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THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT KEEPING TARANTULAS AND SCORPIONS

Scorpions and tarantulas are the most fascinating and, some of the most visually striking terrestrial invertebrates. They are members of the arthropod class arachnidae having eight legs and simple eyes, rather than the compound eyes of the insects.

Scorpions

There are around 600 species of scorpion distributed around the world, some of them small and very poisonous, others large, black and not particularly dangerous. It is these latter species, the emperor scorpions (Pandinus imperator) which are available most commonly for purchase in pet shops. These scorpions can readily be kept in a glass or plastic tank with a close fitting lid but with good ventilation. The bottom of the tank can be covered with bark, wood chippings or vermiculite which looks good, but scorpions seem equally happy with newspaper, as long as there is a hiding place under a broken flower pot or piece of bark. Fresh water should always be available and a misting with a water spray should be used on occasion, although it is easy to over saturate the bedding with subsequent growth of mold. This must be avoided at all costs. Scorpions should be fed on live insects; crickets are readily available in many pet shops. Jungle scorpions can eat three or four crickets a week and over feed themselves. Remember that in the wild these animals only catch prey items every so often and they cannot easily adjust to having a copious supply in captivity. A scorpion which overfeeds will appear with a distended abdomen and should be fed perhaps one cricket every two or three weeks until the corpulence reduces.

Tarantulas

The mygalomorph spiders have, for many years, erroneously been termed tarantulas. The true tarantula spider is a much smaller European species while the so-called tarantulas are Central or South American spiders with some Asian species. They have the misfortune to be called 'bird eating spiders' but while they might take fledglings as carrion, they are much more likely to feed on small invertebrates.

While these spiders look dangerous and will bite if annoyed, they are not highly venomous. The more dangerous side to tarantulas is that they have so-called urticarial hairs on their backs and, if harassed, they will rub these off with their back legs, giving the bare patch seen on many tarantulas in captivity. These hairs can cause a skin reaction or, if inhaled, a more serious respiratory asthma-like attack.

Tarantulas should be housed in a glass or plastic vivarium with a well ventilated but closely fitting lid. The vivarium floor should be covered with bark chippings or vermiculite and a hiding place provided. Tarantulas live in different habitats and each should be given a vivarium environment appropriate to their natural lifestyle. Some such as the pink toe Avicularia avicularia has an arboreal tree-dwelling habitat while the Mexican red knee Brachypelma smithii can be found in trees or in ground burrows. These two species are particularly good for beginners, as they are docile. The only problem is that the red knee has been somewhat overtrapped in its native habitat and is under international import regulation.

This takes us on to the subject of breeding these animals in captivity. As more people have a particular interest in these spiders and expertise in keeping and breeding them there will be more captive bred animals which will reduce the need to import spiders from their natural habitat.

Species such as the red knee, the pink toe, the Chilean Rose (Grammostola cala) the Chilean Yellow Rump (Phtixotrichus auratus), the Mexican red rump (Brachypelma vagans) and the White collared (Pterinopelma saltator) are all good spiders for beginners. Aggressive spiders such as the Haitian Brown (Phormictopus cancerides), the Trinidad Chevron (Psalmopoeus cambridgei) and the Thai Black (Melopoeus albostriatus) are not good for a beginner and indeed one would have to ask for a good reason why these individual species should be kept in captivity by anyone.

Do not buy a tarantula as a way of impressing your friends but rather as a fascinating and unusual biological specimen.

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