Meet the Menagerie – Part One: Blue
One of the more interesting things about me is that I live with upwards of 30 animals. And since I love my babies, I’m probably going to talk about them a lot. So here’s part one of what’s probably going to be a very long-running series of blog posts: Meet the Menagerie.
This is Blue, my Avicularia avicularia, commonly known as a Pink-Toed Tarantula. They’re native to many parts of South America, and are especially common in Guyana (they are sometimes called Guyana Pink-Toes for this reason). Blue’s just a baby yet (only about a centimeter and a half across), but she’ll grow up to be about 10 to 12 cm.
As you can see from the photo, juvenile A. avicularia like Blue have pink legs with dark toes and dark bodies. This colouration will reverse as they get older — adults have pink on the toes, and pinkish highlights on their bodies, with dark legs. It takes 4 or 5 years for an A. avicularia to reach adulthood, and females can live for up to 10 years (males tend to die soon after reaching adulthood, as male tarantulas are unable to moult).
Tarantulas of the Avicularia genus are my absolute favourite, as tarantulas go. They have bright colouration, and tend to build intricate web structures. Other tarantulas will burrow and be invisible when looking into the tank, but Avicularias tend to be active and visible most of the time. They’re also relatively simple to care for, requiring only some space for climbing and building webs (adults can be kept in a 5 gallon tank quite happily), and a 70-80% humidity level. Misting the tank with water from a spray bottle on a regular basis helps to keep the humidity levels up, and if you put down some soil and moss it will hold moisture and help to maintain the levels.
Feeding is one of the most fun aspects of tarantula ownership, and Avicularias are known for being good eaters. Watching them pounce on their prey is exciting, because they’ll do it very quickly and effectively. Blue is currently eating several small mealworms, crickets or roaches every week. As they get older they eat bigger prey, and can even handle the occasional vertebrate (in the wild they might eat small rodents, lizards, or even birds — in captivity, owners will often give a pinkie mouse as an occasional treat).
There has been some reported success of keeping A. avicularia in communal living situations, with many individuals sharing the same tank. This is odd for tarantulas — most are territorial, and will fight with and even cannibalize other members of their own species. I don’t think that I’ll ever try the experiment myself (I’m too protective of my critters), but it’s still a very interesting fact.
Of course, the question that everyone’s probably asking right now is “aren’t tarantulas dangerous?” Short answer: not really. They’re certainly no more dangerous than a dog or cat, which could bite or scratch you, or bring parasites into your home. Tarantulas (like most arachnids) are venomous, but the venom isn’t the thing of horror movies, and it certainly won’t melt your face off or kill you. A bite from an A. avicularia is sort of on the same level as a bee sting: it might hurt and swell up a bit, but that’s all. Of course, there are some people who are allergic to tarantula venom (just like there are some people who are allergic to bees), so it always pays to be careful and avoid being bitten. Nobody wants to find out the hard way that they’ve got an allergy. Tarantulas also have other defense mechanisms: A. avicularia have long hairs on their abdomen and back legs that they can kick off if threatened, and these hairs will stick into your skin and be irritating (kind of like fiberglass insulation). A. avicularia also have the charming habit of spraying feces at an attacker — not dangerous, but gross.
Blue was a birthday present back in September, so I’ve still got several more years to go before he/she is an adult. Until adulthood it’s impossible to tell if you’ve got a female or a male — but I can be patient. Blue is a pretty and entertaining part of the menagerie.