Fringed Ornamental (Poecilothera ornata) Care Sheet

At first glance, some might mistake the Poecilotheria ornata for it’s cousin Poecilotheria regalis, but look more closely and you’ll find a whole host of differences.

Firstly, the colour is subtly different; Poecilothera ornata may have a greenish or even purplish hue in some specimens.

Then there’s the size. Poecilotheria ornata, commonly known as the Fringed Ornamental, is considered to be the second-largest species of Indian ornamentals (Poecilotheria genus) and may routinely grow to a legspan of 9-10″ across. Second only to Poecilotheria rufililata, this is an epic tarantula both in patterning and dimensions…

Wild Habitat

indian ornamental photoOriginally described in 1899 by Pocock, Poecilotheria ornata has one of the widest ranges of common names seen in the pet trade.

It may be known variously as the Yellow Legged Ornamental, the Ornate Tiger Spider and even the Ornate Parachute spider.

Like all Poecilotheria, the Fringed Ornamental is confined to the Indian sub-continent.

Poecilotheria ornata is a tree-dwelling specialist from Sri Lanka, where the country experiences wide ranging temperatures throughout the year (19-34’C) and two different monsoon seasons, one from May to July, and the second from November to January. It is interesting to note that the average humidity in Sri Lanka is perhaps rather lower than one might expect, hovering around the 50% mark.

One assessment of the distribution of Indian ornamental tarantulas claimed that Poecilother ornata as been found in “Udamaliboda, Deraniyagala, one from the Kitulgala forest reserve and three from the Sinharaja World Heritage Site”.

The same study also examined the wild habitat of Poecilotheria ornata, and recorded exactly where specimens were located. The scientists claim that most specimens were found hiding in tree holes or behind pieces of loose bark.

Interestingly, Poecilotheria ornata is one of the few species to be reported living communally with tiny frogs. The frog, Latin name Ramanella nagaoi, has been found sharing tree holes with the Fringed Ornamental.

It has been suggested that this may be a form of “mutualism” where both species benefit; the frog is protected by the spider, and therefore does not fall prey. The spider, on the other hand, benefits because the tiny microhylid frog protects the tarantulas eggs from parasitic infection, feeding on any tiny invertebrates that make their way into the hole.

Caging

Poecilotheria‘s large adult size, arboreal nature and speed of movement has a large impact on their housing.

While this species does not require as much humidity as some other members of the genus, it is important that their cage is suitably-sized and makes for ease of maintenance. You will not want a full-grown Poecilotheria ornata getting out in your home, especially as the bites of Poecilotheria are considered “medically relevant“.

A cage no smaller than 18″ tall is therefore recommended, and a 24″ tall cage would be even more suitable for an adult.

While the length and depth of the cage are of less importance for tree-dwelling spiders, for such a sizeable captive it does make sense to ensure that the tank is at least 12″ long and deep.

The ideal dimensions would be 24″ tall by 18″ wide and 18” deep, which provides plenty of space for your Poecilotheria ornata to move around. Just as importantly, it makes your life easier with feeding and routine maintenance, giving you a fighting chance of your tarantula tries to make a break for freedom.

While these are fast-moving tarantulas, they seem more prone to running in a vertical dimension; they’re more likely to run up the side of the cage than across the bottom. As a result, cages with a front that opens can be rather more practical than one which involves taking off the lid continually.

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Exo Terras work well for this species, offering both suitable dimensions and the locking, front-opening door mechanism.

Smaller specimens can be kept in a range of other containers, from unused plastic sweet jars to specially-built tarantula tanks. Irrespective of the option chosen, it should provide suitable ventilation to prevent the build up of moisture and, by extension, the growth of mould or fungus.

Once again, the Exo Terra performs strongly here as it comes complete with a close-fitting metal gauze lid.

Tank Decor

Keeping tarantulas like the “Orange Bitey Thing“, the Cobalt Blue or the Fringed Ornamental requires thought. These spiders are all fast-moving and are considered to have particularly toxic venom. You’ll therefore want to marry the comfort of your tarantula with the practicalities of maintenance to avoid the risk of an escape, or even a bite.

The first consideration should be in the provision of suitable hides. For Poecilotheria ornata, rolls of cork bark tend to work best. These mimic the loose bark that Fringed Ornamentals would conceal themselves behind in nature.

Be sure to select pieces which have dimension which allows your tarantula to get inside, and of a length that there is space at the end for entry and exit.

The cork bark should then be positioned vertically, giving the impression of a tree trunk. Your spider will be able to hide away inside this bark, accessing it from the top, and then during nighttime hours will come out to hunt. Your specimens may well be found resting gently on the bark in the evening.

I have personally found that the provision of suitable hides like this can make tank maintenance a much easier and less stressful event.

Most Poecilotheria will produce copious amounts of web within the hide to protect themselves, and will stay in there for long periods of time. Tank maintenance can therefore be carried out with relative ease if a careful eye is kept on the hide to ensure your spider remains within.

With patience and, let’s be honest, a little bravery, these hides can also make tank cleaning easier. The whole hide can be gently removed, with spider inside, and placed into a new cage if required. This prevents the potential fun of doing battle with a 10″ rapidly-moving spider and trying to coral it from one cage to another.

Second to the importance of hide provision is the use of a suitable tarantula substrate. Full guidance is given here, but in general you should aim to line the base of the tank with a few centimetres of substrate to help moderate humidity in the cage.

Coconut fibre is arguably one of the best possible solutions, and can be bought from most reptile shops in neat, condensed blocks. Simply soak a block in water for a few minutes and it expands to many times it’s original size. Being highly absorbent, this substrate is perfect for use with tarantulas and also looks fantastic.

Heating & Temperature

A base temperature of around 25’C, provided by a heat mat or heat cable controlled with a thermostat, works well for this species.

As we discussed above, however, Poecilotheria ornata often deals with temperatures considerably higher than this. As a result, this may be one species that appreciates slightly warmer temperatures on occasion; certainly one area of the cage reaching 28’C is unlikely to cause problems, though as always a thermal gradient should be provided.

In this way your spider can easily move away from the hottest part of the cage if it starts to become uncomfortable for him or her.

Water & Humidity

It is considered best practise to provide a water bowl for all species of tarantula, even if they rarely seem to drink from it. At least under these circumstances you can feel confident that your spider will not become dehydrated.

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All the same, care must be taken with this species, and the front-opening door of an Exo Terra makes removing and cleaning the water bowl rather easier than top-opening tanks. If you need to reach down 18-24″ to remove the water bowl a long pair of forceps can be used if desirable. These are available up to 12″ in length, helping to make maintenance much simpler (and safer).

Just as importantly as the water bowl, the tank should be sprayed one or twice a week with lukewarm water. This will temporarily raise the humidity in the cage, and allow your spider to drink from the droplets that condense on the walls of the cage. Care should be taken to allow the substrate to dry out partially between spraying, to prevent an unhealthy soggy environment for your spider.

Feeding

Like the other members of the genus, Poecilotheria ornata is a fast growing species with an appetite to match.

If you’ve kept slower-growing species in the past like the Mexican Red Knee or Chilean Rose you could be in for a surprise here. I have had specimens in the past that would eat almost every day, given the option, and would tackle prey items considerably larger than what other species of a similar size might.

Youngsters will thrive on a diet of black or brown crickets, smaller roaches and half-sized locusts. Adults will happily take adult locusts and roaches, and some may even take the odd dead mouse. Specimens of all sizes tend to be reliable feeders, only generally going off food a week or two before moulting.

As tarantulas cannot really be overfed, feel free to feed your specimen as much and as often as they will eat, which will maximize their growth rates. Under such conditions Poecilotheria ornata may reach sexual maturity in just 18 months or so – quite an impressive rate of growth for any tarantula!

Handling

Poecilotheria ornata is definitely not a tarantula to handle, having potent venom combined with a skittish and fast-moving attitude.

As described earlier, possibly the best method of moving this spider when necessary is simply to transport it within it’s hide; moving the whole thing from one cage to another.

In cases where this is impossible or undesirable I find that the use of clear plastic containers can work well. The container should be roughly the same length as your tarantula’s legspan. When the spider is out exploring the cage, the tub can be gently but firmly clamped over the top of the spider.

Be sure not to trap or damage any limbs, which is simple enough when a clear container is used. When you’re happy that the spider is trapped safely, the lid of the tub can be gently slid underneath. The tarantula will step over the lid, essentially sealing it into the tub. Click the lid on firmly and remove the tub, complete with tarantula.

When it comes to releasing the tarantula there is no need to poke and prod him to get him or her out of the tub. Far easier is to gently loosen the lid, then place the whole tub into the new cage. Remove the loosened lid completely and leave the tarantula to make their way out in due course. The now-empty tub can then be removed the following day.

Note that for routine maintenance some long forceps can be handy. Personally mine are 12″ long, allowing me to remove uneaten food, water bowls or sloughed skins without having to get my hands too close to Poecilotheria ornata. While they’re not cheap, such an investment can make your tank maintenance easier and safer for years to come.

Image c/o Chris Parker2012

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