Beginner Tarantulas part 1 – The Arboreals: Avicularia species

First published in Herpetoculture House Digital Magazine vol. 2 issue 6

 

One of the most popular and recognizable tarantulas in the hobby is the well known Avicularia versicolor, commonly named the Antilles pink toe tarantula, Martinique pink toe, or Martinique red tree spider. Pink toes are so named due to their pink foot pads. This brilliantly colored species and it's slightly duller cousins make great pets due to their generally docile nature. They are not prone to biting or kicking out urticating hairs and when threatened prefer to escape or shoot a stream of excrement at the perceived threat. All species in this genus are arboreal tree-dwellers from tropical South American rain forests.

 

The Antilles pink toe (Avicularia versicolor)

This species is one of the most colorful tarantulas commonly available in the hobby. They are bright blue as spiderlings and turn into adults that have a green carapace and an overall reddish/pinkish/purplish coloration. This species must be housed individually due to a high risk of cannibalism.

 

Common pink toes (Avicularia avicularia) and others

Other species of pink toes while not as colorful as the versicolors also make very attractive pets. They are often darker colored sometimes appearing black with a blue or purple sheen and some even have reddish hairs on the abdomen with adorable little pink toes. While it is possible to keep common pink toes communally in a large enough enclosure, each species is different and Avicularia avicularia seems to be the exception to the general rule and cannibalism is still a risk if over crowding occurs.

 

Choosing a pet tarantula

Many species of tarantulas including pink toes are still commonly imported but there are many breeders that also sell captive bred spiderlings. The pit falls of imported tarantulas are that they are often deprived of basic necessities during transport and are often offered for sale in poor condition – malnourished, dehydrated, possibly injured, or afflicted with parasites. When purchasing a tarantula take into consideration the body condition of the animal, it should not be missing any legs and have a nicely rounded good sized abdomen. Any strange bumps on the body or asymmetry to the abdomen may indicate injury, disease, or a parasitic infection. While a young tarantula has the ability to eventually re-grow lost limbs they may also experience complications during molting related to the missing limb and an older tarantula may not have very many chances left to molt and regain the limb. I personally do not recommend purchasing a very small spiderling that is less than 1 inch in size for the beginner as these are delicate animals and may be difficult to keep alive.

 

Caging

A tall plastic container with proper ventilation would be a perfect home for any pink toe. Custom made clear acrylic enclosures make suitable habitats and also make beautiful displays in your home. It is also possible to use clear half gallon or gallon sized plastic jars. Proper ventilation is very important because stagnant air and too much moisture will lead to unhealthy conditions developing in the enclosure including mold, fungus growth, and the appearance of flies. Ventilation can be achieved by drilling holes in plastic and acrylic containers or cutting out sections and installing plastic or metal mesh screening. To maintain proper humidity enclosures should be lightly misted every 2 to 3 days which also allows the tarantulas to drink from water droplets. Be sure not to get the tarantula itself wet or overly soak the substrate which should be allowed to dry between mistings. A small shallow water dish such as a condiment cup or bottle cap may also be provided for larger juveniles or adults.

 

A variety of substrates or can be used for Avicularia from vermiculite to soil type substances or a mixture of both. My personal recommendation is coconut fiber commonly sold as Eco Earth as it is naturalistic in appearance and also retains humidity well. A layer of substrate of at least 3 inches is recommended.

 

Since Avicularia species naturally live in trees, artificial plants and cork bark pieces will allow them to create suitable retreats using their web. They will usually create a funnel shaped web in which they will spend much of their time and retreat to when startled.

 

Captive care

All tarantulas are able to thrive in conditions that are comfortable for humans and commonly found in the average home. An ambient temperature range between 68 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit is sufficient for any tarantula species. If you find that conditions on the colder end of this range are causing your tarantula to stop feeding or act sluggish then a commercially sold reptile heat pad specifically made for plastic enclosures may be installed on one side. This will allow your pink toe to regulate it's body temperature by moving onto or away from the heat pad, you may also find that this will allow you to view your tarantula more often as it will leave the webbed retreat for this purpose. Optimum conditions include temperatures in the 75 to 82 degree range and humidity levels at around 75%.

 

Juvenile to adult pink toes may be fed crickets, appropriately sized roaches, or meal worms every 10 to 14 days while spiderlings may be offered fruit flies or pinhead crickets every 5 to 7 days. Care should be taken that prey size should not be much larger than the tarantula's abdomen.

 

Handling

Care should be taken when handling your pet tarantula so that it does not injure itself in a possible fall. Being arboreal, Avicularia are great climbers and jumpers however a fall from too great a height may still injure or even kill a pink toe. Avoid too much unnecessary handling as that will only create stress for your tarantula. Also keep in mind that these species are very fast and can get away from you very quickly and it is possible to lose them in a large open space.

 

Molting

All tarantulas have an exoskeleton that they will need to shed out of as they grow in a process known as molting. On average, spiderlings molt about once a month and adult spiders molt only once or twice a year. A tarantula will typically stop feeding and become slightly lethargic as the time for a molt grows near, some may even appear darker or duller in coloration. It is important that proper humidity is provided to ensure a successful molt. If a tarantula is unable to molt properly it may become stuck and could lose a limb or even die if it is unable to separate itself from its old exoskeleton. Immediately after molting the tarantula will have white fangs and it will need time for it's new exoskeleton to harden making the spider extremely vulnerable. It should not be disturbed or offered food until the exoskeleton has had time to harden, which may only take a day or two for spiderlings but as long as a week for an adult.

 

Avicularia tarantulas generally make very interesting and pretty captives. They are also relatively inexpensive to purchase and care for. They may not live as long as some other tarantulas, males typically only live for 2 to 3 years and females for 6 to 10 years but they are an enjoyable species to keep and observe in the interim.

 

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© 2018 Invertebrates Unlimited | Upstate, South Carolina

GBB feeding on superworm photo courtesy of Courtney Shock

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