The Brazilian Black, Grammostola pulchra, is one of my favourite tarantula species of all.
I barely know where to begin singing it’s praises.
Lets start with appearance; while Grammostola pulchra may not be as “showy” and brightly coloured as some other species are, this tarantula has a classy, subtle beauty about it.
Clothed in velvet black hairs it looks sleek and glossy, especially after a fresh moult. The general body shape is chunky and thick-set, giving it a sturdy appearance overall; quite different to how leggy many tarantulas are.
Then there’s the personality of Grammostola pulchra. In my experience this is one of the friendliest species of tarantula available. I’ve never known one bite; they’re placid enough to be the perfect species if you’re looking for something to handle safely.
They’re also slow-moving, which makes handling easier, and reach an average legspan of around 6″ making it a mid-range species.
So while it may not be covered in stunning patterning like Poecilothera ornata, or brightly coloured like Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens, or the size of a dinnerplate like the Goliath Birdeater, it is a beautiful, hardy and easy-going tarantula species.
Perfect for the beginner, it is also unusual enough to hold the interest of more seasoned tarantula keepers, who like the ease of looking after the closely-related Chilean Rose Hair, but want something a little bit “different”.
As the common name would suggest, Grammostola pulchra hails mainly from Brazil, though it may also be found in northern Uruguay.
This species was originally described in 1921 by Mello-Leitão, the latin name “pulchra” meaning “fine” – a hat-tip to the fine “crushed-velvet” look of the hairs on this species.
Little is truly known about the Brazilian Black in the wild, though we do know that the species is ground dwelling. While it may attempt to build burrows in nature, it seems more likely that it will adopt a similar mentality to some other Grammostola tarantulas, taking refuge where it can under rocks, logs and vegetation.
In captivity the species seems happy to sit in a hide all day, but less likely to try and build a burrow than many other species.
Like it’s cousins, Grammostola pulchra is a forgiving and easily-accommodated species of tarantula.
An adult Brazilian Black requires a cage no smaller than 12″ by 10″ as an adult, with suitable places to hide during daylight hours.
The cage should permit suitable ventilation, as Grammostola pulchra often does better at slightly lower humidities than many other species.
While these are not the most athletic of tarantulas, they do have a fair amount of strength. Thought should therefore be put into how best to prevent escape; a tight-fitting lid should be considered critical, lest your spider manages to push off a less study top.
A range of different cages may be used for this species. Generally they will be made from glass or plastic.
At it’s most basic a faunarium can be used, though these can prove challenging to heat properly in winter due to the extreme level of ventilation they provide. Alternatively a range of plastic containers intended for household use – such as plastic cake tubs or Really Useful Boxes – may be used effectively if suitable ventilation holes are added.
Thanks to growth in the hobby, a small number of companies are now producing specialist tarantula tanks made from glass. These come in a range of sizes and dimensions, and most offer a mesh area for ventilation.
If you want to go all out with what I think is the best-looking cage on the market then consider investing in an Exo Terra. These glass tanks look fantastic and allow you to create a very realistic “mini world” within.
They’re easy to heat, include suitable ventilation and the locking doors at the front make routine maintenance simple. A range of accessories are also available, including a separate lighting hood.
As most animals cannot see red light, fitting a low-wattage red lightbulb in the hood can enable you to watch your tarantula moving around after dark, without him or her having any idea that you are there.
Three elements should be included in your Brazilian Black cage before you consider the other aspect of landscaping.
The first of these are hides. At least one should be provided, but two or more is better. In this way your spider can select from a range of options and chose that which suits them best. As a ground-dwelling spider there are quite a few different hides currently on the market.
Traditionally, spider keepers have used pieces of curved cork bark, and this still works well to this day. Alternatively a range of reptile hides can be purchased, from artificial logs through to miniature caves. Any or all of these would be suitable.
Lastly, for a low-cost alternative a plant pot, laid on it’s side and partially buried is also suitable.
The second critical element is some form of substrate to line the base of the cage. Over the years tarantula keepers have experimented with all manner of options.
These days I almost exclusively use coconut fibre for my tarantulas. This is a renewable, environmentally-sound product, made from the composted husks of coconuts used in the food industry.
The material itself is light and fluffy, and absorbs plenty of water. This makes it ideal for moderating humidity in your tarantula’s tank. Lastly, it comes in condensed blocks, which are easy to store at home.
When you’re ready, you simply pop the brick into a bucket of water and leave it for half an hour or so. The substrate absorbs the water and swells to many times its original size. A single block can provide enough substrate for a whole host of spider tubs.
A your Brazilian Black may try to construct a burrow it can be a good idea to add a greater depth of substrate than you might for other species. Some 4″ of so tends to work well, and allows your spider a fair amount of digging activity if it so desires.
Finally, juvenile and adult tarantulas should be provided with a water dish so that they can drink whenever they wish.
Heating & Temperature
Experts recommend that the Brazilian Black is kept at a temperature of around 18-25’C. This is most easily provided by heating one end of the tank with a heat mat.
The heated end should ideally reach the 25’C mark, while the unheated end remains cooler. This creates a range of temperatures within the tank which, when combined with a number of hides, means that your spider can move about as in nature and select the area that suits them best.
Heat mat manufacturers recommend that all heat mats should be used with a thermostat, though some disagreement exists within the hobby. In truth, in all my years of keeping tarantulas and using heat mats I have never known one to overheat. Some keepers therefore use heat mats without a thermostat, making setting up a cage for Grammostola pulchra a much cheaper affair.
Others point out that overheating can occur, and that maintaining the right heat as the weather warms up in Spring and Summer can be problematic. A thermostat certainly helps to “automate” the environmental conditions in the cage, meaning your spider won’t overheat in warmer weather.
For this reason I recommend the use of a matstat to control the temperature of your Brazilian Black cage.
Due to the depth of substrate that many keepers opt to give this species, it can be more practical to attach the heat mat to the side or end of the cage (externally) rather than to place it under the cage.
In nature, of course, a tarantula would burrow down to avoid the harshest of weather. A under-tank heater, however, means that your spider will actually get warmer rather than cooler as it burrows. Placing the heat mat on the side of the cage helps to eliminate this issue, and well as reducing the chances of your heatmat overheating and cracking the glass.
Water & Humidity
Maintaining the right humidity level for your tarantula is important. Grammostola pulchra should be sprayed once or twice a week with a houseplant spray gun, which will not only increase the humidity for a period of time, but also allows smaller tarantulas to drink from the droplets that accumulate around the cage.
An ideal humidity for this species sits at around 60-70% – perhaps rather lower than many more “tropical” species like the Salmon Pink Birdeater.
Care should be taken to avoid a “soggy” cage, which can lead to health problems. Good ventilation should be maintained at all times to avoid this, and the cage should be allowed to dry out gently between spraying to prevent the build-up of mould.
The Brazilian Black is a slow-growing and long-lived species. While some topical tarantulas may eat almost daily, and achieve adult dimensions in little over a year, Grammostola pulchra is altogether more sluggish in its appetite and growth. Spiderlings and youngsters can be fed twice a week, while most adults will be fine on weekly feedings.
Grammostola pulchra will happily eat any insect that it can subdue, which normally means anything up the the overall body length of your spider. Crickets have always been the go-to source of insect prey for tarantulas, though increasing tropical cockroaches and locusts are being used.
Be sure to remove any uneaten food the day after feeding to prevent your spider getting stressed.
Note that it can be very worthwhile to keep feeding charts for tarantulas, as this helps you to identify moulting times. When a spider goes off it’s food it is important to monitor the situation.
In most cases tarantulas fast before a moult; a loose insects in the cage during a moult can be a very bad idea. Accurate record-keeping can help to remind you which of your tarantulas are currently eating, and which are not.
As a result, you can manage the provision of food to minimize any disturbance during the all-important moulting phase.
One of the very best things about Grammostola pulchra is simply how slow-moving and docile it is, which makes it perfect for handling. The spider can be gently scooped up, or nudged gently onto a flat hand.
Be aware that this spider does have urticating hairs like some other species, and that these can cause irritation in some circumstances. That said, the Brazilian Black seems less likely to kick these off than many other species; my specimens rarely if ever end up with a bald rump from kicking off these hairs, in stark contrast to some other species.
All the general tarantula-handling rules apply here. Hold the spider low over a soft surface, so that a fall won’t harm your spider. Remain gentle and calm throughout. Keep your face well away from the spider so that urticating hairs cannot get into your eyes if they are kicked off. And be certain to thoroughly wash your hands – ideally in a reptile-safe hand wash or gel – after handling.
Following these basic rules the tarantula keeper can enjoy handling this species regularly. It can also be an excellent species for introducing others to tarantulas, and for allowing formerly arachnophobic individuals to handle their very first tarantula.