Ephebopus murinus or the Skeleton Tarantula as it is known popularly is the most unusual tarantula species that I have ever worked with in the industry. They are not the largest spider I have seen in captivity; that honor still belongs to the Goliath Bird Eater Theraphosa blondi with a leg span the size of a dinner plate. Skeleton Tarantula’s Ephebopus murinus are about 4 1/2” total leg span in mature males while mature females may get 6”. So what makes this spider so unusual?
For starters its forelegs would identify it as an arboreal species due to them being long and flattened in appearance. This is common for the arboreal species of tarantulas. The Skeleton Tarantula is a fossorial species that burrows. They possess urticating hairs, as do all tarantula species. The weirdness factor comes into play because their urticating hairs are on the front legs known as pedipalps! Most tarantula species have their urticating hairs on the abdomen. The skeleton tarantulas are native to Surinam, Guyana, and Northern Brazil where they are typically found in the lowland forest areas.
The Skeleton tarantula Ephebopus murinus gets its name for obvious reasons when you look at the markings on its legs. It is said that the skeleton tarantula Ephebopus murinus is ‘slightly’ aggressive; they will occasionally rear up when disturbed or will throw their urticating hairs, if pushed to their limit they will bite. While I have never been personally envenomated by one, the research I have done states their bite is like that of a wasp sting. As with all venomous creatures it’s a gamble if you’re allergic. If you’re allergic to bees or other stinging insects I would have an emergency number close by at all times.
Housing a Skeleton tarantula Ephebopus murinus is one of the easier things to do. All you really need is a five gallon enclosure with about 4 ½” of coconut coir substrate and a shallow water dish and your pretty much all set. The best substrate I’ve found is Jungle Bed by T-Rex but I am sure that any coconut coir will work.
Coconut coir in case your unfamiliar with the term like I was is a just a fancy way of saying we ground up coconut husks and then stuck it into a press and made a brick out of it. These expandable bricks and hockey puck looking discs that expand after having water put on them are what the industry calls coconut coir. About half of the disc/hockey puck and only a ¼ of the brick will cover a five gallon enclosure.
Temperature & Humidity
As far as heating is concerned I wouldn’t let this species get above 80˚ Fahrenheit on the warm side of the enclosures temperature gradient. I would go with 70˚ Fahrenheit on the cooler side. To achieve the temperature gradient I would use an under tank heater or UTH which is a piece of plastic surrounding a heating element which is then stuck to the bottom of the enclosure. You can also use the overhead heating elements such as lights and ceramic heaters but these are not as attractive on such a small enclosure and in my experience these elements may overheat the enclosure.
In order to measure temperature accurately I recommend against any stick on the terrarium wall thermometer whether it be digital or analog. The reasoning behind this is that these devices tend to measure the wall of the terrariums heat versus the heat of the air in the enclosure. In order to get an accurate reading of the ambient temperature of the enclosure itself you should use a temp gun.
Spray the entire enclosure with distilled or reverse osmosis water everyday during the summer and spring months. You should spray just enough to moisten the top layer of the substrate; any more may cause mold and bacteria to start growing within the substrate. We are shooting for imitating their natural humidity range of 80%. In order to measure the humidity I would recommend a stick on the glass hygrometer that will tell you what the humidity is at any given moment.
I have always used toilet paper rolls tilted at an angle toward the ceiling of the enclosure in order to provide a burrow for any of the fossorial species I have kept, I have as yet to ever have one refuse to use them. To use the toilet paper roll I make sure that any excess paper has been removed and use a razor knife to cut the back of the roll to a forty-five degree angle then place this into the enclosure itself before anything else goes in. I then place the substrate around the tube.
There are those who go with live plants and those who don’t. The argument can go both ways, what I do is try and figure out what the tarantula is telling me through its behavior. Each tarantula will have its own little quirks. There are those that may spin web all over the enclosure, then we have those that will line their burrows with webbing and that’s all. So it’s a matter of taste when it comes to what you want to do. If you do use décor such as plants or a branch be forewarned, I have yet to find a way to easily get the web off of décor. If you know of a way please leave a comment and our readers and I will all be grateful. All of us are learning each and every day.
When it comes to feeding there are really no limits. Anything animal wise that the tarantula can easily overpower is fair game for a meal. In captivity, we feed crickets. You want to give them four to five a week of appropriate size. I have heard of people feeding pinkies; while there is nothing nutritionally wrong with this, I just don’t think this is a natural food source that they would take in the wild. If you want to change up the diet you can order Grasshoppers or roaches online. I always provide a shallow water dish for tropical species so that they may walk over it and drink as needed. To keep crickets from drowning in it put a few pebbles in the bowl.
Molting is akin to snakes shedding. The animal has outgrown its current skin and needs to shed. In snakes we see their eye cap scales turn blue about two weeks prior and then they clear up about a week prior to shedding. After shedding they are usually pretty hungry. Spiders are the same way except that we can’t tell when they are about to shed. This is where a lot of new tarantula keepers make a huge mistake thinking that their new pet has died. When a tarantula molts they spin a mat of web on the floor then lay on it like we would a bed. This is the only time a tarantula will ever be seen on it back.
NEVER disturb them when they are in this position, they are extremely vulnerable in this state. This means no feeding or misting at all until after they have shed. The legs will be curled back in towards the center of the tarantula. When they are done they will need about two days for the new exoskeleton to harden up. Afterwards you can remove the shed and either preserve it or throw it away. When a tarantula passes away I have only seen them with their legs curled up beneath them and this is known to be the death position. If anyone knows of or has seen them die in another position please leave a comment and let me know.
Keeping Skeleton tarantulas Ephebopus murinus is not something that I would recommend to the new tarantula keeper who is just getting into the hobby but if you have owned other species then this tarantula might be the one you are looking for as they do offer some varying challenges to the experienced keeper which are well worth the extra effort.
What kind of arachnid or tarantula do you keep?