It’s time for another species deep-dive as we take a look at one of our longtime tarantula residents: the Red Slate Ornamental Tarantula! This Old World tarantula is endemic to a small region in India, and belongs to a genus of tarantulas (Poecilotheria) colloquially known as “pokeys.”
Pokeys, and old world tarantulas in general, have earned reputations for being fast, skittish and extremely venomous. In fact, one of the major distinctions between old world and new world tarantulas is venom potency. New world tarantulas, from the Americas, use their urticating hairs as a main defense against predators. Old world tarantulas, from Asia, Africa and Australia, lack these urticating hairs and instead rely on their impressive speed and pain-inducing venom to make a quick getaway. The red slate tarantula is no exception. Often referred to as “parachute spiders,” they can leap great distances from the trees they inhabit to snag an unsuspecting prey item (luckily, they have no interest in humans).
Our red slate tarantula was donated to us years ago by a tarantula hobbyist who was moving to Alaska and was worried he would be unable to provide adequate heat and humidity for this tropical spider.
Red slate ornamental tarantulas are found only in the southern Sahyadri (Western Ghats) mountain range, which runs parallel to the southern coast of India. This tropical, mountainous region is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is known as one of the world’s top ten “biodiversity hotspots,” playing host to thousands of unique plant and animals species, many of whom are threatened or endangered.
Unfortunately, the red slate ornamental tarantula is among these endangered species. Due to the tarantula’s evasive nature (and perhaps the reluctancy to study such aggressive, venomous animals) not much is known about their range or the number of individuals left in the wild.
According to the IUCN Red List:
“It is reported from in and around Agastyavanam Reserve. It is assumed that it occurs in reserve forest and private plantation near Trivandrum. Captive breeding is not very successful without continuous influx of wild individuals and thus pet trade will continue (Capannini 2003, Ezendam 2003). Therefore, the species requires protection at the national level by being included in the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act. It is also important that this species and all other Poecilotheria species from India and Sri Lanka are included under the CITES Appendix II to safeguard them from trade.”
Not only are these tarantulas threatened by habitat destruction (as so many endangered species are), the pet trade has sadly become a massive issue. As with all our actions, we should be cognizant of the choices we make and how they are affecting the world around us.