A newbie guide to Poecilotheria
A newbie guide to Poecilotheria
Hey guys. I've never tried to put an info thread together before, so please bear with me. Anyway, my name is Dan, and I've been keeping Tarantulas since I was 12 or so. I've had alot of spiders during my time in the hobby, but none have captivated me so much as Poecilotheria. I don't intend this to be a "complete reference" so to speak, but I'll do my best to add as much information as I can, and I'll try and keep the thread updated as much as possible.
Poecilotheria (or Pokies as they are affectionately called in the hobby), are a genus of beautiful, "old world" arboreal tarantulas that inhabit both India and Sri Lanka. They cover a very large geographical range, with spiders inhabiting regions that experience 100.0f temperatures, and others that inhabit mountain regions that experience frequent frosts. Currently there are 14 species described, with most (bar a couple) being kept in the hobby relatively commonly:
Sri Lankan Species:
Choosing your first Pokie:
Not including egg sacs of other species, I've had more pokies than any other genus of Tarantula. Personally I feel that they have been demonised somewhat, and their husbandry over dramatised. I'll try my best here to provide useful information and tips for those who want to get into the world of pikes, but have yet to take the first step.
First and formost, I'd like to state that Pokies are a tarantula that demands respect. They can often prove fast and defensive. Since they are old world specimens, they do not possess uriticating hairs. As such, their primary defence is from a bite. The symptoms from a pokie bite can range from localised pain and stiffness, all the way extreme nausea, excruciating pain, and to a trip to the emergency room. Thankfully no one can actually be allergic to a bite from a pokie, but that's not to say there wouldn't be any long lasting effects.
Having said that, most pokies would much prefer to run and hide rather than stand and fight. So as long as you are respectful, and sensible, then there should be no reason why someone with some tarantula experience shouldn't own one. I'll do my best to help people get enough of the basics here.
So now to choosing your first pokie. I believe it's quite important to ensure your pokie is captive bred. 2 species of Pokie (Smithi and Hanumavilasumica) can be considered as highly endangered, and there is a real possibility of both becoming extinct in the wild in a matter of years. Also, a wild caught pokie may require different care to the same species born in captivity. For example P. Subfusca can be found in area's that regularly reach temperatures in the high 70's, and others can be found in temperatures of less than 60f. Importing a wild caught subfusca and keeping it at a temperature different from the area it was collected from could prove fatal.
Pokies can vary in temperament quite drasmatically between species and specimens. Generally, most people start off with a P. Regalis. Slings can be purchased quite easily for about £5 or so each, with adults often ranging from £25 - £35. P. Regalis is a very attractive black, white, and grey ornate spider with yellow highlights under the front legs. They can reach quite a large size, with adult females often reaching up to 9 inches. Pro's include the fact that they are very easy to care for, and they are quite often out on display. Con's include they can prove difficult to rehouse due to their large size, and speed. And while most specimens are relatively docile, some can be prone to being more on the defensive side.
Generally, the most suitable pokie for beginners is actually one of the more rare and species in the hobby. This being P. Metallica. They were only relatively recently re-discovered and introduced in to the hobby. They are quite hard to locate, and can prove very expensive. Slings can range around the £40-£50 mark, and adult females reaching as much as £300 or more. They are very calm and docile for the most part, and contrary to what some care sheets may say, are require no special additions to their care, but I will comment more on this later. They are very attractive, and reach sizes of about 6 inches or so on average, which makes rehoming or removing for tank maintenance non too difficult. However, they are very photosensitive, and as such, aren't on display all that often. Combined with the large price tag, this can dissuade many potential owners.
P. Striata, P. Ornata, and P. Pederseni are also good alternatives, if more expensive than P. Regalis. Personally I would avoid suggesting P. Fasciata, P. Rufilata, and P. Formosa for first time pokie keepers, as they can often prove skittish and defensive (Rufilata can be very quick indeed). But this can be said for all pokies to an extent. Some are just naturally defensive. For example, I own a large P. Regalis female that will go into a threat posture quite willingly, and has attacked one male and eaten another. But this isn't typical Regalis behaviour. So which ever pokie you go for, be prepared for an exception to the rule.
Thankfully pokies are very easy to raise from sling to adult, unlike some of their new world counterparts. They can mature relatively quickly too. Sometimes in not much more than 18 months or so. Deciding whether to buy a sling, juvenile, sub adult or adult is a personal preference. Myself, I like to buy them at the juvenile to sub adult stage. By that time they are easier to sex, and there is more time to prepare and condition them for mating without having to wait an age. Others prefer to buy slings as they enjoy the experience of raising a spider to adult hood. If you decide to buy an adult, try and find out how old it is first. The last thing you want to do is buy a beautiful new spider, only for it to die of natural causes a few months later. For most people, I would recommend a sling or juvenile - since they are easier to house and tub up for maintenence.
There are some special cases which I'd like to talk about individually for a bit.
Poecilotheria Rufilata are the largest species of arboreal spider currently described. Generally, I find them to be more defensive than any other species of pokie. They are also very, very quick. However, these spiders are a gorgeous green with yellow highlights. They inhabit highland regions of Kerala, and as such should be considered montane. This means that they are subject to far lower temperatures than their lowland counterparts. They should not be kept warmer than room temperature in captivity. High temperatures in their natural habitat (they can be found in several locations, including Agastya Malai) are only 20-23c or so. Being a montane species, humidity would be higher in their natural environment, however, unless you were conditioning the spider for breeding, there shouldn't be any particular advantage at keeping P. Rufilata more humid.
Poecilotheria Hanumavilasumica are a species which look almost identical to the already well established P. Fasciata. They, unfortunately, are highly endangered. The BTS has tried to establish macro sanctuaries in the very small region of India in which they are located, to help preserve them. Unfortunately, these attempts have thus far proven futile, mostly due to Indian organisations views on the tarantula keeping hobby. Their habitat is being rapidly destroyed and being replaced with hotels and similar developments. A small number were illegally collected in the wild by a few european enthusiats. There are a small number available in the hobby, but the BTS standpoint is to boycott these specemins. Paying the very large prices these spiders are advertised at will encourage further collection from wild stock (currently believed to be less than 500 adult females) and the appearance of these on the market will only further harm the BTS' reputation and their conservation efforts. There is also the risk that Spiders sold as Poecilotheria Hanumavilasumica, may actually be P. Fasciata or a Poecilotheria Hanumavilasumica x Fasciata hybrd.
These are a personal favourite of mine, and I am very lucky to own a breeding pair from different bloodlines. P. Smithi are also very endangered due to habitat destruction, and the fact their distribution does not occur on any protected land. Their situation is almost as dire as that of Poecilotheria Hanumavilasumica, however it seems that there is essentially nothing anyone can do to protect these spiders in the wild, while at least there are possible options for Poecilotheria Hanumavilasumica. Thankfully, there are already established pockets of breeding groups in the hobby, so the need to collect wild caught specemins shouldn't come into play. However their price and purity are still rather suspect. I myself have been stung with hybrid P. Smithi material. I believe it was crossed with P. Pederseni. All of the material I've seen of late seems to be legitimate, however, I would suggest that anyone wishing to buy any, only buy from established dealers or breeders that obtained the spiders first hand. If that is not possible, try your best to get a ventral picture of the spider(s) on sale. The ventral markings on P. Smithi are quite distinct, and a very good guide as to their validity. Otherwise there is the possibility you could be paying alot of money for contaminated stock. If you do happen across one, they can also be considered montane, and as such, the general conscensus is to keep them at cooler temperatures. Locational data for P. Smithi has not been published. However, it is stated that they originate in a region near Kandy in Sri Lanka. Having possibly been observed near Haragama (Haragama Map | Sri Lanka Google Satellite Maps). where daytime temperatures range from 25-30c or so. As such, they can in fact be kept very much like most other pokies.
These spiders have been subject to some controversy in recent years. Colouration and patterning in P. Subfusca can vary from specimen to specimen quite dramatically. Some dealers have been advertising and selling "highland" and "lowland" forms of P. Subfusca, with the "lowland" form usually demanding more money. However serveral reputable breeders have gone on record to say that they have observed both forms coming from the same sac. It has been theorised that the temperature the egg is incubated at determines the colouration. I hope to test this theory out myself over the coming year. As such, if you do buy a P. Subfusca, try not to pay over the odds for "lowland" specimens seeing as it is possibly just a P. Subfusca that has been incubated at a higher temperature. Ventral markings on both highland and lowland P. Subfusca are identical, and as such should be considered the same spider, even though dorsal markings can differ. Colouration seems to be based on regional distribution. P. Subfusca can be found in areas of differing altitudes, but all should be considered as Montane. As such, the conscensus is they should be kept at lower temperatures. Many were observed near Gannoruwa (Gannoruwa Map | Sri Lanka Google Satellite Maps), Kandy, at an altitude of approximately 590 metres - only 90 metres higher than Kandy. As such, the temperatures aren't much lower than Kandy, which can experience temperatures as hgh as 30c. They can also be found near Nuwara Eliya (Nuwara Eliya Map | Sri Lanka Google Satellite Maps), which is situated at an altitude of almost 2000 metres, and as you can see by the following chart, the temperatures are much lower:
(Travel Guide Information | World Travel Guide)
As far as I am aware, this is pretty unique for a single species of theraphosid. It's also possible that not only does egg incubation temperatures affect colouration, but also temperature adaptation. I have heard of spiders bought as "lowland" that have died at lower temperatures, and conversely "highland" specimens that have died at higher temperatures. So, ideally, it would be very useful to know the temperatures which the spider had been kept at before sale, to prevent keeping the spider either too cold or too warm. The following is an example of a small P. Subfusca "lowland":
*Please don't reply to this thread just yet - It's not quite finished yet *
Identifying pokies dorsally can be quite difficult to say the least. It is quite easy to identify P. Metallica, P. Subfusca, and P. Rufilata dorsally, however most other species make it far more difficult. The pattern on the carapace can be used to some extent:
However, the most reliable method of pokie identification is to obversve the ventral markings. Each species has a unique pattern of coloured banding under the legs and palps. Below is a rough guide as to species banding:
There's a couple missing on there, but the above covers most species. The easiest pokie to ID ventrally are P. Regalis due to the large band on the abdomen, and P. Metallica due to the electric blue colouration. While conversly, P. Fasciata and P.Hanumavilasumica are very difficult to differentiate at first glance (but since P. Hanumavilasumica is not really in the hobby, anything that looks like a P. Fasciata most likely is a P. Fasciata).
Housing pokies is relatively easy. A taller enclosure with a suitable hide and a water dish is pretty much all they need. Substrate should be coconut coir, or vermiculite. Preferably coir, but I'll get to that in a minute.
Younger pokies tend to burrow somewhat. So for small slings, a cricket tub with a layer of substrate and a suitable hide (such as a small curved piece of bark, or a small plastic plant, or even a dark film pot turned on it's side) would suffice. I prefer to use small plastic containers like this:
If you can find a suitable piece of bark for the spider to hide under, then vermiculte will suffice as substrate. Otherwise you'll want to use coir. Pokies like to feel very secure, and if they dont, they tend to creat a hide using what you've provided, and webbing substrate to it. Vermiculite would be impractical for this, so if in doubt, just use coir. Remember, which ever substrate you use, it should be mostly dry. If you squeezze it and water comes out, then it's too wet. Try drying it off with a hair drier. Here is a picture of a plastic container with 2 P. Subfusca living communally. Notice how you can hardly see through the container due to the substrate they have webbed to the plastic plant and sides:
for larger slings and juvies,small food tubs or plastic containers from super markets will do fine. Remember to provide a hide:
For sub adults to adults of most species a tall cereal container from a supermarket will work fine. People who use these tend to provide half bamboo tubes as hides. A medium sized kritter keeper turned on it's side would also work fine - however substrate can be prone to spilling out when you remove the front for maintenance. Exo terra's are good, but can be expensive. Personally, I prefer to make my own tanks. I made this one for not much more than £20. 4 pieces of glass, some aquarium sealant, some plastic strips, a few sheets of mesh, and some velcro pads to keep the lid on:
And here's another in the early stages:
A suitable hide is quite important, since pokies are generally quite photosensitive. The best by far is a good sized curved piece of bark. Preferably one that tapers a little at the top. As you can see, I've also re-inforced the sides of her hide. This is to help the spider feel more secure, and prevent her from excessively webbing up:
If bark, or bamboo are difficult to find, the I've found that large kitchen roll tubes work just fine! It's not attractive, but it does the job perfectly. My juvenile male P. Smithi is residing quite happily in this set up. Obviously, it's not a display tank:
In regards to heat, you'll be ok placing the container on a heat mat, rather than having to tape it to the side or back, due to their arboreal nature. I prefer to tape mine to the side if I'm trying to get an egg sac. Last thing I would want is a sac to be laid on top of the heat pad and ending up with a overheated sac.
As aforementioned, some pokies are very photosensitive, P. Metallica for one. In this siutation, I prefer to blacken off a few sides of the tank with black cardboard. It's a bit of a rush job, so I could have made it prettier, but this is what my complete P. Metallica set up looks like:
That's pretty much all there is to housing a pokie. Nice and simple, with most options proving quite cheap. There are other methods that need to be employed if you are aiming for an egg sac, but generally the above ideas will work well.
As aforementioned, pokies cover quite a diverse climate. Some inhabit semi arid regions with average humidities of less than 50% in a year, while others inhabit montane regions that can experience frosts, and rarely get above 16c or so. Generally most pokies can be kept in the same climate: Daytime temperatures in the high 70's to low 80's, with an open water dish. Pokies do not like moist substrate. They will often not eat if the substrate is wet. In fact, I have read of specimens that had been kept overly moist, only for the spider to die. As such, rather than regular misting, it is preferable to provide an open water dish. However, as long as their food is well hydrated, and there is enough ventillation to prevent the air going stale or the substrate becoming damp, then spraying will suffice. As I have mentioned above, there are some special cases. P Rufilata should be kept at room temperature or slightly below. P. Smithi can be kept at higher temperatures, around 25c or so, but shouldn't be kept much higher. And P. Subfusca should be kept at the temperature in which it was reared, whether that be more like P. Smithi at higher temperatures, or lower temperatures like P. Rufilata. Being montane, the 3 aforementioned Pokies would experience higher humidity levels in the wild, however, unless you were preparing them for breeding, a large open water dish would suffice.
Feeding pokies is a trivial affair. They will eat pretty much any food you throw at them. I've found that black crickets and and locusts go down quite well, and some will even take defrost mice - However I would not suggest this. There has been talk of it affecting successful egg sac production, and also left overs can encourage mold, mites, and bacteria. Not to mention it will smell awful. For most adults a couple of crickets every week or so will suffice, with less for younger spiders. Try to remember that pokies will avoid food if the substrate is too damp.
Pokies are one of the small number of theraphosids that can actually live communally. However, not all species can be kept together. P. Regalis, P. Fasciata, P. Rufilata, and P. Subfusca are examples of Pokies that will live together. However there is always the chance of cannabalism, so if the pokies you have housed communally are precious to you, or hard to replace, I would suggest housing them individually. If you do decide to keep a communal, try not to provide too much space, or too many hides, as this could encourage territorialism. It is also advisable to house spiders that have been reared from the same sac, rather than introducing unrelated specimens. It is indeed possible to house different species of pokie together, but this could encourage hybridisation. There is no real need for it, so please dont try. Remove mature males from a communal set up if there are multiple females present, unless you want a sac. If you do, remove mated females from the communal and house them seperately, to prevent agression.
Last edited by Danhalen; 04-01-2009 at 10:49 PM..
When most pokies get to the juvie to sub adult stage, the dorsal markings tend to differ between males and females. The inner patterning on the Folio (the vertical colour pattern on the abdomen) usually is much darker than the outer patterning on males. For example, here's my female P. Smithi:
And here's the much younger male:
Notice how much darker the patterning is on the male. There are exceptions to this, including younger P. Metallica, P. Rufilata, and colour variants of P. Subfusca, but it usually can be used relatively accurately.
Then there's the epigastric region (the small region between the first set of book lungs). Unfortunately, unlike other genus', Poecilotheria can have quite differing epigastric regions from species to species. And even then, some are more prominent than others. generally, males have closer book lungs, the epigastric region is more raised, and it has a "square" shape. If you get lucky, you'll be able to see a dark, almost triangular patch within the square. There is usually a small bald "dot" in the lower centre of the epigastric region. This picture was taken for me when I was enquiring about some Rufilata I bought earlier in the year. Try and see the square shape, and the dark, kinda triangular patch:
Females on the other hand, tend to have flatter, more trapezoidal regions, with a whiteish line underlining it. Like this:
Here's a pic of when I recently paired Regalis. If you look closely at the epigastric region of the top spider, you should see the very prominent white underline, indicating female:
This link shows a very good side by side comparison of both ventral and dorsal views of P. Ornata:
??????? ????????? ?????????? ?????? Poecilotheria ornata ? ?????? ??????? ???? | Theraphosids of the World. Kepping and breeding in captivity
??????? ????????? ?????????? ?????? Poecilotheria ornata | Theraphosids of the World. Kepping and breeding in captivity
How prominent the shapes and colour shades are, differ from specimen to specimen. I had to sell a sub adult Rufilata as unsexed recently, as it was too close to call either way. The most reliable method is to sex via an exuvium, however a combination of dorsal markings, and the shape of the epigastric region on suitably sized specimens is a very reliable method for the most part.
Packing pokies for postage and tank maintenance:
Packing pokies up for rehousing or maintenance is one of the main reasons people tend to steer clear of keeping them. They can be fast, defensive, and have a very potent bite - Not exactly a walk in the park. But if you pay attention and use a bit of common sense, you'll be fine. A particularly useful piece of kit for pokie maintenance is a pair of long tweezers, like these: Tweezers - 25cm Suppliers of Arachnids and other quality Invertebrates They would prove very useful for removing left overs or uneaten food, removing a water dish, or for nudging a pokie out of the way for one reason or another. Maintenance on slings is relatively easy. It would be advisable to perform any pokie maintenance in the bath. I find it easy to prompt the sling out of the tub and in to the bath with a pencil or somthing along those lines. As the sling tries to scale the sides of the bath, I place an empty cricket tub over the top of the sling, and gently slide the lid on from underneath. If I were packing the spider up for postage, I would fill an empty film tub 1/3rd of the way up with slightly moist tissue paper, open one corner of the cricket tub, and usher the spider out, and into the film tub. I would place a little more tissue paper on top of the spider so it's snug between both layers, and then close the film pot shut.
For pokies that are a couple of inches or so, I once again usher them out into the bath and quickly place an empty cricket tub on top of the spider, and sliding the lid on from underneath. For postage, do the same, but first of all pad the cricket tub wih some kitchen roll. Spray the tissue a little so that it sticks to the tub when you turn it upside down. when you have slid the lid on, take 2 sheets of kitchen roll and fold it a couple of times. Lift the cricket tub lid slightly, and using a pencil or some tweezers, slide the kitchen roll over the top of the spider for extra padding.
Sub adults and adults prove to be the most difficult for the majority of people. I personally find them the easiest to deal with. Attempting to pack them up in a cricket tub can prove awkward to say the least, I have found the easiest method is to use a large kitchen roll tube. Basically, pad one end of the tube with kitchen roll and sellotape it up. Using a pair of long tweezers, usher the pokie away from it's hide. When the pokie is out in the open, quickly remove it's hide, and replace it with the kitchen roll tube, stood upright with the open end up on top. After a while, the pokie will begin to look for cover, and sooner or later (usually sooner) the pokie will adopt the kitchen roll tube as it's new hide. Once it has done this, pad the open end up with kitchen roll, and sellotape it closed. The spider is then ready to be rehoused, posted, or put to one side for maintenance. once the spider is ready to be unpacked, just remove the sellotape from both ends. Place the tube in the spiders enclosure, and remove the kitchen roll from the tube closest to the substrate. Then using tweezers or something along those lines, gently push the kitchen roll from the top end, ushering the spider out of the other end. Nice and simple, with minimal stress to both the spider and the owner Even more simple if you're already using a kitchen roll tube as a hide anyway.
Yes, it really is as easy as the picture looks
Well, that's pretty much it for the moment. I've got a couple of breeding projects on the go right nowt. Depending on how much luck I have, I might add another section on breeding here.
I hope this information proves useful to anyone considering getting their first pokie. They really are amazing spiders, and if you give them the respect they deserve, you'll have a great new addition that should prove ncie and easy to keep. I've tried to make the information in this thread as accurate as possible. If you have any suggestions or corrections, of if you think I've missed anything out, feel free to P.M me
On a final note, I just wanted to say a big thank you to Peter Kirk for his advice with my recent P. Smithi purchase.
Thanks for reading.
Last edited by Danhalen; 04-01-2009 at 11:33 PM..
is he finished then? I was scared to post in case i ruined his layout.
If he isn't hopefully our posts can be removed so it flows better.
"Like allergies, sexual arousal may occur from anything under the sun, including the sun"
"A loss of religious belief has led the West to replace reason and truth with ideology and prejudice"- Melanie Phillips
"Ever since man first left his cave and met a stranger with a different language and a new way of looking at things, the human race has had a dream: to kill him, so we don't have to learn his language or his new way of looking at things."
Very great! Question though about people not being allergic to the venom, what about the case of the guy being put into a coma for a week? Was this allergy related or other?
Very nice guide though and well researched.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is a brave woman. Spending every night in a bed with Michael Douglas makes her more of a Tomb Raider than Lara Croft..
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