Page 1 of 1 | © 2005-2010 text by Michael Jacobi
No matter what you want to call it, it's just dirt.
That stuff lining the bottom of your arachnid cages, the stuff we like to call substrate,
the stuff that keepers have strong preferences for and rigid feelings about,
the stuff that fuels contentious debate and time-wasting polls,
the stuff that evokes odd desires for sterility and purity,
it ain't that complex.
I have been on numerous collecting trips to the southwest US and I have yet to find one tarantula burrow
in heat expanded mica, better known as vermiculite.
Maybe it's the rest of the world's tarantulas that live in it?
Are there any tarantulas living in Canadian peat bogs?
Or maybe other tarantulas put their soil in ovens meant for pizzas and turkeys and pies in an attempt to sterilize it.
Ah, nothing like baked dirt for dinner or explaining the casserole pan of dirt in the oven to your spouse.
Ever see any scorpions in line at the pet store waiting to buy a small bag of dirt for $5 or chunks of fir bark for $10?
Flash news report just in ... arachnids don't live in sterile hospital clinics.
In fact, many live amongst leaf litter teeming with alien life forms that are hard at work,
thanklessly breaking down organic matter, humbly participating in nature's woundrous cycle.
So, why this obsession, mostly in America, with a substrate that contains no life.
What do you have against those cool fluorescent yellow mushrooms that grow out of your peat mix from time to time?
Why the paranoia that the garden soil in your backyard contains arachnid-host-specific mites?
Come on. Grab a shovel. You're surrounded in dirt.
If you're lucky it will contain beneficial organisms like wood lice and isopods and some bacteria
that just might clean up the waste you forgot to remove and is attracting unwanted terrarium pests.
If not, make sure you add some! ... I do.
Call me old school, but I've had little trouble using the dirt the earth provides instead of the product the marketers sell.
Sure, I make sure there aren't any little centipedes or ants or anything that might eat a spiderling in the dirt.
I also make sure that dirt is collected where no fertilizers or pesticides of any sort have been used.
There's clean dirt and there's ... well ... er ... dirty dirt.
Dirt is good but mud is bad.
If only people worried as much about how stagnantly saturated their substrate is as they do how lifeless it is.
Ventilate. Ventilate. Ventilate some more.
I don't know about yours, but my arachnids get hydrated by being fed well and having access to fresh water.
None of my arachnids drink dirt. I mean, mud.
Dirt is great. Dirt is free.
I confess. My rant is a tad hypocritical.
Sometimes I use fake dirt, especially for the numerous tarantula spiderlings
I have for sale that are confined in the micro micro-environment of a vial.
And since some dirt hater is going to email me saying that dirt is obviously full of cooties
and ask what I would use if not nature's earth, I'll whisper it:
75/25 coconut coir/vermiculite with just enough water to make it barely, almost, kinda sorta clump.
But if it's a terrarium bigger than a vial or deli cup, I still put wood lice and isopods and such in it! Maybe even a live plant .