Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Jennie's Fun Facts About Tarantulas

Revised in 2014

Tarantulas (as well as arachnids in general) are some of the world’s most widely misunderstood animals, so I’d like to clear some things up.

Tarantulas live all over the world, except for particularly cold climates. There are ground tarantulas who make burrows (terrestrial) and tree tarantulas who frequent jungles (arboreal). There are 900+ identified species! Individual tarantulas have unique personalities, some of which can be pretty amusing, in my experience.
1. New World vs. Old World tarantulas:
"New World" refers to species found mostly throughout the Americas. Most New World tarantulas have a defense mechanism called urticating setae (explained below). Though behavior among these species varies, generally speaking, they tend to be anywhere from extremely docile and calm to somewhat skittish and shy. Because tarantulas do possess personalities unique to each specimen, defensive behaviors can be found among New World types but it is very rare. This is why most people choose New World species for house pets! 

"Old World" refers to species found throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. These species do not have urticating setae, but tend to have larger “heads” (carapaces). Because they lack the bristle defense mechanism, their survival is dependent on their ability to ward off predators with their defensive behaviors. Thus, Old World types are generally more skittish, irritable, and much more inclined to bite than New World species. Again, there are always exceptions. I have seen some tarantula hobbyists handle Old World pets with no trouble at all, but these are not suggested for beginners.

If you mean, “Are they toxic enough to kill a human being?” The short answer is no.
However, it’s important to know the long answer too. Tarantulas, like almost all spiders, have venom. This is essential to their ability to capture and consume prey. Tarantula venom is designed to subdue and kill insects or small vertebrates. So far, there has never been a human death or lasting physical illness or disability because of a tarantula bite. According to current records, there are approximately 900 species of tarantula in the world, and there is a wide range of venom potency.
Most New World types have very mild venom. Bites are extremely rare and result in either no effect whatsoever, or varying levels of irritation at the site of the bite (itching, rash, tingling, or very minor numbness). I’ve never known a New World bite to cause anything more than puncture pain from the fang itself and very minor irritation at the bite site (in fact, I’ve only found very few cases where one actually bit someone at all). It takes quite a lot of harassment to get bitten, and I mean a lot.

Old World species are a bit different. Some Old World types have completely harmless bites, but others can cause pain and numbness in the entire limb that was bitten, and some can cause temporary symptoms of physical illness. An example of this can be found in members of the Poecilotheria genus, particularly the Poecilotheria regalis or Indian Ornamental Tarantula. All species in this genus are currently known as the most venomous tarantulas in the world (Note: “most venomous” does not mean “deadly”). Though, again, there have never been any deaths, a bite from a member of this genus is known to cause intense pain throughout the limb (if bitten on the hand, for example, the entire arm can be affected), swelling around the bite, muscle cramps throughout the limb, sweating, light-headedness, headache, drowsiness, and/or flu-like symptoms. In all bite cases, these symptoms have been temporary, and usually clear up in two to three days. Most bite reports indicate that everyone has the same general experience with a Poecilotheria bite, though again, the Indian Ornamental is one to be particularly careful of. Sadly, while this is considered the most dangerous tarantula out there and is only recommended for very experienced hobbyists, it is also one of the most beautiful.
**NOTE: The result of a bite from any venomous animal depends on many factors including: whether venom was actually injected with the bite (some bites are “wet” and others are “dry”), how much venom was injected, and the condition of the person’s immune system.**

3. Can tarantulas be de-venomized? 
Absolutely not. In short, the tarantula would die. There is no way to permanently remove a tarantula’s venom (though if it was somehow accomplished, they would be unable immobilize prey), and removing its chelicerae (where its fangs are located) would cause it to bleed to death because tarantula “blood” (hemolymph) does not clot.

4. Will a tarantula hunt you down or attack you? 
No. No. No. No no no no no. No. This is the most common misconception, and the reason most people are afraid of spiders.  The exaggerated fear is that they see themselves being angrily pursued, bitten, and dying of poison shortly after. Tarantulas absolutely do not randomly “attack”, and they must be provoked in order to bite. They are purely defensive creatures, including the most irritable species. They have to feel specifically threatened before they will bite. Very shy creatures, actually.

5. Will they act scary though? 
Absolutely (this answer is dependent on the species). Species in the Old World category are prone to raising their forelegs in a threatening pose or striking the ground as a means to scare off predators. They also have bristle-like structures on their appendages called stridulatory setae,which can cause a “hissing” sound when rubbed together. If the threat comes too close, they will bite once and then run off in hopes of getting away alive. New World species generally skitter away to avoid a threat, or turn around and flick urticating setae off their abdomens (their “butts”). If the confrontation continues, they may raise their forelegs in a threatening pose to make themselves seem scarier!

6. How can tarantulas harm you?
Harmless bites with zero effect (hobbyists say it feels like a very quick needle prick…like the one they use at the doctor to take blood from the tip of your finger), bites with temporary effects on the skin and nerves, bites with temporary symptoms of pain or illness (those very few species I mentioned above), and urticating setae. These are tiny hair-like structures located on the abdomens of New World species, appearing spiked or covered in hooks if viewed with a microscope. This is why New World species are very unlikely to bite; they have this useful defense mechanism! The tarantula uses its back legs to rapidly kick the “hairs” off its booty (abdomen) when threatened, puffing the setae up in a small gray cloud. This can be very effective for warding off predators long enough for the tarantula to get away. With humans, urticating setae can irritate the skin on contact, causing itchiness and/or small hives for a period of time. The only real danger is if they get into the eyes, which rarely happens with people because we don’t tend to get eye-level with an irritated tarantula. I have read about one case, though, where the owner’s pet tarantula kicked urticating setae onto her hand, and she later rubbed her eyes. This caused pain, swelling and severe redness for a few days. This is a rare instance, but you should always wash your hands before and after handling your tarantula!

7. What does it feel like when they walk on your skin?
Q-tips. That is exactly what it feels like. There is no better description. Go get three or four q-tips and lightly set the ends in a circular cluster on your forearm. That’s what it feels like.
8. They are cute. 
They really are. If you disagree, you may not be looking at them the right way. The average spider-fearing person sees “too many legs, creepy fangs, gross hair, beady eyes”.
But the tarantula fan sees “fluid, graceful movement”, “fuzzzzy!”, “cute lil baby eyeballs”, “goofy, furry front teeth”, “unbelievable, beautiful colors and patterns”, “aww it’s cleaning itself”, and “omg look, she’s dancing!” Which brings me to my next point.
9. Tarantulas dance.
Okay, so it’s not dancing to them, but it totally looks like a little butt-wiggling dance, okay. When they capture prey, they hold it in their mouths like a dog with a bone and turn in slow circles, jiggling their booties from side to side, touching their spinnerets to the ground over and over. What they’re actually doing is weaving what we call a feeding mat, which is later used to wrap up leftovers. Just like putting food in the fridge!
10. They sometimes itch their butts in public.
11. Tarantula silk is antimicrobial, hypoallergenic, and biodegradable.
Tarantulas use their silk to keep extra food from rotting, and they often bind up feces, insect carcasses, and other “trash”, and then deposit it neatly in the corner of their enclosure for me to pick up. This always astonishes me.
12. They are the cleanest animals ever.
They clean house. No, really. When their burrow accumulates exoskeletons from bugs or old shed molts or any other garbage, they do “spring cleaning”, and some species actually do this in the spring. Their fecal matter is completely odorless and consists mostly of calcium carbonate from the exoskeletons of insects. Because odorless enzymes do most of their digesting, they have no need for “gut bacteria” like we do. My tarantulas even wrap their poo up in web and stick it in the corner for good measure.
13. Five tarantulas cost me around $2.50 per month to feed.
They eat 6 to 8 large crickets every two weeks. Crickets can be found at Petsmart and Petco.
14. They have funny habits, especially concerning water bowls.
One of mine, Pandora, guards her water bowl and doesn’t like it when I take it out to clean out the dirt or move it to a new spot. I have come back to find that she moved it back to the old spot and was sitting in it so I couldn’t move it again.
Meeka suddenly hates water (though she most certainly has to drink…I know she has to, and I can’t figure out why I’ve never seen her drinking). I fill her water up, she fills the bowl with dirt. I fill it up again, she tips it over. I fill it again, and she buries it at the bottom of her enclosure. This has gone on for months now.
Ella steals water bowls. Actually, she collects things in general. I initially gave her water in a shallow plastic lid, and it disappeared a day later. I couldn’t find it. Thought I was crazy. Put a new one in. Gone. I decided she was burying them for some reason, so I added a third plastic dish and found a tiny little Yoda figurine, which I added for decor. All of it disappeared. Finally, I lifted up her little house and found all of these items webbed to the ceiling. I swear she was decorating. Eventually, I found a shallow water bowl made of heavy glass, which she cannot lift.
15. Kittens have fangs too.
Just sayin’. And we love them. Kittens also bite when provoked, cause Cat Scratch Disease, and have very potent dander that can cause severe allergic reactions. They also commonly carry an easily transmissible parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause death or severe birth defects in developing fetuses, too-high levels of dopamine in the brain resulting in highway deaths due to reckless behavior, and/or schizophrenia. Just sayin’.
FAQ about my experience as a tarantula and arachnology hobbyist:
Do I have real experience with these animals? Over time, I’ve had a total of 14 tarantulas as pets (I have caught some injured ones in Texas and kept them until they could be released, and some of the ones I’ve bought matured into adult males, which I sold to tarantula breeders as a contribution to the hobby). The most I ever had at once was 12. And now I have five, four of which are girls who will be with me until they eventually pass away (they are all of various ages, but some will almost certainly be with me until I’m in my forties!).
But do I know these things really? I’ve read three books on tarantula-keeping, cover to cover, some more than once, and since reading those, I’ve gone into the hobby of research on arachnology in general (and entomology too). Though I’m not a documented arachnologist (I am working on a biological science degree in molecular and behavioral genetics), I’ve done a huge (probably unhealthy) amount of reading, spotting, documenting, photo-taking, and identifying of spiders. For tarantulas as pets, my favorite print reference is The Tarantula Keeper’s Guide by Stanley and Marguerite Schultz. It’s my tarantula bible.
Have you ever been bitten?I have only ever owned New World species, and have done a lot of handling. 14 tarantulas later, never been bitten! I have dealt with urticating setae once though, and it created an itchy rash for an hour or so.
Want one as a pet? Just want to learn more about them? Have questions to ask experts willing to give you polite and well-thought-out answers? Not sure? Not your thing, but want to see proof that there really is a thriving population of “tarantula hobbyists” out there? Check out the website below and get yourself a username. This is my home away from home.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Top 10 Pandora Stations for Studying

To my fellow college students: need some study music? Sick to death of your iPod? I thought I'd try to make a helpful post for once, heheheh.

So you're finally about to jump on an eight-hour study binge, to stick it out 'til you're no longer terrified of tomorrow's exam. You've got a bowl of trail mix for brain energy, plus fresh coffee or hot tea on your desk. To keep away the chill of night, you're equipped with a clean fuzzy blanket (and/or sleeping cat), a favorite hoodie, and the most comfy pajama pants you own. And... god, it's quiet. How does one study in such utter, deafening silence? (Well some of you study better with silence, so maybe you should ignore this post mmkay.)

This calls for Pandora radio. So you seize your laptop or plug in your wifi-ready smart phone, pull up Pandora, and... shit. Now, you have to choose a station.


My top 10 Pandora stations for studying:

1) Chill Out - Search Bar >> Browse Genres >> Electronic >> Chill Out
My very favorite study station. Great for subjects like math, chemistry, or visual art, where you're dealing with numbers, problem solving, diagrams, and drawing. Many of the songs have some very chill and calming vocals, so if you're easily distracted by song lyrics, pair this station with schoolwork that doesn't involve a lot of reading (like Literature or History), and stick to problem-solving assignments. I don't get distracted by the vocals, though, so I pair this with everything.

Extremely similar station: Downtempo - Search Bar >> Browse Genres >> Electronic >> Downtempo

Almost identical to the Chill Out station, but focusing exclusively on downtempo beats to keep your brain ticking along. These two stations have many of the same songs in common.

2) Instrumental Hip Hop - Search Bar >> Browse Genres >> Hip Hop >> Instrumental Hip Hop
Get a good rhythm and a perfect study vibe with this one. Background hip hop tracks with the vocals removed for less distraction and more groove. This one is awesome for any subject, especially if you're looking for low-key music that won't put you to sleep. You can listen to this for hours on end, and it feels like you're studying at a hip downtown coffee shop or record store.

3) Jazz - Search Bar >> Browse Genres >> Jazz >> Jazz
If you're not really into the hip college-town coffee house or record store scene, maybe you prefer the uptown Barnes and Noble/"fancy Italian restaurant" soundtrack. This station goes well with takeout from the Olive Garden, a nice cappuccino, and an expensive lap dog to accompany your Harvard philosophy homework.

4) Classical Solo Piano - Search Bar >> Browse Genres >> Classical >> Classical Solo Piano
Perfect for all you classical heads who love a good cello and some melancholy piano to accompany your twenty-page midterm paper. Enjoy both the classics and some great pieces from modern composers, all of which are soft enough to help you think.

5) Choral Music - Search Bar >> Browse Genres >> Classical >> Choral Music
If you want to drag your desk into Westminster Abbey and study in a state of immense beauty, use this station... that is IF you're not prone to bursting into tears. Some of this music is unbelievably beautiful, and therefore extremely moving. So if you're all "woe is me, I procrastinated too long and this exam will be the end of my life," or if you're just a really emotional person, don't freaking use this one. You'll just end up thinking about your childhood and sobbing all over your Calculus textbook.

6) Worldbeat - Search Bar >> Browse Genres >> World >> Worldbeat
Love this one. You'll find some beautiful stuff in here, with low-key beats and a wonderful world style. Latin-inspired guitars, sleepy accordions, and cool cultural influences to chill you out and pull you through the work.

7) Trance - Search Bar >> Browse Genres >> Electronic >> Trance
If you're really into Electronica, try this station (turned down low) and do a bazillion math problems with the help of some trance. It's fast-paced, but lacks the sharp, jarring qualities found in dubstep, techno, and other electro styles, so it won't jolt or distract you while you're trying to work. This shit will turn you into a machine so you can go, go, go. WHOTHEFUCKNEEDSSLEEP,RIGHT????HAHAHAHA

8) Peter Tosh radio - Search Bar >> type "Peter Tosh" >> Peter Tosh (artist)
I don't care what anyone says, okay. Reggae is great for studying. It's soooo chill. Plus, it's awesome in the winter time or when it's rainy, 'cause it instantly makes you feel like you're hanging out at the smoothie shop on a tropical island. I chose the Peter Tosh artist station in particular because his music is very relaxing, and Pandora will match up other artists with the same easy vibe. Don't worry, you'll get plenty of other artists on this station, including Bob Marley, Damian Marley, UB40, and more.

9) New Age - Search Bar >> Browse Genres >> New Age >> New Age
Feel-good music for the stressed-the-fuck-out soul. Everything's okay, my friend. Just do your best. That's all we can do. Nobody's perfect. Of course people like you. No, you won't fail the class. Whoops, don't forget to simplify after you take the derivative. Hey, remember your Works Cited page, okay? That's it. Here, have some Enya.

10) Ambient - Search Bar >> Browse Genres >> New Age >> Ambient

Holy shit man, I am literally so zen right now. This station is like being at a spa. And when you take a short break every hour, give yourself a head/neck massage. Ohhhh shit. See you on the other side.

Monday, May 6, 2013


Sooooo, Game of Thrones last night:

Sansa: "I wuv you, you so hot, we gonna have babies, OMG I like your pinnn."

Loras: "Bitch, you cray-cray. That's totally a brooch lyke wtf don't you know anything oh my goddd."

Sansa: "Oh."


Sansa: "OOOOOH we can pick out my wedding dressssss"

Loras: "OMG YES"

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Test post. Trying to get this website going again. Maybe have some new stuff coming up! Stay tuned?