New Furry Friends for the Butterfly Center!

I am used to needing to replace insects on display. There are several factors that have an effect on their longevity and for the most part they do very well, but insects only live so long. I get so preoccupied with them that I forget about the more long-lived species such as the arachnids – like tarantulas and scorpions.

I recently realized that I have had the same 3 tarantulas on display for about 3 years. Female tarantulas can live upwards of 30 years if properly cared for. And as long as they are alive, I keep them on display. I started thinking, duh, why don’t I get some new tarantulas so people will have something different to look at? This is not to say that the ones on display aren’t gorgeous! I curently have a Mexican red-knee, an Indian ornamental and a Goliath birdeater. All three are strikingly beautiful animals! The birdeater will stay because it is the largest spider and people are definitely curious about that. The other two can retire, for now, to the peace and tranquility of the containment room.

So, I have got to go shopping! Ordering tarantulas is so much fun because there are so many to choose from. They come in an unbelievable array of colors; it can be so hard to choose! I wanted to pick those that are better suited for display and not for handling. We do handle tarantulas for our outreach program, Bugs on Wheels, but for that we have Rosie, a 17 year old Chilean rose hair that is such a doll and quite possibly the sweetest, most patient tarantula that ever lived!

Once I perused what was available, I picked the only two that I could get as adults and one spiderling that I can raise. It should be an adult in about a year. Getting a box of live bugs in the mail is like Christmas, it’s so exciting! When I saw these tarantulas for the first time I was overjoyed, they look even better in person. They are very shy, which is why they are not appropriate for handling. They will live in the containment room until I have a chance to put them on display for everyone to see. Let’s meet them!

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Antilles pinktoe spider
Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1

First, let’s meet the Antilles pinktoe (Avicularia versicolor). Spiders in the genus Aviculariaare very common in the pet trade. They are native to the rainforests of South America and a few Caribbean islands. These tarantulas are pretty docile but can move very quickly! They actually have a habit of shooting excrement, also called guano, at their pursuers and they can actually be quite accurate. They are all characterized by pink tarsi, giving rise to the name pinktoe. The Antilles pinktoe is native to Martinique and Guadeloupe. They are tree-dwelling and spend their time in funnel shaped webs made in palm fronds or bromeliads. They are absolutely beautiful with a green carapace or head, a red abdomen and green legs, all covered with reddish pink hairs. They are very hairy! I took pictures of my new friends, unfortunately, they don’t really do them justice.  She is a sub-adult, so she needs to shed one more time to be fully grown. She will look great on display.

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Brazilian red and white spider
Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1

The other large female I purchased is called a Brazilian red and white or Nhandu chromatus, formerly, Lasiodora cristata. This spider is swiftly gaining in popularity. They are very large and sometimes called a white-striped birdeater. They have a grayish white head, white and black striped legs and a bright red abdomen. These are terrestrial tarantulas from Brazil. This species is nervous around people and will bolt if they feel frightened. I briefly held her the other day and she did quite well. I hope to have her feeling at home on display very soon!

The 3rd tarantula I purchased is one of the most popular species of spider and definitely one of the most beautiful. It’s called a Greenbottle Blue Tarantula (Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens). Wow, that’s a mouthful! The only ones available were spiderlings about .5-.75 inches long (very tiny). We used to have one of these spiders and they are really magnificent so I thought I’d try raising one. I only hope that it’s a female. They are very hard to sex at this size, but I will find out when it gets a bit larger.

The only drawback to having a male is that it would only live for a couple of years compared to the long-lived female.  When I opened up the box, I thought I had gotten the wrong thing. It looks completely different from the adult! I knew it would, but I was not expecting it to look so drastically different. When full grown, this spider will have metallic blue legs, a bluish green head and a bright red abdomen They are very striking.  They are native to the desert areas of Venezuela. They live in burrows lined with silk to protect them from the harsh climate.  They tend to be skittish and run very fast when disturbed. Maybe since this one is so young, I can get it more acclimated to being handled. I can’t wait to see how beautiful it will become!

Greenbottle Blue Tarantula
Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1

I think these tarantulas will have long and happy lives here, especially since I spoil everything in my care, but in a good way! I hope they will be around several years from now when I’ll be training a new entomologist to care of them. In the mean time I hope you’ll stop by to take a look at them in the Entomology Hall. Hopefully, even if you think you’re arachnophobic, you can gather up the courage to take a close look and see how colorful and beautiful a spider can be! Happy bug watching!

Caves are the Coolest!

A few weekends ago, I took a quick trip outside of New Braunfels and visited the Natural Bridge Caverns, a living, growing cave system in the middle of Texas.  Our very knowledgeable tour guide took us underground and showed us just what amazing things can happen under our feet.  So…let’s all learn about what grows in a cave!!!

Cave formations, or speleothems, come in a wide variety of shapes-all dependent upon how they are formed.  The predominating formations in the Natural Bridge Caverns are flowstoneand dripstone. 

Most of us are familiar with dripstone in the forms of stalactites and stalagmites.  These two terms are very similar, and it can be hard to remember which one comes from the top of the cave, and which one grows up from the floor.  Here’s an easy way: Stalactites hold on tight to the ceiling, while stalagmites might one day reach it! 

Other kinds of dripstones in the cave are columns, helictites, and soda straws.  (Tip-NEVER touch anything in the caves because the oils and acids on our skin repel water, and thereby kill the cave formation!  Don’t be a cave-killer.)

My favorite example of flowstone in the caves was a formation called the Diamond River.  Most times, moving water deposits small amounts of the minerals it dissolved on its trip down through rock layers.  However, if the water perhaps is moving slowly, it will deposit more of its mineral wealth; the latter is what makes the Diamond River so sparkly!

My second favorite formation is a kind of flowstone.  When deposits flow into thin sheets, it is sometimes called a Cave Curtain, or Cave Drapery.  When a cave curtain has various light and dark layers…it is called Cave Bacon!  (It is so named because of its resemblance to its pork-y counterpart.)

 Cave Bacon!

On a related note, the temperature in the caverns is a seemingly-lovely 70 degrees. HOWEVER, the relative humidity hovers around 99%-making it feel closer to a stuffy 80 degrees.  This level of humidity has an interesting side effect…on the guano (bat droppings).  The bats that deposited the guano lived in the caves QUITE some time ago, so there is no smell.  BUT the moisture in the caves keeps the guano in the same condition is was when it came out of the bats over a thousand years ago, i.e. it never dries out.  In some spots, it is even up to five foot thick!!!  So watch where you step…
It is amazing to see the things that Mother Nature can produce when left to her own devices.  If you have a hearty hankering for more naturally-formed goodies, you should come on down to the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals and see how beautiful geology can be!