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Poecilotheria: The "Undying" Genus

by Lucian "Luc" Ross

No matter what tarantula genus or species fascinates one the most, there is always that underlying attraction for the large, tree-dwelling Ornamental tarantulas of India and Sri Lanka, the Poecilotheria. Their incredible size, magnificent beauty, and the idea of the possibility of maintaining a group of such splendid tarantulas in a communal setting continues to attract both, novices and advanced hobbyists to these extraordinary Old World arboreals.

This genus first described by Simon in 1885 contains some of the most beautiful and behaviorally fascinating tarantulas in the hobby. With capabilities of fast growth rates up to 10 inches (25cm) in leg span, the habit of remaining out in the open in their vivariums, and their ease of maintenance, no wonder, everyone in the hobby has at least one in their collection.

But, the main attraction for myself and others is the possibility that these Old World arboreals may be able to be housed and maintained in communal groups from spiderlings to adult maturity. When I first learned of this possibility in the mid-1990’s, I was totally taken aback by such a suggestion. I, along with others at that time keeping tarantulas in captivity, had always been told in the few books and articles at that time that tarantulas were solitary creatures that could never be maintained in a group environment in captivity without one becoming a prey item for the other! But, the idea fascinated many of us and before long, we were putting in overtime at our jobs to afford purchasing several of these "social" tarantulas and hurriedly, we set up the "social" vivariums and introduced our new oddities of the tarantula world into their new home.

As for myself, I still had my doubts and figured I’d let a few others try it out and write a few articles on these "social" tarantulas and how they fared in each other’s company in such confines as a cramped vivarium.

In the spring of 1996 while visiting a friend’s pet shop, I picked up a small magazine lying upon his desk. As I read the contents on the front page of the first American Tarantula Society Forum Magazine I had ever seen, I saw an article "Social tarantulas, Poecilotheria get together". I tore into the magazine and greedily read the article by Robert Bustard. Within 15 minutes of completely reading the article for the third time, I had my friend on the phone trying to locate me four Poecilotheria regalis that would be housed in my first communal vivarium! After dropping the money on the counter at the pet shop, I hurried home to establish my "community" tarantula home.

Now, some four years later, after having been swept away by the majority of tarantula species offered in the trade at one time or another, Aphonopelma, Brachypelma, "Dwarf" species, Africans, Far-Eastern species, etc… I still find myself attracted to these beautiful Ornamentals above all others and their unique behaviors in and out of their communal vivariums. I firmly believe that no other tarantula has ever had such a loyal following in the hobby as those that maintain them are fierce in defending the Poecilotheria’s reign as the supreme tarantula genus rivaled by none other!

As I write this article, I look at the old, 55-gallon vivarium on its stand in my dinning room and seek out the occupants that I’ve watched grow from 1" (2.5cm) spiderlings to 7"+ (17.5cm) adult females. All of the original specimens are still alive and doing well in their little "community" except for one female that fell prey to a vicious mouse bite on her abdomen. My first and last lesson in using live mice as prey items for any of my tarantulas!

The loss of "Lila" was very sorrowful as I had watched her and the others grow and interact in their "world" for a thousand days and nights. I would spend hours sometimes just watching as they would gather upon the glass walls of their home and touch each other gently and huddle together in the chilled nights of Michigan’s autumns and winters. I often wondered if they knew she was gone for after her demise, all became more private in their movements and for weeks were rarely seen outside their retreats. But, we all made it through the loss of "Lila" and continued forth in our observations of each other within our own "community" vivariums.

As I sit here, I fully begin to understand the attraction of these giant arboreals of the monsoon forests and highlands of India and Sri Lanka. They share with each of us an "uniqueness" within the Theraphosidae as this "uniqueness" is within each of us as our personalities and separates us from others within our group, Homo sapiens.

I guess all in all, it really doesn’t matter why we are attracted to these magnificent creatures. Just that we are! And, I know within my collection, "Sif", "Frigga" and "Hel" will always have a special place in my dinning room and yes! A place in my heart and when each one goes on to that great tree in the sky, I’ll feel sorrow at their passing as I did when "Lila" left our group.

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