Of the 8 described species of Brachypelma Simon, 1891 all
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. 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.
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. smithi - (F.O. Pickard-Cambridge, 1897)
Similar to B. harmorii but often with a lighter carapace and a brighter orange on the legs.