Costa Rican Zebra Tarantula (Aphonopelma seemanni) Care Sheet

The Costa Rican Zebra is one of the “original” tarantulas in the hobby. When I first started to keep tarantulas in the 90’s this was one of the few commonly-available species in reptile stores. While there seem to be fewer around these days, they’re still a popular and beautiful species.

The Costa Rican Zebra (also sometimes known as the “Stripe Knee tarantula”) is generally dark in color. The main body of the spider tends to be clothed in black or dark brown hair. The “zebra” part of the name comes from the stripes found on their patellae (“knees”) which can vary between a fresh, bright white through to a paler cream color.

Aphonopelma seemanni photo

To me, the most stunning specimens combine crisp white stripes with a black background, but such specimens can be difficult to find. The chocolate background with cream stripes is more easily sourced. Whatever you opt for, Aphonopelma seemanni is definitely a species that every serious collector should have in their menagerie.

If you’re considering adding this species to your collection then read on for my detailed Costa Rican Zebra care sheet…

Costa Rican Zebra Tarantula Wild Habitat

As it’s common name suggests, Aphonopelma seemanni hails primarily from Costa Rica. It is believed that the original specimens of this tarantula were found by Berthold Seemann, a German botanist working on a plant-collecting expedition. They were brought back to the UK and were subsequently described by well-known arachnologist Frederick Pickard-Cambridge in 1897.

The genus “Aphonopelma” means “theraphosid without sound” as these spiders do not stridulate like many other species. Of course, the “seemanni” name is a hat-tip to the original collector who introduced this tarantula into science.

As well as being found in Costa Rica, it is believed that the species may also be found in other Central American countries such as Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala.

While these countries conjure up images of steaming rainforests, many of them are far more varied than might be imagined. For example, many people assume that the Costa Rican Zebra tarantula hails from humid jungles, but the evidence paints a rather different picture.

The original specimen was collected from Puerta Culebra on the western coast of Costa Rica, close to present-day Liberia and Playa Hermosa, where a natural bay allowed the scientific party to moor their ship.

A study on daily activity patterns in Aphonopelma seemanni examined a sizeable population in Guanacaste, slightly further north than the original type specimen.

Guanacaste is notable for being far hotter and drier than other parts of Costa Rica. The ground here is of little use for agriculture, so has become home to numerous cattle farms. The “forest” here is therefore typically quite dry. Temperatures remain reasonably constant throughout the year, typically being found somewhere between 24-30’C. Humidity sits at some 70-80%.

It should be no surprise that Aphonopelma seemanni is a burrowing tarantula, where it digs down to avoid the worst of the heat. Like all tarantulas they are nocturnal, with studies suggesting they tend to be far more active during the early hours of darkness.     

Tarantula expert Andrew Smith of the British Tarantula Society (BTS) has observed the species in the wild, and noted that the species is “very common”. This may be helped by the lack of farming in this part of the world, combined with the area having the lowest population density in Costa Rica. Interestingly, Smith reports finding numerous Costa Rican Zebra tarantula burrows in the front lawns of locals.  

Housing Aphonopelma seemanni

Aphonopelma seemanni is a reasonably easy tarantula to accommodate in captivity. As a widespread and relatively common tarantula it has adapted to a wide range of different conditions over the years. This means that minor variations in captive care are unlikely to cause too many problems.

The Costa Rican Zebra tarantula can be quite an active burrower, so many keepers like to house this species in a cage that permits a thick substrate. Reaching some 5-6” in legspan Aphonopelma seemanni is quite a modestly-sized tarantula so an excessive amount of space is unnecessary.

My personal preference for most of my adult tarantulas – including the Costa Rican Zebra – are glass terrariums or Kritter Keepers .

Glass terrariums provide a generous amount of space to your spider and allow for some attractive landscaping. The ventilated lid allows suitable air movement while the lockable front-opening doors allow easy access for feeding and cleaning. Their only downside is a lack of space for burrowing.

REPTIZOO Glass Mini 8 Gallon Reptile Terrarium 12" x 12" x 12", Small Habitat Cage Breeder Enclosure for Leopard Gecko Tarantula Young Lizard Insects, Top Screen Ventilation & Feeding
  • Features with full view glass, this small Patend Design 8 gallon glass terrarium is convenient for feeding and having fun with your reptile or small animal pets.
  • Compact and flat-packed design mini reptile tank with top opening to prevent escape and easy feeding. With a transparent PVC tray in the bottom for holding water and substrate
  • The full screen top ventilation with thinner mesh wire allows more UVA UVB and infrared heat penetration.

Kritter Keepers may not look as nice, but they do provide greater opportunities for burrowing, which can be very welcome with this species.

Lee's Kritter Keeper, X-Large Rectangle w/Lid(Assorted colors)
  • Rectangular Kritter Keepers have self-locking lids with hinged viewer/ feeder windows
  • Capacity: 5.90 GAlarge. Size: 15 3/4-inch large by 9 3/8-inch width by 12 1/2-inch height
  • Kritter Keepers have well-ventilated lids in assorted colors

If you’d rather not spend this sum of money but still want something suitable a range of alternative containers may be used as a cage. For example plastic tupperware boxes can be repurposed with the addition of some ventilation holes either cut with a drill or melted with a soldering iron (in a well-ventilated room).

A range of specialist tarantula tanks can also often be sourced from reptile stores or picked up from exotic pet shows.

Lastly, of course, some tarantula keepers opt to make their own cages, whereupon you have total control over the design of your cage.

Generally speaking a plastic or glass cage of around 8” x 10” (20cm x 25cm) is more than acceptable, and some keepers use even smaller cages. This should ideally permit some 4”+ (10cm+) of substrate to be added to facilitate burrowing.

Heating & Temperature

While the Costa Rican Zebra may cope with temperatures topping 30’C in the wild it is important to appreciate that they escape the more extreme weather down their burrows.

Your Costa Rican Zebra tarantula will thrive in temperatures north of 20’C. So long as your home remains warm throughout the winter then you may not need any supplementary heating.

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Water & Humidity

Aphonopelma seemanni photo

Aphonopelma seemanni comes from areas where the airborne humidity tends to be quite high. As a burrowing species, a small amount of moisture in the substrate helps to prevent holes from collapsing. That said, soggy substrate is best avoided for health reasons.

The solution here is therefore two-fold. Firstly, gently spray your Costa Rican Zebra’s cage once or twice a week, with the heater turned on. This will gently start to raise the humidity, while the ventilation in the cage will allow water vapour to evaporate. Such a process helps to avoid overly wet conditions. Aim to allow the substrate to dry out nicely between sprayings.

Secondly, allow your tarantula the option of drinking at any point by placing a shallow water bowl in the cage. This water should be changed regularly to prevent a build-up of bacteria, though if your spider regularly rearranges its cage you may have to invest a little time to find the poor buried dish on occasion!

Cage Furnishings

Once you’ve selected a suitable cage and heater you’ll want to deck out the interior of your cage so that it is suitable for your Aphonopelma seemanni. Start off with a substrate that allows burrowing and won’t go mouldy in humid conditions.

Personally I’m a huge fan of using coconut fibre.

Josh's Frogs Coco Cradle (10 liters)
  • ECO-FRIENDLY ORGANIC and 100% BIODEGRADABLE unlike some reptile substrates that are contributing to deforestation and then go to the landfill
  • INCREASES HUMIDITY for animals that need moderate to high humidity
  • ABSORBENT composition allows it to soak up messes and odors, leaving a cleaner habitat for your pet

There are also specialist substrates sold for tarantulas, though potting compost can also work well if it is chemical free (no fertilizers or pesticides).

We have already mentioned the addition of a water bowl, but there are a few other decor items you may wish to consider. Firstly, a digital probe thermometer can make it easy to monitor the temperature in your Costa Rican Zebra cage. The main display sits outside the cage, while temperature-sensitive probes on wires can be placed within the cage.

Aphonopelma seemanni is known to be quite a skittish tarantula, so until they have dug a suitable burrow it is wise to include one or more hides for them. For this I like to use curved pieces of cork bark, or simply place a plastic plant pot on it’s side, partially buried in the substrate.

Zoo Med Natural Cork Bark, Round, Medium
  • Safe for all reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids (i.e. tarantulas).
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Along with your plant mister for spraying the tank you should now be properly set up.

Feeding Aphonopelma seemanni

The Costa Rica Zebra tarantula, like many Central American species, tends to grow quite quickly. In order to achieve this, however, they consume a reasonable volume of food. Most common livefoods will work for Aphonopelma seemanni, such as larger roaches, crickets or locusts.

I find that larger Zebra tarantulas will eat at least once a week, and sometimes more. Keep a record of feeding dates and the results, and you’ll easily be able to see the right frequency.

As with all tarantulas, however, don’t leave uneaten food in the cage for long periods of time, lest your spider is coming up to moult. Anything that hasn’t been eaten by the following morning should be removed from the cage, and a note kept.

400;”>Tarantulas will go off their food for a few weeks before and after a moult, so if you notice that your Costa Rican Zebra tarantula refuses several feedings then you can likely expect a moult shortly.

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Handling Costa Rican Zebra Tarantulas

Aphonopelma seemanni is a reasonably docile species, and therefore is quite unlikely to bite if handled. That said, this species is also quite skittish, and will dash at surprising speed if it is startled. This means that handling the Costa Rica Zebra tarantula safely isn’t really possible.

While there will always be someone who posts a video or photo of themselves handling their tarantulas, it is generally best avoided with this species. The last thing you want is your spider falling from your hand, where upon the fall can kill them.

A further consideration is that the Zebra tarantula possesses urticating hairs. These are kicked off into the air when the spider feels insecure. Such a mode of defense can not only create a “bald patch” on the rear end of your spider but can cause irritation to you. Many people feel “itchy” after trying to handle their Costa Rican Zebra, or even after routine tank maintenance. These hairs can be particularly unpleasant if they get into the eyes or are inhaled.

No, if you need to move your Aphonopelma seemanni then it is safer to catch it in a clear plastic container, firmly attach the lid, then move the whole tub into the new cage.

Photos c/o ~Sincere Stock~ & berniedup

Richard Adams

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