Pterinochilus lugardi / Fort Hall Tarantula Care Sheet

I received my first Pterinochilus lugardi in a mystery box a few years ago. At the time it was a species that I’d never kept before, but since then I’ve gone on to collect a number of other specimens with a view to breeding them in the next year or two. 

So what changed to make Pterinochilus lugardi such a firm favorite in my collection? 

I’ve mentioned it in other articles, but the number one factor for me in choosing tarantulas for my collection is color. I love a brightly colored Caribena versicolor or a Brachypelma boehmei. Pterinochilus lugardi is absolutely not that; it’s a reasonably “muted” spider being primarily a dull fawn or grey color with typical African baboon speckling. 

It’s also not a strikingly large tarantula like Acanthoscurria geniculata or Xenesthis immanis, reaching an adult size of only around 4-5” overall legspan.

Lastly, like so many other African tarantulas, this is a burrowing species that could be termed a “pet hole”. In other words, once that burrow is built you’ll only see Pterinochilus lugardi very rarely indeed. 

So if Pterinochilus lugardi is reasonably small, is unimpressively colored and will rarely be seen then why on earth am I sat here on a Sunday morning writing about it? I mean, surely my time would be better invested in writing about the many more “impressive” species in my collection which I have yet to cover?

There’s a simple one-word answer to that question: attitude. The tarantula’s attitude, that is, not mine. 

You see, African baboon tarantulas have (rightly) got themselves a reputation among tarantula keepers for often being fast-moving and defensive. They’re far more likely to throw up a threat posture than many New World species and may even try to bite if the opportunity presents itself. See the very closely-related OBT if you want to see a perfect example – it’s not known as the “Orange Bitey Thing” for nothing.

As a result most African baboon tarantulas are really only suitable for the more experienced keeper. Pterinochilus lugardi is a complete contrast to this, which makes them the perfect “gateway species” for anyone looking to dip their toes into the fascinating world of Old World (“African”) tarantulas.

If you’re looking to try your hand at something a little bit “different” then read on for my Pterinochilus lugardi tarantula care sheet…  

Wild Habitat

Originally described in 1900 by arachnologist Pocock, Pterinochilus lugardi is a reasonably widespread tarantula species. They are reputed encountered in Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South-Africa where they build burrows into the dry, sandy soils there. 

The burrow entrance may be exposed to the outside world or just as frequently is hidden beneath a rock or fallen log.  

One fascinating fact about Pterinochilus lugardi is that they are the only species in this genus that has been observed building a “trapdoor” entrance for their burrow. While another African genus – Idiothele – is known to do this, it was assumed to be unique to those tarantulas. 

Studies in the wild have shown that Pterinochilus lugardi frequently camouflages its burrow entrance in such a manner. They essentially spin a silken “sheet” that hangs over the burrow entrance and to which substrate particles stick. This makes it almost impossible to spot a Pterinochilus lugardi burrow in the wild. 

It has been suggested that they may be far more widespread than we currently believe simply because they’re so hard to find.  

Cages & Housing

This is not a particularly large tarantula so a modest-sized cage will be perfectly acceptable. At the same time, it is important to highlight the burrowing tendency of Pterinochilus lugardi in the wild, and this should be factored into the choice of caging. 

A deeper tank is therefore likely to be most suitable for them, permitting the creation of burrows should they so choose to do so. Note that not all specimens will take advantage of this opportunity. 

Lee's Kritter Keeper, X-Large Rectangle w/Lid(Assorted colors)
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Oddly, and rather annoyingly, my biggest specimen – an adult female – refuses to burrow despite being given some 12” of substrate in which to build a home. I want to encourage this as I’d love to see the trapdoor being created, so I will update this article in the future as/when she produces one. 

I haven’t found this to be a particularly heavy webber, despite some other Pterinochilus species building extensive webs in their cage. Indeed, this species is more likely to disappear beneath the surface leaving relatively bare substrate.

Some potential cage options include:

Plastic Storage Boxes

Plastic storage boxes come in a huge range of different sizes and shapes. They’re super-cheap to buy and it’s simple enough to add air holes to most of them using an electric drill.

My preference is for containers where the lid clips on securely.

For Pterinochilus lugardi spiderlings a suitably-sized deli cup can work well, moving up to kitchen storage tubs and the like as your spider grows.

If there’s a downside these are hardly the most visually-appealing cage option on the market.  

Glass or Plastic Tanks & Aquariums

Specialist tarantula tanks can often be sourced, made from plastic or glass. Alternatively, they can be easily made at home on a budget or you could even repurpose a more typical aquarium bought from a pet store. 

These specialist tanks can be quite a good idea for Pterinochilus lugardi, as they can offer not only the recommended depth of substrate but can also look far more attractive than a plastic food storage container. They therefore make a more impressive display while offering all the necessary practicalities.

Faunariums

Faunariums and their kin are essentially a clear plastic tub (that gives good visibility) coupled with a tight-fitting mesh lid.

To my eyes they’re not as attractive as a proper glass or perspex tank, but they’re easily sourced, reasonably priced and quite lightweight. Just be sure to select one that is tall enough to offer enough substrate. 

Exo Terras & ReptiZoos

While I love Exo Terra terrariums for many of my tarantulas, they may not be the most suitable housing for Pterinochilus lugardi. Despite their practicalities, I would only suggest this option if you’ve proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that your specimen doesn’t want to burrow. 

REPTIZOO Mini Reptile Glass Terrarium Tank 8"x8"x8", Front Opening Door Full View Visually Appealing Mini Reptile or Amphibians Glass Habitat
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Whatever you choose, consider the following elements when making your final decision…

VentilationPterinochilus lugardi appreciates a reasonably dry cage. Damp conditions can lead to a sick spider and may also encourage mould, fungus and parasites like mites. Therefore ensure there are air holes or mesh to permit proper air exchange. 

Depth – As this is a burrowing species consider providing a depth of substrate at least equivalent to the legspan of the spider. Double that would be even better. This means that quite a “tall” cage can work well, with some people using old sweet jars or breakfast cereal containers as effective homes.

Security – Ensure the container has a close-fitting lid that cannot be forced open by your spider. It’s never fun to spend your Friday night turning your house upside down on the hunt for an escaped spider – especially if your family are less than understanding about your peculiar hobby 😉 

Heating & Temperature

While Pterinochilus lugardi is found in hot, dry areas of southern Africa, that doesn’t mean to say that your tarantula should be routinely exposed to temperatures topping 30 degrees Celsius / 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Indeed, in the wild most fossorial (burrowing) tarantulas will escape the most extreme conditions in their subterranean burrow. 

I maintain this species at between 22 and 25 degrees Celsius (72 – 77 degrees Fahrenheit) at present and they seem to thrive under these conditions. For some readers this will be normal “room temperature” for you, meaning that no additional heating will be required. 

If your home regularly gets colder than this (anything below 20’C over an extended period of time) then I’d consider adding some form of artificial heating. A low powered heat mat is probably the simplest and most cost-effective solution. 

If you find your tarantula constantly pressed up against the heater then it may be that they would appreciate a little more warmth. On the other hand, if you find your tarantula pressed up against the opposite end of the tank then you may want to consider turning down the heat.

A thermostat should always be fitted to any heat source to prevent overheating. See my guide to choosing a thermostat.

Water & Humidity

As a rule of thumb, all larger tarantulas should have access to fresh water. A water bowl should be provided, with the water regularly being replenished, and the bowl cleaned. 

That said, this can be a difficult and frustrating rule to apply to Pterinochilus lugardi. I find that any water bowl I add is typically buried within a matter of days thanks to the burrowing nature of this species! If you opt to provide a water bowl (which I advise) you should invest in a handful so you can continue to replace them as they disappear. Bottle lids or little deli cups can be a cheap way to accomplish this. 

My Pterinochilus lugardi receive a gentle misting once every few weeks, while the tank is allowed to dry out between. At present the substrate is kept quite dry and I have yet to experience any issues with this strategy.

Tank Decor

Burrowing tarantulas can make a serious mess of beautifully-landscaped cages. I wouldn’t therefore invest too much time or money creating an oh-so-natural looking cage for your Pterinochilus lugardi. One morning you’ll wake up to find that your spider has turned the whole thing upside down and buried all your carefully-chosen decor items. 

Indeed, once a decent depth of substrate has been added (coir fibre or chemical-free potting compost can work well) the only other consideration would be a cork hide, a starter burrow and a water bowl. 

Food & Feeding

I have found that Pterinochilus lugardi is quite a reliable feeder. My adult female will take down full-size locusts, while smaller specimens will naturally catch smaller insects. It is a reasonably fast-growing species in my experience, with specimens greedily consuming their food. 

I feed my specimens once a week, with an occasional one-week break. 

The only time my specimens refuse food is when they’re coming up to a moult. Pre-moult in Pterinochilus lugardi seems to take a surprisingly long time, with me often waiting a month or more before a discarded skin is observed.  

Handling & Temperament

As stated in the introduction to this article, Pterinochilus lugardi is a surprisingly “even tempered” tarantula, especially for an Old World African spider like this.

I have yet to experience any of my specimens throwing up any kind of threat posture, nor have any of them tried lunging at me during routine tank maintenance.

This is in contrast to many of the other baboon spiders in my collection.  

While these certainly aren’t the slowest tarantulas I own, they’re hardly likely to disappear in the blink of an eye when you open their cage.

As with many other tarantula species, it seems that younger specimens can be a little quicker, but they slow down with age. Keep your wits about you and you’ll be fine.

A Pterinochilus lugardi in its burrow is unlikely to even venture out while you’re giving the cage a quick spot-clean or topping up the water.  

Personally I don’t recommend handling any tarantula because there will always be a risk to the tarantula. A spider that drops off your hand onto a solid surface could come to a nasty end.

That said, I have seen YouTube videos of this species being held without issue, which at least indicates just how even-tempered Pterinochilus lugardi can really be. 

Richard Adams

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