Hysterocrates laticeps – The Communal Project

Tom Patterson
The genus Hysterocrates currently consist of 18 species all hailing from west and central Africa. Over the years several species have been available in the hobby. However many times importers will use unjustified names causing confusion that often lead to hybrids. Unfortunately for Hysterocrates, it's hard to believe that any of the ones we have in the hobby today are pure, or haven't been mixed at some point along the way.  

However in 2016 some wild caught Hysteroctraes became available from Cameroon with the label Hysterocrates laticeps. It was a chance to work with some fresh blood that hadn't been exposed to hybridization of the hobby. Hysterocrates laticeps can be set apart from other Hysterocrates in the hobby by its noticeably darker chocolate colored femurs. The first pair of legs are thicker than leg pair IV, while all of this spiders legs are thin, unlike what is normally sold as H.gigas and H. crassipes that often have incrassate leg IV. These spiders can be found in tropical forest and grasslands of Cameroon and Nigeria.

In the early summer of 2017 I had my first mated female produce her first sac in captivity. She was in a small container measuring 12"X8"X8". My intentions were to move her into something larger that she could dig deeper in, however a sac came sooner than expected and it was decided its best to leave her alone.  After a couple of weeks of letting her incubate the eggs on her own, I came home to find the eggsac ripped open with the eggs scattered all over the bottom of the cage. There weren't many of them, and the remaining ones that were still in the sac were eventually destroyed and eaten by the female. These scattered eggs on the cage floor still had good color, but have yet to molt into the post embryo stage that most people refer to as "eggs with legs".  Unbeknownst to me, this would be the start of my first Hysterocates communal project. Rather than collect the eggs and try to incubate them like a respected breeder, my sheer laziness forgot about them and left them there. The next time I inspected the cage I found that the scattered eggs had actually started to develop, and I now had eggs with legs sprinkled around the bottom of the enclosure. Since they seemed fine, I left them and these eggs continued to develop into first, then second instar spiderslings. These eggs developed without the help of any artificial incubation or even an eggsac to contain them. In August of 2017 I now had fully developed 2nd instar spiderlings in the cage with the mom. I offered the hungry female her first post sac meal, a large dubia roach and was happy to see her letting her slings feed from her catch as well. The slings would delicately squeeze in between her chelicerae trying to find an open spot on the roach that they could feed from. While the mom gracefully broke down the roach with the mechanics of her large fangs, being sure not to harm her spiderlings. I've heard of some Hysterocrates communal attempts in the past, but I haven't ever tried one myself. I figured this was a good time to start my own. Almost 3 years later and they seem to still be doing quite well with each other and have grown quite nicely.

As the spiderlings grew they would also feed on their own without the mom. Although they were still taking advantage of food from the mom when available, they would also catch and group feed on any prey they could take down together. I've offered them a variety of food as they grew and even tried a pre killed mouse to see if the slings would group feed together on the oversized prey. The spiderlings were almost immediately interested in it, and started coming out of their burrows to inspect the dead mouse. It didn't take long for them to start scavenging on the mouse corpse like they had with smaller prey that had been offered in the past. The next morning the mom had dragged it off to the corner of the cage where they were all still feeding on it. At this point the mouse remains were removed to prevent mites, flies, and odor from the now mutilated mouse body.

On September 18th 2019 I received a new mature male and decided to mate her once again. Being freshly molted she was ready to go again, and I figured it would be interesting to see how her now 1.5" offspring would react to a new male in the cage. For the most part they stayed burrowed and didn't get in the way of the mating adults and the male was removed immediately after copulation took place. Just when I started to think the mating was not successful, I came home 8 months later on May 31rst of 2020 to find the female holding another big beautiful eggsac. At the time I was completely perplexed on the future of this experiment. Will the now juvenile spiders from the last generation still living with the mom understand that this eggsac she's holding is not food ? If this second generation of slings hatch, will they be safe to live with the juvies from the last ?  Where are all these spiders going to live ? The enclosure was already smaller than I intended before this all started.  I figured I'd do what I've been doing all along and roll with it and see what happens.  Over the next 40 days, the female carried around the sac like any typical tarantula guarding her eggs would. I thought it was interesting that I never saw the juvies messing with it or attempting to eat it. However, all my concerns about the future of this sac came to an end 40 days later on July 10th 2020 when I discovered the sac was gone. Virtually no evidence of the sac could be found. It's unclear if the mom sensed that the sac was bad and ate it herself, or if the juvies played a role triggering or helping the female to destroy it. The female wasn't as fat as I would expect after eating a sac, so I am a bit suspicious that it was a group effort. 

After 3 years I have yet to witness any cannibalism among the siblings or mom. Over time some spiderlings were plucked out for sales purposes, as well as not securing the lid one night resulted in some of the juvies escaping into my spider room. As of now, July of 2020 I've counted up to 10 three inch juvies still in there with the mom. There could be more as they like to burrow, so getting an accurate count is difficult. They still continue to feed from the mom even at these larger sizes, but I frequently dump a bag of crickets in that for them to feed on their own as well. It's likely that I will end up separating them after the next molt or two to relieve the overcrowding of this small enclosure. While any communal project can have its share of risks, I think the unexpected project shows that some Hystercrates species do in fact exhibit some tolerance or communal behavior at least in earlier stages of life. 

Taxonomic references

Pocock, R. I. (1897b). On the spiders of the suborder Mygalomorphae from the Ethiopian Region, contained in the collection of the British Museum. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 65(3): 724-774, Pl. XLI-XLIII. 
Smith, A. M. (1990c). Baboon spiders: Tarantulas of Africa and the Middle East. Fitzgerald Publishing, London, pp. 1-142
Hystercrates laticeps female
Hystercrates laticeps mature male 
Hystercrates laticeps mom with scattered eggs
Hystercrates laticeps feeding spiderlings
Hystercrates laticeps feeding spiderlings
Hystercrates laticeps feeding juvenile spiderlings
Hystercrates laticeps feeding large juvenile spiderlings
Hystercrates laticeps communal