Skeleton Tarantula (Ephebopus murinus) Care Sheet

The Skeleton tarantula is very well-named indeed. It is primarily a rich velvety black in color, with white stripes down its legs – which really do make it look like a tarantula that has dressed up as a skeleton for Halloween!

If we’re honest, many species of tarantula are quite similar in terms of behaviour, lifestyle, habitat and so on. The Skeleton tarantula – Latin name Ephebopus murinus – however has a number of things that make it quite unique among other spiders.

For example, you may be aware that many New World tarantula species have urticating hairs on their abdomens. That’s why you see so many tarantulas with “bald spots”.

Ephebopus murinus is quite special, however, because this is the only spider found where these hairs are actually located on its pedipalps! This has no real impact for the tarantula keeper – apart from this being a spider that won’t develop a bald patch – but is quite interesting all the same!

This is, however, just one of the many odd and interesting things that helps to separate Ephebopus murinus from many other species. Throughout this Skeleton tarantula care sheet we’ll discuss all the different things that make this not just a beautiful, but also a fascinating, tarantula species to keep.

skeleton ta photo

Wild Habitat of Ephebopus murinus

The Skeleton tarantula hails from tropical areas of South America. Principally, it has been recorded in Amazonian regions of Brazil, in French Guiana and in Southern Suriname. It is therefore a reasonably widespread tarantula, and has developed a number of unique adaptations to help it achieve this.

Scientists report that Ephebopus murinus is mainly found in “in lowland rainforests” as well as in grassland areas that may flood during the rainy season.

Skeleton Tarantula Housing

As might be expected from tarantulas hailing from this part of the world, the Skeleton tarantula tends to be fast growing and, as a result, to have a strong appetite. Whilst it only reaches a modest 5-6” in legspan as an adult, when fed liberally youngsters can obtain these dimensions in a surprisingly short space of time.

In terms of caging there are a few things you should know. First off, Ephebopus murinus tends to be both fast-moving and quite aggressive. This means that if they’re disturbed they will typically either bolt to safety, or rise up in a threat posture. These elements mean that it is wise to carefully consider your housing options when keeping this species.

While this species may not grow to be overly large as an adult, a bigger cage may be a safer option. This gives you a little extra leeway, and a few extra moments to close the door if your tarantula makes a run for it.

A range of different cages may be suitable. Personally I like to use Exo Terras or ReptiZoo terarriums for virtually all my tarantulas. These cages aren’t cheap, but they look absolutely amazing and offer all sorts of practical benefits.

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
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Of course, this is just one option. Some reptile stores sell specially built tarantula tanks, and I have also made use of plastic tubs like Really Useful Boxes for this species.

The weakness of these glass terrariums is that they don’t really provdide much room to burrow. As a result, for this species a transformed glass aquarium or a Kritter Keeper can be even more suitable.

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While Ephebopus murinus doesn’t get too large, I would suggest a cage measuring some 8” x 10” for an adult female as a minimum.

Smaller plastic containers can be used for juvenile specimens, though be certain to add some ventilation holes using an electric drill if you’re repurposing other equipment as a cage.

Heating & Temperature

The Skeleton tarantula is used to a warm, tropical environment. A temperature of around 25-28’C seems to suit this species well.

If you opt for some form of artificial heating then be sure to only heat one section of the cage (experts recommend only ⅓ to ½ of the cage is heated). In this way, your tarantula can move about to find the area that suits them best.

Note that alongside your heater, you may also want to consider a thermostat. Such a device, while adding to the initial setup costs, will help to ensure your tarantula cage doesn’t overheat – which can have fatal consequences. These don’t need to cost the earth, as a range of decent-quality thermostats are now available to reptile keepers.

Lastly in this section, you may want to consider investing in a good quality thermometer. Don’t opt for one of those “stick on dial” thermometers; they’re just not very accurate when you’re using a heat mat.

Instead, try to find one of the digital thermometers that has a probe on the end of the wire. This can then be carefully positioned in the hottest part of the tank, letting you track the temperature of your tarantula cage with ease.

Water & Humidity

All larger tarantulas should be provided with an open water dish and Ephebopus murinus is no different. It goes without saying that this should be regularly cleaned and refilled with fresh water to prevent bacterial build-up.

Unlike many other species of tarantula, such as the stunning Greenbottle Blue, the Skeleton tarantula seems to quite enjoy a moderately damp substrate. In many ways this makes perfect sense; these spiders do after all come from moist, tropical regions of South America. For this reason is pays to spray the cage down on occasion, allowing the substrate to absorb some of this moisture.

Cage Furnishings

I mentioned earlier on that Skeleton tarantulas have a number of unique and unusual features. Now it is time to discuss the rest of them!

Where things get interesting is that the juveniles and adults live rather different lifestyles. Spiderlings and juveniles tend to build tubular webs above the ground in which to live.

These are typically constructed in low vegetation, and experts have noted that these are most popularly built in and around bromeliads. Such plants are known to trap water in their leaves, so it may be that the younger spiders relish the opportunity to drink from these little pockets of water.

Interestingly, as the Skeleton tarantula matures, so this lifestyle changes. Now, rather than building webs above the ground, they instead begin a fossorial lifestyle, digging themselves a deep and rather unusual burrow.

This concept of changing lifestyles with age is known to experts as “ontogenetic habitat shift” or OHB. It has been proposed by scientists that this change in lifestyle may reduce competition between youngsters and adults, and may also make it less likely that juveniles in the wild will get eaten by adults.

Whatever the reasoning, this is a fascinating observation and has an impact on how Ephebopus murinus should be kept in captivity. For youngsters, you’ll want to make sure that they have suitable room to build their silken tubular web. You may also want to provide suitable support to assist this, such as by including vertical pieces of corkbark and/or artificial plants.

The larger specimens, however, you’ll want to make sure they have a suitable depth of substrate in which to burrow. Even here, the Skeleton tarantula is unique. The burrows that they build have been observed in the wild, and it has been claimed that they have a “large and elaborate trumpet-shaped turret of silk”.

Some keepers claim that this species may need a little “encouragement” to start burrowing, so some people create a “starter hole” which their pet can extend. Either way, you’ll be wanting a decent depth of a suitable substrate such as coconut fibre.

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Once the adults have dug their holes, this is where they will spend the vast majority of their time. Rather like the King Baboon, therefore, there is a risk that the Skeleton tarantula will become another “pet hole”.

For anyone fascinated by tarantula biology, this is an incredible species to keep in captivity, thanks to the many unique features it displays. For keepers wanting a “display” specimen that they can enjoy looking at, the Skeleton may be something of a disappointment, hiding away at the bottom of a burrow.   

Feeding Skeleton Tarantulas

Like so many other South American tarantulas, the Skeleton is quite a fast growing species. This is reflected in their eating habits. This species tends to be a strong feeder, and may eat multiple times a week if given the choice.

Note that the adult males tend to be quite a bit smaller than the females (approximately 4.5” legspan vs 6” legspan) so you may want to consider feeding males a little less, and females a little more, in the hope that they mature at around the same time.

Handling Ephebopus murinus

Ephebopus murinus is a fast moving and reasonably aggressive species of tarantula. Adults also spend the vast majority of their lives hiding down their burrow. As a result, this species is not really suitable for handling.

Indeed, it could be argued that this species isn’t suitable for beginners either. If, however, you have a little experience keeping more forgiving species of tarantula – such as the Rose Hair or the Mexican Red Rump – then this can be a fascinating and rewarding captive thanks to its many unusual features.

Photo by BKelly.CS

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Richard Adams

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