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OUT OF THE TREE-TOPS: Housing and Care of New World Arboreals of the Genera Avicularia, Iridopelma, Psalmopoeus,and Tapinauchenius.

by Lucian "Luc" Ross

Over the last seven years since I first began my journey into maintaining tarantulas in captivity, I have collected and maintained many species from around the world. But, no matter how my "fascination level" increased or decreased, my main fascination has always been for the tree-top denizens of the Genera Avicularia, Iridopelma, Psalmopoeus, and Tapinauchenius: the New World arboreal Theraphosidae (exclusive of Pachistopelma).

Over the years, I have read many differing accounts from many different keepers as to the best way to house these magnificent creatures to provide the perfect habitat for their lifestyles and to provide a "minimal" investment of time and upkeep for those that maintain them. The following is in no way the "definitive" guide to housing arboreals, nor, is it in anyway meant to present itself as such. However; to date, I have had no problems with mites or phorid flies and only need to clean my specimen's vivariums thoroughly once per year (this does not include next day clean up of prey remains, uneaten prey items, or the rare mishap with a water bowl!).

I would also like to address a current debate going on concerning which is more important to the proper care of arboreals: humidity or ventilation?

From my seven year experience with NW arboreals, I would have to favour those that believe ventilation is the primary factor between the two, and that humidity and it's importance to NW arboreals has been greatly over-inflated.

Since I began maintaining arboreals some five years ago, my specimen's only source of humidity has been their water dishes and a once a week light-misting with warm, distilled water! I live in S.E. Michigan where from mid-fall through mid-spring, my home is warmed by a forced-air furnace that causes humidity levels to fall well under 30%.

The temperature of my home varies during this "cold-period" from 75 degrees f. to 88 degrees f. In this atmosphere, my specimens have molted, grown, fed, and thrived. The majority from fragile spiderlings which do require light-mistings with warm, distilled water 2 times per week. The following information is directed towards housing specimens that have attained at least a 3 inch/7.5 cm legspan measured from tip of Leg I to tip of Leg IV same side. This set-up can be used for even the largest specimens of Avicularia and Psalmopoeus, with more than enough room for continued growth.

At 3 inch/7.5 cm, my specimens are moved from smaller containers into permanent 5.5 gallon standard-size, glass vivariums. Each vivarium is inverted (placed with the open top as a side). To cover the opening, I use standard screened-lids (available in most pet shops) that snap and attach to the vivariums outer trim.

These lids are secure as they must be pried out from the trim to be opened.A problem that many keepers fear with this type of lid is that a tarantulas "claws" may become stuck in the screen thereby, trapping the tarantula. I have not had this ever occur with any arboreal or terrestrial species that I've maintained over the years. This type of lid (now a side) also provides full ventilation that can be somewhat controlled by taping or gluing heavy plastic over a portion of the screening thereby restricting humidity loss. If you opt to do this, cover the upper half of the screen with the plastic always leaving a 1 inch/2.5 cm area at the top of the screen uncovered to allow proper air-flow throughout the vivarium.

As for shelter/retreat needs, I do not normally use wood. As shelter, I use a material called plastic canvas commonly sold in craft stores by the number of square-holes per inch. This is a heavy plastic version of window screening. The best size to use for tube construction is the 7 squares per inch/per 2.5 cm. It is available in white, blue, pink, and green. I prefer the green. I buy it in a size to create a rolled tube 10-12 inches long (25-30 cm) x 3 inches (7.5 cm) in dia. The "tube" is held together typically with monofilament line.

After I construct the tube, I cut a lid for it out of the same material and secure it to one end of the tube allowing only one end to be open. The open end will be placed downward facing the floor of the vivarium. I've experimented with leaving the "tube" open at both ends but, the majority of arboreals will web up the upper-open end seemingly prefering to use the bottom end for entrance and exit. The "tube" is then affixed to a corner of the Vivarium using silicone aquarium sealant and left to dry and air out 24 hours. Another advantage of this type of material "tube" is that when cleaning a specimen's cage, one needs to only place an appropriately sized cup over the bottom, tape it to the tube, and clean the cage without any unwanted intrusions from such visitors as Psalmopoeus irminia!

The "tube" can also be decorated with mosses and/or artificial plants. I then place a large water dish on the floor of the vivarium near the opening of the water dish. In a standard size 5.5 gallon vivarium, the height is 16 inches/40 cm. I affix the tube with it's upper end flush to the upper pane of the vivarium, leaving a space from the lower "tube" end to the floor of 4 inches/10 cm. Substrate: I prefer to use green, rubber-backed astroturf as it's easy to clean, easy to see prey remains upon, and prey items cannot become lost down in the substrate. Again, some keepers express using this material as a substrate but, I have had no problems to date, save my wife does not appreciate me using the wash machine to clean such!

As I mentioned previously, this is not a "definitive" guide to housing arboreals but, has worked very well for me for the last 5 years and as long as I maintain NW arboreals, it will be MY set up of choice!

Comments, suggestions, or heat? Please email me at I welcome all opinions as I may learn something new as well?

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