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Tarantula Collecting in the 1970's

Discussion in 'Tarantula Chat' started by Poec54, Mar 16, 2014.

  1. Poec54

    Poec54 Arachnoemperor Active Member

    I got my first tarantula in 1973, when most pet stores carried w/c adult female B smithi for $10. Shortly after I decided to get another 'in case anything happened to it.' Then I found someone selling an Aphonoplema from out west. It kept progressing from there, and I soon became good friends with a reptile importer in Detroit (Geoff Schrock, who was also a fulltime policeman). Got most of my spiders from him. He ordered anything unusual for me, and I fed/watered/unpacked his spiders. I also maintained the spiders at a pet shop in Royal Oak, the Black Lagoon, in exchange for free crickets and an occasional spider.

    The hobby was based on wild-caughts. Over years of trying, I never found any other tarantula collectors in Michigan. I was a pioneer on my own. Even reptile collectors thought I was weird. Here's what I had in my collection back then (common names ruled, and latin was scarce and usually wrong):

    1) Brachypelma smithi - I probably had a couple dozen adults and subadults at my peak. I saw hundreds of adult females back then, all were around 6", except for one that the Black Lagoon had that was 7", and they wanted the ridiculous price of $50 for it. One time I unpacked a box of them that my reptile dealer got in. It was a flat, rectangle wooden box with 100 little square compartments inside, each containing an adult smithi. You slid the plywood top off, and they're all exposed at once. Everyone of them came out in a bad mood, kicking hairs. I itched for a week after that.

    2) Brachypelma albopilosum - gradually got in the trade and was available in many pet stores.

    3) Bracypelma vagans - My dealer got in two adult females. Would have liked more.

    4) Aphonoplema sp. - I had several species: maybe hentzi, a small black one from California, and a blond/brown species from the Laguna area of southern California (my gandparents lived there, and paid a local kid to collect them in the wild and ship them to me in Michigan).

    5) Brachypelma/Aphonopelma sp. - This was called a 'Sinaloan Rock Tarantula' from Mexico. My reptile dealer could only get one of them. It was a beautiful blond, very robust, a good 6". Very docile and slow-moving. Every bit as gentle as G pulchra. This one would make an equally great species in the hobby today.

    6) Aphonopelma seemanii - There were 3 similar spiders, all with a pink/orange underside and spinneretts. The most common was a 5" battleship grey one from Guatemala. It was in some pet stores back then, but I've never seen it in the hobby since. There was a liitle larger brown one from Honduras, not very common. And the rarest was the dark blue one from Costa Rica, that's now known as A seemanii. These three may all be regional forms of seemanii.

    7) Phormictopus cancerides - Popular in pet stores, although a bit fiesty. I had a number of them. They came in as regular imports, and my reptile dealer also brought a bunch back when he went to Haiti on a 'collecting trip.' Well actually he stayed at the hotel bar and pool, and paid local kids a dime for each one they caught for him.

    8) Avicularia avicularia - These first came in during the late 1970's. My first arboreal. It was the first tarantula I ever bred, and they hatched out on my birthday. I had to keep all the slings as no one else wanted baby spiders.

    9) Ornithoctonus aureotibialis - The only OW in the trade then, that was previously known as 'Haplopelma minax.' I thoroughly enjoyed the several I had. This got my passion for OW's going.

    10) Haplopelma lividum - In the late 1970's one of these came in with a shipment of O aureotibialis. It was the only one I saw back then.

    11) Nhandu carapoensis - Somehow my reptile dealer got one of these in. He didn't know where it originated from, and could never get another. Big burly, shaggy 6" spider. It was only last year that I saw pictures of it online and could finally identify it. Needless to say, I have a couple now.

    12) Sericoplema rubronitens - Another one-of-a-kind oddball my reptile dealer got in, shipped from Costa Rica. Black legs and carapace, red abdomen, very leggy. It was my biggest spider, at 7". Again, I identified it last year from online pics, and I've also got some juneviles of it now.

    13) Cyrtopholis bonhotei - These came from another 'collecting trip' by my reptile dealer. He got them on Andros, Eleuthera, and Bimini islands. They were 5", and dark brown with gold capaces. Adult males were black with shiny gold carapaces. I wish there were more Cyrtopholis species in the hobby. They're found all over the Caribbean.

    14) ? - My reptile dealer got in two 5" dark brown tarantulas from Mexico, that had skinny legs. They weren't built like Brachypelma or Aphonopelma. I have no idea what they were. The common name given to them was 'Mayan Tarantulas.'

    15) Psalmopoeus cambridgei - During a summer while I was in college, I worked at the 'Spider Museum' in Virginia for 'the Spider Lady', Ann Moreton. She was a photographer in her 60's who found spiders to be excellent subjects, and opened a museum on her acreage, with her photograhs and live spiders. I brought my collection down with me from Michigan, and had it on display for the two months I worked there. While there, a young arachnology student named Sam Marshall came by, with two older guys, and I traded a few of my spiders and scorpions for 5 P cambridgei juveiles that Arnold Weber (New York) had bred. They were called 'Tapenauchenius' at the time. They grew very fast and soon I wound up with 3.2; unfortunately I had no adult females when the males matured. I really liked these. Just before I left, a national TV crew came by to film a story on the museum, featuring conservationist and wildlife author Roger Caras, who was really a nice person.

    In the Spider Museum, Ann Moreton had a couple species that I hadn't seen before, that were field collected by arachnologists (and therefore not in the trade). One was a grey 6" baboon spider (the first baboon I saw) from east Africa, maybe Pterinochilus chordatus, although it was called 'Harpactira.' The other was a full 8" and jet black, from Peru. Biggest spider I'd ever seen, dwarfed mine. It was called a 'Grammostola', although it could have been Pamphobeteus antinous.

    I managed to get about 20 kinds of tarantulas in the 1970's, although half were due to having a friend (and landlord at one point) who was importing animals. I'm still astonished at all the species in the hobby today, and from so many remote places.
    • Like Like x 29
  2. pardozer

    pardozer Arachnoknight

    A little off topic but do you currently reside in Michigan? I noticed Detroit and Royal Oak mentioned, I'm actually in Dearborn :)
  3. Blut und ehre

    Blut und ehre Arachnoknight

    I'ld consider you almost "spoiled" with the amount of species that were available to you back then!!

    Up here in my neck of the woods there was only [calling them by the names of the time].... Pinktoes/Pinkfoot...Haitan Brown/Brown Demons ....an occasional Mexican Red Leg [Smithi]...
    and once in a while.....Black Velvet. That is it at that time....And I specifically remember reading books on care....and particularly how to prevent them from burrowing by spreading fishtank gravel over the substrate in which was topsoil [dug from your yard] or ground corncob...or woodchip bedding?? Imagine that?

  4. cantthinkofone

    cantthinkofone Arachnodemon

    This is quite a lovely link to a past I will never know, but wish I could. Thanks for sharing this wonderful bit of information.
    • Like Like x 2
  5. Medusa

    Medusa Arachnoknight

    I grew up in Southern Michigan, about 2 hours west of Detroit. I got my first T in 1970, a G. Rosea from some company that sent a catalog to my high school's science department. It arrived at the local post office in a tube with screens, so the T was quite visible inside. Actually, it was the 3rd I had ordered. The first two were DOA. I kept it at school since my mother refused to let me bring it home.
  6. Blut und ehre

    Blut und ehre Arachnoknight

    hahahahah I forgot about that......My Mom wasn't too happy about Ts either........I was able to sneak one into my room....after years of "belly aching" about wanting one. There were such stories about how deadly and dangerous they could be......and Moms bought right into it!! Roseas weren't available here at the time.

  7. Keith B

    Keith B Arachnobaron

    Great story and thanks so much for sharing! I don't envy you opening a box of 100 B. smithi adults at once, but would have liked to be there just to have a spectator view of what that cloud looked like >.< Amazing the rates some of these species were taken out of their natural habitat. A box of 100 B. smithi, delivered to just ONE location, all WC.. seems so unreal now.. but I imagine boxes like that with rose hairs are too common at the moment.
    • Like Like x 1
  8. Blut und ehre

    Blut und ehre Arachnoknight

    I remember at the only local pet store they kept Ts like that!! Not 100 at a time.....But they were A.Avics...."Pinkfeet" tarantulas [ haha] But the fellow kept 20 sometimes 30 in one small enclosure.......I was told that they were the only specie that was to be kept in groups. I could never understand how they sold so quickly ??....[when nobody I knew owned a T!!!!] Of coarse they must have been killing each other and He cleaned out the dead in the morning before opening!

  9. fyic

    fyic Arachnobaron Old Timer

    great story.......now if we could only go back to the future hahaha
  10. Poec54

    Poec54 Arachnoemperor Active Member

    30 years ago I bailed out to a state with warmer winters and twice as much sunshine, Florida.

    ---------- Post added 03-16-2014 at 03:40 PM ----------

    In some ways it was nice, w/c adults so cheap. But there only a handful of species available, and almost zero interest in captive breeding. I like it much better now, with all the species in the hobby. Plus there's vastly more information now on them, especially in taxonomy. The internet has been huge in the hobby's rise in popularity; you can pick out a spider, pay for it, and get it the next day. Before, I couldn't find another collector in the whole state, now I'm talking to collectors around the world everyday.

    ---------- Post added 03-16-2014 at 03:44 PM ----------

    I was spoiled by 1970's standards, but it took years of searching and pestering people.
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2014
  11. Bergrider

    Bergrider Arachnopeon

    This thread is awesome
    Thanks for posting this poec
  12. Lrntolive

    Lrntolive Arachnopeon


    Great history lesson. Thank you for sharing. Have you been able to find all of those species again? Particularly, the ones you had only seen once or had once.

    Sent from my SGH-T989 using Tapatalk
  13. Wildenthusiast

    Wildenthusiast Arachnosquire

    Thrilling to learn about the hobby when it was fresh and so obscure. Also great to get a glimpse into your history, and a very interesting one it is. Many thanks for sharing that with us.
  14. Poec54

    Poec54 Arachnoemperor Active Member

    I currently have B smithi, H lividum, P cancerides, P cambridgei, O aureotibialis, and was very glad to finally identify and obtain Nhandu carapoensis and Sericopelma rubronitens. That was exciting. There is some nostalgia there. In particular B smithi, I just got a subadult female and it really brings back memories. I'd really like to get some Cyrtopholis too (except the Puerto Rican one). I wish I could find that big beige 'Sinaloan Rock' again, what a great spider for beginners. I haven't been able to even find a pic of it, although someone in Europe probably has it. It would be an ideal 'ambassador' spider for the hobby, a true gentle giant. I'd love to know for certain what that big, black Peruvian one was that Ann Moreton had. She'd handle it occasionally, but said some days it was a bit too fiesty for that. She used to feed it bull frogs, as crickets were so small for it. It died in a bad shed a couple years later.

    ---------- Post added 03-16-2014 at 05:02 PM ----------

    I was in college for a good part of that, and it was fun hitting all the local pet stores, and seeing what my reptile dealer had just got in. I was also giving tarantula slideshow talks to elementary schools then. But I really had no one else interested in spiders where I lived, that I could talk to and share things with. That's what I love about today.
    • Like Like x 1
  15. Formerphobe

    Formerphobe Arachnoking Arachnosupporter

    VA, USA
    The wealth of information available via internet is astronomical compared to what the average collector had access to in the 70s. I worked for a pet store and then for a pet distributor. The conditions the WC reptiles and arachnids arrived in were deplorable. There wasn't a lot of interest in tarantulas, though I took home more than my fair share, mostly B. smithi. We would occasionally get 'Pink Toes', 'Bird Eaters' and a few other uninformative names. We had a handful of customers who routinely purchased crickets and occasionally pinky mice for their tarantulas, but they were few and far between. Most tarantula care was by gut feeling. For instance, I ditched the 'recommended' corncob bedding for topsoil and got rid of the sponges or cotton batting in the water bowls. Hobby growth has been remarkable, especially for the number of species now being captive bred.
    • Like Like x 1
  16. CrystalRose

    CrystalRose Arachnopeon

    Thanks for posting this. Very interesting to read.
  17. Lrntolive

    Lrntolive Arachnopeon


    I'd like to know what that big, black Peruvian T was, also. Sounds intriguing.

    Sent from my SGH-T989 using Tapatalk
  18. klawfran3

    klawfran3 Arachnobaron

    this is probably a stupid question, but when was the first official instance of keeping tarantulas at a pet? surely there had to have been a pioneer that brought these things into light, right?
  19. Poec54

    Poec54 Arachnoemperor Active Member

    Stan Schultz got into tarantulas about 5 years before I did, and they were in the trade then, mainly as novelty items.
    • Like Like x 2
  20. syndicate

    syndicate Arachnoemperor Old Timer

    Always nice to hear about the history of the hobby!It really has come along way!
    Thanks for sharing Rick!
    • Like Like x 1