On the Genus Brachypelma | Beginner Tarantulas Authored by Elle Mactans
Brachypelma are very easy to care for, and are highly recommended for beginners
The genus Brachypelma was established in 1891 by Eugène Simon for the species Brachypelma emilia, which was called Mygale emilia at the time. Just under 15 years later in 1903, four new species were transferred from Eurypelma to Brachypelma – albiceps, pallidum, smithi, and vagans. At the time of this writing, the genus includes 19 species.
The name Brachypelma is derived from the Greek words brachýs (short) + tò pélma (sole, foot), or “having short soles”/”short-soled”. This genus is very popular in the pet trade due to their easy care, generally docile nature (although some readily kick hairs in annoyance), bright colors, and ease of breeding in captivity. In the wild, however, some are listed as an endangered species due to an increase of agricultural activity and extermination by locals, and the first species (B. smithi) was placed on CITES Appendix II in 1985 (nine more were added in 1994). According to cites.org, Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. It also includes species whose specimens in trade look like those of species listed for conservation reasons. International trade in specimens of Appendix-II species may be authorized by the granting of an export permit or re-export certificate. No import permit is necessary for these species under CITES (although a permit is needed in some countries that have taken stricter measures than CITES requires). Permits or certificates should only be granted if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild. For a comprehensive explanation of CITES and how it affects Brachypelma, go to The CITES Debacle. All Brachypelma spp. are CITES species following the advice of Rick West, and have led to a few court cases.
Brachypelma spp. are very easy to care for, and are highly recommended for beginners. Size of species range from about a 4.5”-6.5” leg span, and are extremely slow-growing. Females generally reach sexual maturity around 7 to 10 years of age, and can live for 20-30 years in captivity. Males generally mature after about 5 to 7 years old (more or less, depending on how often they’re fed). Aside from developing tibial apophyses (or tibial hooks) and palpal emboli, Brachypelma are not sexually dimorphic. The species available in the pet trade can be divided into two groups, in regards to husbandry – those requiring lower humidity (about 60-65%), and those requiring higher humidity (about 75-85%). All are terrestrial and can be kept between 75-85° F, and require an enclosure filled with at least 4-6” of substrate that’s at least 2-3 times the leg span of the animal, with an appropriately-sized hide and a water dish. If using an aquarium/tank with high walls instead of a plastic terrarium, adding more than 6” of substrate is recommended, to lessen the distance the animal would possibly fall should it decide to climb the walls and accidentally lose its grip.
The frequency of feeding this genus can vary depending on the size of the animal. A healthy weight for any tarantula is where the abdomen is about the same size as the carapace (head) or slightly larger. Feeding a tarantula too often will result in obesity, which, besides being unhealthy for any animal, puts the animal at risk of injury or possibly death from falling after climbing the walls of its enclosure. The pedicel is the thin membrane connecting the two halves of the body, and is easily ripped or ruptured, resulting in the tarantula bleeding out and dying. Injuries to the exoskeleton are much more easily fixed and not as serious as that of those to the pedicel.
Aside from obesity and risking injury, overfeeding will also shorten the lifespan of the tarantula. The more frequently a tarantula is fed, the more frequently it molts. The more frequently it molts, the faster it grows and reaches adulthood. The sooner it reaches adulthood, the sooner the end of its life approaches. This is most easily seen and proved in the lives of male tarantulas. I’ve come across a few individuals who, through either intention or ignorance, power fed (very frequent feeding) their tarantulas. In some cases, it was a few times a week, but in one case, it was as often as every single day. In the latter case, the individual had acquired a B. albopilosum as a very small sling (spiderling). He was given some very incorrect information and had fed it every day for just over a year. In that year, the animal went from a .5” leg span to a mature male and had reached the end of his life, when he could have lived for at least another 5 years had he been cared for properly.
Feeding based on abdomen size, instead of on a schedule, is the best way to prevent obesity. My Brachy slings are generally fed every 2-4 weeks, juvies every 4-6 weeks, and adults every 2-3 months. The size of prey used is ideally approximately the same size as the abdomen. After molting, wait about 1-3 weeks (depending on size) for the exoskeleton to harden before feeding.
HISTORY, DESCRIPTION, GEOGRAPHY, AND ETYMOLOGY OF SPECIES
Brachypelma albiceps (Mexican golden redrump/Mexican black and gold redrump) was described by Pocock in 1903. This species has had many names over the years, from being misidentified in 1897 as Eurypelma pallidum, officially first described in 1903 as Brachypelma albiceps, moved to Aphonopelma albiceps in 1995, Brachypelmides ruhnaui in 1997, back to Aphonopelma albiceps in 2000, to Brachypelmides albiceps in 2005, and finally re-described as Brachypelma albiceps by Locht et al. in 2005.
B. albiceps is found in the Balsas dry forest, at an altitude of over 3,300 feet, in the mountainous region of Venta del Zopilote, Eduardo Neri, Guerrero (about 140 miles north of Acapulco), where it is extremely hot and dry. Average temperatures range from about 77°-81°F in the winter and 82°-84°F in the summer.
This species, along with B. annitha and B. auratum, are the largest species of the genus. The name albiceps comes from the Latin words albus (white) and ceps (headed), or “white-headed”, in reference to the light colored carapace, which beautifully contrasts their thick black legs and red rump. Eggsacs yield approximately 400-600 slings.
Brachypelma albopilosum (Honduran curlyhair) was described by Valerio in 1980 as Brachypelma albopilosa from Costa Rica. In 1992, it was re-described by Schmidt as Brachypelma albopilosum in 1992. The type species is from Caño Rito, Upala, Alajuela, in Northern Costa Rica, and is part of a tropical moist forest. The region consists mainly of vast plains and is flooded by seasonal rains in the late spring. The temperature stays about the same all year, at an average of 80°F. This species should be kept at a higher humidity than most other Brachy species, with levels at around 80% and substrate kept constantly damp.
B. albopilosum “Honduras” is very popular in the hobby. Captive forms have color variations in the carapace, and are less fuzzy than their recently wild caught counterparts, or are completely lacking the “messy hair” look that this species is known for, as it’s highly hybridized in the hobby between other species in the genera (especially B. vagans). The name albopilosum comes from the Latin words albus (white) and pilosus (haired), or “white-haired”, in reference to the light colored long setae covering its body. Eggsacs yield as few as 300 slings to as many as 1,000 or more.
Brachypelma andrewi (no common name) is a mystery species. There isn’t much information available on this species, including the type location, and is supposedly a synonym of Aphonopelma truncata. Despite information being virtually nonexistent, the species has bounced back and forth between two names since its description in 1992 as Euathlus truculentus. Later that same year, it was changed to Brachypelma andrewi, then back to Euathlus truculentus in 1997, then returned to Brachypelma andrewi (as per a revision by Schmidt) in 2003.
Brachypelma annitha (Mexican giant redknee, giant orange-knee) was described in 1997 by Tesmoingt, Cléton, & Verdez from confiscated material of an illegal import.
B. annitha is found in a dry deciduous forest in Guerrero, Mexico, in about the same area as B. alticeps. This species is seldom found in the hobby, and is often confused with B. smithi (in the past, it was considered a color form of B. smithi), however there are a couple visual differences between the two species. The coloring on the legs is another differing characteristic; the red bands on the legs of B. annitha are thicker and more bright than those of B. smithi. The carapace coloring is another way to tell the difference between B. annitha and B. smithi, however it’s worth noting the carapace pattern of these two species can vary and is not necessarily a solid way to obtain an ID. The carapace of B. smithi is usually almost completely black, and the carapace of B. annitha has a black triangle on the front, much like that of B. emilia, but lighter and with faded borders, although sometimes the carapace will resemble that of B. smithi, and sometimes it won’t have any black at all. This species is named after Annita Caron, from the Pasteur Institute of Lille, France.
Brachypelma auratum (Mexican flameknee, Mexican fireknee) was described in 1992 by Schmidt. For years, this species was known as the highland form of B. smithi, despite the fact that they’re found below 1,900 feet.
Like B. albiceps, B. auratum is found in the Balsas dry forest, where temps can reach 116°F. This species is exceptionally beautiful, slightly more nervous than other Brachypelma, and can be kept the same way as B. smithi. The name auratum comes from the Latin word aur(e)atus, meaning “gilded” or “golden”.Brachypelma aureoceps (Florida golden chestnut) was described in 1917 by Chamberlin from a single female specimen. The type locality (Tortuga Island, Florida, USA) has more likely been listed incorrectly, as there are no tarantulas native to Florida. No other new information about its habitat and findings is known, and it’s best labeled as nomen dubium (Latin for “doubtful name”) until revision work is published. Originally described as Eurypelma aureoceps, it was moved to Brachypelma in 1993 (as per Schmidt’s revision). The name aureoceps comes from the Latin words aureus (golden) and ceps (headed).
Brachypelma baumgarteni (Mexican orange beauty) was described in 1993 by Smith, and was named after Marc Baumgarten, who supplied the type specimen. The type location is listed as Michoacán, Mexico.
B. baumgarteni is found specifically in the foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur, in the tropical sub-humid forest along the coast of Michoacán. The western part of the state registers fairly high temperatures, regularly exceeding 86°F, and will reach over 105°F in the summer. The Eastern border for the distribution of B. boehmei is the river Balsas, and the Sierra Madre del Sur in the North. In the West, B. baumgarteni is sympatric with the Colima population of B. smithi.
For many years, it was thought that B. baumgarteni was a sterile hybrid cross between B. smithi and B. boehmei, however, in 2004, Eddy Hijmensen produced a sac with over 450 spiderlings, proving that the species isn’t sterile. This species is not common in the hobby, as captive breedings are not frequent, and can be kept the same as B. smithi.
Brachypelma boehmei (Mexican fireleg) was described in 1993 by Schmidt and Klass. The description is based on a dead male and the exuviae of a female, and was named after K. Böhme, who collected and imported them.
B. boehmei is found in the tropical sub-humid forest along the hot and rainy Pacific coast of Guerrero, with year-round temps of at least 64°F, and summer temps averaging 86°F . The river Balsas is the Western border of B. boehmei, which is also the border between the states of Michoacán in the West and Guerrero in the East. The range of B. boehmei goes South along the Pacific coast until it hits the range of B. smithi, and in the North, the Sierra Madre del Sur Mountains separates B. boehmei from B. auratum.
This species is very popular in the hobby, although slightly nervous and can be more prone to kicking hair than other species, and can be kept the same way as B. smithi. Egg sacs yield approximately 400-600 slings.
Brachypelma emilia (Mexican redleg, Mexican rustleg) was described in 1856 by White under the name Mygale emilia, from material received from Dr. Seemann.
B. emilia has the Northernmost range of all Brachypelma, following the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental in the states of Nayarit and Sinaloa. The lowlands of Nayarit consist of Sinaloa dry forest, with yearly temperatures range from about 68°F to 110°F, and a rainy season in the summer months.
This is another very popular species to keep in captivity, and are extremely docile and highly recommended for beginner keepers. They can be kept the same way as B. smithi, with slightly lower humidity. The species has ping-ponged between a few name changes over the years, from its original description of Mygale emilia in 1856, Brachypelma aemilia in 1891, Eurypelma emilia in 1897, Brachypelma emilia in 1896, Euathlus emilia in 1993, and finally to Brachypelma emilia in 1995 (as per a revision by Smith).
Brachypelma epicureanum (Yucatan rustrump, Belizean black) was described in 1925 by Chamberlin. The type specimen came from Chichen Itza, the Mayan ruins in Tinúm Municipality, Yucatán State, Mexico.
The tip of the Yucatan Peninsula consists of scrubland, creating an island of dry forest with a lot of unique flora and fauna, with average temperatures between 77°F and 86°F.
This species looks very similar to B. vagans, but slightly smaller in size. They are sympatric with B. vagans, and can be kept the same way. It’s undergone just a few name changes since being described as Eurypelma epicureana in 1925, to Dugesiella eepicureana in 1939, to Brachypelma apicureana in 1993 (as per Smith’s revision). The name epicureanum comes from the Latinization of the name of the Greek philosopher Epicurus.
Brachypelma fossorium was described by Valerio in 1980. The type species is from Costa Rica, but not much else is known about the species.
This is a small species, reaching a leg span of under 4.75”, and is found in humid rainforests of Filadelfia, in the province of Guanacaste. Temperatures average from about 80°F-82°F in the rainy season, and 93°F-97°F in the summer. If it is kept in the hobby at all, it’s extremely rare. The name fossorium comes from the Latin word fossorius, meaning “digging” (specifically, the act of digging a grave).
Brachypelma hamorii was described in 1997 by Tesmoingt, Cléton, and Verdez. The type location is listed only as Mexico. There is virtually no information available on this species, and could have possibly been a B. smithi mistaken for another species.
Brachypelma kahlenbergi (New Mexican) was described in 2008 by Rudloff and named it after the German tarantula dealer Herwig Kahlenberg, who was the first person to recognize that it was an undescribed species of Brachypelma.
B. kahlenbergi is found in the moist forest of Veracruz, Mexico, which sees more rain than the Pacific coast – between 43 and 63 inches a year, and average temps of 69°F to 85°F. This is a fairly small species, very visually similar to B. vagans, and can be kept the same way.Brachypelma klaasi (Mexican pink) was described in 1994 as Brachypelmides klaasi. It was moved to Brachypelma the next year, as per a revision by Smith. The species is named in honor of Peter Klaas, who collected the first female to be described.
B. klaasi is distributed in a small area of Colima and Jalisco along the Pacific coast in the Jalisco dry forest, where the temperature varies between 63°F to 91°F, with a rainy season in the late summer to early fall. There are two color forms noted – a redder form dwelling high in the mountains, and a more orange form found along the coast. This species isn’t commonly found in the hobby, although absolutely gorgeous and relatively docile, and can be kept the same way as B. smithi. Eggsacs yield about 400-800 slings.
Brachypelma sabulosum (Guatemalan redrump) was described in 1897 by F.O.P.-Cambridge under the name Eurypelma sabulosum. The type species is from Tikal, in Guatemala.
B. sabulosum is found in the tropical forest of Petén, Guatemala, and possibly ranges into Mexico. Temperature ranges from about 69°F to 90°F, and with 39-94 inches of rain each year, this species prefers more moisture and humidity than the other species of Brachypelma. Little is known about the species as a whole, including distribution.
This species is very visually similar to B. vagans, although not commonly found in the hobby (what is found are hobby hybrids and not the real B. sabulosum), and can be kept the same way as B. albopilosum. It was described in 1897 as Eurypelma sabulosum, then switched to Delopelma sabulosum, which was made a junior synonym of the name it’s current name in 1989. The name sabulosum comes from the Latin word sabulosus, or “sand rich”, after the composition of the soil in the area.
Brachypelma schroederi (Mexican black velvet) was described in 2003 by Rudloff, and is named after Steffen Schröeder, the spider enthusiast/breeder.
Although the description of the paper lists the type site as “close to Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico”, they’re actually found in the central valley in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, in the Southern Pacific dry forest. With lows of 64°F and highs of 113°F, and only 31 inches of rainfall annually, this is the most dry-loving species of Brachypelma.
This species is very dark-bodied, like B. vagans without the red rump, and can be kept the same way.
Brachypelma smithi (Mexican redknee) was described in 1897 by F.O.P.-Cambridge under the name Eurypelma smithi. The type material was collected in Dos Arroyos, Guerrero, Mexico.
Two distributions for B. smithi have been described – one around Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico (where the type site is located), and another in Colima, Mexico. The two sites are separated by the river Balsas in Michoacán, and the animals have slight variations between each other. The Guerrero form looks fuzzier than the Colima form, with more vibrant colors, and does not have black setae around the red flame pattern on the patella (knee).
Colima: Colima and Michoacán are found along the Pacific coast in a tropical sub-humid forest. Temperatures range from a low of 63°F and a high of 91°F, and the rainy season lasts almost half a year. This is the form that’s found in the European and American hobby.
Guerrero: Just Northeast of Acapulco is Dos Arroyos, Guerrero, Mexico. The foothills of the sierra Madre del Sur is the type location of this form. The habitat here is dry deciduous forest, with temperatures ranging from 60°F to 87°F.
The Colima form of B. smithi is the most iconic, recognizable species, and often used in movies due to their gorgeous coloring and docile nature. They’re easy to breed in captivity, with eggsacs containing about 200-400 spiderlings. They can be kept at low humidity of around 60-75% and reach a leg span of about 5-6”. The species has gone through a few name changes, from its original description as Eurypelma smithi to Brachypelma smithi in 1903, Euathlus smithi in 1993, and back to Brachypelma smithi in 1995 (as per Smith’s revision).
Brachypelma vagans (Mexican redrump, Mexican black velvet) was described in 1875 by Ausserer as Eurypelma vagans, from specimens in Keyserling’s collection, collected in Yucatan and Neu Granada. In 1897, F.O.P.-Cambridge re-described the type material and added details on specimens collected by Smith from Dos Arroyos, Guerrero, Mexico and Teapa, Tabasco, Mexico.
New Granada (which is now called Colombia) is quite a distance from all of the other known Brachypelma sites, and is most likely a labeling error. The type male came from Yucatan, which is now divided into three states. The more recent descriptions of B. schroederi, B. verdezi, and B. kahlenbergi (once thought to be B. vagans) makes the distribution range of B. vagans smaller than what was first though, however it is still large – ranging from the Yucatan Peninsula into Guatemala and Belize.
In 1996, there was a finding of about 100 specimens of various sizes of B. vagans in St. Lucie County, west of Fort Pierce, Florida. The population was found by citrus grove workers, in a 40-acre citrus grove surrounded by irrigation fields on the south and west. Several specimens were collected and studied, and although it’s unknown exactly how they came to be introduced into the area, one theory was that a gravid female was released, and given the known maturation time of the species, it was estimated that they had been there since at least 1986. Eradication has been attempted, and has so far been unsuccessful at the time of a report written in 2003 and reviewed in 2014. It is unclear what affect the population will have on native wildlife.
This species is very popular in the hobby, and are easily bred in captivity, with eggsacs averaging 100-300 spiderlings. Humidity levels should be at about 80%. They’re slightly more nervous than the other popular species, and have been hybridized in captivity with other species in the same genus, most notably other red rumped species, as they look very visually similar. All of the red rumped Brachypelma spp. in the hobby are not pure, and many dishonest dealers sell vagans hybrids as the rare and expensive species not found in the hobby. Both hobby form and wild species have variations in carapace color and spermathecae shape. The name vagans comes from the Latin word vagare, meaning “wanderer”, or “to roam”.
Brachypelma verdezi (Mexican rose grey) was described in 2003 by Schmidt, and named after the French tarantula breeder Jean-Michel Verdez. The type locality is listed only as Guerrero, south of Toluca. B. verdezi is found sympatric with B. smithi in Guerrero around Acapulco. The habitat is dry deciduous forest, with temperatures ranging from 60°F to 87°F. This species was formerly known in the hobby as Brachypelma sp. “Pallidum”, and can be kept in the same way as B. vagans.