There are debates among hobbyist on whether or not there are true communal tarantula species. Some say that there are species who cohabits, even helping one another. Others argue that there are no truly communal tarantulas; that the few species that are kept together, simply tolerate each other for a limited time. They claim that to put a group of tarantulas together is to force a species to stay in a small, confined space and that in the wild, they would never live a communal life.
My personal experience with certain species living in the same enclosure has been to the contrary. I have practiced communal setup with the following species: Poecilotheria regalis (5), Neoholothele incei (3), Hysterocrates gigas (3) and Monocentropus balfouri (35). I purchased all of these species online as spiderlings, except the M. balfouri, which was home bred. I assumed the online species I purchased were sackmates.
I learned from keeping the Poecilotheria regalis communally, that there is a need to raise them in close proximity. The enclosure I placed my first group in was large enough to put at least twenty-five spiderlings Pokies. I ended up with one fat, beautiful female tarantula. She is close to ten years old now. The last one with her was about three inches before it disappeared. They didn’t congregate at all. There was enough space for each of them to isolate themselves and establish their own territory. I came to the conclusion that to successfully keep Poecilotheria species communally, they should be kept in an enclosure where they are in contact with each other as spiderlings and juveniles. My next project with this Genus will be to breed them and keep about twenty in a communal environment.
With the Hysterocrates gigas, I only started with three spiderlings. The enclosure again was large enough to house thirty spiderlings. One disappeared as a juvenile (6-months). The other two grew to maturity and one matured as a male, that eventually died. This species is truly communal. They inhabited the same burrow. I never seen them share their prey, but when I threw a herd of crickets into their cage, they all would surface to hunt. My girl eventually died.
The three Holothele incei ended up maturing into three females; that I kept for only about three years before they died. I know they were not cannibalized, because their corpse was found. I don’t know why they died so young.
I bred the M. balfouri and the male stayed in the enclosure until he died. I have seen the mother actually nurture her young. The mother would pre-killed prey for them before retiring to her den to feast on her meal. I have also observed her young feasting with her. I have photos of them sharing meals together.When they became juveniles, they shared burrows, not just set up burrows next to each other, without cannibalizing. If any terrestrial species is truly communal, not just tolerant of sharing space, it is the M. balfouri. Their behavior is worth having a communal setup and they are fascinating to watch.
KEY TO STARTING A COMMUNAL SETUP
The key to keeping tarantulas together, that has communal tendency, is to have a small enclosure so they are always in contact with each other. Remember, if you give them too much space they will become territorial, then cannibalism will happen. If you keep them in close proximity of each other and feed them regular, the casualties should be minimal, if any. If one of them separate from the group, it would be best to remove that individual to another terrarium.
SACK MATES OR NOT
Should the communal setup be sack mates only or will a species accept another spiderlings from a different sack communally? I have not kept communal slings from different egg sacks together to observe whether there is a behavior difference towards spiderling from a different egg sack, but I have read that there is no difference. Only make sure they are the same size and are introduced into the enclosure together. When acquiring a group of spiderlings for a communal setup, ask the dealer whether they are sack mates or not.
I don’t recommend starting a communal setup with adult tarantulas, but spiderlings.
Among some adult species, the females will allow the male to cohabitate with her for a long period of time.
WHAT SPECIES TO START WITH
If you are relatively new to the tarantula hobby and want to start a communal setup, Holothele incei is a good species to start with. They can be pretty fast moving, but pose less of a threat than the M. balfouri or a Poecilotheria species. Also, they are smaller, beautiful, less defensive, less expensive, and make an excellent webbing network.
HOW MANY SPIDERLINGS SHOULD YOU START WITH?
If you plan on keeping tarantulas communally, you should plan on breeding them. Seven (7) spiderlings should insure that you have more than one male and female. You may start a communal setup with two or more spiderlings, but if they are all one sex you won’t see the full communal cycle. The complete communal cycle involves mating, an egg sack, incubation, spiderlings, mothering and enlarging established territory to accommodate the new addition.
FEEDING COMMUNAL TARANTULAS
How much prey should you throw in your communal setup during feeding time to insure that there won’t be any cannibalizing? If you feed your spiderlings an appropriate sized cricket twice a week then you should make sure that in their communal terrarium setup, they receives the same amount of food. Remember, a tarantula will eat another tarantula if there is not enough food. By definition, that makes them cannibalistic by nature; so to avoid cannibalism, make sure that there is enough prey in your communal setup for all the colony to feed.
You should not need to remove your spiders for maintenance with proper housekeeping. For routine maintenance, you will need a twelve inch tweezer to remove bolus, old molt and dead uneaten prey. To help keep a clean and healthy environment for a communal setup, I suggest you throw in Roly Polys (Armadillidium) species to keep the cage free of mites and for general house cleaning. Put a granite stone in the water dish so crickets will not drown in it. For proper humidity, see humidity under "Basic Husbandry"
With arboreal species, you will need to clean the sides of the cage. You can accomplish this by misting the sides and waiting for the poop to soften, then use the tweezers with a wet paper towel to clean the sides.
TRANSFERRING COMMUNAL SPECIES
Once your tarantulas have reached maturity, or when the colony have outgrown the terrarium by multiplying, you may need to transfer your tarantulas to a larger enclosure. When transferring communal T's from one enclosure to another, make sure you plan ahead. Make sure you are in an open space. It is advisable to have another person on hand. Use a deli cup and a small paint brush to coach your tarantula in the deli cup. You should have the new terrarium already setup. Put each spider in the new setup as you catch them. You should not have any problem if you follow these instructions. Remember, moving certain communal species like an adult Poecilotheria species, to new living accommodation may be a challenge, because of their size and speed. The M. balfouri is a defensive spider and will turn and face you when threatened instead of running, this species may also create a challenge.
Properly rehousing does not trigger fighting for territorial behavior. Make sure the new setup has plenty of hides for the colony.
WHICH POKIES MAKE GOOD COMMUNAL SPECIES
If you would like to try a communal setup with the Genus Poecilotheria, I read that hobbyist has had more success with these species: P. rufilata, P. vitatta, P. miranda, P. subfusca, P. formosa, P. pedeseni and the P. regalis, P. hanumavilasumica, P. smithi, P. tigrinawesseli
Do molting, post molting or T’s about to molt separate themselves from the group to molt then rejoin after they have hardened? Or do they molt near the others? Do the other sibling prey on them during this process?
The most vulnerable time in a tarantula’s life is during premolt and post molt. From my observations, among communal species I have kept, the group allowed a mate to molt among them and didn’t kill it during the molting process. At least I haven’t seen it.
Few of the hundreds of spiderlings from an egg sac actually reach maturity. There are many animal that prey on tarantulas in the wild, including other tarantulas. Whether in the wild or in captivity, there will always be some casualties from cannibalism, because tarantulas are cannibals by nature.
What causes communal animals species to turn on another social members of their group? Man is not the only species that turn on its kind. This behavior has been observed in primates on down to rats. Why would a tarantula or group of tarantulas turn on a member of their group, kill and eat it? Could it be the member killed was sick? Did it die first and then was eaten? Was it because of a lack of food, the group since a shortage of food and for the survival of the group it was best to eliminate the weakest one? Maybe there is one among them that become detrimental to the group and start to attack and kill the others. These and many more questions will be answered once we gain more experience with communal oriented tarantulas.
It has been observed in the wild, how terrestrial species that are not communal, inhabit the same Real estate within 15.24 cm (6”) of each other and grow to maturity. They must know of each other presence. Did they both settle there as spiderlings or adults? Are there boundaries or truce between them through mutual respect or a standoff? Some of these tarantulas living in close proximity are defferent species or in a different Genus.
I think we can learn a lot about spiders by observe them in a communal setup.
The closer we are able to mimic a tarantula's natural habitat, the more we will learn about them and become more successful in keeping them in these types of setups.
THE INTRODUCTION OF NEW MEMBERS TO THE COMMUNITY
Most communal setups are not large enough to place a divider and to do so may destroy the lair. What I do is put the newcomer (s) in a deli cup, wait until it settle down, than slowly lift the top off. When the new arrival is comfortable, it will leave the cup or a member of the communal group will approach and position it’s self near, as to say “its okay, you may come out”. If this is done without panicking the community, there should be no problem. If the community panic and start running, wait until the colony settle down before lifting the top off of the deli cup.
WHAT IS A SUCCESSFUL COMMUNAL SETUP
To say you have a successfully communal setup, you need to complete the communal cycle which involves raising spiderlings to maturity, mating, egg sack, incubation, spiderlings, mothering and enlarging established territory to accommodate the new addition. What determine a successful communal setup is when you have a terrarium of at least three generation of the same species living together.
I haven’t observed a hierarchy in communal tarantulas as in bees or an ant colony, but I have notice a since of respect among the younger spiderling for the older juveniles and adults. Maybe it is due to size or even bullying, I don't know. Community life among ants and bees are centered about their queen. I have collected ants locally and raised them, along with the queen, in large Ant Farms. An Ant colony is on a higher social level than tarantulas from my observation, but I have notice that tarantulas will work together for a common good that benefit the group. Again, there is much to be learned here.
A communal setup is on another level of keeping tarantulas. Remember, you may end up with hundreds of tarantulas. If you have considered all of the Pros and Cons in keeping tarantulas communally and decided to establish a setup, go for it and document everything. Remember to take plenty of pictures and share your experience on a tarantula forum.
Here are a few species that has been housed communally.
Heterothele sp. (villosella)
Pamphobeteus sp. (Chicken spider)