Hairy but not so scary

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by Chloe
Publish date
2 May 2012
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Chloe is a keeper with Live Exhibits at Melbourne Museum.

Who knew that within Melbourne Museum there are two rooms not considered to be in Australia?

Every year Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) officers confiscate thousands of objects being brought illegally into the country through the post, airports and seaports. These items include food, drugs, plants and even live animals.

King Baboon tarantula (<em>Citharischius crawshayi</em>) King Baboon tarantula (Citharischius crawshayi)
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Such illegal items can pose a significant risk to Australian wildlife. Tarantulas are a long-lived spider which can produce thousands of eggs each year. If they were to become established in the wild exotic tarantulas would have the ability to decimate populations of small native animals.

In 1996 a population of Mexican Redrump tarantulas (Brachypelma vagans) was discovered in a citrus field in Florida, America. The population is believed to have stemmed from one gravid (carrying eggs) female who was released after she was no longer wanted as a pet. Over 100 individuals were found in a single survey of the 40 acre property. The Mexican Redrump tarantula is not native to Florida but has been imported for the pet trade since the 1970s. It is thought that this incidence of releasing an exotic pet has alone caused devastating effects on local fauna. With Australia's warm climate it would be easy to find ourselves in a similar situation to Florida if we didn't enforce strict quarantine measures.

Mexican Redrump tarantula (<em>Brachypelma vegans</em>) Mexican Redrump tarantula (Brachypelma vegans)
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Tarantulas with their unique markings, behaviours, and basic husbandry are popular pets in Europe and America. Many species are illegally transported around the world with collectors willing to pay hundreds of dollars for specimens. In Australia there are numerous species of native tarantulas that can be kept legally as pets.

Venezuelan Sun Tiger tarantula (<em>Psalmopoeus irminia</em>) Venezuelan Sun Tiger tarantula (Psalmopoeus irminia)
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Queensland whistling tarantula (<em>Selenocosmia crassipes</em>) Queensland whistling tarantula (Selenocosmia crassipes)
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
  

But what happens to the items AQIS confiscate? Many items are destroyed to protect Australia's precious ecosystem. However, some lucky spiders are spared. They get used by museums and zoos to act as educational aids.

Quarantine room enclosures off display at Melbourne Museum Quarantine room enclosures off display at Melbourne Museum
Image: Chloe Miller
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Melbourne Museum is home two quarantine rooms where we house 14 tarantulas that were confiscated by AQIS. These spiders are housed under strict conditions which meet AQIS standards. These standards include the treatment of objects leaving the rooms such as waste, water, uneaten food and other implements. These items must be double bagged, recorded and frozen at minus 20 degrees for six weeks. The quarantine room is not considered to be in Australia territory but a grey zone within Australia.

Bugs Alive! Quarantine room at Melbourne Museum Bugs Alive! Quarantine room at Melbourne Museum
Image: Chloe Miller
Source: Museum Victoria
 

One quarantine room at the museum is located within the Bugs Alive! gallery and allows visitors to see its inner workings through a glass viewing wall, while the other room is located behind the scenes.

Our display spiders are fed every fortnight on Saturdays. One of our 'behind the scenes' spiders is fed weekly on Fridays at 3pm live on the web.

Tarantula feeding live on the internet Tarantula feeding live on the internet
Image: Chloe Miller
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Currently on display via the webcam is a Brazilian Salmon Pink tarantula (Lasiodora parahybana). Brazilian Salmon Pinks are the third largest species of tarantula with a leg span reaching 25cm.

Brazilian Salmon Pink tarantula (<em>Lasiodora parahybana</em>) Brazilian Salmon Pink tarantula (Lasiodora parahybana)
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Equipped with urticating (stinging) hairs to flick at predators, she only uses her fangs as a last resort. This girl is a keen feeder, often climbing up the keeper's forceps to get to its prey.

References:

Brazilian Salmon Pink fact sheet from WAZA

Brazilian Salmon Pink Birdeater from Australian Reptile Park

Mexican Redrump Tarantula fact sheet [PDF 179KB] from the University of Florida

1996 Florida Mexican redrump tarantula incident

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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