Of the 20 described species of Brachypelma Simon, 1891
sixteen or so species can be readily found in captivity. All are terrestrial/burrowing by nature and most are found throughout Central America (Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama etc). Often
referred to as 'pet rocks' in the pet trade due to their docile temperament, they can be very slow growing, taking many years to reach maturity. Some of the longest living tarantulas, there have been
reports of individuals living in excess of 30 years so they are definitely a long-term commitment. Some species are considered safe for handling and most make for an ideal beginners choice, adapting
well to captivity and relatively hardy. All possess urticating hair that may cause some irritation but with their placid temperament, most will be reluctant to bite. A typical terrestrial set-up is
ideal but should be kept on the drier side but country of origin should be used as a guide when setting up the captive environment (see below for more detailed descriptions). A cork bark/flowerpot
retreat is recommended but most species are happy to sit out in the open for long periods making them ideal display animals. More on housing can be found here. Breeding can sometimes be problematic and some recommend a winter cooling period (that the spiders would encounter in the wild) to stimulate eggsac
production. Eggsacs commonly contain around 500 very small spiderlings.
Common species in captivity:
B. albiceps - (Pocock, 1903) Mexico
One of the rarest species in the hobby and one of the most strikingly coloured. The abdomen and legs are similar to B. vagans but the carapace is contrastingly coloured light yellow/gold. Long lived but can be very slow growing in the early stages. (Formerly named B. ruhnaui)
B. albopilosum - Valerio, 1980 Costa Rica
Commonly called the curly hair in the hobby due to the sometimes long setae that covers the legs that have a somewhat curled appearance. Native to Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, B. albopilosum is typical of the genus and can be found in burrows usually in tropical forested regions. Reaching approximately 14 cm in legspan and with a docile temperament, it can be considered an ideal beginners species and although I don't agree with handling any species, this is one that can be considered fairly safe. They feed well throughout their lives, grow rapidly and are long lived captives. Breeding is straight forward and this means they are quite common in the trade therefore they are usually cheap to buy. Settles well in captivity and rarely hides itself away.
B. auratum - Schmidt, 1992 Mexico
Similar to B. harmorii (see below) but commonly called the 'flame knee' as the red colouration is restricted to the patella area only. Slimmer in build and more nervous in temperament.
B. baumgarteni - Smith, 1993 Mexico
Similar to B. harmorii (see below) apart from the colouration. Specimens can be identified from the leg markings - there is a red/orange stripe running the length of the metatarsus on al the legs. Many consider this species a hybrid.
B. boehmei - Schmidt & Klaas, 1993 Mexico
Inhabiting 30 to 40 cm deep burrows amongst ferns and rocks (Guerrero state, Mexico). With it's striking appearance, B. boehmei can be considered one of the most attractive tarantula spiders available. The species is relatively new to the hobby but as they breed well in captivity, the price has dropped considerably. B. boehmei is more nervous and tends to throw off urticating hair more readily. They are slow growing but long lived and their adult colours start to show early on. They rarely burrow in captivity so make an ideal show specimen and reach a large size of around 15 cm legspan. Typical terrestrial set up is ideal. Cork bark or half a flower pot for a retreat. Compost substrate kept slightly moist at all times. Open water dish.
B. emilia - (White, 1856) Mexico
From the scrubland areas of Durango state, Mexico, B. emilia was one of the first spiders to be described in England and is one of the most attractive species available. Freshly moulted males are particularly attractive, the red hairs on the legs and carapace having a lustrous appearance. Mating is usually non-aggressive with little threat to the male. Although a burrowing species, B. emilia seldom hides itself away and this makes it an ideal display spider. Not overly aggressive (more nervous) but not recommended for handling and, like all Brachypelma, posses urticating hair on their abdomens. A fairly slow growing species taking around 6 - 7 years to reach maturity but smaller in size at around 13 cm in legspan.
B. epicureanum - (Chamberlin, 1925) Mexico
Similar to B. vagans (see below) and from the rainforest areas of Mexico (Yucatan State).
B. fossorium Valerio, 1980 Costa Rica
Costa Rican rainforest species that may require higher than normal humidity. Basic overall colour is brown but some may show slight pink (especially in freshly moulted specimens). Still relatively rare in the hobby at present.
harmorii - Tesmoingt, Cleton & Verdez, 1997 Mexico
The original tarantula from the movies, B. harmorii is possibly the best know tarantula of all time. It's bright colouring and docile temperament make it a favourite amongst hobbyists as it's one species that can safely be handled (if you must). For this reason it used to be collected from the wild in large numbers which resulted in all Brachypelma spp. Being listed on CITES Appendix II (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). In recent years it has been widely captive bred and specimens of all sizes should be readily available but although easier to obtain, it still can command a high price (especially for adults as they can take around eight years to mature). It adapts well to captivity and although slow growing, it can easily live in excess of 20 years. Reaching around 15 cm in legspan, these spiders spend long periods sitting motionless in one space but do make good display animals, rarely hiding and not causing too much disruption in a display cage. Mating is relatively straight forward (males possess tibial spurs) but some say that seasonal variation and a 'cooling off' period are essential for eggsac production. After around 12 weeks of incubation, up to a thousand spiderlings will emerge from the eggsac and 10 or so days later they moult into fully mobile spiderlings. Males are particularly striking, the red colouration being very intense after their final moult. This species can fast for long periods between moults but as long as the abdomen remains relatively plump and the spider is active (as much as is normal for a B. smithi), then everything should be fine.
B. klaasi - (Schmidt & Krause, 1994) Mexico
A relatively recent addition to the genus, B. klaasi is a beautiful spider. Rust-red hairs cover the legs and abdomen and this contrasts strikingly with the almost black background colour. More nervous than other members of the group, it will benefit from a retreat during times of disturbance and it will readily use urticating hair as a means of defence. Relatively fast growing, specimens can reach 14 cm in legspan and as captive breeding is becoming more common, spiderlings and juveniles should be readily available. Inhabits a wide range of environments (costal sand dune areas to mountain forests).
B. sabulosum - (F. O. P.-Cambridge, 1897) Guatemala
Positive identification is difficult as it is very similar to B. vagans (see below).
B. schroederi - Rudloff, 2003 Mexico
One of the smallest species in the genus (around 10 cm legspan), B. schroederi is the newest addition to the group. Almost completely black in appearance (except for the carapace that may show some brown), it is a striking specimen. Males are completely black and captive breeding is in its infancy with this one but with any luck, spiderlings will be available in the future. Voracious feeders, they can tackle prey larger than themselves and they grow relatively fast.
B. smithi - (F.O.
Similar to B. harmorii but with a lighter carapace.
B. vagans - (Ausserer, 1875) Mexico, Central America
A wide ranging species throughout Central America - Guatemala, Yucatan, Belize and Honduras, B. vagans juveniles can grow quite fast but can still take several years to reach maturity (up to a 13 cm legspan). Adults can go for long periods without eating and specimens have been known to moult only every two years. Quite common in captivity as breeding is easy with the courtship being a very deliberate affair with no risk to the male if the female is receptive. Multiple matings are common. Recommended beginners species, not overly aggressive but nervous and for this reason, shouldn't be handled.
B. verdezi - Schmidt, 2003 Mexico
A large species that is coloured overall golden brown but with light brown long hairs covering the abdomen. The carapace can sometimes have a dark triangle that extends from the fovea to the front edge around the eyes. Captive breeding is becoming more common for this species so captive bred spiderlings should be available. Until recently this species was sold as Aphonopelma pallidum until a recent revision.