By Kevin Scott
WARNING: The species of Poecilotheria described here are spiders that can be fast, aggressive and extremely dangerous to humans. They should NOT be handled.
Over the last decade or so there has been an explosion in vivarium popularity. Animals like arrow frogs, mantellas, day geckos and other small diurnal herps are a natural choice for such display cages because of their distinctive coloration and visibility during the day. Tarantulas and bird spiders have been largely neglected in this department, and not without reason. Most spiders are secretive, and will either bury themselves or spin thick, opaque webs, making it difficult to observe them. Either way this makes them difficult to be seen. In addition, most tarantulas will eat almost anything else that they are housed with.
The Fringed Ornamental Baboon Spider (Poecilotheria ornata)
Species of the genus Poecilotheria (Ornamental Baboon Spiders), however, can often be seen sprawled on pieces of wood or cork bark. While they cannot be housed with other animals (although they have been successfully kept communally), Poecilotheria species can make an unusual and decorative addition to the tropical vivarium.
Ornamental Baboon Spiders are from tropical South East Asia (India, Sri Lanka) and benefit from moderate to high humidity (50-75%), although they can go for extended dry periods if needed. Light daily misting is recommended if your vivarium is not humid enough from moss and/or plants that are established within it. As with humidity, heating situations can vary widely depending on the style and orientation of your vivarium, but a thermogradient with the warm side reaching temperatures of 78-80 degrees is recommended. Compact fluorescent lighting commonly used for vivaria usually emit sufficient heat for Ornamentals (although they normally shy away from bright light) but if this is not enough, an under-tank heater can be used as asecondary heat source.
A simplistic arboreal vivarium with a hollow piece of grapewood is ideal for any of these species.
Again, each vivarium is different and care should be taken with tropical plants when selecting a spot for a heat source.
Being arboreal (tree-dwelling) animals, Poecilotheria species prefer vertically oriented vivaria. Adequate ventilation should be provided. Although they are often seen ‘out and about,’ hide spots are necessary. Cork hollows are ideal for this, and will allow your spider to build a web to retreat to, should it want to. Live plants with broad leaves, like pothos ivy, smaller philodendron and bromeliads, also provide excellent cover in this type of environment. A small water dish with a sponge or cotton balls should be offered, for your spider to stay hydrated.
The Indian Ornamental (Poecilotheria regalis)
All Poecilotheria species can feed solely upon crickets. Spiderlings and adults alike can feed weekly, with the size of the food item ranging from small to large crickets, as is appropriate. Care should be taken to provide enough food if a communal vivarium is what you have in mind. Although Ornamentals have been successfully kept together (same species, same size only), they have also been known to cannibalize. If you set up a communal vivarium, it is essential that you provide enough food for your spiders. Several appropriately sized crickets should be fed to each spider weekly, with uneaten food items being removed from the cage with tweezers. Other food items including cockroaches, locusts, meal-, super-, and wax-worms can be fed as well, but in the vivarium these have a tendency to hide or dig if not captured immediately.
In closing, I would like to note that species of Poecilotheria are not the only spiders that do well in vivaria.Brachypelma species are another excellent addition to the tropical vivarium. These terrestrial counterparts are very hardy and less aggressive than the Ornamentals, and are readily available in the pet trade. Brightly colored and not as reclusive as some other tarantulas, these fascinating animals are a subtler main feature than brightly colored frogs or geckos, but if you take the time to set up and care for these eight-legged wonders I think that you will be pleasantly surprised.