Page 1 of 4 | © 2005-2010 text and photos by Kelly Swift
In late 2002, there was a whisper in the tarantula hobby of a blue beauty of the genus Poecilotheria. At that time the spider seemed to share the same status as unicorns and leprechauns, but then I realized it was more than fiction. Looking into the archives I noticed that they did exist, and some may remember seeing them for the first time on Rick C. West's site [www.birdspiders.com]. Poecilotheria metallica was a reality! Described by Pocock in 1899, this amazing arboreal tarantula from the southwest Erramala Hills of Gooty, S. India was now a successful breeding project by Henrik Wessell Frank of Denmark.
This news spread fast throughout Europe and the U.S. and by spring of 2003 Frank Somma, a Staten Island, New York arachnid importer, claimed he had access to a handful of Poecilotheria metallica. Prices were incredibly high for these original imports, but I bought them anyway [Editor's Note: The initial US retail price was $350-400]. Other tarantula keepers also splurged on this beautiful spider and therefore at this time several U.S. hobbyists and breeders had them.
They seemed to be very hardy and their husbandry straightforward, much like that of P. regalis. As they grew I was able to sex two of my group as females. I was amazed by their fast growth rates. It seemed very odd to me that the largest spiderling of the group, which had the fastest growth rate, turned out to be female. The other female was a good inch smaller and, after much persistence from a hobbyist, I gave in and sold her.
By May 2004 the larger female had reached 5.5 in [14 cm] in legspan and I was offered a mature male from Scott Scher, the originator of Arachnopets.com. We both agreed it was worth a shot to attempt breeding. I was pleased to see that the male was not larger than the female since I really had no experience with this species and wasn't really sure of their potential maximum size. The male was close to 5 in [13 cm] in legspan, but was much more slender than the female. After letting him get comfortable for a couple weeks and feeding my female heavily, I decided to attempt breeding.
Both spiders started drumming within minutes after the male entered the female's tank and on June 14 2004 they copulated. I was very pleased to witness this. Watching the female respond with her tapping convinced me that this species would be receptive even at subadult sizes. The question was would she produce a sac?
As time went on I let the pair cohabitate for two weeks and then separated them for two weeks and repeated this cycle. The male would build sperm webs in both his and her enclosures.
The female's enclosure was a twenty gallon high aquarium [12 x 16 x 24 in; 30 x 40 x 60 cm] with a well-vented screen top. I used several pieces of cork bark and other hardwood bark to make a "teepee" style hide in one corner and surrounded the bottom with decorative moss for texture. A large slab of cork bark was placed on the opposite side like a ramp, along with some artificial plants. A large water bowl was placed in between the two bark structures. It was actually a very simple setup so that I could investigate breeding progress easily. Temperature was kept at 80-82°F [27-28°C] throughout breeding and a pump sprayer was used to simulate a rain shower once every week or so.
After several months the females abdomen was quite large and I was hoping an eggsac was getting close. Having successfully produced P. regalis and P. ornata I knew I was in for a wait, but I never dreamed of the wait I was in for. Several times in conversation with Scott I would update him by saying, "She's webbing a lot and she's huge, so she's going to either molt or make a sac." Just as I thought she was hunkered in, making a retreat for molting or sac construction, I'd catch her on the move, out and about again.