- Theraphosidae of Africa and the Middle East.  

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Specimens of the subfamily Harpactirinae are small to medium sized theraphosids. The female of Pterinochilus murinus, one of the largest representatives of the subfamily, attains a bodysize of somewhat more than 6 cm, males attain up to 5 cm. Other species of this subfamily rarely achieve these sizes. The genera Harpactirella and Trichognathella include the smallest species of the subfamily. They partially reach body sizes of only a few centimetres. The males of the species Augacephalus and Eucratoscelus are very small as well, partially reaching a body size of approx. 1.5 cm (e.g. A. junodi). In comparison a full growth female reaches a bodysize of up to 6 cm.
A very interesting point with specimens of the genus Pterinochilus is their wide colour variation. P. murinus varies e.g. from bright beige, dark grey, orange up to fire red depending upon geographical origin. The wide range and the huge colour variance made sytematics very difficult in the past, since at times of the descriptions rather unsuitable characteristics, e.g. the coloration, were still considered as more crucial than nowadays. Investigations and illustrations of the genital morphology, today going without saying, rarely were made at this time. Other species of the genus Pterinochilus exhibit different colour variants as well. The coloration range found within P. chordatus is less well known to hobbyists; varying from bright beige with the typical pattern of bars and spots on the abdomen and radial strips on the carapace to deep black completely without markings.
One sees that, compared with other genera, the genus Pterinochilus exhibits a very high variability in coloration. Maybe the high variance of coloration, not to confound with the markings, is generally very common in the subfamily Harpactirinae. To affirm this exact field studies are necessary.
This variation makes it very interesting to deal with this subfamily, on the other hand however it makes it more difficult for the layman to distinguish the species. E.g. P. lugardi are frequently sold as grey P. murinus. For several months a very bright P. chordatus has been offered for sale. This was often labelled P. lugardi or P. murinus. Likewise P. vorax is regularly offered, however we have never discovered a real P. vorax in pet trade so far. Usually these animals turned out to be P. murinus or P. lugardi.



Captive maintenance:

Generally Harpactirinae spp. are soil-inhabiting spiders, which dig or adapt holes and live predominantly therein. Thus for maintenance a container which allows a soil depth of at least 10-15cm should be chosen. Sometimes it is necessary to prepare holes for older specimens, as these quite often don't start to dig by themselves or only after a long accommodation time. Specimens of the subfamily Harpactirinae need a rather dry climate. It is absolutely sufficient if one moistens the web and/or the substrate every 2-4 weeks. Alternatively a drinking dish can be provided, which however will be covered with silk after a short period of time. An average daytime temperature of 25-28.C has proven to be most advantageous for the development of the animals (REICHLING, et al. 1998).
The most common Harpactirinae among tarantula keepers, P. murinus, is a very opportunistic, spider and very easy to maintain. Almost all places to hide are accepted. Especially P. murinus RCF often seems to settles a few centimeters above ground if an appropriate set-up is provided. There are also reports of animals that permanently avoided ground (SCHIEJOK, 2001). I their natural environment these animals seem to settle different places as well (FREYVOGEL, et al. 1968 and GALLON, 2002), which of course facilitates maintaining them in captivity.
However, P. murinus should be considered as soil-inhabiting and if one supplies the tank with a buried tube of cork bark it will be extended downward. With time P. murinus often lines the whole container with their web.
Ceratogyurs spp. and Eucratoscelus spp. (esspecially E. pachypus) are less choosy and prefer a soil-inhabiting way of life. The container should be arranged accordingly. Nevertheless they frequently appear outside their burrow. In contrast, it is not unusual(e.g. for Pterinochilus lugardi) if a spider hides for several weeks to even months. The entrance of the burrow is usually camouflaged with silk and substrate. Even hungry animals can be observed leaving their retreat only during the night. The behaviour of most species of the subfamily seems to be similar.




Animals of the subfamily Harpactirinae are aggressive and jumpy baboon spiders, which one should never hold in the hand. In particular animals, taken from their retreats, raise their body immediately with slightest disturbance, threaten and strike with the forelegs. If the spiders are annoyed continuously, they stridulate rather clearly and start to bite into objects, which are held against them. For the rest the animals first try to escape in to their retreat. If one leaves them no other choice, then they try to defend themselves aggressively.
P. murinus in particular is a relatively fast species, which escaping, on the escape, can jump short distances similar too many south American tree-inhabiting theraphosids. Thus these spiders are not recommended for beginners. Only someone who has some experience in handling tarantulas, should buy species presented here.




The poison of Pterinochilus spp. has a stronger effect on vertebrates than that of most american theraphosids. Presumably other species of the subfamily possess a similar strong poisonous action.
Generally strong pain seems to arise along the whole arm of the bitten hand. There are reports of further consequences, however it seems that these were just an individual process (KNARR, 1997).
It can be also assumed that the poison quantity delivered with each bite is not constant, furthermore it can be assumed that only little poison is wasted for defence.
An exception is the genus Harpactirella; a very strong poisonous action has been reported from H. lightfooti as well as H. flavipilosa (KUNZE, 1996).
The exact composition of the Neurotoxin is still unknown. It is however known that the central and peripheral nervous system is affected. Symptoms are among other things: burning pain around the area of the bite, repeated vomiting as well as shock characters and circulatory collapse (SCHMIDT, 1993).




So far only Pterinochilus murinus (usually RCF), Ceratogyrus darlingi and C. bechuanicus have been bred regularly. Pterinochilus lugardi, P. chordatus, Eucratoscelus pachypus (so far only one successful breeding in captivity is known (GALLON, 2004)), Ceratogyrus marshalli, C. sanderi, C. brachycephalus and C. meridionalis have been bred very rarely. We never heard of breeding of species not mentioned.
Adult females are regularly available just of the genera Pterinochilus, Ceratogyrus and Eucratoscelus, usually these are wild-caught specimens. All other genera of the subfamily are virtually unavailable in the pet-trade.
Breeding Pterinochilus spp. and Ceratogyrus spp. is quite easy. The male is slowly introduced into the cage of the female. After contact with the web the male usually starts immediately with an excited trembling of the whole body and occasional drummings of the pedipalps. After a short time the copulation occurs: the male lifts up the female using his tibial spurs and inserts calmly, alternating or at the same time, its bulbs into the females epigastric furrow. According to experience this procedure is repeated for several times.
After a successful copulation the female often remains clam for some minutes giving the male the chance to escape. After mating both sexes begin to clean themselves extensively. This mating behaviour is typical for the subfamily Harpactirinae.
An aggressive behaviour towards the male was observed extremely rarely. Usually it is possible to leave the male in the female's cage for some days. A small male was ignored by the female completely and died unharmed after some time.
The cocoon is built after approximately 2-4 months. During this time the female should have more access to water, since the oviposition represents a process, during which much humidity gets lost. Contrary to most theraphosids the Harpactirinae cocoon is not spherical and mobile but fixed. Until the larvae hatch the cocoon is attentively guarded and defended by the female. During this time further food can be provided, and thus the probability rises that the female builds a second cocoon.

Eucratoscelus pachypus eggsacRAAB was able to observe Eucratoscelus pachypus building the cocoon directly at the entrance of the tube. The female did not guard the cocoon actively and usually sat headfirst in her tube. Furthermore a similar behaviour has been reported of a Harpactira spp. (probably H. guttata) from South Africa (J. P. SAMADI, pers. comm.). She had constructed the cocoon between the walls at the entrance of her tube and remained protected in its building.

After scarcely 2 months the larvae hatch and after few further weeks moult to nymphs. In this time one can observe an increased spinning activity of the mother. In the beginning, the nymphs remain within the web of the mother, dispersing after few days. In comparison with other theraphosids, the first instar spiderlings are medium-sized, with P. murinus being already 0.5 cm long. Small crickets or roaches are overpowered without problems. Spiderlings from the same cocoon are not spared likewise if their are kept together. Food, which is something bigger than the spiderlings is usually attacked and eaten as well. The exception here is P. lugardi, for their spiderlings are very small in compared to P. murinus or P. chordatus and in this case depend on micro-crickets.
Nymphs of the genus Harpactira are up to three times as big as nymphs of Pterinochilus spp. (pers. observation). Usually the animals grow relatively fast and make pleasant growth spurts. Depending upon raising conditions the males reach maturity after approx. 2 years. The females usually require the same time, and thus sibling animals can be mated without problems. Even visually quite small females can be mated and built an accordingly smaller cocoon.
As a rule of thumb one can consider a females as sexually mature and ready to be mated, when her carapace is as big as the carapace of an adult male. The life expectancy is about 10 years for females, depending on various conditions.


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