The Venezuelan Sun Tiger, Latin name Psalmopoeus irminia, is a truly stunning spider.
A mid-sized species, typically reaching around 5-6″ in legspan, it has bright red “tiger” stripes across the abdomen and also the tips of the legs, all contrasted against a glossy black background. Little wonder, then, that these tarantulas have become so popular in recent years.
Originally described by biologist Saager as recently as 1994, this close relative to the Trinidad Chevron is one spider that all keepers should have in their collection…
As the common name suggests, Psalmopoeus irminia hails primarily from the rainforest areas of Venezuela. In 2016, however, they were also identified in Brazil, so their range may actually be considerably larger than we know now.
Either way, the Venezuelan Sun Tiger has evolved to live in the warm, moist environment of the jungle.
Interestingly, the environmental conditions seen in much of Venezuela is very similar to that reported in Trindad, where their cousin Psalmopoeus cambridgei lives. Temperatures tend to stay relatively stable throughout the year, generally in the region of 26-28’C.
While the annual cycle is marked with a wet season between May and December, followed by a dry season from January to April, humidity tends to remain quite stable. 80% relative humidity is typical in this part of the world.
It is critical to mention that Psalmopoeus irminia is a tree dwelling (arboreal) tarantula, that spends most of its time off the ground. Resting on trees, and seeking shelter in natural holes in the bark, this is a fast-moving spider and an impressive predator.
As with all exotic pets, it is wise to try and replicate the natural environment as far as is possible when keeping them as pets. This means that a hot and humid environment is optimal, with plenty of vertical climbing space for your tarantula to explore and hunt.
Unlike burrowing tarantulas, where a large depth of substrate for digging and horizontal space for exploring is required, the Venezuelan Sun Tiger benefits from a taller cage.
Here various vertical retreats can be included, allowing your tarantula to exhibit as much natural behaviour as possible. It’s also important to remember that Psalmopoeus irminia can be quite a fast-moving tarantula, especially when surprised.
As a result, a larger cage is preferable to a smaller one, because it gives you more “breathing room” before your spider making a move, and it getting out. Those few extra moments can be more than a little handy for quickly closing the tank again to prevent escape.
For adult specimens a tank of around 8-10″ long and deep, but some 18-24″ in height tends to work well. This gives you more than enough space to pop a range of vertical retreats in for your spider.
Coming from a hot and humid environment it’s important that you can get the environmental conditions right. A suitable cage should therefore be easy to heat and should offer good levels of ventilation.
Remember that tarantulas should never be kept in “wet” conditions without air circulation as such conditions encourage the growth of mould and fungi. While a humid environment is beneficial, therefore, so too is suitable ventilation. Cages with gauze are particularly effective, though with a little DIY many plastic containers can be made suitable.
My personal preference for arboreal tarantulas are Exo Terra vivariums, which come in a wide range of different sizes and dimensions. This one is a particular favourite of mine, and is used extensively in my collection, providing healthy dimensions and excellent ventilation.
Alternatively, an increasing number of bespoke tarantula cages are available on the market, many of which can be ordered online. A range of plastic household containers, such as tupperware boxes with holes drilled in them for ventilation, may also be suitable.
Feel free to use your creativity when exploring the homeware section of your local shop to see what might be easily turned into an efficient cage for Psalmopoeus irminia.
The Venezuelan Sun Tiger tends not to burrow in captivity, though they may move some of the substrate around, especially as youngsters. A large depth of substrate is therefore not strictly necessary.
Just a couple of centimetres of a substrate known for it’s ability to hold and control moisture is typically enough. My own personal preference is for condensed coconut fibre, which is cheap, inert and can be bought in a practical “block” form from many reptile stores.
While it is considered best practise to include an open water dish for tarantulas, and I would certainly recommend it for the Sun Tiger, it is important to appreciate that this species often produces copious amounts of web.
It is therefore advisable to place the water bowl somewhere easily accessible, and ideally away from the spider’s hide. Too close, and you may struggle to retrieve it after it has been enveloped in web. Water bowls should be as shallow as possible to prevent the risk of drowning, and should be cleaned in reptile-safe detergent dried thoroughly and then refilled on a regular basis.
Most tarantulas are surprisingly retiring animals, and the Venezuelan Sun Tiger is no exception. Without somewhere safe and dark to hide away during daylight hours your spider is unlikely to be happy.
For this species possibly the best solution are pieces of curved cork bark, placed on their end, and therefore positioned vertically in the cage. These give the impression of a tree trunk and allow your pet the vertical hunting space it is used to. If these pieces of cork bark are slightly shorter than the cage is tall then your spider should be able to safely clamber behind and create a hide. Note that as these can be active spiders, it is wise to secure the cork bark from falling over.
These are in essence the core elements of tank decor that will be required, but after this you can let your imagination run wild. Feel free to add artificial plants and the like to create a real “rainforest” feel.
Part of the beauty of keeping tarantulas as pets is being to “landscape” a tank to look as much like nature as possible so feel free to get creative with your work!
Heating & Temperature
As cold blooded animals Psalmopoeus irminia tarantulas need a cage that offers a range of temperatures. Like a lizard basking in the sun, your spider can then move around the cage to seek out the area that suits them best.
This is typically known as a “temperature gradient”, where one side of the cage is heated, and the other is left without heat. A gradient is therefore created within the cage.
A range of different tarantula heaters may be used, though arguably the traditional heat mat is the cheapest, simplest and safest way to heat your spider. While some keepers opt to place the heat mat underneath their tarantula’s cage, for arboreal species at least it is generally better to fix them to the side.
Note that it can be a smart idea, if your cage is suitably proportioned, to include two or more cork bark hides, placed variously throughout the cage. In this way your spider can build their nest in the area that suits them best.
Additionally, please be aware that experts recommend even low-cost heat mats should be attached to a suitable thermotstat in order to prevent the risk of over-heating in the case of warmer weather or heater malfunction.
Water & Humidity
A relative humidity of around 80% is ideal for Psalmopoeus irminia, and is easily achieved by regular spraying of the cage using a houseplant mister. Monitor the humidity carefully using a suitable hygrometer, allowing the cage to dry out slightly between applications.
This simple act of drying, combined with suitable ventilation, helps to maintain an environment that balances air movement with suitable moisture.
As stated, fresh water should be available at all times from juvenile size upwards, and this should be changed regularly to avoid the build-up of micro-organisms.
One of the most exciting parts about keeping tarantulas of any kind is being able to watch them hunt. Throw in a few insects and let the show begin. The Venezuelan Sun Tiger is a fast-growing species with a healthy appetite so it rarely disappoints.
Youngsters can be fed every couple of days if you have the time to spare, and under such conditions will achieve adult dimensions in a very short space of time.
A diet of crickets, locusts and roaches tends to be a good basis. Other insect prey can be given on occasion, such as waxworms or blowflies.
If this is your first tarantula then be certain to check that you will have easy access to live insects before investing in your spider. Tubs of these feeder insects are becoming more commonplace in pet stores.
Alternatively, there are some excellent online suppliers who will post out feeder insects to your home. Some even offer a “repeat order” service, so you don’t need to remember to keep on ordering. This might seem like a tiny thing, but when your collection starts to grow rest assured it makes life a lot easier knowing that I have a new batch turning up each week!
Note that livefood in general, and crickets in particular, can stress out a tarantula if not eaten quickly. In addition, they pose a potentially lethal threat for a moulting tarantula.
While Psalmopoeus irminia is arguably less at risk of this than some other species – thanks to the large amount of web they produce before a moult – it is wise to remove uneaten livefood by default.
Over time you will get used to the volume and frequency that suits your tarantula, and you can feel reasonably confident that when food is refused a moult in nearing.
The Venezuelan Sun Tiger might be a beautiful tarantula to look at, but it is generally not suitable for handling.
Not only can it be very quick indeed, which makes it difficult to control, but we have little knowledge yet about the toxicity of their venom. Handling any tarantula should be carefully considered, due to the inherent risks to the animal, but this is especially so for fast-moving arboreal species.
This is, in short, a spider best kept in their cage and observed, rather than being held in the hand.
Sooner or later, however, you’re going to need to move your spider. Moving up cages, or cleaning out the existing one, can be challenging with such a fast-moving species.
A good solution is to place the cage into your bath tub. This means that if the spider gets out it needs to scale the sides of the bath before making for freedom, and many tarantulas struggle with this shiny surface. From here you can gently open the existing cage and coax the spider out using a soft paintbrush or a pair of forceps.
With such a fast species, the longer the better. Gently and patiently guide them to their new cage, or alternatively into a temporary home (such as an old cricket tub) before attaching the lid firmly.
You can then go about your work without the risk of losing your precious spider.
Images c/o B a y L e e ‘ s 8 Legged Art