Video of Tarantula Moulting

I’ve tried several times unsuccessfully to video one of my tarantulas moulting. On more than one occasion I’ve timed things just right, set up a camera and got some footage, but either the lighting has been bad, or the focus was out, or the angle was wrong… So I was very pleased this morning when I came across this lovely video from YouTube user Tarantupedia of a Xenesthis sp tarantula going through the entire moulting process.

Apparently it’s 10 hours of footage compressed down to around 5 minutes. The quality is really good, and different parts of the video are sped up more than others to really good effect (it’s normal speed for the really interesting stuff, and speeds up when nothing much happens for a while – some great editing!)

At the start you’ll see the spider’s regular colouration and the baldness of the abdomen (due to shedding urticating bristles since the previous moult). Then there are some excellent close up shots of the spider loosening itself from the exuvium (old skin) and pulling itself free. Notice those bright white fangs! (they are soft in that state so the spider can’t eat for the first few days, they darken as they harden up!) It’s a pity the video doesn’t carry on a little longer and show the Tarantula after it has flipped back up to standing, as it will continue to stretch at that point for a while (it’s effectively using blood pressure to stretch out the new skin) and also to show the new colouration properly before the new skin hardens up.

Anyway, still a great video – hope you enjoy it!

Arachnophobia Cured By Brain Surgery

Don’t worry, I’m not advocating having brain surgery to cure a fear of spiders!  This article is about a “positive side effect” caused by brain surgery on a patient suffering from sarcoidosis.  Apparently the rare condition which affects a number of organs of the body, including the brain, was severe enough in a 44 year old businessman that it was causing seizures.  Doctors decided to operate and removed a very small piece of brain, and since the operation the patient’s fear of spiders had entirely vanished!

Other side effects from the operation apparently waned over time, but his new found lack of arachnophobia stayed with him and appears to be permanent.

Anyway it’s an interesting article so check out the full story at New Scientist, and if you want all the geeky details there is a downloadable paper from Neurocase Journal called Abolition of lifelong specific phobia: a novel therapeutic consequence of left mesial temporal lobectomy  But don’t worry, there are much less invasive ways of curing arachnophobia than having doctors remove part of your brain ;)

Resources For Spider Lovers

Whether you’re a tarantula enthusiast hunting for new information, an arachnophobe trying to educate yourself about spiders to help conquer your fear, or simply interested in learning a little more about the wonderful world of spiders, I wanted to put together a list of resources and places to start.  This list will be a work in progress, and I’ll add to it over time as I come across new and updated information. It will be mostly online but I’ll also include some books, and I’ll link to those whenever possible.

Tarantula web sites

RFUK Invert Forums – The spiders/inverts section of Reptile Forums UK, packed with info and people to answer your questions

Arachnoboards Forums – Another great forum packed with useful info

The British Tarantula Society

The American Tarantula Society

 

Tarantula books

The Tarantula Keeper’s Handbook by Stanley and Marguerite Shultz

Tarantulas and Other Arachnids by Samuel D Marshall

The Legacy of Annie Rose by Carolyne E Swagerie – a great story of a lady who, like myself, overcame her arachnophobia through tarantulas

 

Spider/arachnid web sites

The British Arachnological Society FAQ – Not just a FAQ, but also a WIKI giving a ton of information about spiders in general (both domestic and worldwide), specific species and info on other arachnids.

The Society Of Biology – What Spider Do I Spy? – Small but helpful PDF guide to help identify the most common spider species in the UK.

The Natural History Museum ID Help – info and forums to help with spider IDs

Do Spiders Have Super Powers? – a multimedia fun facts list from the BBC

 

Spider/arachnid books

Spiders: Learning To Love Them by Lynne Kelly

The Private Life Of Spiders by Paul Hillyard

Biology Of Spiders by Rainer Foelix

Spiders : The Ultimate Predators by Stephen Dalton

Spiders of Britain and Northern Europe by Lawrence Bee

 

Avicularia versicolor – Martinique pinktoe Tarantula Caresheet

species-avicularia-versicolor

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Scientific Name: Avicularia versicolor (Walckenaer 1837)

Common Name(s): Martinique pinktoe (Martinique pink-toed tarantula), Martinique red tree spider, Antilles pinktoe

Range: Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean

Habitat: Trees and shrubs

Experience Level: Beginner/intermediate

Type: Arboreal, climber

Size: Leg span up to around 12cm (5″)

Growth rate: Medium

Venom: Mild

Urticating hairs: Yes*

Temperament: A generally docile species, though they tend to be more nervous and skittish than some of the other Avicularia (pinktoe) species. They do occasionally bite (though the venom is considered mild) and they can and do jump.

Description

The beautiful Antilles/Martinique pinktoe is a beautiful and unique species of new world arboreal tarantula, popular with enthusiasts due to their beautiful and unique coloration (especially as spiderlings), relative ease of care, and good temperament.

range-a-versicolorYou only need to lay your eyes on one of these beautiful spiders up close to instantly see the appeal.  A medium sized spider, as juveniles they have a beautiful metallic blue colouring. As they mature, the colours change and the spider ends up with a metallic green/blue carapace and purple/red hairs on the abdomen and legs. The long, colourful hairs on the legs and abdomen give the spider an almost “cuddly” look to it, and even people who are generally adverse or fearful towards spiders often remark at this species’ beauty. Males are usually more brightly coloured than females, tend to be smaller and more slightly built with longer legs in comparison to their body size.

Being arboreal (tree dwelling) species, members of the Avicularia genus (Avics for short) tend to be smaller than many of their ground dwelling and burrowing cousins, are excellent climbers and are able to jump. They build elaborate funnel type webs in trees and shrubs where they spend most of their time.

Keeping A. Versicolor in Captivity

The Antilles pink poe is suitable for the intermediate tarantula keeper, or the confident beginner.  As an arboreal they have different requirements to most of the tarantulas typically regarded as “beginners species” such as the Mexican red knee or Chilean rose. A tall enclosure allowing them to climb and build their funnel web, with good ventilation is essential. Ground space is of little value since these spiders will rarely descend to the bottom of their enclose. Suitable foliage should be provided for the spider to climb and anchor its webbing to is essential. While real plants can be used with some success, artificial plants are generally a better bet especially for the beginner. Good ventilation is essential, and stale air will kill these tarantulas. Many sources claim that high humidity is also required, but this is often taken to far by people new to keeping Avics and can be just as dangerous as too low humidity. You should avoid maintaining high humidity at all times, preferring to allow the enclose to dry out in cycles. If high humidity is maintained at all times (especially if the ventilation is less than ideal) it can promote mould growth which which can kill these spiders.

One or two shallow water dishes, combined with good ventilation allowing the air to circulate should be be fine. Many keepers mist the enclosure, but I prefer to simply dampen part of the substrate. Then allow the enclosure to fully dry out before dampening again.

These spiders, while generally docile, are not generally suitable for handling.  They tend to be quite skittish, and they can and do jump and have been known to bite.  Like all Avicularia they do possess urticating hairs, but unlike most new world tarantulas they tend not to flick them (though they can push them into the skin if being handled).  They also have a tendency to defecate as a defence and are able to squirt their poop some distance so be warned!

avicularia_versicolor_juvenileA diet of crickets, cockroaches and locusts is ideal.  As with all tarantulas, feed prey items of a suitable size – no larger than the spider’s abdomen.  These versicolors tend to be good eaters, so if they seem uninterested in food you can be fairly sure they will soon moult.


Further reading

Stanley A. Schultz, Marguerite J. Schultz. The Tarantula Keeper’s Guide  (2009)

 

School talks and phobias

Yesterday I had the opportunity to share my passion for tarantulas and other creatures with children at a local primary school.  I’d supplied them with some Extatosoma tiaratum (giant prickly stick insect) nymphs which the children are raising as part of a class project on life cycles in nature.  They invited me to talk to them about stick insects and other invertebrates, and can honestly say I’ve never seen a more excited bunch of kids, or been asked quite as many questions, but it was an interesting experience and they seemed to love it.

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I began by showing them some stick insect ova (eggs) and talking through their entire life cycle from eggs, through how they mimic Leptomyrmex ants when they hatch, through the various instars to maturity.  They also had the chance to handle some stick insects which they loved.  The kids asked lots of questions and I was very impressed with some of their knowledge and their enthusiasm.  Most of them however struggled to disguise the fact that they were more excited about something else during my talk though – their teacher had told them that I would also be bringing a tarantula and a snake!

I actually took several tarantulas along, and for obvious reasons they remained securely in plastic enclosures much to the relief of the teacher!  I also took some moulted skins and showed them a slideshow of a tarantula moulting which absolutely fascinated them.  Time flew by and after an hour and rapidly running out of time, the tarantulas were put away and I gave them the chance to get up close and personal with a snake – a young royal python.  For many of them it was their first time touching a snake, and while a few declined most were extremely excited and loved the experience.  A couple of the children were a little scared but plucked up the courage and the beaming smiles on their face afterwards showed how proud they were to conquer their fears.  The biggest achievement however was one of the teachers who had always had a lifelong phobia of snakes.  She had said right from the start that she wanted to touch the snake if she could, and though she was visibly trembling with fear, she gently touched the python with one finger and then held her hands out and I allowed the snake to rest in her palms for a few seconds.  She was certainly very relieved when I took the snake back, but she was really glad she managed it.  After conquering my own phobia it felt really good to be able to help someone else with their own.

I’ve never considered doing anything like this in the past, and I certainly won’t be making it a regular thing, but it was great to share some of my knowledge and passion, and seeing both the children and the adults getting so much out of it.  If anyone reading this keeps tarantulas or other “exotics” themselves and you get the opportunity to do something like this please do – you won’t regret it!

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Arachnophobia Cured

This week marks a year since I took my first major step towards conquering my irrational fear of spiders, and the beginning of my journey into the world of the tarantula enthusiast.  I won’t go into details about my arachnophobia because I’ve blogged about it before in my post about overcoming arachnophobia, but I do want to post an update about how far I’ve come.

When we got our first tarantula (a tiny, baby, Mexican Red Knee sling) my wife had to transfer it into it’s (secure) enclosure while I stood at the other end of the room – if the lid was off the enclosure for feeding of any other reason, I couldn’t get any closer than a few steps away.

vhandlingThis picture, taken this morning, shows just how far I’ve come.  I’m not “cured”, I still consider myself to be somewhat arachnophobic, and I get a serious adrenaline rush even handling this juvenile let alone an adult tarantula, but the mere fact that I’m able to do it at all is a clear indication of the massive progress I’ve made and what a year of desensitisation can do.  If someone had told me 18 months ago that I could handle a tarantula I’d never have believed them!

Since first blogging about how tarantulas have enabled me to control my fear of spiders I’ve had lots of emails and comments from people who want to beat their own fear, so hopefully this post will prove to those people that they can do it too.  I’m not suggesting everyone with a crippling fear of spiders should rush out and by a tarantula – far from it.  But the point I want to make is, no matter what your fear is, you can beat it if you want to.  Fear isn’t “real” it’s just signals in your brain.  Those signals were essential to our evolution as a species, they kept us out of danger, but with an irrational fear they are misfiring.  A house spider crawling up the bedroom wall isn’t going to kill you, but the brain of an arachnophobe acts as though it is.  With determination, persistence and patience however, and a willingness to get out of your comfort zone and face that fear head on, you can override those misfiring signals and regain control of your feelings.

Read more about how I beat my fear of spiders in my original post – overcoming arachnophobia

Note – please don’t think that I’m trying to advocate handling of tarantulas with this post.  Handling of any species comes at a risk to both the spider, and the handler and those risks should be fully understood before considering handling of any tarantula.  The only way to fully minimise the risk to both keeper and spider is simply not to do it.

Grammostola pulchra – Brazilian Black Tarantula Caresheet

species-grammostola-pulchra

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Scientific Name: Grammostola pulchra (Mello-Leitão, 1921)

Common Name(s): Brazilian Black Tarantula

Range: Brazil and Uruguay.

Habitat: Grassland and pampas

Experience Level: Beginner/Intermediate

Type: Terrestrial, opportunistic burrower

Size: Leg span up to around 20cm (8″)

Growth rate: Slow

Venom: Mild

range-g-pulchraUrticating hairs: Yes

Temperament: A generally calm and docile species, suitable for beginners though care should be taken due to their large size. They tend to be reluctant to bite and don’t tend to flick hairs as much as many other species making them very desirable for beginners.

Description

It’s not difficult to see where this impressive looking species of tarantula gets its common name – as adults they are jet black with a striking velvety appearance (immature spiders such as the spiderling shown below tend to be brown, taking on their adult colour after several moults). Combined with their striking looks, their impressive size and generally docile and tractable demeanor make them incredibly desirable to enthusiasts, and suitable for beginner tarantula keepers. A ban on export from Brazil however, combined with their slow rate of growth, means that adult specimens tend to be rather expensive.

Keeping G. Pulchripes in Captivity


brazilian-black-slingG. pulchra
 is a terrestrial species which will often burrow if given the opportunity, so a decent depth of substrate (of several inches) should be provided, though many specimens will tend to take up residence in any type of hie provided.

For general care requirements, read the basic guide to tarantula care page which gives a good overview of tarantula husbandry.

An adult Brazilian Black will require a large enclosure such as a large plastic or acrylic tank, or a 10 – 15 gallon aquarium with a suitable top.  Provide a deep, fairly dry substrate (4 – 5 inches of coconut coir, or dry potting soil), plenty of ventilation, and a secure lid.  A large piece of cork bark will serve as a suitable hiding place (half a coconut shell won’t be large enough for an adult!), and a large shallow water dish should be provided at one end of the enclosure which can be overfilled to dampen the substrate slightly at one end of the tank.  No special care requirements are necessary.

A diet of large crickets, cockroaches and locusts should be provided.  But as with all tarantulas, feed prey items of a suitable size (no larger than the spider’s abdomen).

Like with G. pulchripes, one of the reasons for G.Pulchra being so sought after for some people is their tolerance to being handled.  It’s true that this species in general tend to be docile and fairly tolerant to handling, but remember that every individual tarantula is different.  Though they don’t tend to bite and have relatively mild venom, care should be taken since the fangs of an adult are large enough to do mechanical damage.  As always, handling is at the individual’s own risk and should be avoided if possible.


Further reading

The Tarantula Keeper’s Guide Stanley A. Schultz, Marguerite J. Schultz. (2009)

Brazilian Black Tarantula blog

Tarantula moulting pictures (B.albiceps)

More often than not, when a tarantula moults you only see the end result – a beautiful, fluffy looking tarantula, and the old crumpled exuvia.  Recently though, my sub-adult Brachypelma albiceps moulted out in the open, and I noticed her just after she flipped onto her back so I was able to photograph the entire process.  I had to shoot through the side of the enclosure so as not to disturb her, so I apologise for the less than ideal picture quality, but hopefully you’ll still find them interesting.

This first picture was actually taken about 3 days before, she was busily moving substrate around and you can clearly see how plump she was looking – definitely getting ready to shed!

brachypelma_albiceps_1

This was when I first noticed that she had laid down a mat of webbing and flipped onto her back:

brachypelma_albiceps_moulting1

Notice that the abdomen is starting to look “deflated” and she starts to pull herself out of the old skin:

brachypelma_albiceps_moulting2

Here you can clearly see the new, white fangs.  These will darken as they harden up over the next week or so:
brachypelma_albiceps_moulting3

It’s not often that you see a spider lying on one side, with all the legs facing one direction!
brachypelma_albiceps_moulting4

All curled up and stretching those legs out, having a rest from all the effort:
brachypelma_albiceps_moulting5

Finally, flipped back over the right way and looking very fluffy!
brachypelma_albiceps_moulting6

I put the full set on Flicker if you want to see some larger pictures, and a few more shots!

Tarantula venom as insecticide

fangsIf you follow the scientific press at all, you may well have come across this story over the last couple of weeks.  Some interesting research into the venom of some australian tarantulas has shown potential for a new form of natural insecticide.

Typically the venom of spiders (or any venomous animal for that matter) tends to to effective only if injected (by a bite or sting) which is why, in general, it’s incorrect to call spiders “poisonous” rather than venomous (poison is a toxin which is ingested, venom is one which is injected).  However, recently published research suggest that a protein found in some australian tarantula venom can also kill prey insects when they ingest it, leading to the possibility that if sprayed on crops it could be used as an effective and natural insecticide.

The findings were published by Glen King and Maggie Hardy of the Institute of Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland, and could prove extremely useful in the control of the cotton bollworm, which is considered an important agricultural pest which attacks crops and is currently controlled with a synthetic chemical insecticide.

The authors of the published research hope that the findings could lead to the creation of bio-insecticides, or that gene encoding of the proteins could facilitate the creation of insect-resistant crop plants.

For more info, read the article at ScientificComputing.com

 

Arachnophobic entomologists

I’ve received quite a few emails since starting this site.  Most have been extremely positive, from people with varying degrees of arachnophobia who have been inspired by my story about beating my fear of spiders and want to know more, or want help in overcoming their own fear of spiders.  Some however have been rather negative, telling me that I can’t really have been arachnophobic if I now keep tarantulas!

Well, the fact is that my arachnophobia was VERY real (and still is to a degree – I can’t say that I’m “cured” or 100% over my fear, but it’s now very controllable so I can appreciate a spider’s elegance rather than just run away screaming!)  And now I’ve read that there are professional entomologists with arachnophobia, which I think validates my own story to a degree.  It seems illogical at first that someone who chooses a career studying invertebrates could be afraid of spiders, but according to a blog post on esciencenews.com it’s not as rare as you might expect.

The blog post cites an article to be published in the next issue of American Entomologist which features a survey of 41 arachnophobic entomologists.  While most entomologists tend to have a low score (mild disgust of fear) most indicated that they react differently to spiders than to insects and other inverts.  At the same time, some who responded indicated an extreme phobia.

I wonder how many entomologists with arachnophobia manage to overcome their fear?  I’m guessing a lot more than the general public!