Fang Gang Charity Auction

A Charity Auction for an Amazing Cause

My buddies over at the Facebook Group Midwest Fang Gang are  holding a charity auction to benefit a family who tragically lost their 2-year-old son to cancer very recently.  The proceeds from the auction will go toward helping this family pay for doctor’s bills, funeral expenses, and other monetary needs incurred over the poor boy’s hospitalization. Below is a flier for the auction, including the vendors participating and the items that will be up for bid. As response to this event has been so great, an extra day or two may be added.

For my small part, I’m donating an original signed watercolor painting of a C. cyaneopubescens (GBB) from my personal collection. The painting in 7.5 x 11″ and on cold pressed watercolor paper. The bidding on this piece will start at $50. I know that most folks will probably be more excited about the actual living tarantulas, but I do hope some of you are interested and make a bid. Personally, I think it would look great framed and hung in a tarantula room… Just click on the image to bid.

Continue reading

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

CEC’s Action Plan for Sustainable Trade in Tarantulas

Important Reading For all Hobbyists

Recently, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) released five action plans “to promote legal, sustainable and traceable trade in selected North American species” (West & Cooper vii) listed in CITES. 55 taxa were identified and organized into five groups: parrots, sharks, timber species, turtles and tortoises, and tarantulas. These plans were created under the guidance of the CITES Authorities of Mexico, Canada, and the United states, the three countries involved in the legal trade of these species.

Megan Ainscow from the CEC was gracious enough to pass the report on tarantulas to me so I could share it with my readers. For those interested in reading the report (and it’s actually very easy reading and quite interesting) just click the picture above or the link below.

READ THE REPORT HERE

To encapsulate, the CEC brought together the main stakeholders in the Brachypelma tarantula trade—Canada, Mexico, and the US—for a workshop in October 25-26 in Mexico City, and the reports were generated from consultation with these stake holders. Continue reading

B. smithi is Now B. hamorii – A Breakdown of the Taxonomic Revision Paper

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – William Shakespeare

It was talked about and anticipated for years, and on April 26, it became official. Jorge Mendoza and Oscar Francke’s paper on the revision of the Brachypelma red-kneed tarantulas was officially published.  This paper had many informed hobbyists sighing in resignation as they reached for their label makers and bade farewell to a familiar name. As a result, the beloved Brachypelma smithi that has proliferated collections for decades has a brand new name…Brachypelma hamorii.

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