While we do not wish to alienate the enthusiasts of other, collateral hobbies, we must point out that many of the misconceptions and misdirections advocated in tarantula care sheets are almost surely the direct result of unsupported or unjustified assumptions carried over from other hobbies.
For instance, while many plants, most amphibians, and some reptiles are quite sensitive to the relative humidity in the air around them, most tarantulas are for the most part quite unaffected by it unless they are exposed to extremes in humidity for extended periods of time.
And, while some reptiles and most tropical fish are quite sensitive to variations in temperature, or a temperature outside some relatively narrow, optimal range, tarantulas are for the most part quite happy in an almost astonishing temperature range.
Tarantulas are neither finches, African violets, poison arrow frogs, guppies, nor gerbils. While tarantulas may have their own set of care requirements (we prefer to think of them as tolerances), they generally are much easier to keep and care for than any of those other organisms.
Before you spend excessive amounts of money on them, lavish excessive amounts of care on them, or lie awake nights brooding over micromanaging every quality of their lives as propounded by some care sheet, read the books mentioned in Stan's Rant.
STOP FRETTING OVER YOUR PET TARANTULA,
AND START ENJOYING IT!
At some point in time many years ago someone managed to keep a given species of tarantula in a completely dry cage. Our best guess is that it was either Brachypelma smithi or some species of Aphonopelma. Regardless, the tarantula, being basically a very hardy creature, survived. So this person wrote up a care sheet so anyone else who had a similar tarantula could find that information easily. And, everybody who read it smiled sagely and kept their tarantulas dry.
Very shortly thereafter someone else who wasn't paying attention or who thought they knew better got one of those tarantulas and put it in a relatively damp terrarium, probably modelled after some other creature's caging. (See Origins...) This tarantula, being basically a very hardy creature, also survived. So this person wrote it up in their own care sheet so anyone else who had a similar tarantula could find that information easily. And, everybody smiled sagely and immediately switched over to keeping their tarantula damp. So now we had 2 different, conflicting, care sheets.
Out of curiosity, or because they were sold a bill of goods, someone invested in some sort of hygrometer (a.k.a., relative humidity gauge) and tested the relative humidity (rH ) in their tarantula's cage. "Hey, the gauge says the humidity is 65% and this tarantula is doing great." So they promptly wrote up another care sheet that suggested that the humidity should be kept at 65%. And everybody smiled sagely and immediately ran out and bought the cheapest hygrometer they could find, installed it in their tarantula's cage, and religiously checked it 5 times daily.
These others found rHs of anywhere from 25% to 90%, especially if their hygrometer only cost them $4.95 from the pet department of a local discount department store. So, right or wrong, some wrote up their own versions of the care sheet.
Other enthusiasts went into a panic because the humidity reported by their hygrometers were so radically different from the recommended value, or varied so erratically, and immediately logged onto one of the Internet forums to ask what they should do about this crisis before their tarantula went into a tailspin, crashed, and burned! This fanned the proverbial flames, heightened the hysteria, and deepened the myth.
Other people, in an attempt to also appear on the avant-gard either quoted these care sheets or merely rewrote them in their own words and distributed them out of sheer ignorance. Now we have 3, 4, 12, or more different versions.
And wait! There's even more! We suspect that some people, after comparing the various care sheets, realized that they all recommended a humidity of between 60% and 80%, and a temperature between 72° F (22° C) and 84° F (29° C) for all kinds of tarantulas. "This can't be! Each species obviously has different requirements because they come from so many different habitats!" So, they began to "feather" the details to make each care sheet for each kind a little different from any other.
ARE WE REALLY GULLIBLE ENOUGH TO THINK THAT A TARANTULA THAT COMES FROM A HABITAT WHERE IT FROSTS AT NIGHT AND YOU CAN FRY AN EGG ON A ROCK IN THE SUN DURING MIDDAY WILL BE EFFECTED BY A 2° TEMPERATURE SHIFT?
Most beginning enthusiasts (aka, "newbies"), for some curious reason make the tacit assumption that if the tarantula isn't kept in some arrangement that exactly mimics its native habitat, their newfound, little buddy will immediately "give up its ghost!"
Of course nothing could be farther from the truth. See Natural Is Better? for the real scoop.
Not only that, but now most of us firmly believe that every kind of tarantula has specific, unique requirements that must be ardently micromanaged or the tarantula will wither and die like the Wicked Witch of the West! And we don't expect a different care sheet for each of the nearly 1,000 known species, WE DEMAND IT! So now there is a concerted effort to publish a different care sheet for each known kind of tarantula, and each of those will eventually appear in several versions. And instead of nodding sagely and changing the way we care for our tarantulas, we stand here, completely baffled by this plethora of slightly variant minutia!
And lastly, while these care sheets seldom actually state explicitly that your tarantula will die a grisly death if you don't follow their instructions and recommendations, most novices and a fair number of experienced enthusiasts automatically assume those instructions and parameters to be absolutely essential to the care of their tarantulas. After all, wasn't it written there in black and white?
An important point here is that few, if any, of these people had the experience to appreciate the resilience and adaptability of tarantulas or took the time to test the limits for the tarantula's tolerance. And few of them have any supporting rationale based on firm physical or biological principles. Statistically, they were making grandiose statements from an "n of 1," or even "0!"
Now, we've narrated this little story about humidity, but the same principle and history also holds for temperature and heaters, lights and plants, and all the other gimcrack gizmos and tricks that people argue about on the Internet forums.
Archeologists and anthropologists tell us that humans have been domesticating dogs for at least fifteen thousand years. We've also been domesticating sheep, goats, cattle, and a host more species for ten or fifteen thousand years. We've been keeping ornamental carp for several thousands of years, and tropical fish and orchids for a few hundreds of years.
But, it comes as a big surprise to most arachnoculturists (that would be you) that the hobby is less than SIXTY (60) YEARS old! This author can remember a time when only a very few, "socially deviant" individuals, among them a Dr. William J. Baerg of the University of Kansas at Lawrence, kept them for any purpose, much less as pets.
In 1958 Dr. Baerg published an 88 page book entitled The Tarantula in which he described what he had discovered about their biology, and his experiences at keeping them in captivity. We mark that year as the beginning of the hobby of arachnoculture. The hobby is THAT new!
Few appreciate that tarantulas were not regularly bred in captivity until the late 1980s after Brachypelma smithi was placed on the CITES Appendix II. And, most species weren't bred until much later than that. As a result, the average and maximal life spans of more than a few tarantulas are only guesstimates because many of the first ones that we had bred in captivity are only now approaching the ends of their lives. The hobby is THAT new!
Thus, while huge volumes have been known about dogs, cattle, and tropical fish for centuries, arachnoculturists are still experimenting with, and learning about tarantulas. And, the hobby and tarantula care is still advancing at an awe-inspiring pace. We're still on the "steep part of the curve." (Yikes! Another vapid metaphor! My bad.) And, it appears that this exploratory phase will last for many decades to come.
And this would explain, though not excuse, the fact that so many care sheets are so obsolete.
STILL CHUGGIN' ALONG!
The Tarantula was replublished by Fitzgerald Publishing in the U.K. in 1997. It is now being distributed in various formats as eBooks from the publisher, and copies of the 1997 reprint are still commonly available from used book dealers on the Internet. Rarely, copies of Dr. Baerg's original edition are also listed, but for a price!
And, if you compare different care sheets they quite often disagree on recommended care parameters. This variability strongly suggests one or more of these scenarios:
The final and most telling blow to this whole care sheet debacle is that the overwhelming majority of care sheets were written in the last century, AND NEVER UPDATED! So, as we progress in the art of tarantula care these care sheets become at first laughable, then tragic, then outright dangerous to your tarantula. (See the sidebar Are We Domesticated Yet?)
In any case, it is obvious that care sheets should be largely ignored. At the very least, the enthusiast should not believe a care sheet unless the instructions are verified by competent authorities such as the books mentioned in Stan's Rant or by the majority of knowledgeable enthusiasts on the major Internet arachnid forums.
The fact is that tarantulas, for the most part, are sturdy and resilient enough to be able to survive in a remarkably wide spectrum of conditions. This is completely understandable when one considers that their ancestors and they have been on this planet for many, Many, MANY millions of years. By now they've survived just about everything imaginable: Continental ruptures and collisions, earthquakes, tidal waves, comet strikes, epic conflagrations, droughts, supervolcanos, "perfect storms," ice ages, being urinated upon by both T. rex and wooly mammoths, and much more. They've seen it all!
This topic is covered more fully at Stress? You wanna know about stress?
And then these humans wonder why you hang from the sides of your cage? And, worry that taking out the garbage is going to give you stress?
So, to protect yourself from misinformation and outright frauds (there's always somebody trying to separate you from your hard earned cash!) it's incumbent upon you to learn how your tarantula really works in the real world so you can make informed judgments about its requirements and care. And, just ignore the #$%^ care sheets!
Remember that unlike you, the person who wrote that care sheet doesn't have anything to lose if they stupidly kill your pet for you!
Read and heed the warnings!
Study the books!
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Copyright © 2011, Stanley A. Schultz and Marguerite J. Schultz.
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This page was initially created on 2011-June-25.
The last revision occurred on 2015-January-11.