Brachypelma albiceps – Mexican Golden Red Rump Tarantula Caresheet

brachypelma albiceps

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Scientific Name: Brachypelma albiceps (Pocock 1903) (Previously B.ruhnaui)

Common Name(s): Mexican golden red rump tarantula

Range: The central highlands of Mexico, particularly Guerrero and Morelos

Habitat: Scrubland and grassland, burrowing under rocks and in abandoned rodent burrows.

Experience Level: Beginner

Type: Terrestrial, burrower

Size: Leg span up to around 13cm (5″)

Growth rate: Medium

Venom: Mild

Urticating hairs: Yes

Temperament: Depends on the individual , while some can be quite docile, some individuals can be somewhat feisty and skittish and are often a little unpredictable so best left as a “look but don’t touch” tarantula.

Description

brachypelma albiceps rangeThe reason for the common name, Mexican Golden Red Rump, is easy to understand.  This striking looking tarantula comes from Central Mexico, has deep red hairs overlaying the black on the abdomen and a light golden carapace, with black legs.

Like all Brachypelma species B.albiceps are CITES II listed which prevents international trade, but they do breed successfully in captivity and so are available on the pet trade, if not quite as commonly as some other Brachypelma species.  Slings tend to be fairly easy to obtain but, typically for a CITES listed tarantula, adult specimens are harder to come by and more expensive.  They are a hardy species however, easy to care for, and with both their striking coloration and tendency to be fairly active and often on display, they are highly sought after.

For general care requirements, read the beginner’s guide to keeping tarantulas page which gives a good overview of tarantula husbandry.

golden-red-rump-tarantula-brachypelma-albicepsAs a medium/large terrestrial tarantula and an opportunistic burrower, a golden red rump will need a glass or plastic enclosure with more floor space than height, with a deep dry substrate (2 – 3 inches of coconut coir, or dry potting soil), and plenty of ventilation. Provide a hiding place (such as half a flower pot, coconut shell, or a piece of cork bark), and a shallow water dish. In my experience B. albiceps don’t tend to be heavy webbers compared with some other Brachypelma species (such as b.albopilosum) and they are quite active, often out on display and often moving things around and rearranging their substrate and cage furniture, making them a fantastic species to watch. They don’t like high humidity (around 50% – 60% is ideal) so don’t mist or spray for adults, but always have a small dish of fresh water available.

A 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.

Mexican golden red rump tarantula moulting

B.albiceps moulting (see more pics in this series here)

Premoult B.albiceps showing a large bald patch on the abdomen

Premoult B.albiceps showing a large bald patch on the abdomen

 


Further reading

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

 

How To Buy A Tarantula

I’ve had a number of emails and messages recently asking about buying tarantulas, in particular where to buy a tarantula, and how to choose one. So, I thought it would be a good idea to write a post on the subject to save repeating myself over and over.

Where can I buy a tarantula?

In an ideal world, you want to buy a tarantula locally at a specialist store or from a breeder, so you can inspect the specimen, see its condition, get an idea of its temperament and have a good chat with the breeder/dealer. In the real world however, that’s often easier said than done. Unless you are very lucky, your local tarantula dealer is likely to be a pet shop or reptile specialist which also happens to stock a few tarantulas. That will usually severely limit your choice of species, and while some pet stores are good, many have very little knowledge when it comes to tarantulas and often give bad advice.

So what’s the alternative? Well, with tarantulas becoming more and more popular, there are more and more amateurs successfully breeding a wide variety of tarantula species, so you may live nearer to a breeder than you might guess. While it’s certainly worth looking through the local free ads and places like Craigslist for adverts like “Tarantulas for sale” that can be rather hit and miss. Much better to check the specialist tarantula and reptile forums online. Places like Reptile Forums UK and Arachnoboards are not only great places to meet and chat with other tarantula enthusiasts, but you’ll also find lots of people on there selling tarantulas, and offering swaps. Most forums with a classifieds section allow you to search by location, so if you’re lucky you might well find some close by!

Tarantulas for sale online

A major advantage to keeping tarantulas and other inverts over other types of pet, is that if they are packed and sent carefully, they can be safely couriered. That means it’s possible to mail order tarantulas online and have them delivered to your house the very next day!

Because you won’t be there to see the actual tarantula you’re buying if you chose the mail order route, it’s important to only use suppliers you trust. The best way to discover new and trusted suppliers is to ask on forums, and find out from other tarantula keepers where they recommend. As a good starting point though, if you’re looking for tarantulas for sale in the UK I can highly recommend The Spider Shop, and in the US Jamie’s Tarantulas has a good reputation.  If you’re buying from a private individual or an unknown source, ask lots of questions first.  Ask for photos of the actual spider you’re buying, ask what courier they use, and how it will be packed.  Ask if they will pack it with a heat pad if the weather is cold.  Ask when it last ate, and last moulted.  Finally, ask them what their terms are if the spider arrives either dead or injured.  Most reputable dealers will give a refund or replacement is a spider is “dead on arrival” so long as you notify them within 24 hours.  This not only covers you if the worst happens, but also ensures they will take care to pack and courier the tarantula carefully and safely.

How to pack or unpack a tarantula

If you do buy a spider by mail order, you’ll need to know how it will be shipped, and how to unpack it. If done correctly, the tarantula should be perfectly safe and secure for the journey, but if done badly it can easily be injured. Rather than reinvent the wheel and go into detail on packing here, check out this excellent article on RFUK about how not to post a tarantula, which also shows you how it should be done!

Even though you’re not planning on packing and posting a T yourself, seeing how it should be done will allow you to understand how to reverse the process and unpack the tarantula carefully when it arrives.

Unpacking your first tarantula can be a nerve wracking experience, especially if you’re at all arachnophobic. The key is planning, and staying calm. First, make sure the enclosure you’ll be transferring your new tarantula into is set up and ready to go. Get your tarantula toolkit ready (long handled soft paintbrush for “nudging”, long handled tweezers for unwrapping the tissue, empty cricket tub or similar to use as a scoop if needed). Choose an uncluttered, safe area to do your unpacking – somewhere that doesn’t have many hiding places should your new tarantula decide to make a run for it! Finally, make sure there are no distractions (put the dog/cat/small child in another room for now!)

First open the outer packaging, do this carefully just in case there has been a packing problem and the inner packaging has somehow come undone (this can’t happen if it was packed well, but better to be careful just in case). Once you get to the inner packaging (usually a tub, or something like a 35mm film pot for slings) place that into the new enclosure, and carefully do the final unwrapping there, using the tongs if necessary.

unpacking-a-tarantula

Once you can see the spider, very gently nudge it using the paintbrush so that it walks out of the packaging and into its new home. Remove the packaging, close the lid, and enjoy your new pet!

Note: New world tarantulas with urticating hairs are likely to shed some hairs during transit, so be careful to dispose of the inner packaging carefully and wash your hands afterwards!

Your new tarantula is likely to be a little stressed from the journey, and will take a few days to get used to its new home. Avoid disturbing it for a few days to allow it to acclimatise, that means no feeding and certainly no handling. Just make sure it has access to water as it may be a little dehydrated from the journey, and then offer it a meal after a few days of settling in.

Urticating Hairs

“Urticating hairs” is actually a bit of a misnomer – urticating bristles is more correct, since “hairs” grow from follicles and are only found on mammals.  The hair-like bristles found on tarantulas are only superficially similar to hair, they don’t grow from follicles, and in fact they differ greatly in terms of structure, shape, and purpose.

Tarantulas have bristles all over their bodies, and different types are used for different purposes.  Some are used for sensing vibration, some tarantulas have stridulating bristles used to create sounds (the loud “hissing” sound created by some species is created in this way) but the type of most concern to tarantula keepers are those used for defence – the urticating hairs found on the opisthosoma (abdomen) of many new world species.

The term urticating comes from urtica, the Latin word for “nettle”.  These barbed bristles can be kicked or flicked off the abdomen by the tarantula’s rear legs, causing a cloud of these tiny hairs which cause irritation, discomfort and pain when they embed themselves in the skin or eyes of a would-be predator.

bsmithi-bald-spotThe bristles don’t appear at birth, but each time the tarantula moults, new ones are added.  They are loosely attached so that they easily break off when “kicked”, and are covered in barbs.  A number of different types are known, and these have different arrangements of barbs which cause varying degrees of irritation on the skin or mucous membrane (such as inside the nose or throat).  As they are kicked off, the tarantula may develop a “bald patch” on its abdomen, but this will be renewed at the next moult (see picture of a B. Smithi with a clearly defined bald patch)

Anyone working with new world tarantulas possessing urticating bristles must take precautions and care when working with these animals or their enclosures.  Some tarantulas shed bristles as territorial markings, so even if the tarantula is not present, there may well be loose bristles on the substrate or webbing which can still cause problems.

In general, urticating hairs are a minor problem so long as precautions are taken.  For most people, a few hairs on their skin will only cause a minor irritation; some itching which may continue for a few hours.  A more serious problem however is if a person suffers an allergic reaction to the bristles, or if they get into the eyes.  Unfortunately there is no way to know for sure if you’ll be allergic if you’ve not come into contact with them before, so take extra care the first time dealing with any new world species known to kick hairs.

If urticating bristles get into the eyes they can cause a lot of pain, and real damage.  In serious cases they can embed themselves into the cornea causing severe pain and long term problems which will require medical attention, so eye protections is advised.

What if I get urticating hairs on my skin?

urticating-reactionIf you do get hairs on your skin, wash the area thoroughly with plenty of running water.  Monitor the area and try not to scratch.  A solution of 2–2.5% hydrocortisone cream applied to the affected area may help relieve the symptoms, and antihistamine tablets such as those taken by hayfever sufferers have been reported to alleviate the symptoms by some keepers.  For most people, the irritation will subside over a few hours, but if it appears to be worsening or lingering, or if it’s accompanied by swelling or severe redness then seek medical advice (see picture, an allergic reaction to urticating bristles on the skin.  Image sourced from Wikipedia)

What if I get urticating bristles in my eyes?

This is potentially more serious.  Start by washing the eye out with lots of fresh running water, then I would suggest seeking medical advice.  With luck none of the hairs will have embedded into your eye and though sore, it should clear up relatively quickly.  If they have embedded though your doctor will be able to advice on treatment (typically a treatment of topical steroids).

How to avoid problems

The best form of treatment is prevention, right?  First of all, know whether the tarantula you’re dealing with has urticating hairs by researching the species.  Most of the new world Ts that are commonly kept by beginners do have urticating bristles, so unless you’re absolutely sure, assume they do!

Keep an eye on your tarantula’s body language.  You can often tell when a tarantula doesn’t want to be disturbed, and you can often clearly see when they kick hairs.  My B. smithi will often kick hairs as soon as the lid comes off her enclosure, and when that happens the best bet is to keep your distance.  Don’t try and handle or move a T which is flicking, don’t lean over the enclosure or get your face too near, and don’t breath in right over your T or the enclosure (remember, even if the tarantula isn’t present there may well be loose bristles in the enclosure!)

I would highly advise wearing glasses or some sort of eye protection when working with new world tarantulas, particularly those you’ve not worked with before, or which are known to be “flicky”.  Take care when doing cage maintenance, and consider wearing gloves when changing substrate etc.

Don’t rub your eyes or touch your face while working with Ts, and wash your hands straight away afterwards.  You don’t want to transfer loose bristles from your fingers to your eyes!  And finally, be aware that old exuvium (moulted skin) can still possess urticating hairs, so treat them with care in the same way you would a live tarantula!


Sources and further reading

Treating urticating hair reactions – Article on Arachnophiliac.info

Got a pet tarantula? Then wear eye protection – Article on Phys.org

Photo of urticating hairs from T. blondi in a human eye – Rick C. West

Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens – Greenbottle Blue Caresheet

species-brachypelma-smithi

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Scientific Name: Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens (Strand 1907)

Common Name(s): Greenbottle Blue

Range: Northern Venezuela

Habitat: Scrubland and desert edges

Experience Level: Beginner/intermediate

Type: Terrestrial, burrower

Size: Leg span up to around 15cm (6″)

Growth rate: Medium/fast

Venom: Mild

Urticating hairs: Yes

Temperament: Generally docile but can be nervous and skittish. Doesn’t strike often, but can bite repeatedly if provoked, and some like to flick hairs.

Description

range-C. cyaneopubescens range

Greenbottle blues (often just called GBBs) are a beautiful and interesting species of new world tarantula, with bright coloring and markings.  The abdomen is orange with striped markings, while the carapace is green and the legs are bright metallic blue making for a really striking spider.  Even slings are quite colorful, but their markings darken and brighten with each moult.

These are terrestrial burrowers, and quite heavy webbers.  They like to web all around their burrows, and will renew their webs on a regular basis.

Keeping Greenbottle Blues in Captivity

C. cyaneopubescens makes a hardy and low maintenance pet.  Their care requirements don’t stray far from those of most “beginner species” and one of these could certainly be regarded as suitable for a first tarantula, but I’ve marked them as beginner/intermediate due to their slightly skittish and nervous nature.  They are also quite fast, so GBBs should only be considered as a first T by confident keepers who won’t be put off by a fast and possibly nervous spider.

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

As a ground dwelling burrower, your green bottle blue will need a glass or plastic enclosure with more floor space than height, with a deep dry substrate (2 – 3 inches of coconut coir, or dry potting soil), and plenty of ventilation.  Provide a hiding place (such as half a flower pot, coconut shell, or a piece of cork bark), and a shallow water dish.  As already mentioned, this species like to web heavily so will appreciate a variety of textures such as plastic plants and cork bark in the enclosure as webbing anchors.  Many specimens will pretty much fill their entire enclosure with webbing, even as slings.  Humidity should be kept fairly low, with occasional misting.

A 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.


Further reading

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

 

Grammostola pulchripes – Chaco Golden Knee Tarantula Caresheet

Grammostola pulchripes

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Scientific Name: Grammostola pulchripes (Simon 1892)
(previously Grammostola aureostriata)

Common Name(s): Chaco Golden Knee

Range: The Chaco region of Argentina, and the Grand Chaco region west of the Paraguay river.

Habitat: Grassland and scrub

Experience Level: Beginner/Intermediate

Type: Terrestrial, opportunistic burrower

Size: Leg span up to around 20cm (8″)

Growth rate: Slow/Medium

Venom: Mild

Urticating hairs: Yes

Temperament: A generally calm and docile species, suitable for beginners though care should be taken due to their large size.

Description

Deriving its common name from the golden stripe on each knee (its former latin name was Aureostriata, meaning “golden striped”) this beautiful species grows to an impressive size, yet tends to be calm and docile.  They are a new world terrestrial tarantula, and opportunistic burrower.   They are reported to be one of the fastest growing species in the Grammostola genus, and they also tend to be quite active, though they tend to prefer using an existing hide rather than digging a burrow.  Combined with their striking looks, their generally calm nature and impressive size, and the fact that they tend not to be shy of staying out on display makes them a desirable species both for the beginner tarantula keeper, and for more experienced keepers looking to add a new impressive spider to their collection.

G. pulchripes is often misidentified as Eupalaestrus campestratus (the Pink Zebra Tarantula) which live in the same region.  Chacos coming from Argentina are less hairy than specimens from the Paraguay population, and it’s thought that there may be a third population in Uraguay.

Keeping G. Pulchripes in Captivity

Chaco Golden Knee copyright Flickr user Óscar MéndezG. Pulchripes, as already mentioned, makes an excellent choice as a first tarantula species.  They are generally low maintenance with no special care requirements, and will thrive given the standard husbandry for generally arid, terrestrial species so long as they are given an enlcosure large enough for such a big tarantula.

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

An adult Chaco Golden Knee 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.

A diet of large crickets, cockroaches and locusts is ideal.  But as with all tarantulas, feed prey items of a suitable size – no larger than the spider’s abdomen.

One of the attractions of G. pulchripes 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 and that this species can be fast.  While its venom is mild and this species rarely bites, the fangs on a spider this large are more than capable of doing real damage.  At the same time, a fall from even a very small height would easily kill a tarantula of this weight so handle carefully, only if you understand and accept the risks to both yourself and your tarantula.


Further reading

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

What Spider is that?  Gabriel, R. (2005) Eupalaestrus campestratus. Journal of the British Tarantula Society 20(2): 50–54

Spiders Can Be Beautiful Too!

peacock-spiderI’m often impressed by the photographic skills of some Flickr users, and every now and then I find a set of pictures on there which wouldn’t look at all out of place in the pages of National Geographic.  This morning I found such a set, and even better it was of an amazing looking species of spider I’d never even heard of before!

Flickr user Jurgen Otto is an arachnologist from Sydney, Australia and so has access to a wide range of exotic species to practice his fantastic photography skills on, but the set that particularly caught my eye was of the Peacock spider (Maratus calcitrans) and I’m sure you’ll agree that these are truly beautifu!

Far removed from the popular image of a “big brown hairy thing with lots of legs”, the males of these small jumping spiders have amazing, iridescent colour patterns on both the prosoma and abdomen, truly rivalling the brilliance of the brightest butterflies.  They are so bright and vivid it’s easy to see how they got their common name.

Not only are these beauties amazing to look at, but they appear to like showing off too!  When a male approaches a female he uses these markings for display, raising his abdomen, legs and spinnerets, and wiggling them from side to side.  Otto has captured this behaviour beautifully in these photos.

Take a look at the entire set, plus loads of photos of other amazing Maratus species such as Maratus splendens, and Maratus speciosus, plus other inverts and reptiles at Flicker.com

(Photo used with permission, © Jurgen Otto 2013)


Update : I found this amazing video, again by Jurgen Otto, of another species of Peacock Spider performing their mating displays.  These little guys are even more interesting when you see them moving… enjoy!

Brachypelma albopilosum – Honduran Curlyhair Tarantula Caresheet

brachypelma albopilosum

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Scientific Name: Brachypelma albopilosum (Valerio 1980)

Common Name(s): Curlyhair tarantula (Honduran curlyhair tarantula)

Range: The east of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica

Habitat: Scrubland, brush, and the edges of forest

Experience Level: Beginner

Type: Terrestrial, burrower

Size: Leg span up to around 14cm (5.5″)

Growth rate: Medium

Venom: Mild

Urticating hairs: Yes

Temperament: A very docile species, one of the most handleable tarantulas

Description

The curlyhair gets its name, as you might expect, from the exceptionally long and curly hairs covering its plump body and legs, giving a very distinctive look to offset its rather drab colouration.

Range or Brachypelma albopilosumBeing CITES II listed, as all Brachypelma species are, hasn’t prevented this wonderful tarantula from becoming very popular with keepers, primarily due to their docile nature and tolerance to handling. Most keepers report that their specimens are among the most tractable of all tarantulas, almost never acting skittish or defensive, making them an ideal beginner species. They do have urticating hairs, but they are not quick to flick them.

B. albopilosum breeds readily in captivity, so slings and juveniles are easily obtained and relatively cheap, though like all Brachypelma species adults will tend to be more expensive. They are a hardy species, and faster growing than some other Brachypelma species such as the popular Redknee (B. smithi) which only adds to their popularity. While it’s true they don’t have the beautiful coloration of species such as B. smithi, or even G. rosea, and their unique curly hairs can make them look somewhat “scruffy”, that only adds to their charm and any would be tarantula keeper could do far worse than starting out with one of these wonderful Ts.

For general care requirements, read the beginner’s guide to keeping tarantulas page which gives a good overview of tarantula husbandry.

curlyhairAs a medium/large terrestrial T and an opportunistic burrower, a curlyhair will need a glass or plastic enclosure with more floor space than height, with a deep dry substrate (2 – 3 inches of coconut coir, or dry potting soil), and plenty of ventilation. Provide a hiding place (such as half a flower pot, coconut shell, or a piece of cork bark), and a shallow water dish. In my experience B. albopilosum tend to be heavier webbers than other Brachypelma species. They don’t like high humidity (around 50% – 60% is ideal) so don’t mist or spray for adults, but always have a small dish of fresh water available.

A 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.


Further reading

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

 

Grammostola rosea – Chilean Rose Tarantula Caresheet

Grammostola rosea

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Scientific Name: Grammostola rosea (Walckenaer 1837)
(previously Grammostola cala)

Common Name(s): Chilean Rose Tarantula (Rose hair tarantula, Chilean flame tarantula)

Range: Northern Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina

Habitat: Scrubland and desert

Experience Level: Beginner (see below)

Type: Terrestrial, burrower

Size: Leg span up to around 14cm (5.5″)

Growth rate: Slow

Venom: Mild

Urticating hairs: Yes

Temperament: Often docile species, but some specimens can be temperamental.

Description

Often touted as an “ideal beginner tarantula” the Chilean Rose has been one of the most popular tarantulas with amateur arachnoculturists for the past three  decades.  Their popularity stems from being a very hardy species, tolerant to a wide range of conditions, and often being tolerant to handling, though some can be defensive.  Their popularity is also due to the fact that adult and sub-adult specimens are relatively cheap.  Unhindered by the CITES status of tarantulas in the Brachypelma genus, these are still exported to the US and Europe in large numbers, while at the same time slings are readily available due to successful captive breeding. This has led to them being probably the most widely kept of all tarantula species.

range grammostola roseaThis medium sized but full bodied terrestrial tarantula gets its name from the red/pink hairs covering a fairly dully coloured body.  Several colour forms exist, which were originally thought to be different species, and has led to some confusion in both the binomial and common names (i.e. G.cala as Chilean Flame) while they are now considered one species (in fact different color forms can come from the same eggsac) with the binomial name G.rosea, and the official AAS common name as Chilean rose.

Keeping G. Rosea in Captivity

As evidenced by their enduring popularity, G. rosea can make an excellent pet.  However, there are mixed feelings by enthusiasts as to whether they are an ideal beginner species.  On the one hand they are exceptionally hardy, and it’s almost difficult to make a mistake in keeping this species – they will thrive in a wide range of conditions, so any keeper who has done proper research on keeping tarantulas will probably be able to provide suitable care.  On the other hand, while generally docile they can be temperamental, and they have a reputation for being “pet rocks”.  In fact they often go for extended periods without moving, and have a tendency to fast for long periods of time (sometimes months!) which can be disconcerting, especially to the first time tarantula keeper.  Some specimens also break all the rules and do the complete opposite – they never seem to stay still!  These “wanderers” have periods when they are over active, and will tend to climb excessively often at risk of injury from a fall, depending on enclosure setup.  My advice, would be to think about a Chilean rose to raise from a sling, after getting a little experience with another species (which is actually what I did) but either way, if you are considering G.rosea then please read this excellent article at tarantulas.com first, it’s one of the best pieces I’ve read on the subject and highly informative, going into detail on the particular issues with this species.

For general care requirements, read the beginner’s guide to tarantula care page which gives a good overview of tarantula husbandry, but do also refer specifically to the article linked to in the paragraph above!

The Chilean rose is a ground dwelling burrower, so you will need a glass or plastic enclosure with more floor space than height, with a deep, generally dry substrate (at least 2 – 3 inches of coconut coir, or dry potting soil), and plenty of ventilation.  Provide a hiding place (such as half a flower pot, coconut shell, or a piece of cork bark) at one end of the enclosure, and a shallow water dish at the other.  They don’t like a damp substrate, or high humidity but so long as your enclosure is large enough, keep the water dish at one end and when you fill it, overfill it slightly to moisten the substrate.  This will create one end of the enclosure (opposite end to the hide) with higher humidity, which can help prevent dehydration if your spider decides to fast.

A 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. They are also prone to being over fed as adults, so avoid the temptation to offer more food than necessary.  A healthy, adult will only eat 6 – 8 adults crickets a month, much more than that can cause obesity problems.


Further reading

Chilean rose answer page at tarantulas.com

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

Brachypelma smithi – Mexican Redknee Tarantula Caresheet

species-brachypelma-smithi

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Scientific Name: Brachypelma smithi (F.O. Pickard-Cambridge 1897)

Common Name(s): Mexican Redknee (Mexican Red-kneed tarantula)

Range: Southwestern Mexico

Habitat: Dry scrubland and brush

Experience Level: Beginner

Type: Terrestrial, burrower

Size: Leg span up to around 15cm (6″)

Growth rate: Slow

Venom: Mild

Urticating hairs: Yes

Temperament: A generally docile species, though many will flick hairs quite readily.

Description

The beautiful Mexican Red Knee is the most iconic of all tarantula species, having been a popular pet species, and its appearance in a number of Hollywood movies and TV shows including Home Alone, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and several James Bond films to name just a few.

range-b-smithiOne look at this impressive tarantula and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular.  A large, robust looking spider with bright banded coloration, from deep blacks to oranges and the distinctive dark orange or red colour on the legs.  Females are full bodied and reach a leg span of around 15cm (6 inches).  They are also believed to be one of the longest living species, with females living 25 years or more in captivity.

They were once by far the most popular species of tarantula. but the entire brachypelma genus were added to appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) treaty in 1985, which prevented their export from Mexico, and effectively stopped international trade.  However, B. smithi breeds quite readily in captivity, so it’s still widely available though adult specimens in particular are markedly more expensive than some other tarantulas.

Keeping B. Smithi in Captivity

B. smithi makes a hardy and low maintenance pet.  As a terrestrial, new world species with low humidity requirements, the Mexican Redknee is one of the simplest tarantulas to care for, and is suitable for beginners to the hobby.

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

As a ground dwelling burrower, your redknee will need a glass or plastic enclosure with more floor space than height, with a deep dry substrate (2 – 3 inches of coconut coir, or dry potting soil), and plenty of ventilation.  Provide a hiding place (such as half a flower pot, coconut shell, or a piece of cork bark), and a shallow water dish.  Brachypelma species don’t like high humidity (around 50% – 60% is ideal) so don’t mist or spray, but always have a small dish of fresh water available.

bsmithi-bald-spotA 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.  Redknees tend to be good eaters, so if they seem uninterested in food you can be fairly sure they will soon moult.  Since they like to flick hairs, there will likely be a bald spot on the abdomen and this will darken in premoult (picture shows a bald spot on a female red knee, when in premoult this will look a lot darker).


Further reading

Distribution and Natural History of Mexican Species of Brachypelma and Brachypelmides
A. Locht, M. Yanez and I. Vazquez – JOURNAL OF ARACHNOLOGY, 1999
 (PDF)

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

Brachypelma smithi in the wild – www.mantid.nl

 

Overcoming Arachnophobia… with Tarantulas!

My name is Billy, and I’m an arachnophobe!

However, I decided to conquer my lifelong fear of spiders, and I did so in a way that will probably surprise anyone else who is similarly afflicted – I started keeping tarantulas!

I’m living, breathing proof that arachnophobia can be overcome, and I believe that anyone who wants to can face, fight, and beat (or at least control) their fear of spiders. Before I get into that though, let me tell you how it all started.

I’ve been frightened of spiders for as long as I can remember. As a child, if I found a spider in my bedroom I would shout for my parents to come and remove it. After removing it (in an upturned glass and a piece of card) I would then be paranoid that there might be another one, and search the room high and low until I was satisfied it was clear!

This paranoia followed me into adulthood, but rather than call for my parents I’d call for my wife. Even if she was asleep in bed, if I found a spider I’d have to wake her up and get her to dispose of it.  I’m always the first person to spot a spider, and speaking to other sufferers I find that’s a common trait – our fear heightens our senses and we’re able to detect the smallest spider in our peripheral vision, long before anyone else notices.

Now I’m not normally a fearful sort of chap, nor am I normally in the least bit squeamish about animals, or “creepy crawlies”. I’ve been keeping all sorts of other exotic animals for many years, including other invertebrates. Over the years I’ve kept all manner of snakes, lizards, and insects, plus potentially “dangerous” mammals including coatis, large breed dogs and more. I’ve always been happy to handle crickets, and locusts, and millipedes, and beetles… but for some reason, something about spiders has always affected me.

September has always been troublesome. At the end of the summer, when the temperatures start to drop, it is breeding season for spiders. That’s when mature males go wandering in search of a mate, and that’s when “giant” house spiders (here in the UK it’s the mature males of the genus Tegenaria which cause arachnophobes the most problems!) seem to be everywhere. At this time of year it’s not uncommon for these “giant spiders” to be found in the bath, on the wall in the bedroom, or even running across the living room floor when watching TV on quite a regular basis, sometimes more than once a day. It really can seem that they are “out to get you” and any fellow arachnophobes reading this will know exactly what I mean!

 

Common House Spider (Tegenaria domestica) - The bane of every aranophobes life!

Common House Spider (Tegenaria domestica) – The bane of every arachnophobes life!

 

How bad was my arachnophobia?

“It’s just a little spider”, “It can’t hurt you” and “It’s more afraid of you, than you are of it” are the three phrases you get used to hearing time and time again as an arachnophobe. The first two are generally true (here in the UK there are no native spiders with a medically significant bite) but the third most definitely is not!

Before facing my arachnophobia, even a picture of a large spider was enough to give me a strong physical response. My heart rate would increase, I’d feel my muscles tense and a sense of “panic” and heightened alertness. My palms would sweat, and for some time afterwards I’d have spiders on my mind. I’d be wary of dark cupboard, or small spaces. I’d even flinch if the dog walked past and brushed his tail against my leg!

Before facing my arachnophobia, even a picture of a large spider was enough to give me a strong physical response.

It didn’t even take a photo to illicit such a response – if someone left a glass upside down I would get the same response – I’d instantly assume it had been used to catch and remove a spider from the house, and I’d tense up and feel a slight panic!

Of course the most significant response was from real spiders. On many occasions over the years I’ve shouted to call my wife (or my parents when I was a child) to urgently come and catch a spider. I’d panic that if it wasn’t caught quickly, fearful that it would “escape” and hide somewhere out of reach, so I’d “stand guard” while she came with a glass to remove it. If it was on the floor, I’d invariably climb up on the sofa or the bed, so it couldn’t “run at me”! When it was caught in a glass with a piece of card over the top, I’d be transfixed on it, and it wouldn’t leave my sight until it was safely outside (in case it escaped from the glass!) and I’d insist the windows be closed in case it came back in!

If all this sounds a bit silly and over the top, you’d be right, but you’d also not be arachnophobic. If you are, then all of this will probably sound very familiar. And I know there are people much worse than I ever was. A few years ago I looked into attending a hypnotherapy course at Bristol Zoo, and apparently, on one occasion, they had someone on the course who would scream every time anyone said the word spider!

Fighting the fear

As a reptile enthusiast, I’ve regularly come into fairly close proximity with tarantulas over the years. Most zoos have tarantulas in the reptile house (which is always the part of the zoo I tend to spend the most time in!) and pet stores which sell reptiles invariably also sell Ts. In fact, one local reptile specialist always concerned me since you had to walk past the tarantulas in order to get to the snakes and lizards. For the last few years they have kept all their T enclosures behind large locked glass doors, but in the past they were merely kept in plastic faunariums on shelves, which always looked so easy to knock off… needless to say I was always rather tense in that shop, and happy to leave despite wanting to see the reptiles!

Magazines and web sites are often the same – many times I’d open my latest copy of Pet Reptile only to be confronted with a big picture of a Mexican Red Knee, or a Goliath Birdeater staring back at me!

This was a mixed blessing really, as it started my desensitisation process. I would often force myself to have a good look, even though it made my heart race.

When I was at university, a student in the flat opposite ours had a Chilean Rose (Grammostola rosea). I was always extremely cautious going into that flat (students are well known for their “practical jokes” after all) but it turned out he was nearly as scared of it as I was, and luckily never handled it, at least as long as I lived there.

But it wasn’t until moving into our first house with my wife in 2007 that I gave the idea of keeping a tarantula a second thought. Cress would mention it from time to time, often as we walked past the tarantulas in a reptile shop on our way to buy frozen rats, or crickets for my reptiles. For the longest time I dismissed these comments as jovial, and insisted it would never happen. Over time though, I began to wonder about the possibility of one day overcoming my fear and being able to keep one. They were fascinating after all, even though they scared me.

Over time a plan began to hatch. I really wanted to get over and cure, or at least reduce, my fear of spiders. Cress kept bringing the subject up, and I had one thing in my favour – I wasn’t too scared of very small spiders. A baby tarantula (spiderling, often abbreviated to just sling) is very small indeed. I began to wonder that if we got a sling, and I got used to it, then as it grew my fear might slowly diminish. After all, if I could tolerate a spider 1cm across, and it grew very slowly I’d not notice as it slowly get bigger and bigger.

I bought a book on tarantulas and read it cover to cover, feeling rather tense with each page turn since some of the pictures looked totally “horrific” to me at the time. We both researched online, learning about different species, how to house them, feed them, and most importantly how to prevent them from escaping!

Eventually we made a decision… we would get a baby (sling) Mexican Red Knee tarantula (Brachypelma smithi). It was a species that ticked most of the boxes (slow growing, slow moving, not generally considered aggressive, mild venom just in case… and most importantly for me, not too hideous looking!) We agreed this with a couple of firm conditions from me:

1. The tarantula would be my wife’s responsibility, she would feed it, clean the enclosure etc and I would never have to open the lid.
2. It would be kept in a secure enclosure with a securely locked lid!

slingWe searched and eventually found a dealer with a suitably sized specimen, and made the purchase. As you can imagine, I was extremely nervous when it was brought into the house. We put the dogs out the back, placed her new enclosure into a very large plastic box on the dining room table, and Cress proceeded to transfer the sling from her travel tub into her new enclosure, while I stood at the other end of the room shouting “helpful” guidance at her ;)

That was it, that was the first step to both curing my arachnophobia, and my first step on a journey to a lifelong fascination with tarantulas!  Over the coming weeks and months I watched that tarantula go about its life, safely inside its plastic cage.  I watched it eat, and burrow, and clean itself, and moult, and over time I began to become desensitised.  At the same time, I read a number of books about tarantulas and spiders in general, and spent a lot of time on websites and forums learning, asking questions, and slowly but surely breaking my fear.

Fast forward and we now have a growing collection of tarantulas, and I’ve grown to be quite happy with them in the house. My arachnophobia is still with me, but much reduced. I can now open a lid and drop a cricket in, or top up a water bowl, or even nudge a tarantula into a temporary tub for cage maintenance… and I can even do that when I’m the only one at home if necessary! In fact, last year I bought my wife a Honduran Curly Hair tarantula (Brachypelma albopilosum) as a surprise Christmas present.  I had the spider couriered to me, unpacked it, and transferred it into a new enclosure I’d set up, all by myself without my wife knowing.  I then “hid” that enclosure in my office for more than 2 weeks before Christmas – something I’d have never even considered just a couple of years ago!

This is a HUGE improvement, and over time I expect I’ll become even more comfortable around these amazing creatures (we’ve even been discussing some of the more “advanced” species like Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens (Green Bottle Blue), some of the fast semi-arboreal Avicularia species, and even some of the beautiful but notoriously fast and venomous Poecilotheria species (affectionately known as Pokies!) as possible future additions to our collection!  I still consider myself arachnophobic.  I still tense if I see a large house spider, but now I can control it – I can get a glass, catch it, and put it outside… and then forget about it!  That’s the best part, I no longer worry about seeing a spider for the rest of the evening, or struggle to get to sleep if one was found in the bedroom!

My arachnophobia was a major factor in my introduction to the hobby of keeping Ts, and was also a major factor in my decision to start this web site. I know what it feels like to live with a fear of spiders, and I now also know that it can be beaten. I’m not suggesting that anyone with arachnophobia rush out and buy a tarantula, but I did want to let people know that with time, patience and a little “getting out of your comfort zone” that it is possible to suppress a phobia. If you have a similar story, or want to ask any questions about how I’m beating my fear please do contact me, I’d love to hear from you and I’d be happy to offer any advice I can!

Update – read my post about my progress after 1 year of keeping tarantulas – arachnophobia cured!