Heterothele villosella is a dwarf tarantula species from Tanzania. Despite lacking the bright colors of many popular pet tarantulas it has gained in popularity thanks to its fascinating lifestyle.
There are many reasons why you might want to consider adding Heterothele villosella to your collection. Firstly, this is a heavy-webbing species akin to the Greenbottle Blue or the Orange Bitey Thing. This makes for a very cool-looking display cage.
Another reason that Heterothele villosella has become so popular is that many keepers consider it “communal” like Monocentropus balfouri. While I must admit I have yet to try keeping this species communally, other keepers report success. Of course, this adds yet more potential interest to your tarantula collection.
Lastly, as a dwarf tarantula species, even adult specimens may only reach 2-3” in diagonal legspan. While some tarantula keepers may avoid Heterothele villosella thinking that it lacks “impact” with such compact dimensions, I actually think it adds another level of interest to your collection. And of course, a few specimens won’t take up too much space in your collection either.
Having reared up a load of spiderlings over the last few years I thought the time was now right to discuss my own experiences of this fascinating little tarantula. Read on for my Heterothele villosella care sheet…
First described in 1907, Heterothele villosella is neither large nor brightly-colored. Instead, this is a species where you need to look a little deeper to really appreciate their appearance. It should hardly be surprising with the common name of Tanzanian Dwarf Chestnut Baboon that this species is largely brown in coloration.
This base color is far from uniform, however. Heterothele villosella is clothed in a delicate and very intricate pattern. Furthermore, these colors seem to vary based on the lighting; many of my specimens appear as much olive green as just chestnut brown.
Adult females tend to reach a legspan of 2-3 inches, while males typically mature out slightly smaller.
I like how “different” this species is to many more commonly-kept tarantulas, though I appreciate this rather more muted appearance might encourage some keepers to select a rather more showy tarantula. Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.
Cages & Housing
Heterothele villosella is an Old World tarantula from Africa. Like so many other baboon spiders this species can be quite fast and skittish. This should be taken into account when choosing a suitable cage. Fortunately, I have found that this species is far more likely to retreat to its lair when startled, than to throw up a threat posture. The key is to be slow and gentle when opening the cage, and to keep your wits about you to prevent any escapees.
As with many other African tarantulas, Heterothele villosella will happily dig a deep burrow in captivity. Sadly, this can result in “pet hole” syndrome; a small, brown tarantula that is rarely, if ever, seen.
Many keepers opt instead to provide less substrate, but to include “anchor points” for webbing – pieces of cork bark, fake plants, leaf litter and the like. Under these circumstances you’ll really get to see what your Heterothele villosella is capable of. Just like a GBB, your Heterothele villosella will typically fill it’s cage with a dense matt of webbing into which it retreats. There’s no denying that this looks very cool indeed, especially with the right lighting.
When I first got my spiderlings they were housed in clear plastic deli cups with tight-fitting clip-on lids. Numerous ventilation holes were added with a needle. A reasonable depth of coconut fibre was added, then I let the little slings get to work rearranging things. The speed of their redecorating was highly impressive.
While these are quite small tarantulas as adults, I still prefer a cage slightly larger than I might use for less flighty species. This not only gives me a little “wiggle room” if a specimen darts towards the open door, but it also means I’m less likely to disturb the spider when topping up water bowls or spot-cleaning the cage.
I plan to use Exo Terra Nano cages when my specimens reach adulthood, as these cages look awesome, the front-opening door makes maintenance easy yet they provide more than enough space to build a lair.
Heating & Temperature
One of the really nice things about many African tarantula species is that they’re so hardy and reasonably undemanding in captivity. Heterothele villosella really follows this pattern well.
My specimens have been kept at 22-25 degrees Celsius (72-77 degrees Fahrenheit) depending on season and time of day. Under these conditions they have grown surprisingly rapidly, moulting every 2-3 months and increasing in size significantly each time.
Water & Humidity
Doing some research before writing this article, it does seem there is some disagreement about moisture levels for this species. Read enough discussion forums and you’ll eventually see some quite opposing views. All I can really do is explain what has worked for me. It may not be the only way, but my Heterothele villosella are thriving under these conditions.
The substrate is primarily kept quite dry, irrespective of specimen size. The spiderlings are misted roughly once a week with lukewarm water. Plenty of water droplets end up on the webbing, and the spiderlings seem to be able to drink from these droplets. The deli cups are allowed to almost completely dry out between applications, to prevent a stale, wet environment.
Larger specimens should of course be given an open water dish when this is practical. Bottle caps or tiny deli “sauce” pots can work well for this. As this is a small tarantula you won’t want to give it a swimming pool; we don’t want a tarantula accidentally falling into the water and not being able to get back out again so err towards more shallow containers.
Even with the provision of a water dish, however, the heavy webbing nature of this species can complicate matters. Water bowls can quickly disappear under a thick sheet of silk. Sometimes they can be extracted (using long forceps) while in other cases you may need to accept defeat and simply add a second bowl.
One of the reasons I have really fallen for the dwarf tarantula species in recent years is their modest caging requirements. This means even a handful of these smaller species can easily be added to your collection. It also means that you can go overboard with tank decor without needing a giant cage, making a fascinating and beautiful “micro-habitat” for your pet.
For Heterothele villosella probably the highest recommendation is to include anchor points that your Tanzanian Dwarf Chestnut Baboon can attach their webbing to.
Personally I only use materials bought from exotic pet suppliers, with the intention that it is parasite and chemical-free, though some keepers are perfectly happy to add elements from nature.
Bark, twigs, leaf litter and more can all be used to create an attractive display that encourages webbing.
Food & Feeding
I have been impressed with the feeding response of my Heterothele villosella. Even as tiny spiderlings these guys love to eat! Indeed, some of my specimens barely seem to go into pre-moult; greedily grabbing their prey then moulting a matter of days later.
While the adult size of this species is quite modest, this is quite rapidly achieved in my experience. My spiderlings and juveniles willingly eat twice a week, though I have a feeling they may eat even more often if presented with the opportunity. Under these conditions they seem to moult every few months, achieving quite impressive growth rates when compared to many other tarantula species.
Of course, slings will require smaller prey items initially, but I consider this quite an easy species to rear from sling stage. Therefore even if you’re not overly experienced in rearing spiderlings I doubt this species will cause you many headaches.
I started off my spiderlings with hatchling black crickets (though you could also use fruitflies, pinhead brown crickets or pre-killed prey). However my specimens very rapidly developed onto larger and more easily-handled prey items. It is very unusual that food is not quickly picked off.
Handling & Temperament
Heterothele villosella is small, skittish and fast moving. If there is a weakness to keeping this species as a “pet” then it is that great care must be taken when the cage is open.
Rehousing can be a stressful experience, so get prepared. Clear as much space as possible to provide excellent access. You don’t want your Heterothele villosella disappearing under or behind a heavy piece of furniture. Keep some plastic tubs with lids on hand, so you can recapture an escaped specimen with ease. Get your paintbrush and long forceps at the ready.
To date my experience is that I wouldn’t call this an aggressive or defensive species of tarantula, but it certainly isn’t one that I’d recommend handling.