Thursday, 16 October 2014

Unwilling captives

Since I was tiny I have liked animals. My mam has recently highlighted this by emailing me (and posting on Facebook...) photos of smaller Vikki with an animal or two. These days my focus is studying them, but I've also kept them captive a lot. So far I have been able to overcome every challenge presented by species kept in captivity and, not to blow my own trumpet, but I have kept a few - rats, mice, snails, ladybirds, devil's coach horses, songbirds, raptors, stick insects, snakes, lizards, frogs, mantids, millipedes, scorpions, spiders and others. Most have been challenging at some time or other, but there's always something that can be done to make a captive specimen thrive.

And then there are Cantuaria.

They sit stubbornly on the surface of the beautiful clay soil that I have painstakingly dug up and pressed down, layer by layer, humidity monitored closely to mimic their natural habitat. They stay like statues, legs pulled in, thoroughly unhappy. I leave them for days and perhaps they build a shallow hole and a trapdoor and then they die in it. I did manage to keep one juvenile that had just left her mother's burrow for a month, and she built a fine tunnel and took prey. Then for whatever reason she decided her tunnel wasn't good enough any more, and she left it, built a shallower one, and died. It's sad, really sad, because these spiders haven't done anything to deserve this stressful existence that I have created for them. I am an incompetent god.

I have to keep them, though, for a couple of studies that will be awesome if they work. So I have been experimenting. Jars filled with soil didn't work. Buckets filled with soil didn't work. Then a few weeks ago, I was sent some spiders in the post from Invercargill. They were shipped in cotton wool. Each spider had built a deep tunnel in the cotton wool. So now, I am experimenting with the two captives I have left. One is in a tall jar with damp cotton wool, and one is in a tall jar with damp clay (I sieved it to make sure that only clay is present in the soil...). I have only just put them in there, but I hope they like it. Based on instructions on how to keep African red trapdoor spiders, which are in the same family (Idiopidae), my Cantuaria should make burrows in this. Fingers crossed!

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