Old World tarantulas are tarantulas coming from the continents of Africa and Asia. This is in contrast to so-called New World tarantulas which are found in the Americas.
Whilst it might seem odd to classify tarantulas based on this very broad distinction of Old World tarantula vs New World tarantula there are some important reasons for this. It is most commonly used among tarantula keepers, because these two broad groups can be surprisingly different to keep as pets.
Characteristics of Old World Tarantulas
So what makes Old World tarantulas notably different to New Worlds? And why do some tarantula keepers refer to Old World tarantulas with fear – like keeping Old World tarantulas is something you need to work up to, once you’ve gained some experience with a few New World species?
Absence of Urticating Hairs
Old World tarantulas lack urticating hairs. As a refresher, these are the hairs typically found on the abdomens of tarantulas. These hairs can be used as a defensive mechanism; they may be kicked or brushed into the air to irritate the eyes or nose of a potential predator. They may also be laid around the tarantula’s resting place, particularly when it is nearing a molt.
The popular press has for years been filled with stories about the dangers of urticating hairs. In truth, so long as you take a few basic precautions then they shouldn’t present too many problems. But I’ll be the first to admit that some urticating hairs are worse than others, and it can be quite annoying to feel itchy for days after you clean out your tarantula.
I’ve experienced this first hand myself (no pun intended) when cleaning out some of my spiders. The discomfort and irritation lasted for days, making me constantly want to scratch my hands vigorously. Nothing seemed to make the sensation go away. Not repeated washing. Not skin creams. However, it did eventually subside by the end of the week.
So annoying, yes. But hardly fatal.
All the same, the fact that Old World tarantulas lack these hairs can be seen as a bonus when it comes to maintenance. However, this benefit is a double-edged sword as you’re about to find out…
More Defensive Attitude
The fact that Old World tarantulas lack urticating hairs mean that, on the whole, they tend to be rather more defensive. I don’t like to use the word “aggressive” – the tarantula is just trying to protect itself from a perceived threat so I feel “defensive” is a fairer term to use.
But whatever you call it, Old World tarantulas on the whole have a bit more attitude. They’re more likely to throw up a threat posture and, if you’re not careful, you are more likely to get bitten by an Old World tarantula than a New World.
This is one of the key reasons why many tarantula keepers like to gain experience with more docile species (that are typically New World species) before they move onto these rather more challenging spiders.
What I will say, however, is that after 25+ years of keeping thousands of different tarantulas, I have still never had an Old World tarantula bite me. Really, it’s all about being smart and taking precautions. I personally don’t find any issues keeping Old World tarantulas, and indeed many of them are so beautiful that you may want to consider exploring this world sooner rather than later.
Let’s start with the honest truth; there hasn’t been too much research on the potency of tarantula venoms. But there are reputable bite reports from hobbyists and scientists, and the evidence does seem to suggest that some Old World tarantulas may have stronger venom than the average New World. Some people refer to Old Worlds as being a bit “spicy” as a result.
As mentioned earlier, I have never been bitten in all my years so I cannot offer up any personal observations on this. I can, however, relay some published reports (and personal anecdotes that other tarantula keepers have told me) about the potential effects of an Old World tarantula bite.
Reports talk of muscle cramps, and swelling in the affected area. There have been cases where a bite on the hand has caused discomfort in the entire arm for some days afterwards.
To be clear, though, while this is clearly something you’ll want to avoid, I’m not aware of any fatal bites from an Old World tarantula (please leave a comment below if you know otherwise).
On the whole Old World tarantulas are more likely to produce copious amounts of web around their cage. Such species are typically known as “heavy webbers”. While there are a few New World species that produce a decent amount of web (such as the Greenbottle Blue) it’s far more common among Old World species.
Whether a heavy webber is a good thing is a matter of personal preference. On the upside, it makes the cage look awesome, and it’s also fascinating to watch your tarantula slowly constructing this silken retreat over time.
On the downside, heavy webbers can be more troublesome to maintain. For example, water bowls can quickly disappear from view under a blanket of silk, while feeder insects can get stuck on the web.
Speed of Movement
Some other articles on Old World tarantulas suggest that they move quicker than the average New World. Personally, I’m not overly convinced by this. For sure, some Old World tarantulas can move quickly, but then again so can some New World spiders too.
Sure, an Old World Poecilotheria might be speedy, but then so-too can a New World Psalmopeous too. In the same vein, while many New World Brachypelmas and Grammostolas can be considered “plodders”, other New World genera like Pamphobeteus or Phormictopus can move surprisingly quickly if disturbed.
If you’re worried about the speed with which a tarantula moves, I would focus more on general lifestyle than on where in the world the spider comes from. Typically arboreal tarantulas are quicker and more agile than ground-dwelling tarantulas. So if you’re looking for something reasonably slow-moving then a terrestrial tarantula is likely the way to go.
Examples of Common Old World Tarantulas
There are lots of different Old World tarantulas available in the hobby, and listing them all would take forever. However, it’s worth mentioning some of the more common hobby species so you can easily identify them as Old World tarantulas at shows…
Pterinochilus murinus – the starburst baboon – comes in a range of different color forms. Possibly the best-known Old World tarantula is the orange form. This species has a serious attitude, leading to it being known as the Orange Bitey Thing or OBT within the hobby.
This should be considered a more advanced species due to this temperament. However if you’ve got some experience with other species the OBT is a thoroughly rewarding species. The color has to be seen to be believed for one thing. These are incredibly adaptable and hardy spiders too. And of course the copious amounts of webbing they produce is just plain cool.
While there are numerous species within the Harpactira genus, possibly the best-known of these is Harpactira pulchripes – the golden blue-leg baboon. This takes the glorious orange of the OBT and ups the ante with metallic blue legs. A freshly molted specimen is still one of the most beautiful and colorful tarantulas of all in my opinion.
Chilbrachys don’t tend to be as colorful as some of the other species on this list, but they’re beautiful in their own way. They’re also reasonably easy to breed, which can mean they’re quite reasonably priced. Whilst I’ve kept a number of Chilobrachys species over the years, my current collection contains just two species.
Firstly, is Chilobrachys fimbriatus, which is stunningly patterned.
Secondly, and what I currently see as the “ultimate Chilobrachys” is Chilobrachys sp. Electric Blue. Those electric blue legs are simply incredible and make this one of my favorite Old World tarantulas.
If you’ve been in the hobby for anything longer than 5 minutes then you’ll be familiar with the Poecilotheria genus. They’re all stunningly beautiful, and I find they can make quite good display specimens as they’re often out of their hides waiting for passing prey. Be aware these are an arboreal species, so can be a little more challenging as a result.
Right now I believe that Monocentropus balfouri is the ultimate “display” tarantula. Those beautiful blues are certainly a key aspect of that. However it’s the communal nature of this species that makes it so special to me.
Right now I have an adult female who successfully laid and hatched eggs. I’m loving watching the youngsters growing up with their mom. Every time I go to feed them I throw in a load of suitably-sized crickets and watch the fun, as dozens of the little juveniles come piling out of the webbing, grabbing anything that moves. To me, there’s no better spider to put on a show on feeding day.
Old World Tarantulas for Beginners
So now you know what Old World tarantulas are. Perhaps you’re even thinking of getting one. But where do you start? Fortunately there are a handful of Old World tarantulas that can act as a “gateway species”, easing your entry into the wonderful Old World spiders.
Before I go through my own recommendations, it’s important to point out that all tarantulas are individuals, and we all have different levels of experience and comfort when it comes to tarantula care. I’d therefore advise you to do your research thoroughly and try to see the spider in person when purchasing, rather than just ordering online. That way you can ask questions, check on the attitude of the spider, make an informed decision and come home with something you’ll cherish.
Pterinochilus lugardi, the Fort Hall Baboon, is hands-down the most docile and easy-going Old World tarantula I’ve ever kept. Over the years I’ve had a number of specimens and have even been lucky enough to breed them.
Now I’ll be honest – Pterinochilus lugardi is not the most impressive of tarantulas. They’re a pale sandy or gray color, and reach quite a modest overall size. However in their own way I think they’re quite beautiful with all the speckling and markings on them. And I’ve found them to be so placid that they’re the easiest Old World tarantulas imaginable.
The spiderlings can be quite speedy, so for ease I’d suggest buying a juvenile if you can find one. These tend to slow down with size, making them more manageable.
Idiothele mira is another species that is reasonably even-tempered. Like the Fort Hall Baboon they’re also quite a modestly-sized species at adulthood. This means that even if you do get the odd threat-posture, it’s far less intimidating than from a much larger species like a Pelinobius muticus.
Where Idiothele mira stands out is the beautiful coloration, with those metallic blue tips to the legs. As you’d expect, however, this makes them more desirable than Pterinochilus lugardi, so the prices tend to be that bit higher.
Now I’ll be honest; I have had a few threat postures from my Harpactira pulchripes from time-to-time. But those are few and far between, and generally I find them quite easy to work with. I have one adult female which will happily take crickets from my tongs, with no signs of aggression at all.
As mentioned earlier, these are one of the most stunning Old World tarantulas in my opinion, and so tend to have a price tag to match. If you’re willing to stump up the readies, however, you won’t be disappointed.
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