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

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

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bobisbob

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 »

Insects, Spiders, Other Invertebrates Have Distinct Personalities – New Research

FirebugMost invertebrate keepers have noticed that individuals of the same species often behave quite differently under the same circumstances.  For example, one Giant Bird-Eating Spider might feed in broad daylight and be content to remain in the open, while another refuses to eat unless provided with a deep burrow and complete darkness – I can recall countless similar observations.  Does this mean that these “simple” creatures have personalities?  According to a recent study, the answer may be “yes”…

How Does One Test Insect Personalities?

An article published in the September, 2010 issue of The Proceedings of the Royal Society (B), reveals that individual insects exhibit distinct personality traits, and that these traits remain consistent in different situations. Read More »

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

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