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Handle With Care



Wild tarantulas keep their burrows meticulously clean. They bundle their garbage in silk sacks and leave the package outside their den's entrance. The wind blows it away or the rain washes it down to the local creek. Since Mother Nature isn't able to assist a "domesticated" tarantula with its cleaning regiment, the responsibility falls onto the shoulders of the tarantula's keeper. In Sydney Sue's case, that would be me.

Last week was The Day. This was the first time I've ever done a top-to-bottom cleaning of Sydney Sue's barracks. Armed with Q-Tips, toothpicks and a tiny brush, I set off to detail every nook and cranny of his den. Before any cleaning could commence, however, I needed to temporarily evict Sydney Sue from his house. Trying to clean with him running loose would be stressful for both of us. Besides, tarantulas have been known to steal tools from their keepers:




  © Copyright 2015 Andrea van Veggel. All Rights Reserved.  

Finders keepers!

So how does one get a tarantula out of its burrow? I'm glad you asked! With a firm grip on a soft bristled brush, I gently tapped the back of Sydney Sue's rear legs. The sensation of the brush against his setae was gentle enough to nudge him out his burrow without causing undue stress. Once out of his den, I carefully wrangled him to the top of his burrow. He's remarkably camouflaged against the cork bark:





Sydney Sue is a laid-back fellow which makes it easy to interact with him. Grammostola pulchripes are known within the tarantula community as "gentle giants." We also treat him with a great deal of respect. Tarantulas do not like being held and, as such, Sydney Sue is a "no touch" pet. Unfortunately, too many tarantula keepers think it's "cool" or "brave" to hold their tarantulas. All this does is scare the spider which leads to all sorts of unwanted behavior. For reference, this is a what a healthy, care-free tarantula looks like:

  © Copyright 2015 Julian Kamzol. All Rights Reserved.  

Tarantulas native to North, Central and South America—referred to as "New World" tarantulas—have barbed whiskers on their rump called urticating bristles. If they feel threatened, New World tarantulas "kick" these hairs. The hairs detach from their body and float through the air. If they stick to your skin, they'll cause an itchy rash. If you're unlucky enough to get them in your eyes, they will cause a tremendous amount of pain—and possibly blindness! Urticating bristles do not regrow but are replenished after a molt. If a tarantula kicks off all its hairs because it constantly feels threatened, it will have a bald spot on its butt. In this photo, the tarantula has been severely abused and is extraordinarily stressed:

  © Copyright 2018 lepreskil. All Rights Reserved.  

"Old World" tarantulas—which are native to Africa, India and Asia—do not have urticating bristles. Because they lack this way of protecting themselves, they will immediately defend themselves by biting. Needless to say, a bite from a tarantula is very painful. Their venom isn't deadly, but it will make you feel sick for a few hours. In this video, the tarantula is being taunted by its owner and is extremely upset:

  © Copyright 201o Seb B. All Rights Reserved.  

To be very clear, this is not how a responsible tarantula keeper cares for their pet.

To ensure a stress-free experience, I used the soft bristled brush to slowly guide Sydney Sue from the top of his cork bark cave into a small plastic container. He cautiously crawled into the box and calmly waited while I cleaned his house:


Furthering my theory that tarantulas are just eight-legged kittens, I discovered that Sydney Sue likes to bury his poop. It took some digging but I was able to clean it all out without disturbing too much of his webbing. I found a cricket leg, too:


With everything scrubbed and de-pooped, Sydney Sue slowly walked out of the plastic container and back into his home. He spent a few minutes inspecting my work—then went into his burrow and took a nap. Mission accomplished.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The next morning, Sydney Sue pooped in his back yard. I guess that's what they call "job security." Thanks, little buddy!

Have a fantastic summer, wear lots of suncreen and remember:

Be nice to spiders :)


Spiders From Around The World

Our friend, Adrienne, sent us this fantastic photo of a beautiful Argiope trifasciata from Vietnam. These web-weaving spiders get very big but are absolutely harmless. If you take a hike this summer, you may even see one of its cousins. They are one of the most widely-dispersed genus of orbweavers in the world.

Just be careful not to walk into their web. It's VERY sticky!

  © Copyright 2019 Adrienne Johnson. All Rights Reserved.  
Groundhog Day
The Sydney Sue Instruction Manual

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