The Indian Ornamental tarantula has been a mainstay of the pet trade for years. Even today, with so many new species discovered by scientists, it is considered one of the most beautiful tarantulas of all.
First described the Reginald Pocock in 1899, the Latin name roughly translates to “royal spotted beast”.
The Indian Ornamental tarantula is a complex and beautiful combination of silvery-grey fur with an assortment of darker stripes and spots, especially on the abdomen.
If this weren’t enough, the underside of the front legs are a rich, banana-yellow.
Lastly, a terracotta-coloured stripe exists under the abdomen, something that taxonomists consider unique, helping to identify Poecilotheria regalis from other similar-looking members of the genus.
Also known variously as the “tiger spider”, “regal parachute spider” or “royal parachute spiders” there are few that can deny this is one good-looking spider, and one that every exotic pet enthusiast should have in their collection.
As the common name of this species would suggest, P. regalis is found through much of India. Unlike some other members of the genus, which are confined to small pockets of habitat, the Indian Ornamental is not considered under threat in the wild.
Of course, India is a large country, and this spider is typically found in a large area between the Eastern and Western Ghats.
Interestingly, the IUCN reports that the two known populations could turn out to be two different species “but this needs taxonomic confirmation”.
Unlike many other tarantula species, the Indian Ornamental is primarily an arboreal species, generally at an altitude above sea level of under 1000m. Here they hide in the holes and crevices in dry deciduous forest.
These areas receive a surprisingly diverse range of environmental conditions, which might help to explain why these spiders tend to be so hardy in captivity. Reputedly temperatures in such areas can vary between 8’C and 45’C, though the “nesting” holes help to temperature the extremes.
It is fascinating to note that some species of Poecilotheria have been found to be sharing their holes with some frog species in the past. It is suggested that the large Indian Ornamental tarantula offers protection for the frogs, which in turn eat the ants that otherwise might consume the India Ornamental eggsacs.
Housing Indian Ornamentals
Like many theraphosids from this part of the world, Indian Ornamentals tend to subscribe to the “live fast, die young mentality”. This is a fast-moving and fast-growing species, with males maturing at between 12 and 18 months of age, and females reaching maturity in less than two years.
That said, the lifespan of Indian Ornamentals is considerably less than some New World species, clocking in at between 12 and 15 years for females.
Growing to around 6-7″ in legspan these are both beautiful and good-sized spiders, with even spiderlings quickly growing to become impressive display specimens. While some internet chatter in the past has suggested that Indian Ornamentals can be kept in groups (if well fed) this is generally not advised.
While a happy community may arise, it is just as likely that unnecessary losses will occur. Interestingly, extensive searches in the wild have found adult females sharing their homes with youngsters, but two or more adults have never been found co-existing for any meaningful period of time.
In captivity the Indian Ornamental requires a suitable amount of space, which should be vertical as well as horizontal. As these spiders can move quickly, and are known to have a rather “firey” bite, consideration should be put into how best to maintain them.
My personal preference for housing Indian Ornamentals is within glass spider tanks. A number of manufacturers and hobbyists build glass terraria specially for arboreal spiders, though Exo Terras are my personal preference. These cages have front-opening glass doors, which swing open to make maintenance simple, while reducing the chance of escape.
A cage of at least 30cm in each direction is recommended, though for a really impressive display I increasingly rely on tanks giving a height of 18″ (45cm).
Once you’ve purchased a suitably-sized tank to keep your Indian Ornamental in, the next subject for consideration is what decor you’ll need. Here there are a number of elements to consider…
Substrate – First and foremost you’ll want a suitable substrate to line the base of the vivarium. This should ideally not only look attractive, but also help to moderate the necessary humidity in the cage. While there are a range of different substrates you can choose between, my own personal preference is for coir, which can be bought in condensed blocks from reptile stores.
These tarantulas tend not to burrow, so it is not necessary to provide a generous depth. Just a centimentre or two should be enough to absorb any excess moisture.
Hide – One of the more interesting aspects of keeping Indian Ornamentals is their choice of hide. While most ground-dwelling spiders like Cobalt Blues will do well with a plant pot or curved piece of bark on the floor of their tank, Indian Ornamentals are more evolved to live in trees. To this end, the choice of hides must be rather different.
The best solution here is to furnish your Indian Ornamental cage with one or more tubes of cork bark. These can easily be sawn to the appropriate length, and should be securely positioned on one end. In this way, the vertical arrangement of the cork bark will effectively resemble a tree trunk, while the hollow centre will allow your spider to climb inside safely.
Please note that Indian Ornamentals, like so many arboreal tarantulas, often produce copious amounts of web. This will particularly be used within the hide to create a secure place to rest during the day.
Water Bowl – In truth, Indian Ornamentals spend most of their time off the floor of their vivarium, so a water bowl is only very seldom used. At the same time, it is considered best practise to ensure that every tarantula – especially adults – have a ready supply of fresh water. A shallow water dish, cleaned and topped up regularly, is therefore recommended.
Thermometer – A dial or digital thermometer can be useful for monitoring the internal temperature of the cage.
Artificial Plants – While there is no practical need for artificial plants, an increasing number of tarantula keepers over the years have enjoyed setting up “naturalistic” vivariums. The use of artificial plants can really help to add another layer of interest and visual appeal to an Indian Ornamental cage, as well as providing somewhere else for your spider to explore.
Heating & Humidity for Indian Ornamentals
Indian ornamental tarantulas require a temperature of around 24’C in captivity, with one side of their tank kept warmer than the other. In this way, a range of temperatures are available to your spider. When combined with two or more potential cork hides, your Poecolotheria regalis will be free to build their nest wherever suits them best.
Possibly the easiest way to accomplish this is by attaching a heat mat to the outside of the cage. An increasing number of manufacturers are selling heat pads with self-adhesive surfaces, so they can easily be stuck to one side of the cage.
Using a digital thermometer with a probe, keep an eye on the temperature to ensure the hotter area reaches the required temperature.
This setup works well in colder months, where the challenge is keeping the temperature of your tarantula viviarium up, can can yield problems as the seasons change and the ambient temperature in your home starts to rise. This is where a thermostat designed for heat mats comes in handy.
Known as a mat stat, all you need to do is plug your heat mat into it, place the sensor into the cage and then set the required temperature on the dial.
In this way the thermostat will continually monitor the temperature within the cage, gently turning the heat up or down as necessary in order to reach the target.
All tarantula keepers know that the right humidity is important for their pets. The Indian Ornamental spider is no different, with a recommended humidity between 75 and 90%. The fact that you are already heating the tank makes this easier to achieve; all you need to do is add some water that will evaporate slowly.
Broadly speaking the easiest method is to gently mist the inside of the tank once or twice a week, using a houseplant spray gun. Aim to use lukewarm water, and try to avoid spraying it directly on your spider. A squirted spider has a nasty habit of dashing out of their lair, and potentially straight out of the cage too. You have been warned!
Feeding Indian Ornamentals
As discussed previously, Indian Ornamentals are fast-growing tarantulas, but only when they have suitable nutrition. As spiders cannot be overfed you should feel free to add livefood to your spider tank on a regular basis. When kept at ideal temperatures it is not unusual for an Indian Ornamental to eat on an almost daily basis given the opportunity.
While the wild diet of Poecilotheria tarantulas has been described as “termites, beetles, grasshoppers and moths” the standard range of livefood are all suitable. Great options include crickets, roaches and – my personal favorite – locusts.
Keepers should aim to vary the foot items being given regularly to offer as balanced a diet as possible. Some larger Poecilotheria regalis may even accept small dead mice to eat, which can be messy but is a great treat to try after a moult.
As with all invertebrate pets, be very careful about feeding around moulting time. When your spider goes off it;s food, the most likely reason (assuming your cage is set up correctly) is a pending moult.
When you notice that your tarantula has started to fast, be sure to remove any remaining insects from the cage. Once a moult has been completed it is generally wisest to leave your spider alone for a week or two before feeding resumes.
Note that moulting in the Indian Ornamental ca be difficult to diagnose, as many specimens will simply hide in their cork bark tube, making it impossible to see whether or not they have actually moulted. They will also often produce an even greater volume of web, making visual confirmation even more challenging.
Under such circumstances the easiest solution is simply to wait until you see your spider out exploring it’s cage, at which point you can be confident that the moult has been completed successfully.
Handling Indian Ornamentals
Indian Ornamentals are not really a species suitable for handling. Their lightning-fast movements can make them difficult to predict. Furthermore, while most Ornamentals would rather flee than fight, the Indian Ornamental is know to have one of the more potent venoms in the tarantula world.
One report in the scientific literature reports someone being bitten and suffering “persistent local cramps in the affected hand” while others have experienced considerable pain and swelling for up a week after a bite.
This is probably a species best admired from behind glass, therefore.
Indeed, there are a number of techniques that can help with routine maintenance, but keep your hands well out of harms way. Firstly, I would suggest that yo invest in a long pair of forceps. Mine are around 30cm long and allow me to retrieve uneaten food, old sloughed skins and the water bowl with minimal risk.
Secondly, when it comes to moving the spider, a clear plastic container (such as a cricket tub) can be valuable. One can simply use the forceps to gently guide the spider to a suitable position, then place the tub over the top. Being able to see the spider through the clear plastic sides of the tub, you can then just gently slide the lid underneath, before snapping it shut. The spider can then be safely moved, without risk to your fingers.