Welcome to part three of my series where each time I focus on one tarantula in my collection. The photos used are of my actual tarantulas and the information I include is based on my own experiences. Please keep in mind that my experiences may differ from yours so just because I say it here does not mean that it is set in stone. I am just sharing what works for me.
Classics just never go out of style. This is true with most things, including tarantulas. When my parents bought me my first tarantula in 1977 it was a Brachypelma smithi (pronounced braa-kee-PEL-muh SMITH-ee) and at the time, it was pretty much the only species available at pet stores. Prior to seeing the adult female in the pet store I had never really thought of owning a tarantula. In fact, even though I have had a lifelong interest in invertebrates, spiders were never a favorite. Though I always appreciated and respected their importance, the fear of being bit always placed some distance between me and those eight-legged creatures. When I saw that beautiful spider for the first time I knew right then and there that I wanted one and my parents did what all good pet owners do; they bought me a book.
“All About Tarantulas” by Dale Lund was the only book of its kind available when my interest began and I read it cover to cover, over and over again. I still have this book in my collection though now it is more for nostalgic purposes than anything else as most of the book is inaccurate. From using fish gravel as a substrate to including potted cactus in the enclosure, I’m surprised anyone was successful keeping tarantulas alive. A fall onto hard gravel could seriously hurt a tarantula and the barbs on the cactus could easily pierce the skin of the abdomen. I give Mr. Lund credit though, he did something that no one else at the time did. He opened our eyes to these very fascinating and beautiful animals, even if most of the species in the book are horribly misidentified and to this day I question if the Red-Knee used in the pictures was even alive as it always looked like a posed, dead specimen to me.
When I brought her home I became instantly hooked and had Fang for 15 years before she died, despite keeping her under less than optimal conditions thanks to what I was reading. At the time of her death smithis were no longer being exported out of Mexico thanks to being placed on CITES listed as near threatened thanks to over collecting. This happened in 1985. Thankfully, due to captive-breeding programs, this species is now readily available.
This species will always be one of my favorites, not only for its docile disposition but because it was the first species I ever kept. They are beautifully colored terrestrials, though not as vibrant as the closely related Brachypelma auratum. They are long-lived, a great trait in a pet species.
Mine seems to be more opportunistic in its housing as opposed to being a burrower. It’s enclosure currently has about 3″ of Exo-Terra Eco-Earth as it is still relatively small. When I go to re-house it, not only will the enclosure be larger but the substrate will also be deeper. I have a half log hide in there that it seems to like going into and I have yet to see any signs of burrowing or webbing. I keep the substrate dry and the temperature between 70 and 75 degrees, with 75% humidity. I do provide a water dish with fresh water constantly and I have seen them drink from it. On occasion when filling the water bowl I do let it overflow into the substrate.
I feed my tarantulas once a week and they get 2-3 size-appropriate crickets at each feeding. Smithi almost always immediately grabs one or two to eat. The one I have now has shown no signs of aggression and doesn’t seem to mind handling, though I do not make a habit of it. It also seems to be reluctant to flick urticating hairs, a common trait with this species.
I have raised a few of these from spiderlings and the growth rate is at a medium speed and seems to be based on temperatures and frequency of feeding. Warmer temperatures means eating more and growing faster. After a molt the colors are fresh and vibrant and the orange and black contrast is stunning. Even though the orange eventually fades to brown, it is still an amazing species to look at. Mine is out in the open very often, retreating to its hide only if startled.
Overall this is a great beginner’s spider as long as you keep in mind that the hairs are urticating. They are fun to watch and get a decent size, often exceeding six inches. This is definitely a species that needs continued efforts when it comes to captive breeding. This truly is the species that started it all and every collection needs at least one!
View the rest of the series here:
Part 1: Lasiodorides striatus
Part 2: Euathlus sp. red