Unlike many who are into arachnoculture, I do not put a premium on a tarantula’s coloration, price, or rarity. A drab and small-sized Phlogiellus is every bit as interesting to me as, say, a Megaphobema or even a Xenesthis. In my mind and in my eyes, they are all special. All are equal.
Nonetheless, there was one spider I did not like, and this was due to its color scheme. The spider in question was the Green Bottle Blue (Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens), a popular species in the trade and the hobby. This tarantula has an iridescent green carapace, dark blue legs, and orange-colored hairs on the rump; you won’t find dowdy pigmentation on this species, particularly dorsally.
And that was what I found unattractive in a Chromatopelma.
Too. Much. Color!
In my view, bright coloration is heightened when it is set off by a neutral pigment. When all colors in a component are bright, it affords not a second’s rest for the eyes, rendering it ultimately tiresome to look at, as with a badly composed painting. It is no different in music either: a short and stinging lead guitar break garners more attention than a continuously crunching track, in the same way that brief vocal pyrotechnics from each singer, in different bars, in a quartet is infinitely more tasteful and pleasing than a song number where each is singing only for the sake of ego and one-upmanship.
In tarantulas, the more brightly colored members of Brachypelma illustrate the bright and neutral harmony I am talking about. Consider the orange-red banding on the legs of such species as B. annitha, B. auratum, B. baumgarteni, and B. smithi that are well set off by the predominating black color of the legs and the abdomen. If there exists a pure red Brachypelma, I may not want to have to do anything with it; not only would it look tedious, but it also would time and again set off the primal alarm that is deeply ingrained in meat-eating mammals like us to back off from smaller animals with aposematic (warning) coloration.
The color combination in Chromatopelma, while Chance(probably) not a warning sign for would-be predators, is too garish, at least in my view. And the fact that two of its colors sit opposite one another on the color wheel does not help either; try wearing a green and red at once in any outfit and tell me how people look at you.
Taking a Chance
By mid-November 2016, I was on the lookout for another species to add to my modest collection of invertebrates, and while browsing the web, I chanced upon an advertisement that seemed too good to be true. For only one thousand pesos, someone was selling a two-inch Chromatopelma with enclosure, along with a 2 cm Brachypelma boehmei and 4.5 inch Scolopendra morsitans.
I was not too keen on the tiny and slow-growing Brachypelma, and my prior species from that genus were all acquired at good sizes already. Likewise, I preferred the more sinister and sizeable Scolopendra species such as S. subspinipes to the more common S. morsitans. I have to confess that the Chromatopelma was a species that I had not considered obtaining, but given the price for its size, I felt a day would come that I’d want to kick myself if I passed up the opportunity.
So before anyone else beat me to it, I contacted the seller. I also attempted to get as much information as I could before the animals became a part of my menagerie. As part of my routine when I get ready for new acquisitions, I prepared the suitable enclosures beforehand, and for the Green Bottle, I supposed that a 2.5 gallon glass tank would be sufficient for a few months.
For this would-be vivarium, I fitted on the rear panel a weathered plank of wood that provided a naturalistic backdrop, as well as an added sense of security for its would-be inhabitant. A few days later, the three invertebrates were handed over to me, and I was thoroughly delighted when I determined that the ‘two-inch’ Green Bottle Blue was actually half an inch longer than advertised.
Appearance and Habits
The Green Bottle Blue is the sole representative of the monotypic genus Chromatopelma, and is one of those very few tarantula species whose juveniles already approximate the adult versions in terms of coloration. The legs are greenish-blue with a pair of silvery-grey longitudinal stripes on the tibiae and the leg segments below it, and an orange abdomen with squiggly black markings.
It is only in the carapace that the younger ones differed significantly from the adults, as that body part is yellowish-orange with radiating dark markings. Despite the overall more subdued coloration, habitsimmature Green Bottle Blues are actually more chromatically notable in comparison to many other adult tarantula species.
As the juveniles advance in age, the legs lose the greenish undertones to give way to deeper blues, and the carapace develops into a shimmering viridian, fringed with pink-salmon hairs. The abdominal hairs become denser to obscure the black markings, which ultimately fade away, although these same hairs in adults do not face in one direction as is usual in most other species, presenting an unkempt appearance. The venter is jet-black.
In 2002, renowned arachnologist Rick West traveled to the Paraguana desert in northern Venezuela to observe this species in its natural habitat, amid Opuntia cacti and scrub. Prior to this, the mortality rates reported for Chromatopelma were exceedingly high, not because of the finicky nature of the spiders, but due to incorrect information circulating about their husbandry, which stated that they were rainforest animals requiring continuously moist conditions to fare well.
In truth, Green Bottles, being animals of xeric (very dry) habitats, require dry conditions and for this to be emulated in culture, using the correct substrate is a big help, not to mention it approximates what is natural, for this species.
Most hobbyists use coco peat for their arachnids as it is inexpensive and widely available, but it also retains moisture at levels Chromatopelma may not endure. In my enclosure, I use river sand and loamy clay at a ratio of roughly 2:1. When I spray, water percolates freely on the substrate and the loam prevents the moisture to evaporate too fast as to render them useless.
Besides, Green Bottles do not dig as much as most other terrestrial tarantulas, and are content to spin dense webs around stumps of wood or rock/s for security.
This should come as no surprise, as the shifting sands in its desert habitat can possibly bury the spider, with the thick network of web possibly serving the double purpose of stabilizing the dunes adjacent to the den, and acting as insulator to protect its inhabitant from escalating temperatures when the sun is at its most brutal.
As an added measure to protect itself in case sand collapses around it, Chromatopelma often settle on the bases of bushes and ascend when it feels that the sand has fluctuated high enough to endanger it. I believe this is the source of the old anecdotes of this species being arboreal, although it might be safer to pronounce these spiders as generalists that adapt to their environment when it sees fit, rather than an obligate arboreal (or terrestrial, for that matter).
The Green Bottle of Captivity
Feeding Green Bottles presents no complications. They are out in the open by late afternoon or early evening in anticipation of a prey’s arrival. However, these spiders prefer smaller prey items compared to Neotropical theraphosids from other genera, like Brachypelma and Megaphobema. Nevertheless, their ravenous nature and fast metabolisms allow keepers to feed their wards more frequently; as much as possible, I feed mine medium-sized prey once a night, every night.
Despite hailing from deserts, Chromatopelma should be given access to clean, fresh water. However, in smaller enclosures, one will find that these cheeky spiders will web over their water receptacles which makes filling and cleaning it inconvenient because that will also mean pulling out the web—which will invariably disturb the resident. Leaving the water containers inside the enclosures and just filling it with water presents the risk of bacterial outbreaks though.
One way to go around this is to feed prey items high-moisture fruits like tomatoes, watermelons, and oranges before using them as prey; this has the added benefit of introducing beneficial nutrients to your spider.
Much current information regarding their growth rate state that this species is a medium-speed grower, which may be true in the subtropics, as well as temperate areas where artificial heating, in understandably limited levels, is employed. However, it is my experience that C. cyaneopubescens grows outstandingly quick, possibly even a tad quicker than my Poecilotheria metallica. The intervals between the shedding of exuviae can be short if the animals are well fed, occurring even twice within a period of a little over a month.
However, as they mature, the shedding captivityof the old exoskeleton becomes more and more infrequent, as with other tarantula species. When entering a shed cycle, my spider sulks in its thick veil of web for several days, and often the first sign I see upon its reemergence is its old coating mostly hidden within its silken retreat, than the spider itself. When not removed in time, this husk is affixed and incorporated to the web, perhaps to buttress the web system’s structural integrity. This behavior is typical for fossorial tarantula species.
My Green Bottle Blue, nicknamed ‘Blue Halloween’ for decorating its confines with what looks like a Halloween theme, has become one of my more cherished animals, although visitors can manage to catch a glimpse of it only in the evenings. As is usual for other individuals of its species, it moves deliberately and calmly, and is not as given to stuttering dashes I often observe in other so-called calm spiders such as those from the Brachypelma genus when their enclosures are opened. Indeed, Chromatopelma is one of those oft-mentioned spiders that is said to be suitable for beginners, and is passive enough to not resort to defensive postures or hair-flicking.
As of early September 2017, it has molted again and now has reached a leg span of a little above four inches, thereby necessitating a move from its old enclosure to a new, 5-gallon glass tank. For this one, I forewent the wooden backdrop and instead used another old wooden board for the substrate, filled in between the holes and cracks with white sand, and sparsely decorated with small pieces of driftwood and some hay.
For two days, Blue Halloween just hunkered in one corner, obviously rather stressed out from being moved out from what it called home for a number of months and suddenly deprived of the feeling of security its thick network of web provided. But on the third day the spider began weaving its web again, beginning from the glass sides to the driftwood and onto the opposing glass panels. As of this writing, everything looks like a misty veil, and in due time, the entire setup will “age” in accordance to a Green Bottle’s wants. The 2.5 gallon tank has been passed on to another spider, a female Greater Horned Baboon, Ceratogyrus marshalli. But that is quite another story.
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s May 2018 issue.