Two weeks ago, Isaac spent some of his savings on purchasing a new tarantula, to replace Chandan, one that had died after about 3.5 years in our care. (The tarantula was fully grown when we purchased it, so we expect the death was due to old age, as these Chilean spiders, typically sold in pet shops, live only to 5-8 moltings, and she had molted thrice, about once a year, while we had her.)
However, the new tarantula did not fare so well. After a week, Isaac noted that she had some trouble climbing, within another week she was dead.
PETCO issues a 15-day guarantee on "companion animals" they sell, so we headed back to PETCO to see if we could get an exchange. To prove to them that we had adequate and appropriate housing, we brought the large plastic shoebox type storage container (about 2.5 gallons in volume) containing the spider.
That is where the trouble started.
The attendant examined the box, and said, “You’ve used fertilized potting soil; it looks like you killed it.”
(For the record, we did use potting soil. Potting soil often contains Styrofoam, perlite, or vermiculite to improve aeration and water retention. In this case, our soil contained perlite, which is completely harmless. Of course, some potting soils, even organic ones, contain fertilizers and insecticides, but I was very careful to avoid selecting one of those.)
“No, I replied carefully, "we used sterilized potting soil with no chemical additives. You must understand we had a tarantula living for nearly four years in exactly these conditions, and it was an adult when we bought it."
Then he seemed to express concern over the container. I quickly pointed out, "The container is not airtight,” which, after some seemed to satisfy him.
By this time I was seething, although outwardly completely controlling my anger. We are not idiots. We have been keeping tarantulas for four years now. Chandan, the one who died several months ago, exhibited no problems of any kind during her life. I even keep a tarantula (named after one of our VPs) at my office. I strongly resented the immediate and obvious blaming, and felt even worse because essentially everything I said was ignored, even when I was correct.
Reluctantly, the clerk issued me a refund, and we headed off to the reptile and fish department, which houses tarantulas and such. The fish display featured a wall of Betas, all in tiny, nonaerated plastic containers. Great way to take care of those fish!
And there we waited. And waited. And waited. Isaac repeatedly spoke to the staff, who assured us they would be “right with us.” This went on for about 30 minutes. (Thankfully I’d brought a book to read.)
Finally, the “spider guy” came out. He claimed the soil contained “chemical crystals” that kill insects. I explained the reality to him, which he clearly didn’t accept, and recommended peat instead. He also claimed we had told him we would be keeping the tarantula in a 10-gallon aquarium, which, we, of course had not, and he wondered, “How do you expect to regulate the temperature in a plastic container?” (I did not want to go into physics with him.)
Initially and over the years, we’ve done most of our research on tarantula care via the Internet, from a variety of sources. If we go the experts, the American Tarantula Society, we can see what their articles and care guides say:
Pet Pals sold in pet shops, work well for many species. Many plastic and glass containers can be adapted for tarantula homes.
They also recommend topsoil or potting soil as the ideal substrate for tarantulas. Peat was only second-best.
Good air circulation in a container has been thought by some in the past to be a requirement, however, serious doubt has been cast on this idea in the last few years. The up side is good air circulation may prevent stagnant conditions with very high humidity that can easily breed mold, fungi, bacteria, nematodes and mites.
The clerk said he might not sell us another tarantula, and that he would have to talk to the other clerk and check. After a few minutes, he returned, and informed us that we could buy a replacement tarantula, but they would not provide a guarantee this time. We paid for the new tarantula with our refund money, and left.
Over the week I triple-checked our information. The ATS agreed with our care policies completely, contrary to the details the PETCO personnel provided. So, the next weekend, I went back to the store and spoke with the manager. I told him that I understood people do not typically do the research into caring for exotics, but that we were experienced tarantula owners who were thorough about what we were doing. I explained that we were very dissatisfied with our treatment, and pointed out where the ATS recommendations were contrary to the store’s advice.
He apologized for how we were treated, and said he had all our information, and that he would have the regional controller call us.
We’re still waiting for the call …
But at least the new tarantula is doing well.