"I just bought my first tarantula a week ago, and there's already mold growing in its cage. I want to make sure it doesn't get sick, so I washed the entire cage in strong bleach water. I've microwaved all the furnishings and ornaments. And, I've baked the substrate in the oven. Is there anything else I should do to prevent the mold?"
"You didn't do your homework. We can fix that!"
Mold, in and of itself, is seldom a problem. It's major importance is that wherever mold can grow, so can a whole host of other nasties. Mold is a harbinger of bad things to come.
Mold does not grow in a dry cage. If you have mold, you're usually keeping your cage too damp. Be advised that there are only two care groups of tarantulas that require a damp cage: the babies, and the swamp dwellers.
The babies are very young tarantulas from the time that they emerge from their eggsac (or in a Nefcy style incubator have reached second instar) until they have diagonal leg spans (DLS) of about 1.5" (38 mm). After that you gradually acclimatize them to their adult care regimen. (See Growing Your Own for more information along this line.
These are the few tarantulas that have earned that designation because the wild ones, at least, must be kept in a high humidity environment their entire lives. The only genera that we know about are Theraphosa, Hysterocrates, Megaphobema, and Ephebopus. There may be a few Asian species we're not familiar with, but one genus, Haplopelma, is definitely NOT a swamp dweller as many believe.
And, there is good evidence that cage bred and raised individuals of these species are significantly more resistant to dryer habitats. There are reports of cage bred and raised Ephebopus, for instance, that are kept in effectively arid cages, but with a water dish. We would still caution the enthusiast to cover such cages with plastic food wrap or other material to maintain an elevated humidity.
So, clean up your arachnocultural act. Unless you're trying to keep any of the above mentioned tarantulas, let your cages dry out. But, to make sure that your tarantulas have water when they need it, always include a water dish with any tarantula larger than about 1.5" (38 mm) DLS.
Trying to sterilize a cage and its contents is not only an exercise in futility, but it can be dangerous to both you and the tarantula. Basically there are three ways of sterilizing a cage and its contents.
All sterilizing chemicals are seriously poisonous. If you aren't careful about handling them you can hurt or kill yourself and/or your tarantula. The most common chemical used is chlorine laundry bleach, and because we use it all the time to whiten our clothes we adopt a blasé attitude when working with it, but it's really deadly stuff. For one thing, it splashes and can cause serious chemical burns to unprotected skin, and we don't even want to think about what it does to your eyes! For another, it soaks into porous things and can't be rinsed out. It kills tarantulas as easily as bacteria and fungi.
In the home environment this reduces to "nuking" objects in a microwave oven. Here are some important safety guidelines.
In the enthusiast's setting, this usually amounts to baking something in an oven. This is bad partly because it raises a stink that roommates, housemates, or family members may have an issue with. It also raises a potentially flammable substance (e.g., wood, coconut husk, or peat) very close to their ignition temperature, thereby risking a fire. So far we've been very lucky that no one (as far as we've heard) has burned down their home by doing so. But even one instance would be too many, right?
But it's even worse than that! You risk life, limb, burning your home to the ground, and spending all day or even several days sterilizing your tarantula's cage and all its furnishings. Then you ...
And then you wonder why you have mold?
Now you know. Oh, well. We live and learn.
Having said all this, it is important for the enthusiast (that would be you) to understand that while YOU CANNOT KEEP A STERILE CAGE, and trying to do so is arguably foolish, this is NO EXCUSE FOR NOT KEEPING A CLEAN CAGE! You should be removing spent food boluses, discarded molts, heavily soiled silk, and other debris when you find them. And, you should be thoroughly cleaning the cage about once a year (usually in early spring before the "molt-a-rama"), or whenever the cage develops an odor.
It is very interesting to note that there is a contingent of enthusiasts who have learned to care for their tarantulas well enough that they can go several years before requiring a cage cleaning. If you're one of these, more power to you! Otherwise, it's just an excuse for being lazy.
Also very interesting is a contingent of enthusiasts who prefer to keep various kinds of tarantulas in cages with damp substrate, against our advice. Usually, these arachnoculturists have a specific goal in mind like keeping living plants with their tarantulas or exploring some supposedly new way of keeping their pets.
One "trick" used by these people is the keeping of isopods (a.k.a., woodlice, rollie pollies, pill bugs, sow bugs) in the tarantulas' cages. The hypothesis is that these little terrestrial crustaceans act as scavengers, quickly cleaning up after the tarantula, eating small outgrowths of mold, and perhaps even eating mites and/or their eggs.
There are even a few people who have managed to accomplish the same thing with Collembola (a.k.a., springtails).
And lastly, there are always a small number of enthusiasts who against all odds manage to successfully keep some tarantulas in damp cages, even without isopods or Collembola. The prevailing hypotheses is that these people manage to somehow set up a "balanced" cage with a healthy growth of organisms in the damp substrate that successfully mimics the activity that occurs in a rain forest's floor.
|A word to the wise ain't necessary. It's the stupid ones who need the advice.--Bill Cosby|
HOWEVER, THERE IS A STERN WARNING ASSOCIATED WITH THESE PRACTICES. Attempting this sort of thing should only be done by experienced enthusiasts who...
See Natural Is Better for more information. This sort of thing is neither for the newbie, the faint of heart, nor the faint of pocketbook!
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This page was initially created on 2013-March-31.
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