Poecilotheria rufilata, commonly known as the Red Slate Ornamental, is an arboreal (tree dwelling) tarantula from the Indian subcontinent. It is generally considered to be the largest member of the Poecilotheria genus, with some keepers claiming a potential legspan of 8” or more.
In appearance Poecilotheria rufilata broadly mimics it’s cousins like P. regalis and P. ornata, being clothed in a rich pattern both on the legs and – most notably – on the abdomen. Besides it’s larger size the other thing that helps the Red Slate Ornamental tarantula to stand out is the color scheme. Unlike the more traditional Indian Ornamental, this species can look like it is being viewed through an Instagram filter, with a subtle green or red tinge.
If you’re considering investing in one of these beautiful tarantulas read on for my detailed Poecilotheria rufilata care sheet…
Poecilotheria rufilata hails from India, where it is recorded over a very small area. Research has suggested that the species is only found within an area of roughly 5,000 square kilometers in the southern region of the Western Ghats. Indeed, field studies have reported the species in only five fragmented locations within the whole of India. With such a small distribution area, combined with continued habitat destruction, the Red Slate Ornamental is classified as endangered in the wild.
Fortunately, like other members of the genus, Poecilotheria rufilata is a fast-growing species which can reach adulthood in between 12 and 18 months when fed well. It is therefore bred in captivity on a semi-regular basis, though tends to be far less common in the pet trade than many other Ornamental tarantulas.
In captivity it is wise to mirror the conditions experienced in the wild habitat. This can mean a warm and humid environment. As an arboreal species, which spends most of its life hiding behind the loose bark of trees, a tall cage is also recommended.
Most tarantula keepers opt to keep Poecilotheria rufilata in a tall enclosure, allowing your tarantula to move around as it would in the wild.
For spiderlings, I use plastic food jars of around 4” in height. Once spiderlings start to outgrow these pots they’re moved up into plastic sweet jars of around 12”/30cm in height. Finally, my largest specimens are moved into “proper” cages for long-term care.
As these spiders can grow to a very large size I would suggest you consider a decent-sized cage for larger specimens. My adult Poecilotherias are kept in Exo Terra vivariums of varying sizes. Large juveniles go into Exo Terra Nanos, while larger specimens benefit from the 30cm x 30cm model. The very largest adult females are kept in even larger cages – 45cm tall by 30cm wide.
Let’s be clear that these cages are quite a bit bigger than some other keepers choose, however there are a number of reasons for this decision. Firstly, Poecilotheria rufilata is a fast-moving tarantula which can quickly bolt out of the cage if you’re unlucky; a larger cage gives you a little extra time to close the lid if they make a break for freedom.
Secondly, I actively breed my tarantulas; not only increasing captive numbers but also helping to fund the expansion of my collection. In my experience it is easier to introduce the pair when the female is kept in a large cage – and it also makes it easier for the male to escape from her clutches should the need arise.
While Exo Terras aren’t the only option for adults, if you opt for alternative housing I would advise you consider the following points:
Ventilation – Back in the early days of the tarantula hobby (I started in the hobby around 25 years ago) it was known that humidity plays an important role in the success care of tarantulas. We’d put a spider into a container that was almost airtight, then spray the cage with water. Unsurprisingly many tarantulas died from these stale conditions, and mould grew uncontrollably.
Over the years tarantula keepers have figured out that an occasional spray to increase humidity is beneficial, good ventilation is also crucial. If you choose an Exo Terra you’ll find a metal mesh grill in the lid, allowing excellent ventilation. If you opt for other housing then check to ensure plenty of air flow is possible. For example, I use an electric drill to cut numerous air holes in the plastic sweet jars that I use.
Ease of Heating – Unless you’re lucky to live in a more tropical area its likely that your Poecilotheria rufilata tarantula will benefit from some artificial heating – especially during the winter. The smaller a tub that you use, the less air there is inside, and so the easier it is to overheat. Larger cages can make it easier and safer to heat your spider in colder weather.
Access & Maintenance – These are fast-moving spiders which are considered to have quite potent venom so you don’t want to be messing about inside their cage. Doing so risks an escape or a bite. So think about how you’ll carry out routine maintenance like removing uneaten food, sloughed skins etc.
Height – As mentioned, the Red Slate Ornamental seems happiest when hiding above ground level. A cage with suitable vertical height is therefore recommended – I would suggest that the cage should be at least 2-3 times as tall as your tarantula’s leg span.
Heating & Temperature
During the summer months my Poecilotherias exist perfectly well at room temperature. However, my tarantula room gets cool enough at other times of the year that some form of artificial heating becomes beneficial.
I recommend that you heat just one part of the cage, while leaving the other unheated. This creates a thermal gradient, allowing your spider to move to an area which suits them best. This can be challenging to accomplish in an arboreal cage with under tank heating, as they typically have quite a small footprint.
For arboreal cages it can therefore be wise to place the heater on the *side* of the cage, rather than underneath it, to create this gradient.
My tarantula room uses two different types of heater at the moment – heat mats and heating cables. Both are controlled with reptile thermostats to prevent overheating. If you want to know more about thermostats then I have a detailed guide here.
Larger Poecilotheria specimens in their Exo Terras are generally heated with a heat pad. In contrast, spiderlings and juveniles in their smaller pots are placed into wooden snake vivariums. I can then just place one small heat mat within the vivarium to successfully heat dozens of babies.
In terms of numbers I would try to keep the ambient temperature in your Poecilotheria rufilata cage above 20’C except for very short periods of time. Furthermore, I recommend that your spider has access to an area in the mid-twenties (24-26’C) so they can warm up when required.
While I am seeing trends of some keepers never heating their tarantulas I personally feel that a properly heated tarantula cage is closer to nature, is easier to manage and leads to healthier, faster growing spiders. I have also seen research to suggest that spiders kept at warmer temperatures also grow into much larger adults than those maintained at cooler temperatures.
Water & Humidity
Humidity levels in the Western Ghats can be high, but fluctuates with the seasons. I use a houseplant spray gun to gently mist my Poecilotheria rufilata cages once or twice a week. In between, the combination of good ventilation and warmth means that the cage gently dries out between sprayings, preventing the build-up of mould or fungus.
While I very rarely see my Poecilotheria rufilata actually drinking I think it is wise to give a water bowl to all larger tarantulas. While spiderlings seem fine just drinking droplets from their occasional spraying, juveniles receive an upturned soda bottle lid, while my adult specimens have a proper water bowl of around 2” in diameter.
Taking into consideration the warm conditions typically found in a Poecilotheria tank, it is advisable to change the water regularly. Bowls should be removed, scrubbed clean, treated with reptile-safe disinfectant, and left to dry before replacing them. I aim to do this weekly, and keep an “overflow” of spare water bowls to make the swap easier.
There are two key considerations when it comes to actually setting up your Poecilotheria rufilata vivarium; substrate and hides. Everything after that is purely for your own visual interest.
Over the years I used a range of different substrates for my tarantulas. My preference now is for coconut fiber, sometimes known as “coir”. Coconut fiber is a renewable resource, it looks great, it absorbs plenty of water which is handy for maintaining humidity in your tarantula cage.
Of course, each keeper has their own preference. For a full discussion of the options available to you please read my guide here.
Most Poecilotheria rufilata care sheets online point out that the Red Slate Ornamental is an arboreal tarantula, so only a shallow depth of substrate is required. While there is some truth to this, I have found that younger Poecilotheria’s will often dig dig shallow burrows in which to hide. Even some of my larger specimens actually excavate the substrate from behind their hide.
The end result of this is that I like to give rather more substrate to my arboreal tarantulas than some other keepers do. Spiderlings and juveniles have a depth of at least their diagonal legspan. My adults receive at least 2”, sloping up towards the back to create a deeper area.
Once in a while I “soak” this substrate by gently pouring water into one corner. It quickly swells, absorbing the water, before slowly releasing it over the coming weeks. This can further help to raise humidity.
The other important consideration is one or more places to hide away. Poecilotheria rufilata can be quite a shy spider, spending much of its time out of sight. I believe that it is only fair to provide suitable places for your tarantula to conceal itself, and so feel safe.
The easiest and most effective option I have found is cork bark. Spiderlings receive a small piece of cork bark, while juveniles and adults receive a proper cork bark tube. These tubes are positioned vertically, with the open end at the top. In almost every case my Poecilotheria hide away within these during daylight, only popping out to grab a cricket.
I also like to provide more than one of these hides if the cage allows; one in the warmer area by the heater and one in the cooler area. This permits your spider to rest in the area that is most comfortable for them.
As stated earlier, once these basics are covered, you can always let your imagination run wild in terms of landscaping. Just be sure not to over complicate your maintenance. I personally use artificial plants in many of my Poecilotheria cages just to add a little more interest.
Here’s an interesting fact about Poecilotheria rufilata – they’re the only tarantula reported as eating bats in the wild. Scientists at the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala, India observed a large Red Slate Ornamental tarantula feasting on a Kelaart’s Pipistrelle Bat that it had caught. It seems unlikely that this is a normal part of the diet, and I’m certainly not suggesting you offer a similar diet in captivity!
Like other tarantulas, the Red Slate Ornamental is most easily fed on a diet of live insects. Popular options in the hobby include cockroaches (“roaches”) and crickets. My personal food item of choice, however, are locusts. I don’t like the way that crickets can nibble on an unsuspecting tarantula, and there have been cases of spiders dying when a rogue cricket has attacked them during a moult.
Locusts are available in a huge range of sizes. They’re easier to handle than crickets or roaches in my opinion, and they won’t nibble on your spider. Best of all they typically climb up towards the upper reaches of a cage, making it more likely that they’ll bump into your Poecilotheria rufilata.
Whatever option you choose, I like to vary what I feed from time to time (to maximize nutrient intake) and I feed insects up to the body length of my spiders. Poecilotheria rufilata is a fast-growing species, and therefore has an appetite to match. Unlike slower-growing spiders like Brachypelma emilia I have found that Red Slate Ornamentals will eat on an almost daily basis given the chance. Far from getting “overweight” this means that your spider will just grow much more quickly.
For spiderlings and juveniles I therefore feed them some 5 times or so a week. Adults get food 2-3 times a week. Be sure to check the cage the morning after feeding; any uneaten food should be removed. It may be that this is a temporary situation, suggesting that a moult is imminent (see my tips on moulting here) or it may be that you need to feed your spider less.
Lastly, I have found that Poecilotheria tarantulas are happy to take rodents on occasion. As someone who also has snakes, I find that a defrosted (and warmed up) pinkie or fluff mouse will be taken by most of my specimens. While there is an argument to say that this may result in even faster growth, be aware that tarantulas can make quite a mess of a mouse, so more regular cage cleaning may be required. Note that these are only therefore given occasionally as a “treat” rather than being a staple part of the diet
Poecilotheria rufilata are big, fast moving and likely have potent venom. I would therefore suggest that you don’t attempt to handle this species. If you need to move your spider from one tank to another I would suggest you take a more “hands-off” approach. Either gently catch the spider in a clear plastic tub (like an empty cricket container) or simply place the old cage inside the new one, open the lid, and let your spider come out in its own good time.
If this isn’t possible then place the cage into a room with no hiding places (bathrooms tend to work well) and gently coax it out of the cage with a long pair of forceps. Keep calm, move gently and don’t get impatient. With care, and a little luck, you’ll manage to herd your spider into the new cage without issue.