Whistling spider, Barking spider, Bird-eating spider & Australian Tarantula. The Australian whistling spiders belong to the same family as the more famous American tarantulas. There are three Australian genera: Selenocosmia, Phlogiellus and Selenotypus and approx. 6 species.
These animals are widespread in Australia, and can be found in habitats ranging from deserts to rainforests. These spiders make their own permanent home, normally a tunnel about 3cm in diameter going 50cm or more down into the ground, with a small chamber at the bottom. They are also often found under pieces of wood or corrugated iron, or among rocks.
Theraphosids (the scientific name for Tarantulas) are very powerful spiders, with larger specimens having fangs up to 1cm long. Their venom is deadly for cats and dogs within an hour. Humans may be affected with severe pain, headache, nausea and vomiting that last for about 6 hours, but the poison is not reported to be fatal. Some people may in very rare cases show severe allergic reactions. When provoked these spiders often tend to stand their ground instead of fleeing. They can be quite aggressive, and will definitively try to bite if further provoked. NEVER HANDLE AUSTRALIAN THERAPHOSIDS DIRECTLY.
Theraphosid spiders, are the world???s largest spiders. The giants in South-America can reach a leg-span of over 30cm and have fangs 2.5cm long. Australian species are a bit smaller, but still decent sized. Selenotypus plumipes can reach 6 cm in body length and have a leg-span of 16 cm. Most species reach roughly the size of a woman???s hand. They are long lived, males live for 4 ???5 years, and females for several decades. Females may stay their entire life near the burrow, while males leave their home and wander around searching for females. Males are therefore most commonly found, and can be recognised by having ???boxing gloves??? on their pedipalps (small pair of legs at their front) that are used for mating. They take around four years to become mature.
Spiders have their skeleton on the outside and their muscles on the inside (just the opposite of us). To grow, they therefore have to crawl out of their old skeleton - this process is called moulting. Immediately before this happens, the spider will roll on to its back. It then crawls slowly out of its old skin, and will have a new soft, larger skin underneath. This skin is then ???pumped up???, before it dries and hardens. It is very important that the spider is left alone for at least a week when this happens, otherwise it may die of stress. The spider may appear as dead while this happens, but only needs to be left alone. A truly dead spider will lie on its belly, with the legs curled up underneath.
Theraphosids don???t see much, but detect their prey by feeling the vibrations they make. This sense is very sensitive, and they can catch flies in mid air, even in complete darkness. Theraphosids don???t make webs for prey capture, but use silk to line their burrows. Some species can also use silk to ???wash their floor??? by spinning sticky silk all over the floor of their burrow, so that any particles will stick to the silk. They then gather up the silk, and carry it outside. They are very clean creatures, and will spend hours cleaning themselves.
How to Keep Them
The spider needs a well-ventilated cage, with a secure lid. These spiders can walk up glass walls, and are strong enough to push off a loose lid. The cage should be at least two times as wide and high, and three times as long as the spiders length from leg to leg. To be happy the spider needs at least 2-inch deep substrate that allows for digging. It also needs a large piece of bark, or similar so that it can construct a burrow underneath. It must also have a water dish available. Make sure the water dish is not too big, as the spider may, on rare occasions, drown. It is recommended that you make a nice artificial burrow for the spider. This looks good, and when the spider is frightened it will retreat into its burrow instead of running up the glass wall (or your arm). These spiders are very fast, and it can be a nerve-wrecking experience to try to change the water dish when the spider has nowhere to take cover.
The following is a good set up:
A 30cm x 30 cm x 60cm aquarium fitted with a secure lid with holes for ventilation. A plastic box is then placed along the short side, so that you can look in to the box from outside. The box should be at least 10cm x 10cm x 15cm. On the side pointing towards the centre of the cage, you make a hole just large enough to fit a toilet roll through. The box is then secured in place with blue tack.You then place the toilet roll in position, and cover the box and floor of the cage with wet soil or a similar substrate, (not sand), until only the end of the toilet roll is protruding. When the soil has dried, you can gently remove the toilet roll, and you have a nice artificial burrow that you can look into from outside the cage. Make sure that you cover up the ???window??? completely, so that the burrow is normally dark, but you can remove the cover and look in to see the spider.
Place a water dish in the far corner, and the spider can move in. A few plastic plants make the set-up look even better. Some nice small red lights will allow you to observe the spider at night. It will hide away from normal light, but does not react to red light.
The substrate should be kept slightly damp, but not wet, and the water in the water dish replaced once a week. Replace all substrate when it becomes smelly, up to every 6 months.
Never place the terrarium in direct sunshine, as the heat may kill the spider. Tiny spiderlings are best kept in small containers until they reach a few cms in length. Spiderlings demand special attention, but will grow quickly if given lots of food and water. If prey is not eaten after a day or two, remove them from the terrarium. The spider may be about to moult.
Spiders are opportunistic feeders, and will eat most animals smaller than them selves. A recommended a diet includes crickets and mealworms, with a few flies and moths added now and then. There is no need to feed the spiders vertebrates. Crickets and mealworms can be bred, but it may be easier to buy them. If you feed the spider insects from your back yard, be careful. They may have insecticides on them that can kill the spider. A well-fed spider can go for months without food, but needs to eat regularly for most of the time. One or two crickets a week is plenty even for a large spider. Take care with crickets as they can bite and injure your spider.
Stress:A spider that is often harassed, and/or have no good dark retreat may die of stress.
Mites:If the cage is poorly ventilated and kept too wet, you might have an invasion of mites. They will bite and bother the spider, severe attacks may even kill it. Removing remnants of prey (use a long pair of pincers, not fingers) helps reduce the risk of mites. If mites occur, remove all substrate, bark etc. Clean the cage thoroughly, and put new substrate and bark in.
Dehydration: Many keepers lose their spiders due to dehydration, make sure water is available. A spider having trouble extending its legs is severely dehydrated and will die shortly if not given water.
Handling: Never handle the spider directly. Australian species are too aggressive. If you have to move the spider, use a stick to manipulate it gently into a jar, and put on the lid. Remember these spiders can jump, run up glass (or your stick), very quickly. Often faster than you can see, so be careful. If you don???t think you can manage this, don???t buy the spider. Keep an empty box handy to catch the spider should it ever manage to run away, and don???t panic.
In a well made set-up (like described above) you may hardly ever need to handle the spider. Let it settle in naturally, and study it when it comes out to hunt in the evening, just like it does in the wild. These spiders are very fascinating and gentle creatures as long as they are not scared, and the lightning speed at which they attack their prey is a thrill for both young and old.
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