Brachypelma vagans, the Mexican Red Rump, is a tarantula very close to my heart.
It’s the first species that I ever bred, back in the heady days of 1997, and was a species that I loved for some years before that.
Words can hardly describe just how stunning a freshly moulted adult Brachypelma vagans really is; that incredible glossy velvet black background, with the abdomen clothed in bright scarlet hairs.
While the Mexican Red Rump has become increasingly common over the years, thanks to it’s steady personalty and ease of care, it’s still one of my personal favourites.
Adults vary in size, with males reaching around 5″, and looking very “leggy”. The females, in comparison are stout and sturdy, capable of reaching a 6″ legspan or even slightly more.
Brachypelma vagans is a more tropical species than many closely related tarantulas like Mexican Red Knees and Mexican Red Legs.
They are particularly found in parts of the Yucatan peninsula, but also in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala and northeatern Costa Rica. Here they dig long burrows to protect themselves from the worst of the heat.
Brachypelma vagans tends to prefer open sites with low vegetation for creating it’s burrows, preferring lose clay soils, while avoiding more sandy areas. This, of course, makes perfect sense, as it prevents the spider’s hole from collapsing in looser soils.
Originally described by Ausserer in 1875, Brachypelma vagans is reported to live in surprisingly high densities, with dozens digging holes closeby.
Even more interestingly, the Mexican Red Rump is one of the few tarantula species where the young are reported to disperse en masse, wondering in long, snaking columns just one spiderling wide. The spiderlings remain close throughout, and may even stay in physical contact with the spiderlings infront and behind it.
A study from Belize aimed to discover how “permanent” these holes were, and carefully located over 100 Mexican Red Rump holes over the course of two years. Between the two years, only 12 remained in use, suggesting that the Mexican Red Rump regularly changes location and excavates a new hole.
Interestingly, it seems that the Mexican Red Rump has also been introduced to some other areas by man. Firstly, they may be found on Cozumel Island, Mexico, where scientists found that over time the individuals grew considerably larger than the mainland variety.
Brachypelma vagans has also been released in Florida, where it has thrived. A colony of the species was discovered in 1997 living in a citrus grove just outside Fort Pierce, Florida. Apparently the colony had gone unnoticed for some years, and had grown considerably in that time.
The Mexican Red Rump, sometimes known as the Mexican Black Velvet for obvious reasons, is a simple spider to accommodate in captivity and can be quite forgiving.
Like some other Brachypelma species, it seems that the Mexican Red Rump remains out in the open more than many other tarantulas. This can make it particularly good as a display animal to enjoy from a distance.
Brachypelma vagans in not a heavily-webbing spider, so an attractive cage can be created that remains appealing to the eye for the long term.
Personally I like to house my adult tarantulas in Exo Terra vivariums which look absolutely fantastic and are easy to landscape. They have front-opening doors, which makes feeding and cleaning much easier, but also a tall “lip” of glass below the doors to prevent your spider escaping.
Alternatively, a range of other glass or plastic containers may be used as homes for Brachypelma vagans. A suitable cage for an adult female would measure about 8″x10″ at a minimum.
The Exo Terras come in a neat 12″x12″ size, and this tends to work well.
Good quality reptile shops sometimes sell bespoke glass tarantula tanks which can also work well.
Alternatively anything from an old fishtank or a plastic tupperware box may be used, so long as it offers a tight-fitting lid and suitable ventilation.
Brachypelma vagans may spend much of it’s time out on display, but it is still kind to offer at least one suitable hide, such as a curved piece of cork bark or a plant pot turned on its side. Whatever option you choose, the hide should be large enough to allow your tarantula to completely conceal itself away from sunlight.
The latter can be bought from many reptile shops or ordered online. It it lightweight, holds plenty of moisture, looks great and is available in condensed “blocks” for practicality. Its the option I now use with all my spiders.
Lastly, for juvenile spiders upwards it is a good idea to include a water bowl. Remember that Mexican Red Rumps likes a more humid and tropical environment than many other closely-related species, so providing the opportunity to drink whenever appropriate is to be recommended.
Heating & Temperature
The Mexican Red Rump may come from the hot and steady environment of Central America, but lets not forget that the extremes of temperature are avoided when in a burrow.
Temperatures recommended by experts vary considerably for this species – ranging from 22’C right up to 30’C. Personally, I keep my specimens at a mid-range temperature of around 25’C. As mentioned earlier, this is a species that I know well and have kept for over 20 years with great success, so this temperature tends to work well.
In the early days of the tarantula hobby we used to place the tarantula cage on top of the heat mat – the standard source of heating for all pet tarantulas. However, concerns started to be raised that such a heater placement may not be the most suitable.
For one, this tends to greatly increase humidity, up to an uncomfortable or unsafe level. Secondly, tarantulas have of course evolved to dig down to avoid high temperatures. Underfloor heating, however, means that the environment will actually get warmer the deeper he or she burrows.
These days it is more normal to attach your reptile heat mat to the side or the back of the cage. This is easy to do with modern heat mats as many come with an adhesive surface. Alternatively, it is very easy – and quite safe – to use gaffer tape to attach it to the cage.
Note that these heat mats, while very cheap to run, don’t give out a huge amount of heat. In colder weather, therefore, it can be wise to use a cork or polystyrene tile as a heat reflector, placing it the heat mat between the tile and the cage. This helps to push as much heat as possible into the cage, making for a more comfortable environment.
Conversely, care should be taken to avoid overheating in warmer weather. Ensure that your spider tank is never in direct sunlight, or overheating can rapidly occur. Additionally, a thermostat may be used to gently reduce the warmth in the tank as the ambient temperature increases.
Whatever setup you opt for, a thermal gradient should be provided, where one end or side of the tank is cooler than the other. This creates a range of temperatures within the cage, and means that your spider can select the area that suits them best.
Water & Humidity
The importance of providing fresh water in a dish has already been discussed, but coming from more tropical parts of the world it can also be a good idea to spray the cage regularly.
Use a houseplant spray gun, filled with lukewarm water, and gently spray the inside of the cage, taking care to avoid the spider. In the warm environment of a tarantula cage this quickly starts to evaporate, providing a comfortable increase in moisture level.
Humidities of between 65 and 80% are generally recommended for this species.
Brachypelma vagans is a reliable and predictable feeder in my experience. Adults will happily take fully-grown locusts or handfuls of crickets.
Spiderlings can be started on flightless fruit flies or pinhead crickets, which they hoover up with relish. As the spider grows, so the size and numbers of live insects provided can be increased.
Note that years ago I split a batch of babies into two groups. One was fed twice as often as the other (twice a week vs once a week) and there was a direct correlation between feeding frequency and growth rate.
The message here is that if you buy younger/smaller Red Rumps and want them to grow as rapidly as possible then feeding them generously is likely the best solution. Under these circumstances males may reach maturity in as little as 18 months, while females generally take another six months or so to reach sexual maturity.
They may still, however, continue to grow throughout their adult life, increasing in size modestly with each annual moult.
The Mexican Red Rump tarantula tends to be a very docile species, and can be handled reasonably safely.
It can be gently coaxed onto a flat hand, or alternatively shepherded into a plastic container to be moved. All the same, it is important to mention that this species can be a little skittish, and may suddenly dash for cover when you open the cage or surprise it.
With this in mind, if you decide to handle your Brachplema vagans be sure to approach the situation calmly, and be prepared for any sudden movement.
Tarantulas in general are best handled over a low, soft object such as a sofa or a bad. This way, should you be unlucky enough to drop your pet they should have a short fall and a safe landing.
Dropping tarantulas from a height – especially onto hard surfaces like concrete or tiled floors – can result in the abdomen rupturing. Such accidents only tend to end in one way.