Thursday, July 30, 2015

#49 - TALES FROM THE FIELD #10

I promise this is the last time I'll mention this: Kiss My Big Hairy Spider will go on! My projects will continue. The two major changes are that my SPIDERSHOPPE is closed and I am selling off a large part of my personal collection and liquidating any "for sale" stock, and that I no longer use Faffbook (yay!). If you were relying on Facebook for blog post notifications you have to find another way. If you're relying on FB you need to make some changes too ;) One easy way is to just bookmark kissmbybighairyspider.blogspot.com in your browser. That's old school and effective. Another way is to read the blog via an app that is designed for blog subscriptions like Feedly. That's new school and better. If you like to learn about life from social media another way is to follow me on Twitter (@exoticfauna) as I will share every post there instead of on FB. Thanks for reading. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program in progress ... TALES FROM THE FIELD!






Our Suriname adventure was all due to the pioneering voyage of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) in 1699. Just imagine a woman in this era - at age 52! - traveling by ship from Amsterdam to Suriname with her daughter Dorothea! I could write a dozen blog entries about this German born naturalist and illustrator's amazing accomplishments. But instead I will highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Kim Todd's wonderful "Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis" (Harcourt, 2007) and read Madame Merian's story. She was particularly interested in metamorphosis, which at the time was unknown.

For tarantula enthusiasts the Merian painting of an arboreal tarantula (Avicularia) eating a bird from her monumental 1705 work Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium that was particularly ground-breaking. Merian spent two years in Suriname before malaria forced her back to Europe and the art in her epic book depicts her travels. Linnaeus used her painting to describe Avicularia avicularia and the term "bird-eating spider" was born. Today the German word for tarantula is Vogelspinnen, literally bird spider as is the term for theraphosid spiders in other languages.

Anyway, here endeth the history lesson. Feed your brain and pick up Todd's book. It sits atop one my library shelves next to a modern reprint of her Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium - the Taschen publication Insects of Suriname. These are among the favorites of my collection.

Back to our field trip ... it was Merian's work that led us to Suriname as all of our expeditions have a historical bent due to being chosen by a man I dubbed "the arachnohistorian", Andrew M. Smith.
Suriname during Merian's visit and for a great part of its history was a plantation colony. It is best known as a Dutch colony, but also was under British rule for a time. The population of Suriname is largely descended from West African slaves that worked these plantations. The planters of the colony relied heavily on African slaves to cultivate the coffee, cocoa, sugar cane and cotton plantations along the rivers. Once slavery was abolished, contract workers from northern India, China and Java followed. Andrew was very keen on visiting plantations in the vicinity of the port capitol of Paramaribo as this would be a likely place that Merian would have visited to study her insects and other fauna.

All photos in this blog group copyright © 2012 Michael Jacobi, Guy Tansley, Paul Carpenter & Andrew Smith.

One of our first day trips out of the capitol was to Plantage Frederiksdorp. It was November 20, 2012. We drove east across the capitol from our suburban base at Oxygen Resort and crossed the big bridge over the Suriname River.  We headed toward Nieuw Amsterdam on the shores of the Commewijne River and drove along the river to find a boat to take us north across the river to Frederiksdorp.

Plantage Frederiksdorp is a restored coffee and cocoa plantation that now has hotel-style accommodations for visitors.

Upon arrival we found some Dutch bird-watchers and the plantation manager. It is always a surprise for the people we meet to learn that we are there to look for spiders. The manager assured us that there weren't tarantulas on the grounds and within five or ten minutes Guy had proven him wrong. We found the place absolutely teeming with Avicularia! We walked the grounds searching the trunks of the palms and other trees that lined irrigation channels and found silk tubes holding Avics everywhere. We were kiddies in the playground that day! I'll let some photos tell the story ...

Me on the bow of our wooden vessel that took us across the Commewijne River to Plantage Frederiksdorp.

Andrew enjoying the riverine sights.

Andrew and I before disembarking at the plantation.
Andrew chats with the plantation manager.
They had a museum of sorts that greatly appealed to our intrepid arachnohistorian.
I photograph the retreat of the first Avicularia.
Guy found it less than ten minutes after our arrival.
Guy's first Avic - our first of the trip and of many that day and throughout the trip - in her retreat.
Guy poses with his prize.
We share a few celebratory beers with our first Avicularia.
Retreats like this were everywhere and mostly occupied!
Avicularia. Based on Merian and Linnaeus, I call this "the true" Avicularia avicularia.
The paths about the plantation.
So many trees to search!
Always a beautiful sight!
And they said there were no "bird spiders" here ...
There were diplurids too!
And salticids!
Just one of many silk tube retreats!
Guy points to another silken tube on a palm trunk. Avic heaven.

As you can see our journey to Plantage Frederiksdorp was a worthwhile one. We had a wonderful lunch and a few Parbo biers and found dozens upon dozens of Avics. We had hit the ground running early in our trip. We would find many more Avics and many more tarantulas in the weeks to come, but this first day of tarantula hunting will always be memorable.

Until next time ... MJ

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

#48B - YOUTUBE

Earlier today I obliterated my Faffbook account and swore complete Faffbook abstinence.

As I wrote, this does take away my ability to share blog postings there and you'll have to use bookmarks, blog apps like Feedly or a Blogger account to keep up with Kiss My Big Hairy Spider. I guess I will continue to share each entry to Google+ as well, whatever the fuck that is. I can't make Google completely go away because of YouTube so I may as well.

That is what this "part two" is about - YouTube. I hope you all subscribe to my YouTube channel. There's a bunch of cool vids there and I plan to post more. I love YouTube. If I don't know how to do something in software I use I find a video that teaches me. If I don't know how to field strip or detail clean a certain firearm I do the same. I find guitar instructional vids all the time and I love all the photographic training and Lightroom workflow videos that are available. And there's plenty of concert footage. Of course, there are also Big Hairy Spider vids. And that's where I come in ...

I am about to post a mating video featuring Harpactira chrysogaster. I think the iPhone 6 does some amazing video in both real time and slow motion. One blog reader commented on my #47 - Casa de Tarantula #3 entry and asked me to illustrate a technique that would require video. I can insert video in the blog if it's a short clip, but for videos of a couple minutes or more I'd rather just upload to YouTube and share by a link.

My absence from Faffbook certainly is going to reduce my exposure and hinder the promotion of my projects. I understand and understood. So, I ask you here to make sure you have a way to keep up with this blog and that you subscribe to my YouTube channel and select email notifications when I post new videos.

Here's the link to the Harpactira chrysogaster mating vid.

And here is an even rarer sight ... USA captive mating of "Monocentropus lambertoni"! This may be a US first. Males are rare and I hope to produce the first babies. BTW, the species is in quotes because there is much question as to whether our hobby spider is really M. lambertoni. See my article in the next BTS Journal for more info on this "controversy"!

Cheers, MJ

#48 - FINAL FACEBOOK FUCKERY

You've read me rant about Faffbook. My contempt for it is obvious. I like Instagram and Twitter, even though a life without any social media would be a better one. But fuck Faffbook.

Now that I have closed my business and am distancing myself from the hobby I wondered whether I could finally do away with Faffbook. My Instagram account @exoticfauna allows me to share photos with followers without the noise, nonsense and FUCKERY of Faffbook. I also have a new IG account for gun lovers (@dailyhandgun). I don't have many followers there yet so if you have any interest please follow me. 

I haven't done much with Twitter of late because my personal Faffbook page is linked to it and it's also easy to share my IG posts to Twitter as tweets with one click. But reading my Twitter feed used to be a frequent occurrence. I don't read or watch news. Anywhere. Any time. Twitter allows me to follow my interests and what little snippets of news I desire. With a 160 character limit these snippets are necessarily concise. No fluff, no nonsense. 

Faffbook offers me nothing. Last night I was tagged in a post that went on and on with a bunch of discussion I had no interest in reading. I turn off notifications so I am not bothered, but for some reason I kept getting more and more notices as my name was repeatedly used. I can't stand this. Leave me out of your discussions. I have no interest. I don't have the time or desire that the chatterboxes do. The conversation itself didn't really bother me (ok, maybe a little ...), but I am bothered that I can't just avoid any and all conversations if I choose. I also want to prevent being tagged so that I am dragged into the noisy chatter. I share my opinions here in this blog. I'm not going to post them on social media.

Twice before I have deactivated my Facebook account. This is my third incarnation. So I decided that three times is a charm and decided to deactivate again after un-"friending" everyone. Two problems. Number one I am an admin of the BTS Facebook page. This isn't a biggie. There are plenty of admins and mods and one message to my best mate Mark and I'd be relieved of my duties. However, the other problem is my blog. 

How does the blog connect to Facebook? Well, I have repeatedly recommended the app Feedly. I know there are other similar ones, but a reader suggested Feedly to me early on and I love it. I am now reading about ten blogs using this one app. I suggest you do the same. Of course, you can also sign up for a Blogger account instead and keep up with my blog there. 

However, I know damn well that few are going to do either and all of you that waste hours each day on Faffbook are getting my notices of each blog posting there. If I deactivate my Faffbook my KMBHS page will also cease to be published. As will my Spider Shoppe, Exotic Fauna and ArachnoGathering pegs. I'm not bothered by the last three. So, I guess I am going to find out how much my readership drops by deactivating and having no more FB announcements of the blog. You've been warned. At least bookmark kissmybighairyspider.blogspot.com and visit often.

It sucks that FB doesn't allow you to just deactivate your personal page without losing pages you've created. You can just ignore your personal page and I have friends who have done that. I could delete every friend and let it rot, but keep KMBHS going on FB. That doesn't seem like a desirable compromise. 

Arachnoboards has been kind enough to give me banner advertising so I hope this brings me new readers. And I am hoping those who have read my blog for the past two months through almost 50 entries have bookmarked the blog in their browser at least so they can return and catch up when they have the time and desire. 

But your Faffbook announcements will cease. My Faffbook will be obliterated. Looks for me as @exoticfauna on Instagram and Twitter and YouTube. If you're into handguns please follow my @dailyhandgun. 

I'm not going to keep ranting or whining or whinging about FB while it still pops up on my devices. It's time I made another positive life change and moved on. Goodbye Fuckbook

PS: For those of you who actually are real friends this of course means no FB Messenger. Close friends can text, acquaintances can email. I also like using Whatsapp for "FB Messenger" style chatting with fast photo shares so you can also use that if you have my phone number AND are a close friend. But from now on it is only Instagram and Twitter for me.

PS2: Sadly, I can't completely dispense with Google+ and Gmail as they are tied to YouTube and I need to keep that account going. But you can always reach me at m.a.jacobi@icloud.com.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

#47 - CASA DE TARANTULA #3

Before I continue with more Tales from the Field I wanted to return to my Casa de Tarantula series. Two and a half years ago I left Seattle for good to return to the Chicago area. As I've mentioned in previous installments of KMBHS, I came back with no creatures other than my now dear departed dog Taylor and my 25 year old dusky Pionus parrot Jesse. In a very short time I had rebuilt a sizable tarantula collection and bred quite a few species including a handful of rare spiders that were the first American breedings.

When my mate Mark Pennell was hear with his wife Kim and daughter Brandon a couple months ago I had a small party that included a number of my good tarantula friends. Mark and Kim are my fellow British Tarantula Society committee members. In addition to being one of my best friends and my tattoo artist, Mark also is the BTS webmaster and he and Kim are responsible for putting on the BTS lectures each year. Local arachno-enthusiasts included Jaimie Little, Jason Newland and both Randy Jr. and Randy Sr. Martinez. Minnesota was represented by Chad Campbell and David Lawrence. Michigan was represented by John Apple and Norman Culp. I appreciate the travelers for making the journey, none more so than the Pennell's who came from the UK via Amsterdam. My bonus dad Joel and my sister Lisa were here as well. Jason brought some amazing wings from Corner Pub in Naperville and I ordered in some pizza. The Randy's brought a meat and cheese platter and just about everyone had brought some beer and whiskey. We had a blast. It was the first time I had shown off my spider room to anyone. Previously only Jason and Randy Jr. had seen it. Both have helped me care for my spiders and Randy did so when I was in Sri Lanka for almost a month. I'm sure everyone was impressed. Actually, come to think of it, John Apple had seen it on one quick previous visit when Mark first visited the USA in October 2014 and the three of us plus Andy Daugherty went out to dinner on Mark's first night. However, to me, the most impressive thing about my spider room is that it all was created in two years. I imported spiders and power fed them and had a breeding operation up and running in record time. It is just one jam-packed spare bedroom's worth of spiders and pales in comparison to the big facility I had in Nashville, but I still enjoyed sharing what I had built with my party guests.

But now it is being torn down ... I have had a big clearance sale and will only be keeping a small collection of tarantulas. My "small" is probably much more that the average hobbyists "large", but many different enclosures are being emptied this week as I ship out the large number of spiders I have sold. So, I thought I better post a few photos here in the blog of my spider room this morning and talk a bit about my different enclosures.

This rack isn't going anywhere soon.
The medium enclosures hold Harpactira.
The larger ones on the bottom hold Monocentropus.
The shoeboxes seen at top hold ultimate males in use.
The above enclosures were covered in an earlier blog. They are two types of Homz storage containers from the evil Wal-Mart. All have 2 1/4" hole saw cut vents in front and rear that are covered with aluminum insect screening from the outside. It is affixed with hot glue. The shoeboxes have similar vents cut with a one inch hole saw and covered the same way.

Avicularia condominiums
This is a new enclosure design. I had a large number of Avics I had been growing out that needed to be moved to larger enclosures for breeding. However, I have now since sold all the spiders these were made for: A. versicolor, A. purpurea, A. cf. amazonica, A. geroldi, A. braunshauseni, etc.

The image at left shows the interior. Rather than bothering with installing a dam at the bottom front to retain substrate I decided to use large, flat food storage containers as a pan. This pan is filled with moist coco and covered with a layer of moss. I can almost flood these containers as the spider only rarely comes in contact with the wetness. However, the moisture continually and gradually evaporates to provide essential - and naturally produced - humidity.

The greenery is cut from silk plants obtained from Michael's. To the side I place a cork bark slab that reaches the bottom of the enclosure. This not only provides a potential retreat for the Avics, or at least a place to attach a silken tube, but also allows any crickets or roaches that fall to the bottom of the enclosure a way to climb up where they are more likely to be attacked by the spider.

Note the ventilation holes. At the top, both sides and the rear I make 1" vents in the same manner described above. The next photo will illustrate these better.

Here you can see the hole saw cut holes covered with insect screening. I prefer to provide as much ventilation as possible and have preached this in a number of articles and blog entries.

It's just like a haircut: You can always trim more off, but you can't put the hair back on if you cut it too short. Same thing with ventilation ... A conscientious and attentive keeper will stay on top of moisture levels and can always add more moisture, but one stagnant conditions have been created either a spider dies or you're lucky and it doesn't but you have to tear down and completely rebuild its terrarium.

Ambient humidity varies with where you live and also seasonally in many places. Here in the midwest it is very humid in the summer, but very dry in the winter. You may have to adapt to changes. How much ventilation is necessary will not be the same in all collections. Experiment and find your proper balance. However, in general, it is best to err on the side of a bit too much ventilation rather than too little.

This image shows some gallon jars at the top of the shelf.
However, what I am highlighting here are my new 10 gallon aquariums with polycarbonate fronts.
These hinged door fronts with 2" vents were made for me by Eric's Plastic Shop to my design specifications.
The dimensions of 10 gallon aquariums vary so these fronts are specific to one manufacturer's tanks.
If you ask for some of these to be made choose one brand of aquarium and measure it for Eric.

These cereal container "tree hole retreat" style Poecilotheria enclosures were described
in detail Blog #38. Note the smaller version at top that hold dwarf Avics and Tapinauchenius.



Above you see racks filled with ExoTerra Nano Tall terrariums. I use these for Pachistopelma and small Avicularia such as Avicularia hirschii, A. sooretama, A. rickwesti and even A. diversipes. The gallon jars above hold all sorts of juvenile arboreal tarantulas that are being grown out and, in some cases, penultimate or ultimate males.


I am really not a fan of acrylic enclosures. I've sold or given away almost everyone I've bought over the years. These are popular in many tarantula collections, but I find that they warp, break, scratch and otherwise become crap. However, the 8x8x8 cubes you see on the bottom shelf (there are four more on the other side) are what I use to breed Idiothele mira and I love them for this purpose (the 16 oz. deli cups above contain juvenile I. mira). I still have a few arboreal models left as well and in this image they are holding Avicularia sp. Colombia and, on the far upper right, the largest Poecilotheria metallica I have ever seen. She is 10 years old and completely black and white.



The above photo shows many 32 oz. deli cups and gallon jars being used to raise out Avicularia. Just out of the photo on the top are trays of spiderling/young juvenile Pachistopelma and Avicularia in 50 dram vials with screen ventilation over a one inch hole in the lid. You can see more of these vials in the bottom vial. Excuse me for neglecting to remove the cricket egg carton before taking this snapshot. The large, shallow storage tubs with green lids are everywhere in my spider room and hold all sorts of young spiders being housed in vials.


This shot down the other side of my center island shows more spiders in 32 oz. deli cups, gallon jars and the 10 gallon aquariums oriented vertically with the custom fronts made by Eric Weisheimer.



This final shot shows one wall of various enclosures. Note both the Exo Terra Nano Tall terrariums mentioned earlier and, just out of sight except in the far bottom left of the image, the larger Exo Terra  Mini Tall terrariums that contain adult Poecilotheria. The bottom shelf of all three of these racks hold these Exo Terra enclosures, but my photo cut off the bottom.


This is a glimpse into the enclosures I use. I am a huge fan of Exo Terra terrariums and love my custom storage container enclosures and the polycarbonate fronted 10 gallon aquariums on end. Your basic acrylic spider cages, not so much ...

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.

MJ

Sunday, July 26, 2015

#46 - SUNDAY, FUNDAY #3

It's random morning. I'll off to work for Day #7 in a string of 9 in a row. Six day week last week, six day week this week. I am officially a working stiff. And I'm loving every minute of it. Change can be good, very good. I am enjoying a fresh start. I've been dieting and already lost about 15 pounds. I think I'm getting out of the depressing rut that started with my mother's sudden death 2 1/2 years ago, my return to Chicagoland, and was then exacerbated by the passing of my precious pooch Taylor this past December just days after I returned from Sri Lanka.

My "liquidation sale" has gone extremely well and I've already spent some of the money on a couple of new firearms. I promised Tom this wouldn't become a gun blog, but he's drinking Coors light in Tucson at the "Bringing the Hobby Together" conference that Ken "the bug buy" and his wife Georgi put together as a placeholder for this year's cancelled ATS conference. My earlier reference to "beer and bacon" was a reference to Tom, who commented to me that he would keep reading as long as Kiss My Big Hairy Spider continued as arachnocentric reading and didn't venture into my other passions or hobbies. I promised him that I might mention beer and bacon - two things that I know he is passionate about. Give Tom a Coors Light, a plate of bacon and some Taco Bell and he is a happy boy. Surround it by some cool New World tarantulas and various true spiders and he is in complete bliss.

The "Bringing the Hobby Together" con reminds me of something I wanted to discuss. And the random shite of "Sunday, Funday" is the perfect time to do it. I've received numerous private emails asking me about the future of my ArachnoGathering, which is held in conjunction with the March NARBC event in Tinley Park, Illinois. I've held two so far and was looking forward to a third in March 2016. My answer as to whether that will occur is that I simply do not know. I was scheduled to lecture at the NARBC event in Arlington, Texas in about one month. I receive a free vendor booth for speaking and it was going to be my first visit to that NARBC stop outside of Dallas. Due to my new career I was forced to cancel that trip, which was mostly disappointing because I had intended to spend some time afterward hunting and photographing southwestern Texas with my bud Chad Campbell. Due to the closing of SPIDERSHOPPE I also cancelled my vendor booth for the October NARBC Tinley Park. I don't know if these cancellations have pissed off Brian Potter and Bob & Sheri Ashley who run NARBC. I doubt it. However, I still am unsure whether the termination of my participation in their events will mean that they will be less willing to provide me with the facility for ArachnoGathering #3. I suppose only time will tell. I'll have to wait until fall or early winter and see how motivated I am myself to run a third AG. If I am I certainly will contact them and if they cannot provide me with what they have in the past I will just look for another site. Perhaps if I offer to do a public lecture for free they'll still provide the facility for ArachnoGathering #3. 


Friday, July 24, 2015

#45 - TALES FROM THE FIELD #9


Yesterday's blog entry contained many words. It was a revealing glimpse into my life and career. In this installment we return to Babunhol on the shores of the Suriname River. Rather than using many words I want to share many photos, each one accompanied by an extended caption that tells the story of the many amazing animals we found right on the resort property and in the forests that surrounded it. We worked other areas from this base camp, including Brownsberg Natuurpark, but all of the photos in this blog were taken within walking distance of our Pitiko House at New Babunhol River Resort.

My friend Jason recently asked me if I took notes on my adventures. Of course I do. Each evening all of us record the day's events in our log books. Andrew sits with pen and paper and pipe, and Paul jots in a notebook. Guy and I tap our notes into our iPads - me with a cold beer and cigar. It is an after dinner ritual that preserves the stories our field trips. I could consult my Suriname 2014 Notes to provide a chronological telling of the expedition. However, my stories jump about in time to highlight different species strictly from my memory. I don't want to regurgitate my field notes. I also want to jump from trip to trip on a whim, taking you to new places before finishing all the stories of one. In TFTF #10 we will return to Sri Lanka and our hunt for my favorite theraphosid spider - Poecilotheria subfusca.

All images contained herein are © Michael Jacobi, Guy Tanley, Paul Carpenter & Andrew Smith
except those designated as © Michael Jacobi.



Andrew recorded our events and data in two notebooks throughout the day. Here he sits with his morning coffee and a bowl of tobacco memorializing all of our activities for future use. You'll also notice a map off to one side where we would plan our journeys away from the base camp of Babunhol.

This was his normal seat at our Pitiko table and in the evening the coffee would be replaced with Borgoe Rum and, perhaps, a cold Parbo Bier.



Bats were literally everywhere in Suriname. Even at our suburban first base camp at Oxygen resort nightfall would bring small bats racing about outside of our rooms.

At Babunhol many tree holes contained what we began to call "ginger bats", using the Brit term for redheads. There were a number of species that shared our resort. The "ginger bat" at left is hanging off of our laundry, which we hand washed and hung to dry each morning.


Ephebopus murinus was the primary member of the genus that we found abundant in Suriname. The image at right shows Ephebopus rufescens.

Ephebopus is an avicularine genus and young are arboreal or semi-arboreal, particularly in the French Guiana species E. cyanognathus. We found that roadside embankments or low brush would contain juveniles in burrows, while the adult females lived in deep burrows in the jungle floor that had turreted entrances made of silk and leaf litter.


The silk shrouded turreted burrow of an adult female Ephebopus murinus. We found many of these at Babunhol. They often were difficult to see at first, but at the right angle the silk would catch the sunlight and the prominent cluster of leaves rising from the forest floor would reveal the spider's lair.

Ephebopus murinus has always been a personal favorite and it has often been fairly common in the hobby. I've seen thousands in captivity, but seeing one in situ is a remarkable and very memorable experience.

This image better illustrates the burrow of the "skeleton tarantula" and how it incorporates leaves and sticks into a camouflaged retreat.

The shelter rises from the forest floor in a protective funnel that is called a turret.

This type of retreat is a radical departure from the way most adults of the family Aviculariinae live.

The spider itself is a strikingly beautiful dark color with light stripes on its name that gave rise to the popular name "skeleton".


Ephebopus murinus sits at the mouth of her turreted burrow at night.  © Michael Jacobi

Ephebopus murinus in situ at Babuhol  © Michael Jacobi

One of the most amazing finds of our trip was found by Paul in a tree right on Babunhol's grounds. Prior to this discovery, Tapinauchenius gigas was only known from French Guiana.

We had found Tapinauchenius plumipes outside of Paramaribo and would also find it at Babunhol, but it was quite a surprise when Paul found this orange beauty in a tree hole. Paul is a remarkable spider hunter and manages to shine his torch into holes others might miss. In fact, this beautiful orange tree spider was in a crevice above his height and maybe even mine. I tickled her out of her hole only after Guy had gone back to camp to borrow a rusty old ladder from one of Babunhol's sheds. As I chased her out onto the tree trunk she was captured in an empty Pringles can. After a lengthy photo shoot we directed her back into the retreat where we found her.

Frogs were abundant at Babuhol and they are one of my favorite photographic subjects. The resort's groundskeeper Errol would find some for me while he tended to both the ornamental flowers in pots around the site and in the bush itself. Our Pitiko House came alive with tree frogs at night as well.

Hypsiboas multifasciatus found at the forest's edge at Babunhol   © Michael Jacobi
Dendropsophus marmoratus that Errol found in one of his decorative potted plants  © Michael Jacobi
Scinax ruber was the common tree frog that we would find in our kitchen at night,
as well as in the showers and toilets and other buildings.  © Michael Jacobi
This Dendrophidion dendrophus (tawny forest racer) was spotted on one of our
night hikes into the bush that surrounded Babunhol. It was perched about four feet above the ground.
© Michael Jacobi
One of many Tapinauchenius plumipes observed at Babunhol  © Michael Jacobi

This dwarf brown tarantula found at Babunhol is possibly a Neostenotarsus sp.
© Michael Jacobi
You may have seen this image of me and a labaria on my website.
This Bothrops atrox, a fiesty and highly venomous pit viper, was found right on the beach at Babunhol.
When we told the owners of this during our return debriefing after our stay I could see horror on their faces.
The following images shows where I found it coiled in the buttress of a riverside tree.
Guy had just stood there investigating tree holes for tarantulas.
He was fortunate that he didn't get close enough to rile up the speedy striker.
© Guy Tansley
Here is the same labaria or fer-de-lance as I found it coiled at the base of the tree.
© Michael Jacobi
Also being a reptile guy, finding the several labarias I encountered during the trip as well as the big Spilotes sulphureus I wrangled at Brownsberg certainly made for lifetime memories. In future blog entries I may mention other Surinamese reptiles I found including green iguanas, Plica sp. lizards, huge golden tegus and more. However, there was one reptile that was at the top of my list to see in nature and get an opportunity to photograph. It was a large anolid lizard that many call the monkey anole. I had kept my eyes peeled for one, but had no luck. On our last morning at Babunhol, as we were packing our gear and loading our car, the groundskeeper Errol came over to me and said there was a lizard along the forest trail just behind their service building. I grabbed my Nikon and chased after him. There it was, perched on a giant palm leaf, Polychrus marmoratus, a bucket list reptile.

Polychrus marmoratus  © Michael Jacobi
Me and the Polychrus marmoratus that was at the top of my bucket list!
Notice how the stress of capture and removing it from its palm frond has turned it brown.
© Guy Tansley



Cheers, MJ

Thursday, July 23, 2015

#44 - THE OLD CAREER - THE FULL BIO

WARNING: This may be the longest blog yet. Grab a cup of java or a cold one and sit back.

33 years is a long time to do anything. It takes passion, devotion, interest, persistence, hard work, luck, frustration and a touch of madness. 33 years of working with exotic pets takes that and a whole lot more, especially the passion and the touch of madness. It is a bipolar existence where you feel the joy of every new life produced and the sorrow of every death. You are manic or depressed with little normal. And there are going to be deaths. Many soul-crushing deaths.

Today's blog entry was suggested by Norm. Blog #31 was titled "A NEW CAREER". It told what I am doing now and why a change was needed and desired. Some early blog entries were "memory lane" trips where I told about how I started in the pet industry in 1982 and shared some stories of the early days of American arachnoculture. This one will give an overview of my career in pets and answer Norm's specific questions. Let me field his email line by line... 

"Not sure if you take requests, but it can't hurt to ask."

Of course I do! I actively request your requests. An author is nothing without an audience and a blogger's task is to give his or her audience what it seeks. Feedback is always welcome, but as I mentioned with regards to dealer reviews, all positive feedback is only encouraging. It doesn't mold operations or content. Constructive criticism is welcome and topic suggestions will help me provide the content my readership desires.

"You have a long list of accomplishments and adventures, from the sound of it, stemming from your success as a spider dealer.

A "spider dealer" only accomplishes providing hobbyists with species they are looking for. My career as an exotic animal dealer, and in the pet industry in general, certainly was about supply and demand. However, my accomplishments are related to education and propagation. If you're just selling spiders, as the majority of the "pseudo dealers & weekend warriors" do, all you are doing is moving widgets while attempting to profit from buying your widgets at a lower cost and selling them for a higher one, all the while minimizing costs and "lost" widgets. If that's all you're going to do, sell something else. Sell a widget that doesn't eat, shit, get sick or die. Sell a profitable widget. Sell a low maintenance widget. Earn a living.

The first thing you need to understand about the pet industry is that animal sales are not profitable. In fact, they often operate at a loss. That goes for everyone no matter how small or big. (The only exceptions are rare, for example, the few very fortunate reptile breeders that have built their businesses over the past ten to fifteen years. Today the opportunity is even harder). Petco and Petsmart (aka PETAsmart) make zero money on their animals no matter how overpriced. The pets require food, water, bedding, cleaning products and cleaning labor. They die. They get sick and, in the case of these two industry giants, they incur veterinary costs. As much as you may wish to ridicule Petco and PETAsmart*, they treat sick animals, even mice. A "mom and pop shop" rarely can afford to do this except when the animal is very valuable and they are thinking in financial terms. Independent pet stores have many challenges in surviving the pet industry and live animals are one huge liability. Pet store profits come from selling dry goods. They make their money from the supplies you buy to accompany your live animal purchase. They especially make their money from repeat purchases like dog food, toys, treats, shampoo, etc. - things you will make return visits for that many also eventually include another pet and more money making supplies.

*As you may know, from 2007-2013 I was the general manager of Northwest Zoological Supply outside of Seattle. We serviced all of the Petco stores in a five state region of the Pacific Northwest including Alaska and Montana via air freight. There were about 75 stores when I left. I know a lot about Petco. At one time, PetSmart visited us as we sought their business as well. I learned a lot about "PETAsmart". Some of their executives used to work for PETA. Ironically and moronically, Petsmart doesn't want you to have pets other than dogs or cats and PETA doesn't even want you to have those. However, they know that pet shops without animals don't draw the customers that ones with animals do. Therefore they sell a few animals, but stay away from those they consider "wrong" like ferrets. When PETAsmart's vet and exec visited us it was obvious that they didn't really like animals and knew nothing about them. They actually caused damage in our facility by disturbing our breeders. In the case of our timid guinea pigs, this actually led to infant deaths and stillbirths. I have nothing but contempt for PETAsmart. In fairness, I will say that I am no big fan of Petco either, but my dealings with their company is that they do love animals and they do want to educate about proper care. The failures that they have to do this are inevitable in the bureaucracy of corporate empires. They don't succeed as often as they should. However, I'll walk into a Petco to buy a treat for my parrot. I won't step in a Petsmart.

Back on point ... I am proud of what I have done as an educator. My tarantula book is the best primer available for the neophyte keeper that might walk into a "big box" pet store or a mom & pop shop. I won't apologize for the conceit of stating that. It is. I also have lectured for the BTS, ATS, ArachnoCon, ArachnoGathering and NARBC. I have a 95 instructional video on tarantula keeping available free on my YouTube channel. My website and my authorship of Tarantulas.com & NWZoo.com provide a great deal of care information and species-specific care sheets. My Tarantula Bibliography is an important resource. I could go on. However, the most important educating I do is private. Is the one on one emails with customers over the course of my career. It is the advice I have given to thousands of customers I have spoken to directly when I was in a brick & mortar pet shop or at reptile shows around the country. Any time I have increased the chance of an animal being cared for properly and living the best life possible I have done well. Sales aren't an accomplishment. 

My biggest accomplishments outside of education are the animals I have bred. Not only tarantulas, but many species of snake, lizard and frog as well, not to mention the mammals I worked with early in my career and then again near the end of my career while running Northwest Zoological.

As far as my life as an "adventurer", that's not really tied to my career in the pet industry. It is my thirst for knowledge and quest to observe that has resulted in my travels. These desires and passions are what got me into the pet industry; they didn't arise from being in it. It also is the result of having the necessary time and money. And I can tell you that the pet industry does not provide either. My travel have been when I was self-employed or unemployed. Sure I traveled to ATS conferences and IHS (International Herpetological Symposium) symposia for short trips while working in the pet industry. However, my first month long expedition was Costa Rica in 2006 when I was operating my own SpiderShoppe in Nashville and my ex-wife had left me. I was producing many geckos and spiders and was flush, but the expensive trip was paid for with money made from selling my first house. I didn't travel with the "British team" again until Suriname 2012 because I was busy running Northwest Zoological Supply where I worked six or seven days a week and often worked 12-16 hour days. That is brutal and it sucked. I finally was given the time off to go to Suriname and it was only my salary as "general manager" that afforded me the luxury of the time off and the thousands of dollars the trip would require. Unless you are at the top of the heap you'll be lucky to pay your rent in the pet industry.

"...my request, it would be very intriguing to read about how one becomes/became a legendary tarantula dealer/adventurer. You know, a guide to legitimately making the leap from hobbyist to business man, so to speak."

Again, the "adventurer" is not tied to the "dealer". I highly recommend the adventures, I don't recommend the industry. I do, however, recommend doing something that you enjoy! My second career at On Target Range and Tactical Training Center is something I love. I can't wait to go to work today. Do anything that makes you feel like that. I loved the animals and wanted to make a difference. That last sentence is one you will hear many people who are truly devoted to the pet industry say. But it will wear on you quickly. I'll come back to that in my final depressing paragraph ...

But "the leap" is a gradual climb and it's a slippery slope. I became a hobbyist as a eight or nine year old boy. Ten years later I entered the pet industry with Noah's Ark Pet Center. I was knowledgeable and smart. I increased sales. I was fortunate enough to receive promotions. I then was fortunate to be recruited by a customer who had his own pet business. Strictly Animals only sold feed and supplies and was primarily a wholesaler. I worked my way up in that company as well and mostly did outside sales visiting pet stores to sell our products. I educated my pet store customers whenever possible to try to "make a difference". I continued to operate my own snake breeding business on the side and was able to sell my offspring to the pet stores we serviced. Then the owner got more into his macaque collection and decided to buy Snake Farm in Texas where he could display all of his exotic pets including his monkeys. I was out of a job.

My snake and tarantula sales wouldn't pay the bills. My mom was living alone and I moved back in with her. I began to plan opening my own store that would be called "Chicago Reptile". I began building display cages in my mother's basement. My mom's boyfriend - who would soon become my stepfather (I prefer "bonus dad" as he is also one of my best friends) - helped me work on business licenses and visit potential space to lease. Then my life took a bizarre turn. My father was retiring as police chief of Evanston, Illinois. He said that the Evanston water filtration plant had a temporary job opening. I could make a very decent wage for a few months while I got back on my feet. That temporary job turned into nine years. Chicago Reptile was scrapped and I just sold my snakes and tarantulas on the side. All of a sudden I had paychecks I had never dreamed of. A test was given for a permanent job. I took it and scored highest. I now had a good paying job and benefits. You will almost never be able to say that in the pet industry. My passion remained and I kept working with spiders and snakes, but I continued to move up the ladder at the water plant as each test for a promotion was offered. I began to get involved in muskie fishing and was able to buy a shiny bass boat. I bought a house up near northern Illinois' Chain of Lakes where I was fishing in most of my spare time. I never could let my exotic pets completely go, but I was earning a great living and enjoying another hobby. My big pythons began to seem like more work than they were worth. At one point I was spending about $500 a month to feed my snakes and was rewarded mostly with big piles of shit. I had bought a brand new house and didn't want the stink of rodents and snake shit in it. My collection dwindled. Animals are work and it almost never is financially rewarding. I don't know anyone who has been more passionate about them for what is now 43 years for me since my first pet snake. But passion doesn't pay the bills and every loss, every frustration, every cage cleaning takes a bit of shine off the passion.

Then my life took yet another bizarre turn ... Another hobby and passion of mine has always been music. I started playing violin at age 8, switched to drums in junior high school and then bought my first guitar. Almost 40 years later I still play the guitar every day and it is my one constant solace. It is my greatest anti-depressant. Through music (too long of a story to elaborate) I met a girl who loved the same bands and also played guitar. She was finishing her Ph.D. in Neuroscience at Washington State University. We "fell in love", whatever the hell that nonsense is about. I quit my cushy job at the water plant. In retrospect, I know that part of my decision had nothing to do with my soon-to-be wife. I had drifted away from my desire to be a self-employed animal breeder and had become a slave to a time clock. Every day I watched my watch and counted down hours and then minutes until I could punch out and leave. I was making a very good salary and had benefits that only municipal workers receive. But it wasn't a job I loved. And you should always do something you love ...

Before I knew it I was living in Pullman, Washington on the border with Idaho. My now fiancee and I had an apartment among the wheat fields and I returned to selling exotic animals. I had rented my house in Lake Villa, Illinois and that would cover our rent and utilities. She wasn't keen on spiders at all and I didn't have much space so I focused primarily on frogs. For a time I operated under the name "Frog Sanctuary". Then she finished her doctorate and chose a post-doctoral position at Nashville's Vanderbilt University. We loaded up the bus and moved to Beverly ... Bellevue, actually ... a suburb of Nashville. She had a "real job" and I had none. Renting your house sucks so I sold it. I had the proceeds from that sale to finance opening up "The Living Terrarium and Spider Shoppe". It didn't even last a year. OK, I'll say it, the pet business sucks. My retail store did not succeed, but I wasn't ready to throw in the towel. I found industrial space where I would have one 400 square foot room for spiders and one 500 square foot room for my growing gecko collection. I began selling online as "The Spider Shoppe" and earned my living selling tarantulas and geckos, which fortunately I could subsidize as necessary from the savings I had due to my water plant job and my house sale.

If it wasn't for those last two things I could have never survived in the pet industry. Are you picking up what I'm laying down yet?!? I don't recommend a career in pets. Do it as a hobby. Try to have it pay for itself by breeding and selling your offspring. Try to find something else you enjoy that will give you the salary and benefits you need. It takes madness to continue to be poor for the sake of your passion for pets. The shine will wear off. It will grind you down.

Eventually my wife and I split. I had a decision to make. I had to look at profit and loss. I had to examine my "Living Terrarium and Spider Shoppe" as a business. This isn't an easy thing to do. Few "animal people" are also "business people", or "people people" for that matter. The love for the creatures gives you blinders where you ignore the fact that you are living paycheck to paycheck and eating Ramen noodles. It creates a blindness to whether you are really being profitable. As I looked at my pending divorce and took an honest look at my business I realized that things were bleak. I was depressed from the break-up and that also contributed to a sudden desire to get out of Music City. Sure, my years there as a self-employed tarantula and gecko breeder were awesome. I had my own schedule and nobody to answer to. I played disc golf every single morning with my much loved and sadly departed dog Taylor. My wife and I were best friends for three or four years. Then things got ugly and much of it was her unhappiness with her work at Vanderbilt and my stresses of trying to earn a decent living doing something I loved. When she left my health insurance left with her. That's another thing about the pet industry - no benefits. Even when I was general manager of Northwest Zoological I had no health insurance. Except for my stint at the water plant and my wife's insurance I have never had it as an adult. Today I pay $325 a month for it. 'Merica.

Alex of NW Zoo started his business as Tarantulas.com. We had known each other as colleagues and finally met in person at ArachnoCon in 2007. He offered me a job and I hastily made the decision to leave Nashville. I sold my geckos and my tarantula retail inventory. Alex bought my tarantula breeders and we incorporated them into his business. This gave me the funds to make the move and get started again north of Seattle. I sold or gave away everything I owned except what could fit in the minivan I was driving at the time. My dog, parrot and styros full of tarantulas were the most important passengers. I did the best I could with what space was left, but the guys at the window washing business that was my neighbor carted off all sorts of appliance, televisions and fishing gear, etc. When my wife and I split I left her with everything that was in our rented house. I took only the most important things - our, no MY, dog and my parrot, plus my clothes. Our divorce was quick and easy, but only because I gave up everything. So the minivan headed northwest over the course of four days and I became an employee at Northwest Zoological. Alex already had a "Operations Manager" so upon arrival I was given the job of caring for the tarantulas and veiled chameleon operations and also helped out with ferret and guinea pig care. At first I didn't have an apartment and lived in a back office. Fortunately, the building had a shower. Life is strange sometimes. I got an apartment ASAP and worked hard. But I hated it. Much was due to my depression caused by the break-up and the move. Seattle was an adjustment and so was working for someone else. I only stayed for nine months. The tarantula part of my job was my favorite, but cleaning ferret and guinea pig shit sucked and I had no control over the veiled chameleon colony. I saw many females get egg-bound and die. I would surgically remove the eggs from their carcasses for incubation. It was soul-crushing work. Alex had made the mistake of expanding his veiled colony by acquiring some "new blood" from someone else without quarantining it, and disease was spreading through the collection. Our vet and I began giving the adults injections, but losses were great. Of course, I saw sick ferrets die and watched the rat keeper euthanize animals for frozen rodent sales every day. I was beginning to realize that being fond of animals is a good thing in the pet industry, but truly loving them as I do made working at a large scale animal breeding operation a horror. I quit and moved back to the Midwest.

I swore off the pet industry. I told everyone who would listen that I was finished. Retired. There was no way I would be involved again. I had to do something though ... I stayed with my mom and stepfather for a bit and then moved up to Milwaukee where Bill Korinek owned a two-flat and would rent me the lower level. Bill used to operate Theraphosid Breeding Project with Bruce Effenheim and he and I had become friends. Bill's day job was as assistant manager of the catering and restaurant at the Milwaukee Art Museum. He was responsible for special corporate events and fancy weddings held there and got me a job as a special event bartender. I worked two to four nights a week and that was all I needed. I returned to playing disc golf every morning with my dog. I had only Taylor and my parrot Jesse. Bill had a house full of tarantulas and had begun keeping Uroplatus fimbriatus and Meller's Chameleons. He also had a juvenile crocodile. His exotics were all I needed to see. I would stay away from my own collection and stick to my "done with pets" attitude. I enjoyed myself. For the first time since 1982 I thought little about snakes and spiders. I did my "cocktail parties" and spent time in Milwaukee bars and restaurants. Bill was dating a co-worker and I soon fell hard for the Art Museum's wedding planner. Our foursome spent many evenings out on the town. I was in my mid-40s and they were in their mid to late 20s. It was a surreal and fun time that rejuvenated me. But it also led to another end of a relationship. That whole "dip your pen in the company ink" thing came into play. I had my heart broken and didn't want to go to the museum anymore. Alex and I had stayed in touch and I missed Seattle. I loved the mountains and the ocean. I loved the mild weather, even if winter's five months of grey was depressing. He was unhappy with his "Operations Manager" and offered me the job of "General Manager" if I returned. If I busted my ass I would be able to make money that is almost unheard of in the pet industry unless you are an executive for Petco. I moved back.

"...Being a part of the the pet trade is a personal dream that I have. It may be a poor ambition to have at this time, but a dream none the less. It isn't hard to understand why many of us look up to you, Kelly Swift, and other dealers, and want to perpetuate your success at doing what you love for a living."

I am afraid I am going to end this story very negatively. The pet industry can crush your soul and it did mine on many occasions. I worked very hard. Often 70-80 hours a week! I did earn good money, but that was good fortune. I'm here to tell you I was the exception to the rule. But the long hours wore me down and every single animal that died took another chunk out of me. I would go to the airport to pick up chinchillas and every one would be dead from the heat. I would receive occasional dead ferrets and many sick ones that wouldn't make it. I knew this before I returned. It was my passion for pets that put up the blinders again and had me make a poor decision. The job sucked the life out of me. At least once a week I wanted to leave my keys on Alex's desk and drive away from Seattle. This went on from 2009-2012. Three years of allowing the size of my paycheck make me endure a soul-crushing job. If you truly love animals you will have a hard time in the pet industry. Your love has to be somewhat less than passionate. There are exceptions. You could find a great independent store that specializes in reptiles, for example. Perhaps they will deal only in captive bred and deaths will be minimal. Perhaps you will be rewarded by educating your customers or improving animal husbandry. Perhaps you will have breeding successes that will keep you interested. This can happen.

Or perhaps you wish to be a private breeder and self-employed. Good luck. For every Brian Barcyk or Bob Clark or (insert successful reptile breeder here), there are many who fail and most who have to work a "day job" that might not be something they enjoy. Notice I didn't say "insert successful tarantula breeder here" because that is an oxymoron. You cannot make a living selling tarantulas. I am done. Only Kelly Swift has been persistent. I guarantee you that "Ken the Bug Guy" will be gone before long. So how did these successful reptile breeders build these big operations. Bill Brandt's Gourmet Rodent (reptiles and rodents) has 80 employees. It takes luck, persistence and money. Do you have money? I can tell you that many of the big name reptile breeders received big loans to get their start. You can't buy a "morph" that has been around a year or two. You have to be able to buy the newest thing at tens of thousands of dollars. Bob Clark worked in the clothing industry and was fortunate enough to raise the big bucks that the first albino Burmese and Reticulated pythons commanded. I remember when Brian sold at my local reptile show. He is a true success story of reinvesting and saving and building a business from the ground up. Few have what it takes. You can turn a hobby into a profession, but look at any big reptile show today. Ball pythons and crested geckos are everywhere. The ball python market is the best example of the collapse of the reptile industry. Back in the mid-80s I bought my first baby albino Burmese python for $1500. I sold that snake for $500 as an adult! Ball python breeders believed that the fact that balls only produce 4-10 eggs would mean that there market wouldn't be exposed to the rapid market price drops that the big pythons that produced clutches of 50 or more did. They were wrong. People can't give away some "high end morphs". Who is buying the high dollar snakes you see at shows? Only high rollers with cash to burn and I'm guessing you aren't one of them. Only a few at the top will survive. There are a handful of guys who have become millionaires breeding snakes. However, you will be lucky to earn enough money to support a family or even yourself alone.

My advice. Stay a hobbyist and strive to get your hobby to be self-sustaining. That is, figure out how to have it pay for itself. Try to find another job you love to pay the bills. You aren't going to find the "next big thing". You aren't going to have a fast breakthrough. Operate your hobby as you would if it was a business. Focus on profit margins and profit/loss statements. Keep good records and detail every penny you spend and every penny you earn. Keep your personal expenses and "hobby business" expenses separate. Wait until your "bankroll" has a sufficient surplus and then perhaps reinvest 20% of it in new animals. Keep that bankroll management scheme going and see if your hobby is truly becoming profitable. Then see if you can afford forming an LLC (limited liability company) and a business license. Do it right. Claim your income and pay taxes. See if you can afford advertising and a website. There is no reason you can't enjoy a hobby business if you are truly devoted, passionate and willing to work hard. However, the expenses of operating a legitimate business will probably make a successful arachnid-related hobby business or professional business impossible. 

I suggest a career other than the pet industry. Your mileage may vary. I don't regret my 33 years, but I am so relieved to be done with it. This week I sold many spiders. This is another bipolar experience. When I pack them I will be momentarily sad to see them go, but once they are gone I will experience a greater relief. I will remember that I have at different points in my career sold all my snakes, or all my geckos, or all my frogs and I've actually done each several times over. My plan now is to keep working with some favorite tarantulas as a hobbyist. Maybe I'll get back into some favorite snakes. However, I am just as likely to decide that I'd rather move on completely and make my spider room a nice office and media room where my guitars live. Only time will tell. I'm on career #2 and enjoying it immensely. I'm already dreaming about my full retirement within the next ten years. I might just buy an RV and travel the country. Life is full of surprises.

That returns me to Norm's question about being an "adventurer". All that takes is time and money and friends who share your interest and also can get away from life for a few weeks and afford international travel. Unfortunately, it's not easy for most. I was fortunate to become close friends with Andrew Smith and be invited on his field trips. Otherwise I might still be limited to chasing Aphonopelma and rattlesnakes in the American Southwest. I highly recommend the latter if the former is just a dream.

All the best in whatever you endeavor, MJ

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

#43 - TALES FROM THE FIELD #8

When I left you last we were in Suriname. It was the end of our trip. We visited Brownsberg Natuurpark over the course of a handful of days in search of the world's largest spider. I will always regret not setting up camp at Brownsberg and dream of the night herping that Guy and I could have done. I decided then that I would never again join a trip where all "team" members didn't have an equal say. We spent our last days in Suriname at an apartment style hotel with a pool in the suburbs of Paramaribo. That was wasted time. I could have been in a hammock at Brownsberg when not scouring its bush for spiders, snakes, lizards and frogs.

However, that was not to be and our base camp at New Babunhol River Resort certainly was a wonderful place to stay. So I want to back up a week from my last Tales and tell the story of the beginning of about 10 days in our open-air "Pitiko House" on the shore of the Suriname River. In earlier installments of Tales from the Field I mentioned this camp and how I enjoyed two swims a day in the river. It was one of the only shoreline places we saw WITHOUT piranha nets, but I never was bothered by these toothy predatory fish. Paul and I had some glorious cool downs in the river, while Guy and Andy were not keen for a swim. I also mentioned our evenings with beer and cigar on the lawn of our little house, where we would watch episodes from the first two seasons of Game of Thrones on my laptop after a nice dinner and recording our field notes for the day. But let's start at the beginning of the Babunhol story ...

Our first base was at Oxygen Resort in the southern suburbs of Paramaribo (aka Parbo, just like the name of the fine Surinamese beer), but those are tales for another day. Andrew had booked New Babunhol River Resort as our primary base camp for the middle of our trip and we sorted our gear at Oxygen before checking out, and then headed to the east side of Parbo to visit the offices of Babunhol. This was a twist from any other adventure. Apparently we were to call on the owners of the resort before we headed south following the western shore of the Suriname River to Babunhol. We found the office in a small industrial park and were greeted like visiting heads of state. They ushered us into their modern offices and led us to a conference room. What an odd beginning to another tarantula hunt! We sat around a table and were offered coffee, tea and cold drinks in an air-conditioned room featuring artist's renderings of developments and blueprints. Suriname is definitely third world, and at times felt like "fourth world", but here we were having "tea and crumpets" in a modern office suite. A Dutch woman in proper business attire and the owner, a perpetually smiling dark-skinned man of Suriname, interviewed us and seemed fascinated that this group of middle aged Brits (save for your American author) had selected their riverside resort for a hunt for spiders of all thing. They seemed unaware of the creatures that we found find at Babunhol. However, they were very excited about our visit and I expect they thought we would lead in other tourists. We would soon discover that New Babunhol River Resort was really just a weekend getaway for Parbo residents. The discussion between Andrew and the owner and his office manager went on and on and Guy, Paul and I became restless. We wanted jungle, not chit chat in the most modern setting we had encountered in Suriname. Thankfully, our business meeting was eventually adjourned.

We climbed back into our little red Hyundai Tucson and headed south out of the city. We were finally on our way to what would become an amazing base camp. But first we would have to make a stop. In Costa Rica I brought along a pair of "water shoes" - mesh nylon shoes great for kayaking or river crossings, etc. We had discovered during our earlier work around Parbo and the north of Suriname that Andrew had ONLY brought similar footwear and that they had already served him poorly. I couldn't imagine not packing at least one pair of good hikers. I had two pairs of my favorite Keen hiking boots in my duffel bag so I'd have a backup, plus a pair of Keen sandals and some flip flops. But Andrew now had a desperate need for shoes. The southern outskirts of Parbo had many shops and we began stopping at each in search of hikers. There was no chance. Andrew eventually settled on a pair of white gym shoes (what my mates would call "trainers") that were sort of a faux hip hop artist style. If you watched my Finding the Goliath Tarantula in the Wild video linked in my last TFTF you will have seen Andrew sitting along the roadside wearing these unfit for the jungle shoes with his trousers tucked into his socks. I get a wry smile every time I watch it. But I was happy he found anything in his size and wouldn't have to wear his sandals or the crap water shoes for the rest of our trip. So we were off...

We were very surprised at how good the paved highway south was and made much better time to Babunhol than we expected. Sadly, the reason for the good road is that the area near Babunhol and Brownsberg and the nearby Brokopondo Reservoir are heavily mined so trucks needed suitable conduits to travel from mine to city. The backbone of the economy of Suriname is the export of aluminum oxide and small amounts of aluminum produced from bauxite mined in the country. There is also extensive gold mining and it is based between Babunhol and Brownsberg (Rosebel Gold Mine). Upon arrival at Babunhol we were surprised to find a beach and many people and motorbikes. There was quite the party going on. Our smiles turned to frowns. However, our apprehension was short-lived as we remembered that it was a national holiday and we would soon find the place deserted except for us and the staff during our ten night stay. The grounds were dotted with thatched roofs that served as pavilions for people to sling their hammocks beneath. There were people barbecuing and camping at each one when we got there. There also was a long building that had our two latrines and showers as well as a handful of single rooms for additional guests. However, the staff led us to the accommodation we had chosen, which was an open-air house with front porch and rear kitchen called the Pitiko House. Before our trip I had seen photos of it on Babunhol's website so I knew what to expect. In addition to the large covered porch at the front and the kitchen it had two single bed rooms and a third with bunk beds. My mates are always kind enough to give the big American the largest bed so I had a private room with a queen bed, Andrew took up residence in the other single room with a single bed and Guy and Paul occupied the last room with its two bunk beds. They stored their gear on one and slept on the other. The staff had greeted us and the two girls that would look after cleaning up after us brought us clean linens. It was hot and humid, but Guy and Paul went straight to hanging mosquito nets on the bunk they would use. The "mossie nets" would prove unnecessary and it was sweaty work that could have been spared.



The front view of our Pitiko House. The porch had a nice table and outdoor couch.
© Michael Jacobi
Our kitchen at the back of the house with propane burner.
© Michael Jacobi
The interior of our house. Guy in the doorway of the bunk bed room he shared with Paul.
Paul is standing with our kitchen to his left and my room to his right. The window at right is Andy's room.

The view from our front porch over the south end of New Babunhol River Resort
© Michael Jacobi

You can see a long roof in the bottom right of the above image. This was the concession area that would be open on the weekends to people getting away from the city. We had arranged to hire the Javanese cook who ran it to cook us dinner each night and also keep a cooler stocked with beer. He had a gorgeous young daughter that would serve us our meals, which were interesting, if not always delicious. But they were very accommodating. In the photo before that you can see our kitchen. Suriname has many little stores that are typically run by Chinese descendants of early contract workers. Thus, they are called "Chinese shops". We would get additional beer and some groceries from these. Each morning we would cook our own breakfast and make instant coffee. Being a Starbucks junkie I had brought packets of Via from the US. If I was going to be forced to drink instant coffee at least it was going to be Starbucks. Our lunches would be taken trailside in the jungle and usually consist of canned sardines and/or tuna on crackers, chips and coconut water, "gatorade" and bottled water.

We had arrived mid-afternoon and after unpacking a bit we headed down to the "restaurant" area to see about our evening meal and a beer. The Javanese cook and the "resort manager" who would come each morning to check on us both spoke good enough English for us to get our points across.

Team shot at our first meal at Babunhol.
Fortunately the Bavaria beer was soon replaced by the far superior Parbo Bier.
© Michael Jacobi

As we had driven into Babunhol we had noticed some nice embankments on the red dirt road. The first image showed our car stopped along the way into the resort. Tarantula hunters are eager and we didn't even wait to first arrive at the resort before we were jumping out of the car in search of spiders. We discovered that the road embankment did contain burrows and we shined our "torches" into the holes of our first of many Ephebopus murinus we would find at Babunhol. We marked each burrow so we could return at dark.

Andrew photographs an Ephebopus murinus burrow as Guy returns from locating others.
© Paul Carpenter

Juvenile Ephebopus murinus tickled from its embankment burrow at night
© Michael Jacobi
At night our Pitiko house would come alive with insects and the geckos and frogs that hunted them.

We found a number of Ephebopus murinus that night, but most that were in the roadside embankment were juvenile to subadult. SPOILER ALERT! We later would find adult females in burrows in the jungle floor. That first night after having our fun along the road with the "skeleton tarantulas" we returned to our little open-air house for some cold beer. As I mentioned, we would eventually develop a routine of having dinner and a beer down at the restaurant and then walk back up the hill to our house to write our field notes with a beer and a shot of Borgoe rum. Then we often would retire to folding chairs out on the grass in front of the house, which sat atop a hill, and watch Game of Thrones. However, when we returned to the house the first night and turned on the lights we were astonished by how many moths, other nocturnal insects, geckos and tree frogs were in our house, especially the kitchen where the primary light was. There was no electricity at Babunhol, but each night the groundskeeper would turn on a generator that would run for a few hours (7-10 pm). This would allow us to recharge our electronics, eat dinner under light and have a little light in our house before bedtime. Once the generator ceased we would be watching GOT and then crash hard.

The first night is the one I'll most remember though. We had a few beers to celebrate our arrival and our success finding Ephebopus murinus along the entrance road. The bottle of rum was passed around. Eventually we tired and made our way to our beds. Despite having a cold shower before retiring I laid on top of the sheets and wondered how I would possibly sleep in such stifling heat and humidity. We had begun our stay in Suriname at Oxygen Resort, which was very nice and air-conditioned. I actually stayed my first night in Suriname in a swank Hilton in the tourist zone. Now we were deep in the forest along the Suriname River and didn't even have electricity. I laid sweating in my bed. I heard noise in my room and grabbed my flashlight to investigate. There were a pair of huge Rhinella (Bufo) marina aka cane toads hopping on my "bedroom" floor. I went outside to relocate them. Then I returned to rest upon my sweat-soaked sheets. Before long there was a greater commotion and I felt the air moving above me. Once again the flashlight was lit and I saw the bat that was circling above my bed. It was another creature to chase out of my room! Babunhol certainly was teeming with life and some of it wanted to share my lodging. After shooing the bat out of the room with my Tilly hat I decided that I would shut my door and window. That lasted five minutes before I was overcome by even greater heat. I knew the night would eventually cool a bit and opened everything back up. As long as I was out of bed I made my way to the latrine for a "waz" and found it alive with tree frogs. This was my kind of place. I had a smile on my face as I returned to the dank room and drifted to sleep.

Until next time ... MJ