Last week, an employee at Britain’s Chester Zoo saw something that would send most humans running: hundreds of miniature tarantulas, pouring out of the ground of an invertebrate exhibit.
But rather than running and hiding, this lucky employee likely whooped for joy. These weren’t just any terrifying spiders, they were baby Montserrat tarantulas—the first in the world to be born in captivity, and the result of several years of tricky zookeeping work.
The zoo announced the birth in a press release last week, calling it “a momentous event which has never been achieved before.” The Montserrat tarantula is a mysterious critter, found only on the Caribbean island whose name it bears. Dr. Gerardo Garcia, the zoo’s curator of small lower vertebrates, collected a dozen of them back in 2013, and it took him and his team three years to successfully convince some of them to breed.
This is a relatably stressful process, as Garcia described to the BBC. First, he says, a male will drum an elaborate rhythm on a female’s web, and see how she reacts. “The female can take [the male] as a prey, rather than a partner,” Garcia said. “There were a lot of sweaty moments.”
After three of the females became pregnant, they all disappeared underground, holing up in very private burrows for months. “They don’t feed, they don’t show up, we don’t know what’s going on,” said Garcia.
But then, last week, tiny spiderlings began emerging from the dirt. “From one single burrow, one female, we had about 200 tarantulas,” Garcia said.
For now, the babies are currently being kept in individual pots and hand-fed small flies, as befits new spider royalty. Once they’ve grown up, though, they’ll be conscripted into the breeding program as well, facing a life of web-drumming, fraught mating, and being gawked at by enormous humans. Enjoy your childhood, tiny tarantulas.
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