Brachypelma boehmei, commonly known as the Mexican Fireleg or Mexican Rustleg is truly one of the most beautiful tarantulas in the world.
Hailing from the Western Pacific coast of Mexico, this is a “chunky” looking spider with brilliant orange legs and carapace, contrasted against black femurs and abdomen.
Originally described by taxonomists Schmidt and Klass in 1993, this is a slow growing and long lived tarantula, which is rightly popular in the pet trade.
The Mexican Fireleg naturally inhabits the thorn forests of south-eastern Michoacan and north-western Guerrero state.
Here two distinct seasons are experienced; firstly the drier, cooler winter, where temperatures average around 25’C running from November to May. Following on from this comes a wetter, warmer summer with temperatures up to 32’C.
It is in this moister period of the year that the Mexican Fireleg breeds, with males often migrating over great distances to locate a suitable female. The eggsac is laid later on in the season with several hundred spiderlings being produced.
Brachypelman boehmei is a terrestrial species, often found in subterranean burrows of its own design, or alternatively thriving in scrapes under rocks or fallen trees. Here the temperature and humidity is more modest, with less impact from the more extreme weather experienced here.
It is interesting to note that Mexico is considered one of the tarantula hotspots of the world, second only to Brazil in terms of species. At the time of writing twenty different species of Brachypelma alone are known to science.
Cages for the Mexican Fireleg Tarantula
The Fireleg tarantula is reasonably easy to accommodate in captivity, as it is slow-moving and reaches a modest 5-6″ in legspan. As with all tarantulas, a cage should be designed in such a way as to prioritize as much natural behaviour as possible.
While a range of plastic or glass containers have been used successfully in the past, a specialist tarantula tank measuring a minimum of 8″ deep by 12″ long is recommended for adults. This provides adequate space for the spider to move around, hunt or hide away during daylight hours.
My personal favorite type of tarantula cage is the Exo Terra range, which offer a very attractive yet practical solution.
They offer, among other things, variable ventilation (important to prevent mould build-up in a humid tank), a “lip” of glass below the door which helps to keep both substrate and spider in during routine maintenance, and a slightly raised base, allowing for easy heating.
Into this cage should be placed a suitable substrate which should be chosen both on its ability to moderate humidity and to facilitate a degree of burrowing.
I personally use around an inch or so of coir coconut substrate, but peat-free potting compost is another suitable alternative. Click here to read about a range of tarantula substrates which you may opt to use.
Heating & Temperature
For best results it makes sense to try and mimic the wild habitat of any invertebrate in captivity as far as is possible.
For the Mexican Fireleg tarantula this means that artificial heating will be required to keep them happy and healthy. Mirroring the wild temperatures, Brachypelam boehmei function well when kept at around 25-28’C – a little warmer than many species of tarantula.
The easiest and most cost-effective way to provide this heating is through the use of an appropriately-sized heat mat.
This should be positioned either under – or attached to the side of – the tarantula tank. Furthermore, consideration should be made to providing a heat gradient, where one area of the cage is kept slightly cooler than another. In this way your spider can select the temperature that suits them best at that particular point in time.
The easiest way to achieve this is to heat only a portion of the cage. For example, if you opt to provide heat from beneath the cage then be sure to place the tank half-on, and half-off, the tank.
In this way one side will be warmer than the other. As a result, if choosing a cage such as the 30cmx30cm Exo Terra vivarium, a heat mat of 30cmx15cm (or thereabouts) will be suitable.
A range of other reptile heaters may be used if you are maintaining a larger collection, and just looking to add Brachypelma boehmei to your menagerie.
For this I use either heat strips, or a heat cable. These cables are carefully controlled through a thermostat to provide a suitable temperature all year round. Using such a piece of equipment I can heat dozens of tarantula tanks using the one heater, thus saving plug sockets and money.
Water & Humidity
Classically the Mexican tarantulas often require a slightly drier environment than you might be used to if you have kept more tropical spiders in the past. The cage should in no way be left bone dry for periods of time, however.
A good rule of thumb with any tarantula is to provide a shallow bowl of water which is changed regularly to prevent bacterial build-up. The cage itself should also be misted with a houseplant spray gun on a regular basis – something like twice a week.
Between sprayings the tank should be allowed to gently dry out. As with most other tarantula species, when keeping Brachypelma boehmei a persistently “wet” cage should be avoided as it can lead to health issues. Proper ventilation, and allowing the cage to dry out gently on a regular basis will both help to avoid such problems.
Feeding Mexican Fireleg Tarantulas
The Mexican Fireleg is a reasonably slow-growing species, with adults taking an estimated 4-8 years to reach maturity in the wild.
Of course, with the proper feeding and environmental conditions we can speed this up considerably in captivity, but don’t go thinking that the spiderling you’re considering will be at breeding size by this time next year (unlike some other species like Poecilotheria regalis).
All the same, I have found that Brachypelma boehmei is a pretty steady feeder, rarely going off it’s food apart from just before a moult. The standard range of insect prey may be given, including crickets, locusts and roaches of an appropriate size.
I tend not to stick to a regular routine with my specimens, but most likely feed youngsters twice a week, and adults once every week or so.
In terms of feeding volumes, it’s best to take a hint from your spider. Pop some insects in and pay attention to what is left over by the following morning.
If there are still insects in there then pull them out; if they’re all gone then consider feeding more feeder insects (or feeding more frequently) next time. Note that at no time should feeder insects be permanently present in the cage, as they can cause harm when your tarantula changes its skin.
Brachypelma boehmei is a reasonably docile species, which is far more prone to defence than attack. That said, this is a skittish species, with some fearsome urticating hairs.
I have found that this species seems more prone to kicking off these hairs than almost any other (apart from the Goliath Birdeater perhaps) and even after all these years of keeping spiders they can cause quite an irritation. It is not unusual to find me scratching for several days after maintenance.
Handling is therefore best avoided in this species. While you’re unlikely to get bitten, the irritation you’ll likely experience won’t be too pleasant.
In the same vein, take great care when the cage is open to avoid inhaling these hairs or getting them in your eyes. I always recommend keeping this species at arms length when changing water or feeding, just in case.