By Anthony Neubauer
The group of tarantulas that make up the genus Brachypelma are ideal spiders for any hobbyist. Their generally calm demeanor, decent yet manageable size(5-6 inches), and stunning colors make them perfect for a display animal. Some tolerate handling more than others, but as with any spider, care should be taken when handling. My personal favorite, the Mexican Fire leg, is better kept for display. They are one of the most colorful members of the genus, and tend to stay out in the open for viewing.
When selecting a first tarantula, most people are instructed to start with “New World” species, that is, species that come from North or South America. New World species possess specialized hairs on the abdomen, called uriticating hairs, that are rubbed off as the first defense. These hairs, once airborne, cause itchiness and irritation. Some people are more sensitive to them than others, but they generally are of little worry. Because they possess these hairs, they are less inclined to bite, and possess less potent venom if they do. They also tend to be calmer and slower moving. This makes them more manageable for the beginner and intermediate hobbyist. The Brachypelma genus hails from Mexico and Central America, so fall into the New World category.
Selecting an Enclosure
When selecting an enclosure for a Fire Leg, one must keep in mind that they are a terrestrial species, so will spend their time on the ground. This is important, as housing them in too tall of cage can result in a fatal fall. Spiderlings are available as small as half an inch, and up until around two inches should be housed in a small, simple setup as locating their food and water will be tough in larger enclosures. I recommend an eight ounce deli cup up until two inches such asthis. Once they start gaining size, appropriately sized glass tanks or plastic enclosure can be used. For an adult Fire Leg, something with similar floor space to a 10 gallon tank is sufficient. Exo Terra Breeder Boxes and Flat Den Homes are an excellent way to save space, allowing for you to have more spiders!
Cage Décor and Substrate
For any tarantula to thrive, a hiding spot should be provided to allow the spider to feel secure and keep stress levels down. Hides can be anything from a coconut hide, to a piece of cork bark, to a stone cave or skull. Basically anything they can get under or in, and be mostly unseen. Commonly used substrates include Coconut Husk, Orchid Bark, and Cypress Mulch. A water bowl should also be offered for spiders around three inches and up. It should be shallow enough that there is no risk of drowning, and should be changed every couple of days to keep it clean. Spiderlings up until three inches should be sprayed once a week, and not given a water bowl, as this can cause drowning. They will drink the water droplets when they are sprayed. It is not recommended to use a sponge as a water source, as these quickly promote bacterial growth. Some keepers, particularly those interested in keeping Fire Legs for a display animal, choose to take the habitat to the next level and create a natural living vivarium, complete with live plants. This can be easily done with a little extra thought and consideration. Keep in mind your tarantula’s needs when molting (higher humidity in particular), and you can recreate a desert- style vivarium with moist hiding areas.
Temperature and Humidity
Fire Legs come from the deserts and sub deserts of Mexico. However, no tarantula should be kept constantly dry or too hot. They can be kept at room temperature in most households, provided it stays around 70-73*. Ideally you’d be shooting for 78-80 Degrees, in which case they will metabolize and grow quicker. If you need to pump the temperatures up a little bit, you can use a Clamp Lamppointed at one side of the cage to raise the ambient temperature.
Heat pads can also be used, but should only be mounted to the side of a glass enclosure, as tarantulas burrow to escape heat, so an undertank heater would result in a cooked spider.
As adults, their substrate can be kept bone dry as long as a water bowl is provided. They should also be given higher humidity before they molt. This is achieved by lightly spraying the enclosure, and by adding wet Sphagnum Moss.
Tarantulas in general have a low metabolism. They aren’t running around the cage all day, or doing much of anything, to be honest. As a result, they don’t eat a whole lot. Most spiders will eat one appropriately sized insect a week. Spiderlings can be offered Flightless fruit flies if they are too small to tackle live crickets. They can also be given a freshly killed small cricket, as they can be scavengers for their few months of life. It is not uncommon for your tarantula to skip a meal, or even go for a prolonged period of fasting. As long as they maintain a plump abdomen, they are perfectly fine. The most frequent reason that a spider refuses a meal is that is going through premolt, that is, it is preparing to shed its skin. Signs of premolt would be the tarantula kicking all of its uriticating hairs off, leaving a light colored bald spot that eventually turns black. After the process is complete, you will find a shed skin that looks just like your spider! They will also begin to regenerate legs during this time if any are lost. Leg regeneration can take several molts and can be a complicated process for your tarantula, so while they can regrow their legs, it’s best that they not lose them in the first place.
Sexing tarantulas is usually difficult until they mature. Once mature, males will possess “hooks” on their pedipalps, which are used for breeding. Once males “hook out”, they will only live for another year or two. Females will not get these hooks, and will instead live for around 20 years after maturing. This obviously makes females more desirable to acquire, however it is near impossible to tell until they are mature. You can also sex tarantulas by examining their molts closely, but as this can be difficult without the right tools to see the right parts in a tiny spiderling molt, to be truly accurate it is best left to the dedicated tarantula enthusiast.
Overall, the Mexican Fire Leg Tarantula makes a perfect pet for beginning and advanced hobbyists alike. They are very hardy and easy to care for, but attain decent size and amazing color. They are not very quick, nor are they very bitey, but they do kick hairs and become nervous when disturbed, so they are better left as a “look-but-don’t-touch” pet. They can be kept in a simplistic setup, or in an elaborate vivarium. Either way, they will thrive as long as a few basic needs are met. If you are looking for a colorful tarantula that is easy to deal with and maintain, stop looking and purchase a Mexican Fire Leg Tarantula!