By Laurika v.d Merwe
The Socotra Island Blue Baboon (Monocentrophus balfouri) is an interesting species and unlike most tarantulas in the trade is an Old world tarantula as the name suggests. This species is rare and unique from appearance to temperament and has many surprises to offer, some yet to be discovered. Needless to say this is not a tarantula for beginners but for serious keepers that will respect and appreciate this member of the Baboon family. In appearance the female has a light carapace with blue/purple legs (excluding the first leg segment which is a light cream colour along with as her carapace and abdomen, while the male has a darker carapace with dark blue, almost pitch black legs and a dark abdomen. Slings and juveniles appear in different shades of brown and grey, as they get older their carapace changes to a light cream followed by their leg colouration. In this article I will share the general care and behaviour of this still rare species and some things you might discover in owning one of these untypically caring tarantulas.
The Socotra Island Blue Baboon is a relatively rare and new tarantula to the trade. This is a fast growing, semi-dwarf species that can reach maturity at the age of two (2) years. At full size this tarantula can reach a size of 10-12cm with the male not much smaller than the female. This semi-fast tarantula lifespan is yet to be determined for males and females alike, however a female has been rumoured to survive for 20 years.
Unlike most tarantulas in the trade this is an Old World tarantula meaning, as said before, that this is not a beginner tarantula, but for serious collectors. If you are a beginner collector the concept and classification of Old, New and True world would be incomprehensible to you. Simply put, Old World and New World are generally tarantulas with small differences between the two, while True World would be the long thin legged spiders you would see in your house or garden living inside webs or on plants. New World tarantulas differ from Old world tarantulas in behaviour, but a good way to distinguish Old from New would be Articulating hairs. New World tarantulas have articulating hairs on their abdomens which they flick in the air to warn and threaten anything bothering them. These hairs are made airborne and irritate the skin, eyes and throat upon contact though an itching and burning sensation. Old world tarantulas however don’t have articulating hairs meaning that their threatening behaviour and temperament is different as a result. The behavioural traits we think of when thinking of an Old World Tarantula would be the less rare and more known P.murinus known as an OBT (Orange Baboon Tarantula or Orange Bitey Thingy), which is a highly aggressive tarantula that will immediately go into threat pose for just walking past and won’t hesitate to bite anything that comes too close. It is then comforting to know that unlike the OBT, the Socotra Island Blue Baboon has only an average amount of aggression. In behaviour this tarantula is semi-shy not minding a passerby or noise, but dependent on the day will hide, seemingly stiffen or go into threat pose, once the enclosures opened. When threatened, the Socotra Island Blue Baboon will occasionally give off a barking sound along with a threat pose. Generally males are more aggressive than females, and slings and juveniles will probably run. Barking is rare in tarantulas and sound like a finger running across the teeth of a toothcomb quickly. Tarantulas that can bark include some Baboon species such as the King Baboon (P.muticus) and some new world tarantulas like the Australian Barking (P.crassipes or S.crassipes). I would advise against handling a Socotra Blue Baboon, because even though you might be able to on a good day, no record of the effects of a Socotra bite have been posted yet.
With this tarantula so new to the market the price of slings, amazingly, could be found for only R550, this is because of how easily it is breed. At this stage you will probably still only find slings directly from the breeders themselves. This might change in the future, because breeders have discovered the mistake they have been making trying to breed the next generation (See Breeding), possibly making this pretty small blue tarantula more frequently available in the future. Behaviour of the Socotra in the future could also change with new generations.
The Socotra Island Blue Baboon is a semi-burrower. An enclosure should be provided that is wider than it is tall with a medium height, about 3-5 times larger than the tarantula. This tarantula enjoys burrowing and will make intricate channels with webbing lining the channels. Webbing is a white-silk colour that is plentiful, covering sometimes the entire enclosure. Hiding areas is a must to ensure this tarantula feels safe. Sometimes dependent on shape and size the Socotra won’t burrow and web nicely until a hiding area is provided. Substrate should fill the enclosure at least halfway to about three-quarters. I recommend using peat as it doesn’t get stuck to the tarantula, holds humidity well and retains its form when dry. Escaping isn’t a big worry with this tarantula, because the Socotra seems to enjoy their enclosures and tend to run and hide inside the enclosure rather than making a break for it. A shallow water bowl should be provided when they reach about 4cm and up.
Heat and Humidity
The Socotra Island Blue Baboon comes from the main island Socotra, one of four small archipelago islands in the Indian Ocean, near the Gulf of Aden. This is 250 miles or 501 km Southeast off the coast of Yemen. The Socotra Island is mostly dry and very hot with temperatures reaching a scorching 40˚C+ in April and May with very little rainfall mostly in November and December. Unlike most baboons I kept the Socotra Island Blue Baboon dry with little misting. This is where some people might not agree, but with its origin being relatively dry and with some forums suggesting over humidifying as damaging to their health, I decided to try it. It has been a year and a half and my Socotra’s seem to be thriving. Thus I would recommend 5% humidity to maybe 10% or at the most 20% humidity, ones every second to third month. Heat should be room temp at about 25 – 28˚C. The Socotra is a hardy species as it seems to do fine with the occasional 18˚C and 36˚C even, with only some metabolic change in appetite.
Feeding is normal as they take to crickets and odd roaches easily. They will eat ones a week or three times a week dependent on how much food is provided and their metabolic rate. Just drop a cricket or two in front of them and they will gobble it up readily. Shedding is like normal with the Socotra refusing to eat before a molt. During breeding feeding could go up to a daily feed with the recommended temperature being high. With its homeland having as high temperatures as 40˚C + you can safely increase the temp to about 36˚C by providing a heating mat or cord on one side of the enclosure during breeding.
With the tarantula coming from such a unique location, it is no wonder that with breeding, they are as unique as they are beautiful. Unlike any other tarantula the Socotra is not only communal, but also the only tarantula I have ever heard of that takes care of its young to the second instar. This is then what previous breeding attempts, forums and care sheets alike have missed. Breeders have known for some time that the Socotra is communal to not just the brothers and sisters their introduced to from young, but also any Socotra the same size as the one you own at any age group. This means that cannibalism is so rare it can be considered non-existent in the species. So you can put any mature male and female together in the same enclosure and they will live happily together, provided they have enough living space. What breeders and people didn’t know until recently is that miraculously they care for each other to an extent that no other tarantula does. The female doesn’t only protect the egg sack, but incubates them as well. Breeders realised this, but before the eggs turned into eggs with legs they would remove the egg sack and incubate the sack themselves. This in most cases means humidity, which meant that the egg sack would die and if some survived and hatched the slings would die for no apparent reason. Weirdly enough it was recently discovered that these slings can’t survive without their mothers care. Once the slings hatch with the female, her behaviour changes dramatically. She changes her walk by moving on the tip of her legs and lifting her body high to avoid accidentally injuring one of her children. She still catches and eats frequently, but now when she captures a cricket she first stands waiting for every sling in her care to eat their fill before she eats the leftovers. This will happen until about the second in-star at which stage they start collecting their own food and can then be removed from their mother.
This is a miraculous species and strangely enough we might have saved or endangered the species all together. I find it often strange that with these new tarantulas, almost nothing is known about the species until they are introduced to the trade. In this instance the trade is both good and bad. The Socotra island from which it originates is a unique island in every way with most species including 90% of reptiles on the island not found anywhere else in the world. New Species of for example tarantulas like the Socotra Island Blue Baboon have been smuggled out illegally to countries for the trade. This could still endanger the species and potentially wipe out the Socotra Island Blue Baboon all together in the wild. On the other hand unique Islands like this are researched first, for the bigger things including weather, birds, mammals and plant life, while the smaller things like insects and crustaceans are noted as new species, but pushed aside to be researched later. This is naturally done all over the world. In this case the trade is doing the world a big favour in securing the survival of some species out there. With the trade, research on each species is done and a certain passion is built up among us collectors for these pretty special key predators. In some places where some species are seen as delicacies we are promoting the survival of future generations. While in other cases, like a double edged sword, we cause a threatened status for a species that is in high demand. We also save a species that is disappearing though habitat destruction. In this way we have to make our minds up if our weird pets are a good or bad thing.
When you become use to keeping tarantulas of various sizes, shapes, colouration and aggressive levels you tend to start grouping them together with things like feeding cycles and temperature with slight changes in the humidity, enclosure type and thickness of peat. There are only a few tarantulas in the trade that fit outside that box. An example of this would be The Cameroon Red Baboon (Hysterocrates gigas) and in my opinion the Socotra Island Blue Baboon. With its unique behaviour of webbing, community living, young rearing and defensive methods such as barking this is a truly an engaging tarantula to own. a Brilliantly unique addition to any collection or advanced keeper.
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