Tarantula Care and Habits – Useful Facts for those with Pet Tarantulas

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Over 900 of the world’s 40,000+ spider species are commonly known as tarantulas (family Theraphosidae).  Among them we find a staggering diversity of sizes, colors, and lifestyles, and many species that make interesting, long-lived pets.  In the early 1980’s, I had the chance to work with the huge collection of a long-time friend, now a noted arachnologist.  Several species in that collection were (and remain) little known in the hobby or zoos.

Goliath Bird Eater

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Today, a wide variety of pet tarantulas, including such long-time favorites as the Mexican Red Leg (Brachypelma), Chilean Rose-Haired (Grammostola), Pink Toed (Avicularia) and the massive Goliath Bird-eating Tarantula (Theraphosa blondii), are now regularly bred by hobbyists.  The key to success with tarantulas is an understanding of their lives in the wild.  Following is an overview; please remember that tarantulas are an extraordinarily diverse group, so details will vary.  Please post below for information on individual species.

Unique Characteristics

While the fangs, or chelicerae, of typical spiders move from side-to-side when grasping prey, those of tarantulas are employed in a downward strike.  Tarantulas are also distinguished from other spiders by their unusual respiratory organs, known as book lungs, and by the presence of 2 claws and adhesive pads on the tips of the legs.  The defensive, urticating hairs of New World species are also unique among spiders (please see “Handling”, below).

One typically sees tarantulas referred to as “primitive” spiders, but they quite successful (please see “Range and Habitat”), and may be the dominant invertebrate predators in many environments.

Females of several species may live into their 30’s, while males rarely exceed 1- 4 years of age. Read More »

New Species – Poison Frog Inhabits a “Lost World” in Guyana Rainforest

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Researchers working in a little-studied rainforest have uncovered a minute Poison Frog that seems restricted to a tiny range within a very unique habitat.  Labeled a “micro-endemic”, the newly-described frog may be threatened by plans to encourage ecotourism in the area.  Its species name, “assimibilis”, means “that may disappear”.  The region in which it lives, northern South America’s Guyana Shield, is home to 148 amphibian and 176 reptile species…and herpetologists believe that many more await discovery

Allobates femoralis

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A Biodiversity Hotspot

The term “lost world” was first applied to the Guyana Shield (please see photo) in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic 1912 book of the same name, and biologists find it equally appropriate today.  Home to 25% of the world’s undisturbed tropical rainforests, the area supports a mind-boggling array of unique animals and plants.

Included among herps described so far are 11 caecilians, 4 crocodilians, 4 amphisbaenians (worm lizards, please see photo), 97 snakes and 56 lizards.  Many of the 137 resident frogs are endemic (found nowhere else), as are approximately 15% of the reptiles.  Some are known from only 1-5 specimens, and it is assumed that many have yet to be seen by herpetologists. Read More »

Boa Care – Emerald Tree Boa Terrariums, Husbandry and Diet

Boa Care: Emerald Tree Boa Terrariums, Husbandry and Diet

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  The breathtakingly-beautiful Emerald Tree Boa (Corallus caninus) has long topped snake enthusiasts’ wish lists.  Demanding husbandry requirements and a somewhat surly disposition adds to its mystique.  I’ve had some success in breeding this species in zoos, and private keepers have made important strides in recent years, but misconceptions and information gaps persist.  Today we’ll discuss Emerald Tree Boa care; please look for my article on its interesting natural history in the near future.

Emerald Tree Boa

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The Terrarium

Cage height is an important factor.  Observations of animals kept in small enclosures have led to this snake being labeled as “sedentary”, but those in large, complex habitats move about quite a bit.

An enclosure measuring measuring 4 feet by 3 feet x 4 feet in height is ideal for a large adult.  Males and smaller females may get by in 75-100 gallon aquariums turned on their narrow ends, but custom-made cages are a much better option.

Cages that open from the front are preferable, as Emerald Tree Boas are stressed by approaches from above (perhaps because birds of prey are their major predators).  In front-opening terrariums, they will often remain on their perches while the cage is serviced (sparing snake and snake-keeper stress and injury!).  A variety of commercial cages are suitable for youngsters.

Cage Furniture

Well-anchored branches of varying thicknesses, both forked and straight, should be installed.  Emerald Tree Boas often coil at the spot where 2 forks of a branch diverge, so be sure to include several.

Pots of tall, sturdy live plants (philodendron, small ficus trees, snake plants) should be placed about the cage to provide security and aid in humidity control.  Artificial plants hung from branches and the cage top can also be used as cover (I favor this model).

Along Amazon

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Substrate

Newspapers and washable terrarium liners work well as substrates in aquariums.  In larger enclosures, cypress mulch or forest floor bedding will allow for easy spot-cleaning and help to raise the humidity level.

Light

UVB exposure is not required, but UVA bulbs may encourage natural behavior, and will bring out the true beauty of their coloration.  A day/night schedule of 12:12 hours should be maintained.  Red/black reptile “night bulbs” will allow you to observe nocturnal behavior.

Heat

This species is closely associated with rainforests in most keepers’ minds, and this sometimes leads to a misunderstanding of their needs. Arboreal snakes experience greater temperature and humidity fluctuations than do terrestrial snakes living in the same habitats.  Emerald Tree Boas prefer cooler temperatures than one might imagine.

Incandescent bulbs should be used to maintain a temperature of 75-77 F, and a basking spot of 85 F.  At night, a dip to 72 F is beneficial  A ceramic heater or red/black reptile “night bulb” can be used to provide heat after dark.

Large enclosures are necessary if a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures) is to be established.  Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow snakes to regulate their body temperature by moving from hot to cooler areas.

Humidity

These moist-forest denizens (please see photo of typical habitat) require humidity levels that fluctuate between 60 and 90%. Humidity can be increased via manual spraying, moistening the substrate and commercial reptile misters.  Humidity should be highest during the day, and decline with the temperature at night.

Wet conditions and stagnant air will lead to skin diseases.   Ample air flow, often overlooked in the past, is now recognized as critical to good health.  The terrarium’s top should not be covered with glass to increase humidity; a small fan may be employed to circulate air if necessary.

mediaFeeding

Emerald Tree Boas are best offered food via tongs.  Slowly moving the food in front of the snake, or lightly touching the jaws or body, often induces a strike.  Juveniles feed primarily upon lizards and frogs, and many refuse mice.  Scenting small mice (fuzzies or hoppers) with a lizard or shed lizard skin may be helpful.

Chicks, quail, gerbils or (for newborns) house geckos may spur picky feeders to take a meal.  In time, these can be used to scent mice.

A Note on Meal Size and Frequency

Meal size is an important factor in maintaining good health.  Always use smaller food items than you might for similarly-sized snakes of other species.  Half-grown rats suffice for even the largest individuals.  Regurgitation, a very common ailment, seems linked to overly-large meals and excess food intake.

Emerald Tree Boas have extremely efficient, and somewhat “slow”, digestive systems, and do not usually defecate after each meal.  They need comparatively little food, and typically regurgitate if overfed.  Snakes confined in small cages that do not allow for sufficient movement often have trouble passing fecal material.  Forcing the animal to swim may help.

Newborns should be fed every 10 days; juveniles at 2 week intervals.  Adults require, on average, 2 mice or a small rat every 3 weeks.

Water

A bowl should be provided, but most individuals will only take water that is sprayed onto their bodies and the foliage.  Some will drink from a watering can tilted in front of the mouth.  Punctured plastic containers placed on the cage’s top and small waterfalls may also be utilized.

It can be difficult to provide enough water via misting.  Dehydration, indicated by skin ridges and sunken eyes, is not uncommon.  At the Bronx Zoo, I’ve injected water into dead rats to accommodate Amethystine Pythons and other reluctant drinkers.  Please post below for details.

Handling

Although individuals vary, Emerald Tree Boas rarely accept handling and will bite if forcibly removed from their perches.  Their teeth, some of which may reach 2 inches in length, can inflict serious injuries, especially if an eye or nerve is struck.  In common with many arboreal snakes, they have quite a long strike range. Emerald Tree Boas are best considered as animals to observe and study rather than handle.

Detachable perches simplify handling, as some individuals will remain immobile if perch and snake are relocated together.  Still, a shield and/or a snake hook should be kept between yourself and the animal.  Others can be induced to leave their perches and climb onto a hook, but experience is needed.  Constructing the cage in a way that allows for cleaning without moving the snake will limit stress and strikes.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.  Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

 

Further Reading

Natural History & Care of Boa Constrictors & Related Snakes

Breeding Brazilian and Colombian Rainbow Boas

Automatic Feeders – Turtle and Newt Pellet Dispenser and Foraging Toy

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Vacation feeders and “toys” for turtles…reptile care supplies certainly have come a long way since I started on my pet care and zoo-keeping career! Today I’d like to highlight two new automatic feeders designed especially for turtles (I believe both will be useful for African Clawed Frogs, Mexican Axolotls, newts and larger fishes as well).  Exo Terra’s Automatic Feeder represents a great step forward in turtle care, allowing for 4 daily feedings of different foods over an extended period of time.  The Zoo Med Floating Turtle Feeder, while not technically a “toy”, will keep you and your turtles entertained. Similar to behavioral enrichment tools and activities I employed at the Bronx Zoo, this feeder forces turtles to “work” for their meals, thereby encouraging activity and foraging behaviors. Read More »

Reeve’s Turtle – Perfect Pet Turtles for Red Eared Slider Fans

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  The Reeve’s Turtle, Mauremys reevesii, (a/k/a Chinese Three-Keeled Pond Turtle, Japanese Coin Turtle, Golden Turtle) was one of the first Asian species available to aspiring herpetologists of my generation.  Early-on, I found it to be as hardy, even-tempered and willing to breed as the Red-eared Slider, but easier to accommodate in, especially for one with limited space.  In time, it appeared less often in the trade, and my work with rarer Asian turtles at the Bronx Zoo kept the species “off my radar” for some years.  Today I’m happy to see that both new and experienced turtle fans are again keeping this fascinating denizen of East Asia’s wetlands.  In my opinion, Reeve’s Turtles make better “first reptile pets” than does the slider, yet is interesting enough for the most advanced turtle-enthusiasts.  Today I’ll review its care and natural history…please post your own thoughts and experiences below.

Reeves Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Σ64

Description

Reeve’s Turtles vary from tan to black in carapace color, with many sporting a pleasing combination of several shades, and the head and neck are marked with broken yellow lines.  The carapace’s 3 sharp keels lend interest to its appearance.  Most top out at 5 inches in length, but I’ve seen a number of 8-9 inch long individuals.  Some Japanese populations produce turtles in the 12 inch range.

Color, pattern, size and head width vary widely across the huge range.  Although 1 species is recognized at present, genetic evaluation may lead to the naming of additional species or sub-species. Read More »

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