Southern California & Tarantulas
The Aphonopelma genus has 90 described species distributed through North & South America as well as Central America, & Mexico. For our purposes we are concerned with the two species which occur in San Diego, California.
They are Aphonopelma eutylenum known commonly as the California Ebony Tarantula and Aphonopelma reversum known as the San Diego Bronze Tarantula. Both species are considered to be semi-arid species and are terrestrial in habitat requirements. Being terrestrial species they are burrowers. Some say they will “Survive quite happily in captivity without a burrow. ”That’s the stupidest statement I’ve heard all week! If we know the species to be a burrowing species why the hell wouldn’t you provide them access or the means to create a burrow? I mean really, that’s just a dumb move. In a direct effort to combat this kind of misinformation we have created the following article to assist you in keeping these species. The care requirements for both are the same, so we’re not going break it down to the proverbial ‘gnat’s ass’ when it comes to caring for and setting up a terrarium for these tarantulas.
For this and other terrestrial species of Tarantula, provide as much floor space as possible to roam in. They are not going to be out cruising the terrarium on a regular basis as do other species, they are a reserved tarantula that hangs out in their burrow most times. You could get away with a 5 gallon terrarium but we recommend a ten gallon ‘breeder’ terrarium which has the same floor space as a regular ten gallon but is shorter. Both species attain an adult size of only a few inches so there is no reason to worry about them climbing up onto the screen and possibly injuring themselves should they fall.
We use a mixed substrate of ¾ organic potting soil and ¼ washed play sand. We find this provides both the humidity and is a more natural representation of what they would be found in the wild. This substrate once mixed is not prone to drying out and therefore doesn’t require you to spray the terrarium on a regular basis. We still spray lightly once a week to make sure that the stubborn Tarantula who refuses to drink from the provided water dish is getting the moisture they need. In order to provide drinking water provide shallow ceramic dish. The dish should be slightly buried into the substrate so that the Tarantula can stand over it and drink.
As far as the burrow is concerned we use old paper towel rollscut to fit and angled at about 45 degrees. It’s easier to put the tube in prior to substrate being added as the substrate will support the tube. We usually put in about 3-5” of substrate into the enclosure. A hide is not necessary but one can be provided over the entrance of the cardboard tube for added security.
Feeding the Aphonopelma sp. can be a trying experience as they are known to go off feed for periods of months. When they are feeding they will take any invertebrate that they can overpower as do other tarantulas species. With the ones we have cared for we offered crickets and roaches about every three days. To vary the diet you can also add Grasshoppers to the menu which can be ordered online. Never offer insects that were caught outside, these may have come into contact with a pesticide or insecticide which may injure or kill your tarantula.
We come now to the all important fact of venom vs. poison. Let me put it like this no spider or scorpion on the face of the planet is poisonous! These creatures are venomous. If you are scratching your head right now then click this link and get the facts on the differences between poison and venom.
Typically speaking most people who are envenomated by a Tarantula are going to feel pain of course but they will not suffer any life threatening results. Now then, there are those out there who are allergic to certain venoms etc. The only way to know is to actually get envenomated and then wait for the reaction to occur, for obvious reasons we do not recommend getting yourself envenomated to find out. Consider this the stupid warning on the hair dryer that tells you ‘Do not use around running water’ the reason it’s there is because somebody has tried it. Enough soap boxing.
The décor we use consists of a piece of Ocotillo or other branch and some medium pieces of thin flagstone which will have their tops exposed. These should stand vertically on the bottom of the enclosure floor, not the substrate, but the floor of the enclosure, you don’t want to have one topple onto a burrowing tarantula. We use these elements to enrich the Tarantulas home rather than giving them a sterile environment. You can also add a plant which is suitable for semi-arid environment such as a cactus species. If you do use a plant I would definitely keep it in the pot. This will make it easier to maintain when it comes to cleaning the enclosure which is only about once every few months.
I have heard it said that these species can be somewhat defensive. In our experience as long as you respect them they are generally a very tractable species which you can handle without issue. If they do become defensive, they will usually rear up on their hind legs and raise their forelegs to show that they are irritated. They usually reserve flicking their urticating hairs for actual predators which are trying to eat them.
If you happen to come across either of these species in the local pet shop which, as far as I know is pretty rare; pick it up. You’ll enjoy them I’m sure. They are extremely long-lived in captivity some reports say up to 30 years. They are both beautiful species which are not as demanding as the other tropical and arboreal species when it comes to care and they stay relatively small so there is no need for an extravagant enclosure to house them. For more information try this great book! Tarantulas (Herpetocultural Library). If you’re looking for great enclosures, substrates, and all the other essential supplies such as food etc jump on over to the Reptile Apartment Group Complete Herpetoculture Store.