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Hunting the Huntsman – Keeping the Giant Crab or Huntsman Spider – Part 2

Huntsman spiderIn Part I of this article I talked a bit about collecting (or trying to collect!) the Huntsman Spider, Heteropoda venatoria, in a most unlikely setting.  Usually purchased as a “curiosity”, the Huntsman often surprises its new owners with a range of interesting behaviors – if you thought that spider pets were limited to tarantulas, please consider this fascinating alternative!

Caution: Although Huntsman Spiders are not considered to be dangerously venomous, they are fast and aggressive, and will not hesitate to bite.  We know little about spider venom, and the possibility of an allergic reaction must be considered (central nervous system reactions have been reported on rare occasions)….please do not touch any spider with bare hands.

Natural History

The Huntsman Spider likely originated in southern India and Sri Lanka, but is now well-established in warm regions worldwide (including Florida).  They frequently enter buildings, where they sometimes welcomed for their roach-catching abilities.

The alternate name, Giant Crab Spider, took hold because these spiders hold the first 2 pairs of legs spread-out like a crab on guard.   Huntsman Spiders build no webs, but rather run down their prey, and are quite ravenous.  I’ve observed youngsters being dragged about by roaches three times their size, and adults sometimes catch lizards and small bats.

Huntsman Spiders are entirely arboreal and adapted to living upon flat surfaces, such as walls and tree trunks, as opposed to branches.

Huntsman Terrariums

In captivity, they take readily to cork bark  and will climb terrarium glass as well.  Position cork bark slabs near the glass, so that the spiders will remain visible when using the reverse side of the bark as a shelter.

While arboreal tarantulas (i.e. Pink-toed Tarantulas, Avicularia spp.) do well in standard aquariums turned on end to provide additional height, I hesitate to recommend such for Huntsman Spiders – opening the screen cover leaves a wide area available for escape.  I much prefer a “tall or high style” aquarium, with the cover is on top.  Alternatively, a Faunarium turned on its end might work, as the access door is small and should limit escapes.

Heat and Humidity

Huntsman Spiders favor warm, humid habitats, and should be maintained at 77-85 F and provided daily misting and a moisture-retaining substrate.


Huntsmans take nearly any insect prey available, but particularly favor roaches.  Wild caught moths, katydids, beetles and grasshoppers should also be provided whenever possible.


Male Huntsman Spiders are smaller and thinner than females, and their carapace bears darker markings.  When ready to breed, males cease feeding and develop noticeably swollen pedipalps (leg-like structures bearing sperm packets).  They wander about in search of females to mate with (and, usually, to be consumed by!). I’ve had breeding males escape with their lives, but none have survived for long afterwards.

The female carries her uniquely flattened egg case below her body.  The young stay on her for a short time, and then disperse.  If you are raising this species, be sure to cover the terrarium’s screening with an extra layer of mosquito netting, lest the hatchlings escape – a colony established in the home is not to everyone’s liking!

Further Reading

Huntsman and other spiders produce a range of sounds.  An interesting article on this topic, which includes photos of males in breeding condition, is posted here.

A video showing this species’ speed and hunting style is posted


Huntsman Spider image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Ed g2s and Saperaud

Windscorpions (Camel Spiders, Sun Scorpions) – the Fiercest Arachnids?

SolifugaeWindscorpions give pause to even die hard Arachnid fans – their formidable chelicerae (jaws) are disproportionately large, and they move with unbelievable speed.  These odd Arachnids (Order Solifugae), which are neither scorpions nor spiders, are not easy to keep.  However, if you are a serious Arachnid keeper looking for a new challenge, Windscorpions are definitely worth a closer look.

Range and Reputation

The world’s 1,000+ Windscorpion species favor deserts and other warm, arid habitats.  They are absent from Australia but otherwise widespread…a number dwell in Florida and the American Southwest.  They are among the most active of Arachnids – and their appetites are insatiable.

When out by day, Windscorpions stay to the shadows…their habit of following people, in order to stay shaded, has earned them a quite bad reputation in North Africa.  However, while Windscorpions do not actively chase people, their huge, ragged jaws can deliver painful bites, and they should only be handled with tongs.

Keeping Windscorpions

Success in keeping these little-studied invertebrates has been mixed at best.  Several species appear regularly in the trade (i.e. Eremobates spp.), but none can be considered easy captives.

Wind ScorpionWindscorpions must be kept dry, and they need a great deal of room – more than twice that of similarly-sized scorpions and spiders.  A secure, undisturbed environment, stocked with artificial caves and cork bark retreats, is essential   A sandy substrate, into which some species will burrow, will also help them to feel at home.  Temperature requirements vary by species, but an ambient of 85 F with a warmer area of 92-95 F will suffice for most.

Fast Metabolisms

Windscorpion appetites are huge – no once per week feeding for these beasts!  Instead, experiment with every-other-day or even daily feedings, providing all they will take.  As we know little of their nutritional requirements, vary the diet as much as possible…crickets, roaches, sow bugs, waxworms and wild-caught moths, grasshoppers and other invertebrates will all be eagerly accepted.

You can also try tong-feeding them canned invertebrates (one look at their other-worldly jaws will convince you of the wisdom of using feeding tongs)!

Folks working with Windscorpions have a real opportunity to contribute to what little we know about these most unusual creatures. 


Further Reading

Tailless Whipscorpions are equally odd relatives of the Windscorpions, and easier to keep in captivity.  To learn more, please see Tailless Whipscorpions – the Weirdest Invertebrates?

You can check out the imposing jaws of a Windscorpion in this video.


Wind Scorpion image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Vijaybarve

SB 373 Update – 9 Species, not all Pythons, may be Banned from Pet Trade

I’ve just received some reasonably good news concerning Senate Bill 373, which as originally proposed would have banned the ownership of all pythons (even ball pythons) and many other constrictors.  Due to the overwhelming response by snake enthusiasts and the pet industry, the bill has been modified to include only Green and Yellow Anacondas, Burmese, Reticulated and African Pythons and Boa constrictor.  I and the staff at ThatPetPlace would like to thank everyone who read our recent article on Senate Bill 373 and took action.  It’s gratifying to have had such interest from my readers, and to see that concerned, responsible people can make a difference.

More Help Needed

There is still some work left to do, so I again must ask for your assistance.  Perhaps there is room for improvement – setting up a licensing system for responsible herptoculturists, for example, so that they can continue to work with Boa constrictors. 

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PJAC) has set up a very simple and quick means for you to contact legislators and register your opinion here.  An informative video with detailed information is posted here.

You can also learn more and take action through The National Python and Boa Ban Information Center and The United States Association of Reptile Keepers.



Garter Snakes in Captivity – Diet and Species Accounts – Part 4

Please see Parts I, II and III of this article for more on garter snake care.


In the wild, most garter snakes are opportunistic feeders…even road-killed frogs are taken on occasion (please see Part I).

While most mammal-feeding snakes thrive on rodents alone, in my experience garter snakes do much better when fed a varied diet. This quirk in their husbandry may explain why captives often fail to live as long as might be expected.

Always provide a wide range of foods to your garter snakes.  Earthworms, goldfishes and minnows can form the basis of the diet of most, but individual preferences vary (see species accounts).

Several young common garter snakes under my care relished the grubs of wood-boring beetles, while others refused them.   Smaller species (i.e. Butler’s Garter Snake) often accept insects and slugs.

Garter snakes may be immune to the toxins of amphibians found in their habitats, but not to those of related species.  An aquatic garter snake that can safely feed upon California newts, for example, might be killed upon consuming a Red-spotted Newt.

Garter snakes have fast metabolisms (as snakes go!).  Youngsters and gravid females should be fed every 3-4 days; adults every 5-7 days.

Common Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis

Twelve subspecies of this most frequently kept of the garter snakes range from southern Canada into Mexico.  In the continental USA, it is absent only from New Mexico and Arizona….I know of small populations living in the heart of NYC.

The Eastern Garter Snake (T .s. sirtalis), exhibits the typical yellow-striped, black- spotted garter snake pattern.  Individuals vary widely, however…I’ve come across quite bland and nearly black individuals.  Exceptionally large specimens may approach 4 feet in length, but 24 inches is typical.

Some common garter snake subspecies are considered among the most attractive of all North American snakes.  The Red-sided (T. s. parietalis) Florida or Blue-striped (T. s. simlis) and, especially, the San Francisco (T. s. tetrataenia) Garter Snakes are particularly colorful.

Butler’s Garter Snake, T. buttleri

With an average adult size of 15-18 inches, Butler’s Garter Snake is ideally suited to planted, naturalistic terrariums.  It occupies a range of habitats in the north-central USA and southern Canada, and calms down quickly in captivity.

Aquatic Garter Snake, T. couchi

Aquatic Garter Snakes are always found near water (Oregon to Mexico), where they bask on protruding stumps in the manner of the closely-related water snakes (Nerodia spp).  The Giant Aquatic Garter Snake (T. c. gigas) approaches 5 feet in length.  Aquatic Garter Snakes add fish eggs and leeches to their diets on occasion.

Plains Garter Snake, T. radix

The emergence of thousands of plains garter snakes from hibernation is a tourist attraction in parts of southern Canada.  A toad specialist, captives adapt quickly to a diet of fishes and earthworms.

Western Terrestrial Garter Snake, T. elegans

Coastal Garter SnakeThis species adds a few twists to typical garter snake husbandry – it readily consumes mice and other snakes (including its young), and unreceptive females have been reported to kill over-enthusiastic males.

Eastern and Western Ribbon Snakes, T. sauritus & T. proximus

These thinly built snakes occupy nearly all of the USA, with the Western species reaching Costa Rica.  I have never encountered them far from water, into which they retreat when startled.  Captives fare best on a diet of fish and crayfish.

Further Reading

You can read more about the natural history of the Eastern Garter Snake here.


Garter Snake Eating Frog image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Cjottawa
Coastal Garter Snake image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Steve Jurvetson

Hunting the Huntsman – Keeping the Giant Crab, or Huntsman Spider – Part 1

As a boy, my favorite exotic animal collecting site was, of all places, the loading dock of the local A&P Supermarket.  Raymond Ditmars and other famous city-born naturalists had taken this route, and so I followed.  The store was not far from the Bronx’s Hunts Point Market, where trucks from all over delivered fresh produce. Hidden within the produce crates were the creatures I sought – tree frogs, spiders, lizards, insects and such (I once narrowly missed a Mouse Opossum).  All large spiders were called “Banana Spiders”…one, the Giant Crab or Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda venatoria), appeared on occasion but was always too fast for me.  I became obsessed with this beast, whose leg span approached 6 inches, but, try as I might, I remained crab spider-less.

Meeting Both a Long-Lost Spider and Entomologist

Male Huntsman SpiderIt was to be over 15 years before I next crossed paths with the Huntsman Spider – this time in a Bronx Zoo building (JungleWorld) in which I worked as an animal keeper.  A huge population, having arrived with tropical plants, was established, and I was ecstatic (my mammal-keeping co-workers were far less impressed!).

The spiders were faster than I remembered (and I was slower!)…those I captured had mainly fallen into places from which they could not escape.  They proved surprisingly easy to breed and, once set up in our exhibit area, were very popular with our visitors.

I took a specimen to the American Museum of Natural History, where it was identified as Heteropoda venatoria.  Amazingly, the woman who identified the spider for me was famed invertebrate specialist Alice Gray…while speaking, we discovered that it was she who had answered my mantis rearing questions when I called the museum as a boy, 25 years earlier!

Captive Care

These impressive spiders occasionally appear on the price lists of Florida-based reptile dealers, and they are quite inexpensive.  If a few guidelines are followed, they make fascinating, active terrarium inhabitants, and breed readily.  Once their amazing speed in hunting is seen in action, even die-hard tarantula fans cannot resist them!

I’ll cover the natural history and captive care of Huntsman Spiders in Part II of this article.

Further Reading

An interesting article on this spider’s life cycle is posted at on the website of the Cambridge Entomological Society.


Male Huntsman Spider image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by B. Navez

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