Spreading Holiday Cheer (and FEAR!)

It’s getting to be Christmas time, and we’re chock full of warm fuzzy feelings here at the Reptile Zoo. It only made sense to talk about our warmest and fuzziest animals on display: TARANTULAS! We were lucky enough to obtain SIX new species of tarantula here at the zoo, and couldn’t wait to talk about them! Before we get into our new species, lets first go over some tarantula anatomy and husbandry!

Tarantulas are large, heavy bodied, often hairy spiders that belong to the family Theraphosidae. There are around 930 identified species of tarantula, and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica. They have 8 legs, 2 chelicera (also known as fangs!) and a pair of pedipalps, which are used for a multitude of tasks, such as catching and holding prey or for mating purposes. These pedipalps are often confused with an extra pair of legs off the front of the tarantula. The hair (which is actually a form of bristle, only mammals grow hair!) that covers the bodies of tarantulas is used for a multitude of purposes depending on the type. Some hairs are used for sensing vibrations, others are used for making noise Different species of North and South American tarantulas have specialized the hair on their abdomens to be a defensive weapon. When threatened, the tarantula will flick their legs over their abdomen, dislodging the hairs and sending them flying in a cloud to scatter around.

If these hairs make contact with skin or mucus membranes, they will cause whatever they touch to itch, sting, and burn for a good long time. Animals that try and prey on these tarantulas learn a painful lesson that those kinds of spiders don’t make good meals. Old World tarantulas lack this special hair, but make up for it with nasty dispositions, preferring to rear up and bite their perceived attackers.

We obtained both old and new world species, all of which are completely gorgeous. Check them out!

Mexican Red Rump Tarantula Brachypelma vagans

The Mexican red rump tarantula is named for the large portion of reddish brown hair found along the top side of the abdomen on its otherwise black body. They are found in Central America and Mexico, though there is a small non-native population established in Florida. They are avid burrowers that prefer scrubland style habitats. Their venom is actually being researched for its possible applications in medicine.

Mexican Red Knee Tarantula Brachypelma smithi

The Mexican Red Knee tarantula is named for the reddish spots of color on the joints of its legs. They are native to the western side of the Sierra Madre Occidental and Sierra Madre del Sur mountain ranges in Mexico. These heavy bodied spiders can feed on insects, small lizards, and frogs. They are popular as pets since they are so pretty, but are prone to flicking urticating hairs. Like the Mexican Red Rump, these tarnatulas like to form burrows.

Mexican Fire Leg Tarantula Brachypelma boehmei

This species of tarantula is named for its bright orange legs. They prefer a dry, scrubland style habitat, and can be found in the Guerrero state in Mexico, along the Central Pacific coast. They are most active at night but can be seen at dawn and dusk. While their venom is mild, they are prone to flicking urticating hair when threatened. They are more finicky than most tarantulas, and make better pets for people more experienced with keeping tarantulas.

Greenbottle Blue Tarantula Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens

The Greenbottle Blue is a striking species of tarantula, with bright azure legs, a greenish carapace, and vivid orange abdomen. They are native to Venezuela, and are found in arid climates. They are very fast runners, and are recommended as display species, rather than a handling one. They spin their webs in burrows at the base of shrubs, trees, and cacti. This species will also carpet the surrounding area around their burrows with webbing, and use vibrations to detect passing predators or prey.

Orange Baboon Tarantula Pterinochilus murinus

The Orange Baboon Tarantula is an old world species of spider, found in Southeast and Central Africa. They are extraordinarily aggressive, with an extremely painful bite. These tarantulas have several nicknames based off of this aggression, such as the “Orange Bitey Thing” or “Pterrors”, which is a play off their scientific name. While a very attractive spider, these tarantulas are only recommended for very experienced keepers. When we were first feeding our Orange Baboon Tarantula, it sprinted up the forceps we were using to introduce prey, trying to attack us. The forceps were dropped into its cage, and it was agreed that they were the tarantula’s forceps now. They were later recovered by Mandy, who is one of our braver employees.

Gooty Sapphire Ornamental Tarantula Poecilotheria metallica

This beautiful and exotic species of tarantula can only be found in in a 39 square mile area in Central India, near the town of Gooty. They are an arboreal species of tarantula, spinning their webs in holes in trees. They catch their prey by snatching it out of the air. They are a critically endangered species, with habitat destruction as the main driving force behind their population decline. Their bite is reported to be exceedingly painful even if envenomation does not occur. Their name comes from their gorgeous coloration and patterning.

Well there you have it! Come see these gorgeous spiders in person, now on display right by our hands-on learning zone!

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Right From The Get Go- Lets Talk About Geckos!

Those of you who visit the Reptile Zoo often probably know of the cutest little lizard in existence, Charlie the Crested Gecko!

With his big, off kilter eyes, stubby little tail, and tiny toes that look like leaves, Charlie steals the hearts of hundreds of visitors a year, who will often coo “Can you have these as pets?!” Yes you can! Crested geckos like Charlie are becoming incredibly popular for their ease of care and sweet personalities.

Crested geckos are native to the southern parts of the island of New Caledonia, located between Fiji and Australia. They get their name from the eyelash-like projections over their eyes, which continue down the back, creating a “crest”. They are also referred to as eyelash geckos. These geckos are primarily nocturnal, and prefer to live up high and in trees, but may move lower to the ground to sleep. They are decent climbers, aided by their sticky feet, small claws, and prehensile tails.

Check out that prehensile tail and those sticky feet!

Their feet possess microscopic hairs that will bond (on a molecular level!) to whatever surface they stand on. If you observe one walking, you will actually see them peel their toes up backwards so they can simply take a step! These geckos are able to lose their tails as a defense mechanism, but unfortunately do not grow them back once they have dropped them. While this sounds traumatic, it actually isn’t such a huge deal. The blood vessels running to the tail seal off almost instantly, and will heal over completely in less than a month. It is highly uncommon to see an adult crested gecko in the wild that still has its tail. While most lizards with this ability grow their tails back, crested geckos only get the one tail. If they drop it, it’s gone for good.

Charlie is an example of a crested gecko without a tail.

Another fun thing about this species of gecko is that they are vocal! People usually don’t think of lizards as loud pets, but some geckos can be quite the talkers! Species like tokay geckos are loud and even sound like they’re yelling their name (TO-kay TO-kay is what it sounds like!). Crested geckos aren’t quite so noisy, and make anywhere from a low quiet growling noise to a surprisingly loud harsh bark. They’re known as “the devil in the trees” back in New Caledonia, as their barks can get quite unnerving when a loud chorus starts.

Adorable babies!

Crested geckos have several traits that make them desirable as pets. They do not require a huge amount of space, have fairly simple lighting and heating needs, and can be fed a prepackaged powdered diet and completely thrive on it. Hatchling and juvenile crested geckos do well in a 10 gallon aquarium, and adults can be kept in a 20 gallon tank. Since they are such avid climbers, height and plenty of foliage are more important than length. Reptile Supply companies have actually started to make specific setups just for crested geckos. Combine that ease of care with a gecko that tames very quickly, lives on average 15 years, and is known for its sweet nature, and you have one super awesome Prehistoric Pet!

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