Dog-eared corners, fingerprints, mustard, and coffee stains gain you extra points.
Photo by Jamie Owens. Used with permission.
The Tarantula Keeper's Guide, Edition Four
is now being actively worked on.
The bad news is that the release date is still several years away.
And, in the interim many of the pages on this website will no longer be updated.
(More information is available here.)
Welcome to the addendum/erratum sheet for the Tarantula Keeper's Guide, Third Edition (hereinafter called "TKG3").
Time marches on and so does the tarantula keeping hobby. The editing of TKG3 effectively ended in November of 2008 and as the state of the art of tarantula husbandry advances, like the first and second editions, it will eventually go out of date. That the hobby is such a dynamic one is indeed encouraging for it bespeaks a bright future. That the book will eventually become only an historical curiosity is a bit disheartening, however. In an effort to forestall that day somewhat, we offer the following extensive list of additions, corrections and updates that should be made to TKG3.
We strongly urge the reader to print off a copy of this webpage and keep it with their copy of TKG3 as a constant reference. We would also have them pencil marginal notations into TKG3 wherever appropriate, referring to this Addenda and Errata sheet. Visit this address often to check for updates. Of particular interest is that much of this information may be used in the next edition of the Tarantula Keeper's Guide (TKG4).
There are several issues that must be dealt with here.
|CONVENTIONS USED IN THIS WEBPAGE|
Addenda and errata are arranged here by the page or pages on which they occur.
In TKG3, the title page (facing the inside, front cover) is page i (lower case, Roman numeral "one") and page 1 (Arabic numeral "one") is located facing page viii.
|When numbering paragraphs from the top of a column or the top of a page,
|During the publishing process portions of the original manuscript were deleted to bring the final book within acceptable size limits. The more significant of those deleted portions are inserted here in boxes colored such as this.|
|On occasion, new text is inserted in otherwise confusing or unclear places. To help the reader, such new text is highlighted in blue, such as this, to help locate it. This should not be confused with text that is emphasized in the published book, not new or inserted, and EMPHASIZED THUS.|
Should you wish to report an error or offer an update on data presented in TKG3 or on this webpage, please feel free to contact the authors here. If at all possible, please include specific page references to aid in finding and listing the corrections.
In advance, we would like to thank all those who took the time and interest to critically read TKG3 and report additional information and point out errors.
In making any submissions you agree to allow minor editorial changes to your submissions to meet publication standards. We insist on this because your submissions must be readable and understandable by a wide range of readers, many of whom do not have English as their first language.
Similarly, unless your submission is accompanied by a request to not publish your name, we will publish your name, giving you credit for your submission.
Lastly, we do not promise that we will publish every submission. Those that we believe to be inappropriate, irrelevant, or otherwise unacceptable will not be published.
Here are listed several items that have changed and are of such a global nature that we thought it best to include them in a special section rather than itemizing them numerous times throughout the text.
PAGE BY PAGE ITEMIZATIONS
|Somehow you've acquired a tarantula but haven't the foggiest idea of how to care for it. You need help badly, but where can you go for it? There are several obvious approaches to this problem. For instance, you can go to a pet shop for advice, but there are several problems with this strategy. Many, if not most, pet shops are nearly as ignorant of tarantulas as you are. Plus, there is always that haunting suspicion that the advice you're given may be more slanted in favor of their sales' figures rather than your tarantula's best interests. And, setting aside these arguments, it is extremely doubtful that you will be able to get all the information you'll need in one brief encounter with their personnel, much less be able to remember it until you can get home again!|
|Warning: Tarantulas can chew through cardboard almost as though it weren't there at all. They can climb almost any surface and are astonishingly proficient at squeezing through very small holes. If your tarantula came packaged in a cardboard box you must put the entire package in an escape proof container. A clean bucket or large, mixing bowl from the kitchen are good choices if you can improvise a secure, escape proof cover. The emphases here are on secure and escape proof. Otherwise, don't worry about the tarantula in its box; it'll be just fine for the next little while.|
|We suggest you not follow the instructions given in caresheets that you find on the Internet. Later, you will be prompted to gain more information from other sources. See "Resources" on page 359.|
|We start with an ordered set of questions to efficiently guide you through the initial chore of setting up a proper cage for your new tarantula. Each question will be followed by an instruction for your next action. Simply choose the correct answer and follow the associated instructions. This is a learning experience for you, to teach you what considerations are important in setting up a tarantula's cage, and the order in which they should be taken into account. After you've done this once or twice, and especially after you've read this entire chapter, you'll do all this automatically without even realizing it.|
|Do not use one made of common window screen. Tarantulas can chew through aluminum window screen as though it were barely there at all, and nylon mesh screens are merely toys to play with!|
|Why would there be any question? As discussed in "The Name of the Tarantula" (page 61), the naming of tarantulas could best be euphemistically described as confused. There are at least three, or four, or five different systems for naming tarantulas, and not too surprisingly, each system has its advantages and each has its drawbacks. The pet industry as a whole and many enthusiasts have a great deal of trouble with all of these naming systems, with misidentifications, misspellings and "creative nomenclature" running rampant. Unless you happen to have one of the dozen or so most common kinds of tarantulas, the odds are about 50/50 that the identification you were given is incorrect in some fashion or another.|
|The use of the term "arachnoculturist" is not necessarily an exercise in self aggrandizement. We use it to differentiate between an enthusiast who wishes to keep or breed tarantulas and a tarantula (i.e., "breeder") that is being kept for breeding purposes. Thus, we avoid both some very bad jokes as well as some possibility for confusion.|
|... (sometimes also called the "peduncle" or "petiolus" in older texts) ...|
The character of the central apodeme is used by some authorities as a means of differentiating between the kinds of tarantulas. Unfortunately, there is some confusion about the exact terminology used to describe it, and the enthusiast can easily be mislead or confused. Because this may be an important identifying characteristic, we will dwell a moment on it.
If the central apodeme shows no obvious curve it is called transverse by most authorities, and if the ends curve forward it may be called either crescentic or procurved. However, if the ends curve backwards it may be termed either recurved or procurved, depending on the authority. This conflict of definitions is not easily resolvable. The reader must examine the remainder of the reference closely to deduce the meaning. Generally, if a definition is lacking and the authority speaks of both crescentic and procurved apodemes, we may presume that, in this instance, crescentic means bending forwards, and procurved means bending backwards. If, however, the authority uses both procurved and recurved we should assume that the intention is for procurved to mean ends pointing forward and recurved to mean ends pointing backwards. This is yet another instance where these animals have confused even the experts.
|Some authorities, particularly in the nineteenth century and in Europe today, use the term palp or palpus (palps or palpi) to mean pedipalp. Likewise, "maxilla" (maxillae, maxillas) is sometimes used to indicate the pedipalpal coxa. Current usage defines the maxillae to be physical extensions of the coxae (i.e., "maxillary processes") that protrude from the inward edges of the coxae towards the centerline of the tarantula, not the entire coxae. These maxillae are used by the tarantula as an aid in "chewing" its food. The bristles on them are used for straining out the larger particles. See page 50 for further discussion.|
|Fossilized spiders and their precursors are very rare. Because of this, we do not have a clear understanding of how the spinnerets or the silk spinning facility evolved. (And a lot of other things as well, it must be stressed.) Many arachnologists hypothesize that the spinnerets were originally leg-like appendages the same as chelicerae and fangs. However, these evolved into something other than manipulative organs. In fact, Marples (1967) offers the hypothesis that there were originally four pairs of spinnerets, a total of eight. It is presumed that secretory glands were associated with these appendages, and that these glands eventually evolved into silk glands.|
|What would be the function of these strange bristles? Morphologically, they resemble the halteres of flies that are used as balance and inertia sensing structures. If this is their function, why would they be useful to an animal that moves much more slowly than a fly, and only in a burrow (effectively a one dimensional universe) or on a two dimensional surface rather than in three dimensional space?|
|An accompanying table may be useful to illustrate the order of occurrence and the relationship between the two naming systems.|
|As Used in this Guide||Alternate Nomenclature|
|Postmolt||Postecdysis or Metecdysis|
|Sometimes biologists use the terms "stage", or "stadium" to mean approximately the same as instar.|
Exuvium Preparation #2.
If only a dried exuvium is available, all is not lost. Prepare a solution of one or two drops of mild dish detergent in a cup of warm water. With an eye dropper, carefully moisten the exuvium thoroughly. (Some people even recommend immersing the entire exuvium into the soap water solution.) Work under good lighting and on a wide, shallow saucer or plate. Begin by dripping a little of the solution into the opening left by the opened carapace. At any time during the manipulation of the exuvium more soap water may be applied to soften stiff membranes.
With appropriate tools (e.g., smooth toothpicks) and after the exuvium has had ten minutes or more to soften, carefully open the folded legs and untwist the skin from the opisthosoma. Work slowly and methodically so as not to damage the exuvium. Arrange the various parts to your satisfaction as you work.
Hint: Save several exuvia from the same tarantula or from several different tarantulas before doing this. If you have several exuvia, work on the least valuable one first for practice.
|For the burrow dwelling kinds, it is of dubious value. They spend most of their lives in dark burrows, usually coming out only at dusk.|
|Much more work must be done to assess how well tarantulas really see. Can they see color? Can they distinguish patterns? Can they recognize prey? Can the arboreal species perceive and estimate distances as some other spiders can? This would obviously be very important to an animal that may be forced to jump from branch to branch from time to time.|
|How good are tarantulas' senses of touch? Can they hear? If so, what and how much? How do they know which direction is up? Can they feel heat or cold? Do they have senses that we aren't aware of? What roles do any of these play in their day to day lives? The magnitude of our ignorance is staggering.|
|In vertebrates (including humans), the blood is completely enclosed within the circulatory system. The arteries and veins are sealed to the heart at one end, and are bridged by the capillaries at the other. The arteries divide repeatedly, becoming finer and finer until they eventually become capillaries. These capillaries, after a short distance, begin to coalesce to become minute veinlets. These then continue to join to become major conduits, the veins, back to the heart. If blood ever escapes this closed system, a bruise is produced at the breach as the red blood cells escape into the spaces in our tissues. The important points are that, in vertebrates the circulatory system is a closed system, blood seldom leaves the pipework, and if it does, it causes a pathological condition. By contrast, a spider's circulatory system is open, hemolymph circulates freely through the tissues, there is no such thing as a bruise!|
The heart is enclosed in a "pericardium," a tubular chamber that holds the heart and acts as a staging area preparatory to cycling the hemolymph through the circulatory system again. The tarantula's heart has four pairs of openings, called "ostia" (singular: ostium), along its length that act as valves. Hemolymph is drawn into the heart through these ostia to prepare for the next contraction of the heart.
Spider hearts are of special interest for a number of reasons. The tarantula's heart is suspended in the pericardium by elastic "ligaments." When the heart contracts ("systole") the ligaments are stretched. As the heart relaxes ("diastole"), these ligaments pull the heart back to its original volume.
As the heart contracts (systole), a slight negative pressure is generated in the surrounding pericardium. This draws hemolymph into the pericardium from the opisthosoma (abdomen). When the heart relaxes (diastole) and returns to its original volume, a slight negative pressure is generated inside it. This pulls hemolymph, that has been slowly draining into the pericardium, through the ostia into the heart in preparation for the next beat. Compare this to our hearts where the pericardium firmly adheres to the heart with no open spaces, and where it plays a completely different role; and where hemolymph is collected in special chambers (the "auricles") composed of heart muscle.
The differences don't end there, though. In the human heart, the basic heartbeat is produced by a distinct center of muscle tissue called the "pacemaker." The contraction then spreads as a wave through the heart tissue as a whole. Although there is some nerve fibre modulation of our heartbeat, the pulse travels through, and is coordinated by the characteristics of the heart muscle itself. Vertebrate hearts are said to beat "myogenically." "Myo" connotes muscle, and "genic" implies "start" or "beginning", referring to the method used to start the heartbeat.
Spider hearts are "neurogenic," not myogenic. The spider's heart possesses a fine strand of nerve fibre along its dorsal (upper) surface that not only initiates the heartbeat, but also coordinates its contraction. Its pacemaker is a set of nerve cells (Foelix 1982).
|The origin of the book lungs in arachnids is a subject of much debate among arachnologists. The two most favored hypotheses are that they are either highly evolved apodemes (see pages 22 and 44 of TKG3) or the highly evolved bases of leg-like appendages. In either case they quite apparently evolved very far back in the dim reaches of time, perhaps even before the lineage of these animals was still more worm than arachnid. Over such vast stretches of time, almost anything is possible.|
|The Malpighian tubules are a good example of parallel evolution. Spider Malpighian tubules develop from a different fundamental embryonic tissue than those of insects. Because they resemble insects' Malpighian tubules, because they occur in about the same part of the digestive tract, and because they perform much the same function, they were given the same name. To be precise, they are analogues (having similar appearances and functions but having different origins), not homologues (having similar origins functions, and appearances). See the sidebar on page 24, "Homology."|
|In the large collection of tarantulas that the authors had amassed through the years (well over a thousand tarantulas for more than two decades), feeding time was accompanied by a heavy, characteristic, sugary odor. What causes the odor? The digestive fluids from the tarantulas, or the digested fluids of their food?|
|Normal air is about seventy-eight percent nitrogen. The atoms in this atmospheric nitrogen are so tightly bound to each other that they seldom react with the molecules around them. As a result, atmospheric nitrogen is physiologically inert, and merely acts as a filler. Nitrogen is only toxic when it is combined with other elements to produce substances that interfere with our biochemistry.|
A major problem of all animals is the removal of the end products of metabolism before they can build up to dangerous levels. Digestible substances are composed mainly of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen with traces of several other elements. During metabolism, the bulk of the carbon that is not incorporated in tissues as body mass is converted to carbon dioxide and leaves through the lungs, gills, or even the skin in many animals. Likewise, unused hydrogen is converted into water and is indistinguishable from the liquid water that may be consumed as part of the food, drunk from a water dish, or even the water in which the animal may be floating. The oxygen held in these substances may also be incorporated into subsequent compounds or excreted as carbon dioxide.
The major element that has always been difficult to cope with, however, is nitrogen. When combined with hydrogen, it becomes ammonia, an exceedingly toxic compound. Ammonia is toxic partly because it is exceedingly reactive, damaging or destroying other vital chemical compounds; and partly because it alters the pH (acidity/alkalinity) of the fluids it's dissolved in, thereby interfering with or disabling many chemical reactions necessary for life.
|... dissolve directly into the water around them. There is usually abundant water, and little energy is required to guarantee adequate excretion. Terrestrial animals are not in such favorable circumstances, however. ...|
|...never excretes guanine as a waste product. To be sure, other animals produce guanine. Guanine is the principle substance responsible for the reflective retinas in cats and deer, for instance. Spiders, however, use it as a waste product, whereas cats and deer do not. Because guanine is insoluble, ...|
|Thus, arachnids in general, and spiders in particular, have used all four strategies to avoid nitrogen poisoning; and they have done so in an eminently efficient way.|
|(In older scientific writings, the epigastric furrow may be called the "generative fold.")|
|We offer here a table to clarify the nomenclature. Note that not all authorities agree on the correlations propounded here.|
|PEDIPALPAL SEGMENTS OF IMMATURES OF EITHER SEX AND MATURE FEMALES||
OF MATURE MALES
|Coxa (with maxilla or endite)||Coxa (with maxilla or endite)|
|Tibia||Tibia with alveolus|
|Tarsus (including basitarsus and telotarsus)||Cymbium|
"What then extends the appendages?" you demand!
Would you believe hydraulic pressure? That's right. Arachnids did it again. Their way! An hydraulic system for limb extension is unexpected among arthropods. The only other major groups of living organisms that use hydraulic pressure for body movement and limb extension are much more primitive. They are the roundworms and their allies (Aschelminthes, including Nemathelminthes, Rotifera and other less well known groups), the segmented worms (Annelida), and the echinoderms (Echinodermata, starfish, sea urchins and related groups).
The principle is not used by spiders in quite the same way as these other groups, however. Spiders' bodies are more or less hard capsules that cannot change shape appreciably without damage. With one exception, the same is true of their appendages. That exception is the flexible hinge that separates each pair of segments.
|Stewart and Martin (1974) measured this pressure in Aphonopelma hentzi at a maximum of 480 millimeters of mercury during a struggle. By comparison, normal human blood pressure is about 135 millimeters of mercury at rest, and reaches 220 millimeters of mercury during heavy exercise.|
There are a very few significant exceptions to the "no-jump rule," however. In the New World tropics, India and neighboring islands, and in Africa there are a few kinds of tarantulas (not necessarily related to each other) that live predominantly in trees, bushes and tall grasses. Some will even take up residence under the eaves and in thatched and clay tile roofs of buildings. (See for instance the photo on page 303 of TKG3.) These are often lumped together as the "arboreal tarantulas" by enthusiasts.
The total number of these kinds is probably less than two hundred however, so they comprise a decided minority among tarantulas. Because many of these tarantulas ordinarily live far above ground, and indeed seldom come to ground, they have developed habit patterns that allow them to jump and often glide with relative ease and safety. It is important to note, however, that they cannot jump upwards any more than any other tarantula. To reach any altitude beyond a few centimeters, they must climb first, then jump and glide to a new position some distance away and below.
The lack of snares or traps has been blamed on tarantulas being more primitive spiders. This, however, is not a valid argument. These creatures have had just as much opportunity to develop silk snares as the "true" spiders. A more tenable explanation is merely that the winds of evolution have blown then in the direction of being largish, heavy bodied, ambush predators instead. And from all appearances, with well over 900 species, they have done quite well by it!
N.B. - It is interesting to note that the family Theraphosidae (our tarantulas) is in fifth place for the most number of genera out of more than 115 families of spiders. And, the family Theraphosidae (our tarantulas) is in fourteenth place for the most number of species (940+ out of approximately 43,000). While our tarantulas are not at the top of the lists, they are clearly well above average in numbers, diversity, and apparently survivability! (Data taken from Dr. N. I. Platnick's World Spider Catalog.)
"SNARES AND TRAPS ARE FOR SISSIES!
|It is tempting to say that this is evidence that they are a more primitive spider that has not developed the instinct as completely as the more advanced spiders. But, an equally plausible explanation is that the expenditure of energy and protein for their limited silk production is much smaller when compared by body weight. As a result, the mandate to conserve is not quite so compelling, and perhaps they can afford to be a bit wasteful.|
During cold weather these tarantulas plug the openings of their burrows with soil and debris, and go into a state of torpor.Some have referred to this torpid state as "diapause," but this may be incorrect. Diapause requires a physiological preparation (e.g., deposition of fat), usually prepares an organism for a long period of unsuitable conditions, and is under hormonal control, mediated by temperature or photoperiod. The term is usually reserved to describe the suspension of growth or development in eggs, larval, or immature arthropods, seldom with adults. No one has yet examined torpid tarantulas to determine if the mechanism of their inactivity is merely immobility due to cold, ...
|An organism's metabolic rate can be measured in several different ways, the commonest being by the rate of oxygen consumption, by the rate of carbon dioxide production, and by the amount of heat produced. All of these are merely different ways of measuring the rate at which an organism's chemical machinery is functioning.|
It is entertaining and perhaps even instructive to speculate on the origins of this. Perhaps as some of the first land animals, four hundred million years ago, the arachnids developed a lower metabolic rate to survive in the face of the unpredictability and harshness of new environments. Perhaps they developed such a low metabolic rate as part of the tendency to diversify and exploit new habitats.
Or, it is possible that their low metabolic rate is a survival adjustment that does indeed give arachnids the competitive edge over both their predators and prey. The basic, primal demands of nearly all animals are to secure territory in which to live, secure a food supply, and then to reproduce. (Note that the first two imperatives are often coincident and even co-dependant, but not necessarily linked.) We normally rate efficiency as the amount of food, territory, or offspring acquired or produced. However, "doing their own thing," arachnids may have evolved a quite different yardstick with which to measure efficiency. Instead of emphasizing securing a larger food supply, they emphasized developing a metabolism and behavioral patterns that allow them to thrive on much less food.
Although this may well be true, it is hard to believe that a group of animals that has diversified so much in other respects has not been able to accelerate their metabolic rate, and thereby increase their competitiveness as well. Perhaps it simply wasn't necessary for some other reason. We may never know for sure.
|On an especially good shed from an exceptionally large tarantula, the linings to the coxal gland ducts can also be seen as fine hair-like projections arising from the posterior (rear) sides of the third pair of coxae. On an extraordinary shed, another pair might also be found on the posterior sides of the first pair of coxae.|
They have a total of eight pairs of appendages whereas we are only accustomed to two. They have no jaws, but possess highly specialized and efficient weapons in their place. They have no distinct heads but carry their brains where we might ordinarily expect a heart. Their stomachs (both of them!) are also there, instead of in an abdomen. Although their heart and lungs are toward their rear, the male's copulatory organs are up front, on the ends of feelers. Their skeletons are both inside and outside, their excretory organs bear almost no analogy to ours whatsoever, and their metabolic rates are so low that we could arguably call them "the living dead!"
This strangeness has caused much consternation and confusion among the experts, as evidenced by the duplicity of names for their body parts. It would appear that spiders have purposely conspired to mislead the student, causing much grief during final exams! If these differences cause grief among students, they inspire a fascination, even awe, among amateur and professional arachnophiles like us.
|... or it can be changed during its journey, perhaps several times. For instance, someone may decide, usually for economic reasons, that the current name isn't a very good one, and will change it to something more glamorous and marketable. Or, a dealer will simply forget the original name and make up a new one. The same kind of tarantula ...|
|...Another important source for error involves human fallibility. It might be easy to understand how someone in a foreign country whose first language wasn't English might misinterpret a common name based in English, or misspell a scientific name distantly based in Latin. But, one can't help but wonder about people living in places like the U.K., or the USA where English is the official "Language of State!" We can only wonder...
|For instance, one of these rules insists that no name can be longer than three words. (The name of a country, e.g., Costa Rica, included in the spider's name is treated as only one word even though it may actually be composed of several words.) Another rule insists that once a common name is established, it cannot be changed except under a very few, well defined sets of circumstances.|
And, our understanding of the relationships between those organisms is currently undergoing a profound reevaluation and revolutionary changes based on DNA and other molecular analysis.
The system presented here is a conservative one based on the more widely accepted concepts. It is surely wrong; but we present it because some effort must be made to organize our understanding of the relationships of life on Earth in general to the tarantulas we value so highly.
|The first letter of the trivialized or vernacular derivatives of the formal taxon names are capitalized by some authorities, and not capitalized by others. In this book, we capitalize those of the formal names and do not capitalize those of the vernacular derivatives. The following table may clarify our meaning.|
|FORMAL NAMES||VERNACULAR NAMES|
|Kingdom Animalia||animal kingdom|
|Mesothelae||Rare, primitive spiders (also called Liphistiomorphae).
Contains only one Family: Liphistiidae.
|OPISTHOTHELAE||Virtually all living spiders (except the Mesothelae).|
|Araneomorphae||So-called "true spiders"
(e.g., orbweavers, wolf spiders, jumping spiders.)
(e.g., trapdoor spiders, tarantulas, "Orthognatha" in older texts.)
|The practice of lumping chelicerates, crustaceans, and atelocerates, and others into a common Phylum is under question by many taxonomists. There is growing evidence that each group arose from ancestors that diverged much farther back in prehistory than was previously thought. Many of their similarities would then be the result of parallel evolution rather than indicators of a close relationship.|
|Spiders are characterized by possessing two-segmented chelicerae containing venom glands, a single carapace covering the prosoma, and a narrow pedicel separating the prosoma and opisthosoma (abdomen).|
In order to differentiate araneomorph spiders from mygalomorph spiders (including our tarantulas) in the vernacular, the term "true spiders" has been coined. This implies that somehow our tarantulas are not true spiders, and nothing could be farther from the truth.
These authors and many others object strenuously to this designation, but are at a loss to either stop it or offer a better alternative. In this book "true" in this context is enclosed in quotation marks to highlight this falsehood. The reader is warned not to fall prey to this myth!
|... a subspecies is indicated (e.g., Avicularia avicularia variegata (F. O. P.-Cambridge 1896)). (Subspecies designations are rare in arachnology.) In older books and papers, the scientific name may be printed in emboldened type or in small capitals rather than italics, but this practice has now been abandoned.|
|Most recently, when Dr. Raven revised the taxonomy of tarantulas and their near relatives (Raven, 1985), he determined that several Subfamilies of tarantulas were not valid, and that many genera were duplicates (synonyms) of others. In such cases, the oldest name takes precedence. Thus, many common and well known tarantula species have recently experienced a name change. Even worse, in several instances, the original names were subsequently reinstated.|
Tarantulas are found in the Middle East and one species is found on Cyprus and in Turkey (Chaetopelma gracile (Ausserer, 1871). Another, Selenocosmia pritami Dyal, 1935, is found in Pakistan; one, Haplocosmia nepalensis Schmidt & von Wirth, 1996, in Nepal; and another, Haplocosmia himalayana (Pocock, 1899), is merely listed by Platnick as coming from "Himalayas." Beyond that, their northern limits in western Asia are uncertain. None have been recorded from the Ukraine, Russia, the plethora of "...istan" countries in the region, or from Tibet. The foothills and southern slopes of the Himalayas are probably the northern limits of their range.
They are common throughout southern and eastern Asia with a few species found in southern China. They are found on all of the major islands and many of the minor ones of the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia, including Ceylon, Indonesia, New Guinea, and the Philippines. None, however, are found in Japan.
|In at least one unidentified species of Aphonopelma from Texas and another from the Mojave Desert of California, the authors found burrows that had apparently been appropriated from small rodents, then remodeled to suit the tarantula's preferences. The outward portion of the burrow was six or seven centimeters (two and one-half inches) in diameter and started at an angle of less than forty five degrees from the horizontal, reached depths of about six inches (fifteen centimeters), then continued horizontally for an indefinite length. About twenty centimeters (eight inches) or slightly more inside the mouth, another shaft of smaller diameter turned sharply downward to approximately vertical and extended to a depth in excess of one and one-half meters (five feet). (The authors were unable to excavate the full depth of the burrow owing to advancing darkness.) The soil was composed principally of highly compacted, coarse sand with little clay or loam, allowing the tarantula to easily excavate an extensive burrow.|
|What motivates a tarantula to chose a particular spot to start a burrow? How often are they likely to move to new burrows? How many burrows does a tarantula dig during its lifetime? Do tarantulas ever engage in contests over possession of the same burrow? Do tarantulas ever pirate burrows from each other? How frequently do tarantulas move into empty, preexisting burrows? No answers are available to any of these questions, as yet.|
There are rumors of collectors reporting having seen colonies of Pamphobeteus antinous (among others) where the distance between burrows was sometimes as little as thirty centimeters (one foot). Surely, the individuals in those burrows were aware of, and made frequent contact with their neighbors.
This poses some very interesting questions about their personal demeanor and their habit patterns. Are these tarantulas so gentle with their own kind as to freely allow such close proximity? Or, is this semisocial behavior the result of natural selective breeding in areas where some resource (e.g., soil suitable for burrows) is very scarce? Or, are such high population densities the result of an extremely abundant food supply, thus blunting the normal predatory instincts between colony mates? Do the individuals in these colonies survive close packing by employing some sort of behavioral mechanism similar to that described under "Magic Dancers" (page 292). Or, is there some completely unsuspected mechanism at work here (e.g., a pheromone)?
[Authors' note: The passage referenced here was one of those expunged from the published version. To read the expunged text, select here.]
|Worldwide, are there any other animals, barring those that are nearly microscopic, that also cohabit with tarantulas in the wild? If so, what are their tricks for avoiding becoming the main course for dinner? What, if anything, do they offer the tarantula in return?|
|Even then, their resistance to starvation is nothing short of amazing.|
|While there are cases when a tarantula won't waltz, nearly every tarantula in the authors' collection does so when fed.|
|Do tarantulas sleep during the day (or the night, for that matter)? We might be able to answer this if we knew what sleep really was. But even then, because their nervous systems are so radically different from ours, we probably couldn't tell if they experience anything like sleep.|
|Where does the male construct his first sperm web? In the confines of his burrow before he abandons it, or after he leaves the burrow, looking for females? The burrow would seem to be a very cramped place to perform the required movements, but it would be much safer than the great outdoors.|
|Occasionally, they are directed at eliciting a response in foreign species (e.g., the bolus spiders, Mastophora species (Araneae, Araneidae), produce a pheromone that attracts the males of a certain species of moth as a feeding strategy.) Foelix (1982) contains an introductory discussion of pheromones in spiders with a number of references. Biologists have known about and studied pheromones in insects for decades, but little or no research has been conducted on tarantulas' pheromones. At this point, their existence in tarantulas is only conjecture, but seems entirely plausible since they seem to be found in many other spiders.|
|... "true" spiders (Suborder Araneomorphae, Families Araneidae, Pisauridae, Salticidae and Lycosidae, for instance) are often very elaborate.|
|With a continuing population of four hundred to a thousand adult tarantulas, most being females, over a span of more than twenty five years, the authors have had only one female lay eggs without being bred by a male. In the case in point, a female Aphonopelma species collected from the Del Rio, Texas area had lived in captivity for more than three years, and had undergone three molts. During the fourth Spring she produced an eggsac. The eggs did not develop. Baxter (1993) also reports the laying of sterile eggs by unimpregnated females of Psalmopoeus cambridgei. Breene (personal communication) reports that he has observed the phenomenon as many as thirty times.|
Dr. Breene further states, "Producing & laying sterile eggs seems to be common with tropical tarantulas."
Lastly, he makes the conjecture that most females are successfully mated in the wild, making the production of unfertilized eggs uncommon in nature. The frequency with which this happens, however, is not known and requires more field work. (Have we heard this before?) Is there a difference in the frequency of unfertilized eggsacs between different species? In nature, do any of the unfertilized eggs hatch (parthenogenesis)?
|In addition, the soil contains a multitude of other minute creatures, and tarantulas have already proven themselves perfectly willing to attack anything small enough to overpower and eat. For instance, the habitats where tarantulas are common also support large populations of termites. Although baby tarantulas have never been reported to eat them in the wild, we know of no reason why they couldn't, except for the termites' presumed inaccessibility. Perhaps termites also serve as an important source of baby food. If so, how would the spiderlings reach them?|
|In spite of the fact that the mother tarantula tends the eggsac, tolerates the newly emerged spiderlings in her burrow, and may even feed them a little, her care is ordinarily very brief. Within a few weeks of their emerging from the eggsac, certainly by the time the female molts, most species will ignore the spiderlings completely. There seems to be no long term parental care as there is among some scorpions and humans.|
Does the male die because he can't molt, or does he molt only if he doesn't die first? Might it be possible to alter the male's physiology through diet or pharmaceuticals to prompt him to molt again instead of die? If a mature male tarantula were recognized to be in premolt, could anything be done to help him shed successfully, retaining functional pedipalps? Once he shed, assuming that he retained functional pedipalps, would he be fertile and willing to continue mating for yet another season? Does this ever happen in nature?
For premolt care, dipping the ends of the pedipalps in a glycerine and water solution, and keeping the male tarantula in more humid conditions might be suggested. (Glycerine is discussed in the sidebar on page 216.) Possibly, wild male tarantulas that survived the winter might instinctively seek a moist refuge in preparation for the coming molt. Just perhaps, a few survive.
|How and where is it produced? Is this merely nervousness on the part of the male? Is he signaling his prospective mate? Is this part of the secret password required to prevent being eaten?|
|These supposedly speechless, primitive animals even communicate with each other! Do they do this in nature? Probably, but no field worker has reported observing it. How many different sounds can tarantulas make? Do these sounds differ with sex? Species? Age? What other factors? Apparently, tarantulas can hear, but with what organs? ...|
|Here is a chance for the enthusiast to contribute to our knowledge. By careful observation and perhaps a strategically placed video recorder, we may be able to catalogue these sounds, determine how they are produced, and deduce if they have specific meanings. More sophisticated acoustical labs might be able to perform a detailed analysis (e.g., power spectrum) to detect similarities and differences in them.|
These amazing creatures exhibit many other unexpected behavioral patterns if given the opportunity, and scientists and enthusiasts alike are just beginning to appreciate the size and complexity of their repertoire. It is unfortunate that we cannot present a full catalogue of these in this book. The enthusiast who has gained a little experience with keeping one or two species is encouraged to experiment with his charges to bring more of these to light. Of particular merit are the behavioral patterns exhibited in a natural setting. The inquisitive enthusiast might seriously consider allowing several tarantulas to build burrows in a very large community pen as an artificial colony.
If an adequately heated area were available for a project that would last for several years, for instance, one might set up a two meter by two meter by one meter thick (seven feet by seven feet by three feet thick) bin or "range" of soil approximating that in which a particular species of tarantula were naturally found. This range might be supplied with a few rocks and other obstructions and decorations in an effort to supply a natural ambience.
Several tarantulas of the same species might be encouraged to establish burrows in different parts of the range. Hopefully, unrelated females and immature males would be used. Thereafter, over the next several years, their behavior would be watched closely, notes and photos taken, even video recordings made to demonstrate their reactions and behaviors. Because tarantulas are most active in the darker hours of evening and night, equipment and accessories such as red lamps or infrared sensitive cameras (e.g., most digital cameras) would have to be used for nighttime observations. We can only guess at what marvels would be revealed. (See also the discussion of cage arrangements that allow burrowing on page .)
The best news is that such an experiment need not be exorbitantly expensive. For instance, red bulbs are readily available from photographic supply stores. While tarantulas are nearly blind to red light, common digital cameras are sensitive to it. Neither the bulbs nor the cameras are unduly expensive. This experiment would have to run for several years to be truly fruitful, and it would require constant study and close attention to detail. Plan on spending lots of time watching the tarantulas in the wee hours of the morning.
Of course, the experimenter would be obliged to publish a detailed description of the structure's construction and its management, plus periodic progress reports, in an enthusiast newsletter or professional journal.
|Further, enthusiasts have only reported three or four bites from these species in spite of the many tens of thousands of them kept as pets.|
|The bottom line to all this is that nine out of ten pet shops know little more about tarantulas than the novices they sell them to.|
In defense of the pet industry in general and pet shops in particular, it is not necessarily their responsibility to teach the novice the details of arachnoculture any more than it is the responsibility of a grocery store to teach their customers how to cook, or a car dealership their customers how to drive. But, the pet industry continues to be confronted with demands for a free education as part and parcel to the sale of their merchandise. This is clearly unfair; and being coerced into doing so has two entirely predictable outcomes: Higher prices and shoddy, substandard instructing.
If the pet industry and pet shops choose to sell tarantulas and other exotic pets it is arguably their responsibility, however, to ensure that their livestock is correctly and accurately identified and labeled, and to learn to care for them at a level above what would be considered animal cruelty for vertebrates. Sadly, these are the aspects of pet shops selling tarantulas that need the most attention by the industry.
One solution to the problem is so simple and obvious that these authors are almost embarrassed to mention it: SELL THE NOVICE A GOOD OPERATOR'S MANUAL AT THE SAME TIME THAT YOU SELL THEM THE TARANTULA! And, what better manual than TKG3?
|These are not necessarily reasons to not buy a special tarantula, especially if the price is acceptable, at any given pet shop; but rather good reasons to look for other conveniently located businesses that are capable of supplying all your needs BEFORE you acquire your pet.|
|The traditional plastic shoe boxes, made of transparent plastic that allowed easy inspection of the contents, are considered the best for the hobby but are becoming almost impossible to find. The newer boxes are made of a translucent plastic and are considered to be marginally inferior because they must be opened to inspect the contents, and opening a tarantula's cage too often unnecessarily increases its risk of injury or escape.|
|... and the other side of the divider being dishearteningly empty. Somehow or another one tarantula manages to knock down, squeeze around, dig under, climb over, or teleport through the barrier. Strangely enough, the less expensive tarantula almost always eats the more expensive one. And, this happens distressingly often. THUS, THESE AUTHORS ...|
|Do not use any cover, whether commercial or homemade, that is made of window screening or any mesh that is not hot dip galvanized or otherwise manufactured to prevent catching a tarantula's claw.|
PEAT VS. SHREDDED COCONUT HUSK: The Debate.
There is a long standing debate about the ecological impact and efficacy of using peat versus shredded coconut husk in arachnoculture. We wish to put the debate to rest.
Peat is the rotted remains of mosses and leaves left after a swamp or peat bog eventually fills in. Basically, it's naturally composted vegetable matter. The myth is that peat is a non-renewable resource. If we are to believe this we must then believe that every swamp and bog in the world dried up this morning.
The unstated hypothesis is that the arachnoculture hobby is consuming vast amounts of peat. The fact is that if the arachnoculture hobby completely stopped using peat tomorrow morning, neither the peat industry nor Green Peace would notice, and virtually no one would lose their job. Arachnoculture's peat consumption is far less than negligible compared to the horticulture and landscaping industries. In short, arachnoculturists are vastly overestimating their own importance in this matter.
Shredded coconut husk, by whatever trade name, is not as pure and virgin as its proponents would have us believe either. Shredded coconut husk finds its origins in coconuts not collected on some idyllic beach by beautiful, well tanned natives in some exotic, south sea paradise. It comes from hot, humid, sweaty, insect infested, coconut plantations that replaced rain forest in places like the Philippines, Brazil, Nigeria and other hot, humid, sweaty, insect infested, tropical countries. Many hundreds of thousands of acres of precious, tarantula bearing rain forest were destroyed for those plantations. That rain forest and the tarantulas it once harbored are now gone, perhaps forever. And, by using shredded coconut husk arachnoculturists are, in some small way, promoting that loss.
On the other hand, we must also point out that shredded coconut husk is also a trivial byproduct of a much larger industry. As with peat, if the arachnoculture hobby were to stop using coconut husk entirely tomorrow morning, a minuscule number of people who process and sell it might lose their jobs, but no one else, including Green Peace, would notice or care. Again, arachnoculturists vastly overestimate their own importance on a world scale.
The bottom line to this entire discussion is that neither substrate is without guilt, but the issue is so trivial as to be all but meaningless. Use whichever works best for you with a clear conscience.
|When experimenting with an untested substrate the enthusiast should set up only one cage with it and record the results over an extended period of time. If there seem to be no bad results a second cage may be converted to it later. There should be no hesitation at cleaning the cage and setting it up with one of the traditional substrates if the new one develops any characteristics that are disadvantageous.|
|Glass. Rarely, decorative crushed glass is used for accents in decorating a tarantula's cage. The sharp edges and points are extremely dangerous to tarantulas. Do not use decorative crushed glass! (Glass playing marbles and the rounded, "fire polished" lumps of decorative glass resembling water droplets are apparently acceptable, however.)|
|Sheet Moss. One scheme that works well is to supply a sheet of florist's moss or sphagnum moss to the tarantula. Moss of this type can be collected from moist forests or purchased from garden and floral shops. If it is moistened, then shaped as it dries it will tend to retain a cave like hollow space underneath that the tarantula might be persuaded to accept as a surrogate burrow. When the pet is to be inspected or shown to friends, gently lift the moss. When finished, merely replace it carefully. Such an arrangement has an additional benefit. Accidentally dropping the moss on the tarantula won't kill it. It is probably best to avoid artificially colored moss because there is no guarantee that the dyes are harmless.|
|... is a life threatening situation. When our body temperature becomes even slightly warmer or cooler than this our finely tuned, delicate central nervous system begins to fail. Many of our enzyme systems (the workhorses of all our metabolic processes) are so fragile that we get deathly ill. We can die from a host of ailments including convulsions, kidney failure, heart failure, lung failure and much more from allowing our core temperature to go too high or too low without intense medical monitoring and support. We are so caught up in our own circumstances ...|
|Poikilotherms, like tarantulas, do not suffer the same bad effects from being too cold as humans do. Their central nervous systems aren't functioning as close to the limit as mammals' are. And their metabolic processes (enzyme systems) are either robust enough or loosely tuned enough that changes in temperatures within certain very broad limits are nearly irrelevant. They don't get sick and die if they get cold.|
|The concept of an optimal temperature is probably a fallacy for breeder tarantulas as well because most seem to breed best when subjected to at least a mildly varying temperature; and there is every reason to believe that some sort of optimal temperature would be slightly different for each species or group of species, and different for each season or period during the year.|
THE CLOSED ENVIRONMENT CHAMBER
Whenever several tarantulas (babies, juveniles or even adults) are to be kept under conditions that are different than ambient conditions, consider using a closed environment chamber. This is merely a heated case in which several individual tarantula cages or containers may be kept. A discarded refrigerator or upright (vertical) freezer makes a particularly good chamber, but any cabinet or case that can be closed and insulated is acceptable. These are especially useful if several tarantulas must be kept in a cool basement, for instance, or for incubating a number of eggsacs at the same time using the Hammock or Boxed Deli Cup methods described on pages 278 and 279.
When using discarded refrigerators or freezers it is especially important that a professional refrigeration technician be contracted to safely drain off the refrigerant and possibly offer instructions for safely removing the compressor and unwanted tubing. In fact, used refrigerator or appliance shops are very good places to acquire an empty refrigerator or freezer shell for very little money.
Inside, near the floor of the chamber, an incandescent lamp fixture is mounted. A twenty five watt incandescent bulb should be tried at first. It may be helpful to cover it partly with aluminum foil to block much, but not all of the light. A standard, household style dimmer switch is almost essential to adjust the current going to the bulb, and therefore, the intensity of the heat that the bulb produces. Using a dimmer switch will also lengthen the bulb's life. A standard, household furnace thermostat that can use the mains voltage (nominally 120 volts in North America) is also essential. This should be mounted inside the chamber, about midway between top and bottom. It is important to mount the thermostat in a position that will not allow heated air from the light bulbs to rise directly to it. The dimmer switch, the thermostat, and the lamp fixture should be wired in series. The enthusiast is strongly urged to seek the assistance of a professional electrician for wiring these circuits.
Alternative heat sources are various heat tapes and pads used in the herpetology hobby. These are available from many of the larger pet shops and from those that specialize in exotic pets. Their principal disadvantage is that they tend to be exorbitantly expensive.
A false floor or shelf should be suspended above the heat source in such a way that it will block all direct heat from radiating up into the body of the chamber; but ample space (e.g., two and one-half centimeters, one inch) should be left around the margins, or a dozen or more two centimeter (three-quarters inch) holes bored across the floor to allow easy airflow. Grills used for closet shelving have been used for this purpose with good success. All heat should be carried by convection only. Other shelves may be positioned strategically above the bottom one to hold more tarantula cages and containers.
If proper humidity is a valid concern, a flat baking dish of water may be kept on the bottom shelf for humidity. Use of distilled or demineralized water will avoid a mineral build-up in the water dish. If a water dish is used, a good quality, commercial relative humidity gauge should be kept more or less near the center of the chamber to monitor the effect. Be exceedingly careful not to splash water on any electrical connections.
Several holes should be cut towards the bottom and top of the chamber to allow for slight ventilation. The exact size of these will be a matter of experimentation and experience. Plan on at least four near the bottom and four towards the top. Use a diameter of at least one inch (two-and-a-half centimeters). Excess holes can be easily plugged if not needed, and holes that are too large may be partially plugged more easily than dismantling the whole chamber and boring additional ones or enlarging the ones already present. Make more than would seem necessary at first.
Screened ventilation plugs can often be found in hardware and builder's supply stores. If these are available, make the holes a size to accommodate these plugs. Or, improvise a method of covering the holes securely with a layer of fine screen. This will prevent the escape of any errant tarantulas, and an invasion by mice or ants.
The enterprising enthusiast may even be able to carefully fit a glass or Plexiglas plate in the front so that the temperature, humidity, and on-off cycle of the bulbs can be monitored, and the cages inspected without the necessity of opening the door. Do not attempt to bore holes in the back or sides of a refrigerator or freezer until both the refrigerant and compressor are removed. Usually, the doors are safe.
One or more thermometers should be placed at varying levels in the chamber. The thermostat should be set at the target temperature and the dimmer switch turned to produce the strongest light from the bulbs. Several hours later, the temperature should be checked and the thermostat readjusted if necessary. Then, the dimmer switch should be adjusted so that the bulbs will be on about one-fourth to one-third of the time. This may require experimenting with larger or smaller bulbs. These adjustments and use of a dimmer switch reduces sudden, dramatic temperature fluctuations in the chamber, and prolongs the life of the bulbs.
Once the temperature has been adjusted, the size of the water dish (if used) and the number of ventilation holes should be adjusted to maintain a proper humidity if so desired. The wider the water dish, the higher the humidity will tend to be. The more ventilation holes, or the larger the holes, the lower the humidity will tend to be. The deeper the water dish, the less often you will have to refill it, but water depth but itself will not effect the humidity. Do not block all ventilation; leave open at least one ventilation hole towards the bottom and one towards the top at all times.
VARIATIONS ON THE THEME
On April 26, 2009 Scott_M posted photos on the American Tarantula Society message boards of a closed environment chamber, "The Slingabator," that he had made from a discarded wine refrigerator. While his chamber is a little too high tech for the average hobbyist (he used a refrigerator that had fallen into his possession), the interested enthusiast should study his design carefully.
On December 17, 2009 rvtjonny posted a photo on the Arachnoboards message boards of a constant environment chamber in T Climate Control (/me pulls hair out!!!, posting #16) that he fashioned from an aquarium. This version is particularly interesting because of its simplicity. And it works!
|Amateur herpetologists, tropical fish fanciers, and livingroom horticulturists often use exotically tinted fluorescent lighting on their pets and plants for various reasons. While some arachnoculturists do as well, there have been few or no reported benefits to using the lights on tarantulas. And indeed, tarantulas are very uncomfortable under bright lights, especially those rich in green and ultraviolet wavelengths. Until more experience suggests some real benefit is gained, these authors advise the enthusiast to spend the not inconsiderable cost of the lights on another tarantula instead.|
THE DROWNING TARANTULA MYTH
Tarantula keepers often worry that their pets will fall into a large water dish and drown. This worry is largely unfounded. Tarantulas are covered with virtually a wall to wall carpet of bristles, and these bristles are, in turn, coated with a wax-like substance that prevents them from being wet by water.
When a tarantula makes contact with any quantity of liquid water the waxy bristles hold the water at bay and maintain a bubble of air next to the tarantula. Not only does the tarantula not get wet, it also floats like a cork!
However, a tarantula might still appreciate a pebble in the water dish as an aid to navigating across the dish, or climbing out after drinking.
Tarantulas and other spiders possess a hard exterior covering called an exoskeleton. Most of this exoskeleton is coated with a layer of a wax-like substance that reduces or prevents the passage of water in or out of their bodies. (Hence, tarantulas cannot sweat.) There are several significant places on their bodies, however, that have only a very thin wax-like layer or none at all. Chief among these are the thin pleural membranes in the joints between the exoskeleton's plates (e.g., the "hinges" between the segments of their legs) and the linings of their book lungs. These represent small leaks in their defense system that allow the loss of precious water.
|Except for the swamp dwellers (see page 244) and the babies (see page 253) virtually all tarantulas are adaptable enough to withstand nearly any level of humidity except perhaps the very extremes of dampness or aridity.|
|The number of "things" that will grow, wriggle, and crawl in a cage with damp substrate is truly marvelous to behold. However, the goal here is to cultivate tarantulas, not mushrooms or tiny white things that crawl in the dark. Unless you have a very good reason for keeping the substrate damp (see "The Swamp Dwellers" on page 244 or "The Babies" on page 253), keep the substrate dry and the water dish full. Simple is better.|
|Born Carnivores. There is no known way of converting a tarantula to eating anything other than some sort of animal matter. If you are a vegetarian who has a problem with tarantulas eating animal prey, tarantulas are not your ideal pet. Consider keeping philodendrons, instead.|
|Presumably, this stems from our strong homeothermic prejudice. As warm blooded animals we require a vast amount of food supplied quite often or we get sick and die. At least in the developed world, we demand three, big meals a day, and often a fourth. And the majority of humans in such situations also become obese! The next leap of faith leads to the tacit assumption that our pet tarantulas should also overeat as we do. That's a big mistake. It is easiest, perhaps, to deal with the subject in smaller portions.|
|Be forewarned that not all tarantulas appreciate such fare. As an experiment, an attempt can be made to feed a baby mouse to the tarantula, but if it refuses to eat the mouse, be prepared to return it to its mother, or euthanise the rodent as painlessly as possible.|
|These authors know of pet shops that, as a matter of policy, refuse to sell living mammals of any sort as animal food. If one of these establishments is encountered, the safest recourse is a hasty retreat and a search for another food source.|
|A further claim is that mite infestations seldom or never occur in cages populated by scavenging isopods. There are two prevalent hypotheses to explain this. Either any available food is kept to an absolute minimum by them, leaving little or none for the mites; or the isopods actually eat the mites or their eggs whenever they're found. The same claims are sometimes made about a lack of fungus outbreaks in cages inhabited by isopods, and with the same supporting rationale.|
Antivenins. (Because we're asked so many times.) As of this writing, no antivenin for any theraphosid tarantula is being produced anywhere in the world. There is simply no need for it.
An Australian laboratory produces an antivenin for several Australian spiders that are related to tarantulas, but the delay in acquiring the Australian antivenin anywhere else in the world would make its usefulness dubious, at best. And, there is a high probability that it would have no effect at all. It is also highly doubtful if the widow antivenin, currently available in the United States and elsewhere, would work against a tarantula's envenomation.
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, should anyone allow the injection of any antivenin until a serum sensitivity test has been run. If the patient is allergic to horse or goat serum, from which most of these are made, the cure is surely more hazardous than the bite!
|Tarantula bites are one of the least important threats to human health and welfare on this planet.|
|This solution is also referred to by some authors as a two percent v/v solution. Two percent means two parts per hundred and defines the final concentration, and v/v means volume per volume, as opposed to weight per weight or some other combination of units.|
The authors had one such tarantula (Brachypelma albopilosum) that had escaped and avoided capture for the better part of a year. One morning it was found all but dead. It was treated for dehydration (see above), and two days later was offered live crickets. It would not eat, presumably because it was too weak. It was then offered mealworms, and still refused food.
All live crickets were removed, and one was killed and partially squashed in order to expose its internal organs and body fluids. The dead cricket was placed in contact with one of the tarantula's front legs, and left alone for the evening. The next morning the cricket had vanished. The same strategy was used the following evening. On the third evening several live crickets were offered, and they were eaten sometime during the night. Thereafter, the tarantula made a complete recovery.
|Three reasons have been suggested that could cause a tarantula to have trouble molting.|
|After the molt, it would be a good idea to gently wash off any remaining glycerine from the new exoskeleton. Of course, great care must be taken not to damage the newly shed, and therefore extremely fragile, tarantula.|
|To use either Halothane, ether, or another inhaled anaesthetic, place the ailing tarantula in a glass container with a lid. Because these are organic solvents, do not use plastic containers. A few drops of the anaesthetic should be placed on a cotton ball, and this dropped into the container with the tarantula. If the tarantula is conscious and mobile it will immediately begin to pace or struggle. Monitor this activity very carefully. As soon as it begins to subside the tarantula must either be removed from the anaesthetic entirely, or the vapor's concentration greatly reduced with generous ventilation. During the remainder of the surgical procedure, a constant vigil must be maintained, increasing ventilation when the tarantula seems too deeply anaesthetized, and decreasing it when the tarantula begins to struggle. In normal veterinary and human surgery, the sole job of the anesthesiologist is to maintain the patient in that gray world between feeling pain and dying from the anaesthetic. A far safer plan is to take the ailing tarantula to a veterinarian for anaesthesia and surgery.|
|The Hernia. One peculiar problem afflicts a very pretty species of tarantula from Central America ...|
|The presumption that the fungus killed the tarantula has even crept into the literature, and it is now accepted as fact. At the time of this writing the authors have seen no published confirmation or identification of the infecting organism. In fact, the excessive humidity probably did contribute to the demise of the tarantula, but the pathogen could as easily have been a bacterium, parasitic worm, or protozoan. The fungus could have very easily been a secondary growth on a dying tarantula, or a dead carcass. Only histological examination in a competent laboratory and identification of the invading organisms by a competent microbiologist could offer an educated guess as to what caused the tarantula's death.|
The scarcity of such overt parasitism may be due to either of three phenomena.
|In these cases the larvae develop inside the still active tarantula and emerge through the body wall just prior to pupation (Baerg 1958).|
|Acari: Mites. Occasionally, enthusiasts report infestations of tiny white or tan mites in their tarantulas' cages (Browning 1981, Marshall 1996). The mites are another branch of the arachnids ...|
|Their individual numbers are unbelievably enormous. In an average meadow, the number of mites might easily outnumber all other multi-celled animals together. It has been claimed that if we were to magically make all of planet Earth disappear except the mites living on and in it, we would be able to clearly see the ghostly outlines of the continents, the forests, the mountains, even in some cases, individual animals or plants, merely from the mites that they supported. (As a peripheral note, the same claim has been made for nematode worms.)|
|A similar problem concerns tiny, bright red or orange mites that frequently infest wild caught scorpions from the American southwest. Occasionally, a tarantula will also be found with a few of these attached. Most of them will detach and wander off if the tarantula is placed in an ICU for a day or two. (The ICU is described on page 204.) Alternatively, these brightly colored mites may be carefully picked off the animal with a pair of high quality forceps, or brushed off with a dry cotton tipped swab. The authors have seen no reports of these forming an infestation in captivity. If one did occur, it should probably be treated the same as the mites described earlier.|
|... (See the photo on page 135.) A two-layered defense system will probably be needed, one level to hold back the tarantula, another level to keep the ants out.|
These authors had an individual of Brachypelma albopilosum that made persistent attempts to escape. On each of those occasions when it was successful, it was found hanging from the wall only a few centimeters from the ceiling, well above head level. Clearly this creature had not read this book! The lid to this tarantula's cage is now strapped down with a nylon web strap of the sort used by campers and hikers for securing their belongings, and "Houdini's" career seems to have come to an abrupt end.
If you are not successful at finding your pet near the floor or downstairs, extend your search towards the ceiling and to upper levels of your home.
|Another possible exception might be a species that is not as adaptable as most tarantulas.|
|Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens, Holothele incei, many members of the genus Pterinochilus, and several other species of tarantula are obsessive web spinners, and some enthusiasts have gone so far as to classify them as "semi-arboreal" as a result. Many enthusiasts supply a three dimensional framework of small twigs on which they may spin their elaborate silken constructs.|
|Particular attention should be paid to removing all traces of food, both that which is unused (e.g., cricket parts, dead crickets) and the spit balls (food boluses) left after feeding. Any such food remains will spoil quickly in the warm humid air, quickly causing dangerously unsanitary conditions.|
|Neither of the two fungi described here pose a significant, direct hazard to the tarantula, and these authors do not consider their presence sufficient reason for an emergency cage cleaning. It's the other pathogens and varmints that you don't see that pose a threat!|
|Both of these genera will bite if handled. Although they are New World in origin, they should be treated much like Old World tarantulas.|
|They then become impotent and usually die within a few months. Thus, while the females are capable of reproduction more or less annually for many years, males experience one brief reproductive surge, then age and die. Potent males are therefore less available in the long run and in great demand by these arachnoculturists.|
Among tarantulas the males generally mature one to several years before their sisters. After their ultimate molt, most male tarantulas will only live an additional six to eighteen months, then die of old age. Thus, male tarantulas tend to be rather short lived. (See "Ecdysis/Molting" on page 32.)
Female tarantulas, on the other hand, tend to grow more slowly and mature later than their brothers. Female tarantulas will live several years, often several decades after they become sexually mature. Thus, female tarantulas tend to be very long lived creatures.
We did not know why tarantulas would not breed readily in captivity. Baerg (1958) thought they required beetles in their diet. But, we now know that to be untrue. Many species of tarantulas will breed readily in captivity if kept properly.
Conditions other than nutrition may also effect breeding, such as light intensity, temperature, moisture, substrate, handling or manipulation, and time cycles (diurnal, lunar, and annual). If we knew each species' exact origin and the details of each one's habitat, we might be able to guess at reasonable parameters for these variables. We might also be able to guess at other conditions that could have an effect.
One very important characteristic ignored by many enthusiasts in their efforts seems to be careful timing of the mating. Many tarantulas will mate out of season, but produce no issue. And, newly imported, wild tarantulas may be operating on a different calendar than those that have been in captivity for several years. (See page "Grammostola rosea..." on page 338 of TKG3 and Care and Husbandry of the Chilean Rose Tarantula for an exemple of this.) Timing is of the essence!
|... , but adding more holes is troublesome and risky to the eggs.|
Magic Dancers. The baby tarantulas arrange themselves around a pickle jar, on the walls, the floor and in the moss, roughly equidistant from their neighbors, in an effort to maximize the distance between them. They have an instinctive behavior pattern that prevents them from being eaten by their litter mates. When they make contact with each other, they perform a peculiar little dance-like manoeuver with their pedipalps and forelegs, fending off the other individual without harm to either. This instinct is well known in their "true" spider brethren (Araneomorphae, Foelix 1982), but the authors are unaware of it being reported for theraphosids before this.
|In the process, these animals have, as a continuing genetic line, survived, whereas many of their wild brethren are imperiled or have disappeared entirely. Whether or not the hybrid individuals are the same or a different species, are better or worse than their wild ancestors, or are somehow impure because of hybridization and selective breeding depends entirely on one's point of view and the standard against which they are measured. The indisputable fact is that those domestic breeds that man has tampered with have survived and often increased in numbers, whereas their natural kin have not.|
|Other enthusiasts can be found by frequent haunting of local pet shops that stock tarantulas, through local amateur herpetological societies (herp club members often keep tarantulas, too, or even have "arthropod" sections), by advertising in local newspapers and bargain finder type publications. Dealers can be located by perusing magazines intended for amateur herpetologists as well as the newsletters of amateur herpetology and arachnologist clubs and societies. Particularly good places to look for dealers are the Classified sections of the various Internet forums. (See "Resources" on page 359.)|
|If possible, photograph and time the entire spectacle. The enthusiast who is lucky enough to own or borrow a video tape recorder might tape the entire sequence, complete with recorded comments. Such a tape library will become an invaluable resource as time progresses, as well as an indispensable help to other enthusiasts. With good quality equipment, professional level photography, and proper editing, there is always a potential for a commercial application, as well.|
Vital Statistics. For several individuals, also record molting dates; what, how much, and how often they eat; and their cage or room temperatures. Photograph them against a ruler and weigh them with a sensitive balance after each molt, before they begin to eat again. Such balances may be found in nearly all high school and college chemistry and biology labs. Many of the teachers, professors, or their assistants would be glad to help, or demonstrate their use. Keep a complete set of labeled and dated cast skins, correlated with the written data. These data will comprise a continuous record of the growth and development of a set of individuals, and can be of great value to anyone who seeks clues to the growth or developmental rates of each species.
Keep In Touch. A record should be kept of as many enthusiasts as possible who receive the extra spiderlings. Attempts to breed your stock or theirs should be made at every opportunity (but beware of inbreeding).
|Driving up and down lonely country roads late at night is guaranteed to attract the attention of local residents and the police. In some political districts it may be illegal to hunt any animals using this method. Be sure to check with local authorities before embarking on a road cruising expedition.|
|... filling out numerous forms in quintuplicate, paying inspection fees, and (sad, but true) sometimes even offering a gratuity to the inspecting officer. All this can become complicated enough to require a broker to handle the details ...|
|WARNING. There are severe penalties for bribing government officials in most developed, and many third world countries. But, even in the twenty-first century, in many countries a gratuity is not only acceptable, but necessary - the only way things get done. Do not attempt to offer a gratuity to any official unless you are absolutely certain that the practice is acceptable and requisite.|
|The same clump of grass that shelters the tarantula's burrow will often conceal a hornets' nest. The rock that acts as the tarantula's roof may also protect a scorpion. What appears to be a classic tarantula burrow may, in fact, hold a fifteen centimeter (six inch) centipede with an attitude problem. It's a jungle out there, even in the desert!|
The following basic rules are strongly recommended as a starting point.
Describe the burrow's physical relation to the nearest body of water or dry wash, its distance and height above or below the highest apparent water level. Was the burrow on the top of a hill where it would be high and dry during a storm, on a slope where it would receive water run-off, or at the bottom of the slope where it could be inundated?
If at all possible, find a topographical map of the collection area and make a best guess at the altitude of the collection site. Because climate depends so dramatically on altitude, this can be very important data. Such maps are often available in local libraries, police stations, military installations, large book stores, and the geology departments of local colleges and universities.
Describe the climate, and the weather at the time of collection. Talk to the locals or consult official records if there is time. If possible, include notes on the average rainfall in the area by season and by the year, the average high and low temperatures by season, and whether there are distinct dry and wet periods (e.g., drought and monsoon).
What was found inside the burrow besides the tarantula? Exuvia, food remains, blown in detritus? The dry, non-living contents of the burrow should be saved in a sealed glass or plastic vial and labeled in some way that unambiguously associates it with the tarantula that was living in the burrow. Labeling will be discussed shortly.
Small living arthropods sharing the burrow with the tarantula may be placed in small vials of alcohol (see below). Living commensal organisms of substantial size might be euthanised as humanely as possible and given their own bottles of alcohol, labeled to unambiguously associate them with the host tarantula. Alternatively, an attempt might be made to keep them alive until they may be handed to an arachnologist who will, in turn, find an authority who can identify them.
|Thus, it is not unusual for newly imported G. rosea to attempt to "hunker down" for a long winter's nap by unexpectedly attempting to dig a burrow or take over a "hide" for the purpose. The enthusiast should merely allow the tarantula to do so and not worry about the practice. This is just part of the acclimatization process. Read the following pages and follow the instructions under "Already There" on page 341, and also read Care and Husbandry of the Chilean Rose Tarantula.|
|Historically, there has been much confusion over the correct scientific name for this tarantula with many people using Theraphosa leblondi. In an E-mail posting (reproduced herewith with permission), Dr. Norman Platnick (American Museum of Natural History, New York) confirms that Theraphosa blondi is correct.|
|You can borrow copies of most tarantula books from your local public library. Ask about the Interlibrary Loan Service if your library doesn't have the one you want. Doing so will allow you to assess which are the best for you before you actually have to pay for them. However, soon you will find that you need a good reference book to keep on hand and will find yourself in a pet shop or bookstore, pondering the title you should purchase.|
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This page was initially created on 2009-March-09
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