Sunday, August 30, 2015

#63 - SUNDAY, FUNDAY #6 - AND A BRIEF LIST OF USPS SHIPPING LAW BREAKERS

Missed the last "Sunday, Funday" installment. I didn't want another to pass without my weekly, random, off-topic blog feature where I ramble in dear diary fashion ...

Last Sunday was more like "Sunday, Bloody Sunday". We had a company picnic at the home of On Target Range and Tactical Training Center Director of Operations Tom Dorsch on Saturday night after work. The food was amazing. His wife is Colombian and we had incredible carne asada tacos, chorizo quesadillas, guacamole, barbecued corn on the cob and other fare. However, I over served myself not with food, but with drink. I don't drink regularly or often but when I do I sure can put it away. I brought a gift bottle for each of my hosts, but I also brought my own bottle of my favorite tipple, Jameson Black Barrel Irish Whiskey. I went straight from work and was the first to arrive and wasted no time diving into my whiskey and cigars. I shared some of the bottle, but I made the major dent in it. When it was gone I pretended like I was in my 20s again and joined the younger crowd in tequila shots. Cuervo Gold was my drink when I was like 21, but that was 30 years ago. I paid the price last Sunday morning and throughout the day. I was hurting. It was ugly.

Today was a much milder day off. Between the new job and selling off many spiders I have let house cleaning fall behind a bit so I pottered around in the morning organizing some stuff. Then I went to Cabela's to meet Randy Martinez and deliver a wholesale spider order. Thanks to Randy I have another 36 less mouths to feed. We meet at Cabela's because it is roughly equidistant between our homes, but for me it gives me the chance to prowl one of my favorite stores. However, there's little for me to buy there these days. I buy all my ammunition at work at cost. Although I have bought one gun from Cabela's I no longer have that need either. I've just purchased one new rifle and one new pistol and they were both through "pro staff" deals direct from manufacturer's whose products I sell. Same thing with my new Benchmade knife. But Cabela's is a wonder land and I do like to wander and wonder.

My bonus dad Joel met me there to go out to lunch. He lives five minutes from Cabela's. My diet continues and I've dropped 35 pounds. I cheated on the diet a bit last night with a little after work sushi, which I thought I deserved as I worked 9-3, took a two hour break to run home for a few things and then worked 5-8. I was hoping lunch would just be a salad or something that wouldn't make me feel guilty. But somehow when driving past the local places Joel chose Claim Jumper, which is the last place in the world for a dieting person. We discovered that they had a huge Sunday brunch in progress so I think it's fair to say that I gained back a few pounds today. Back to starvation ...

I've been spending some time lately planning the ten day trip to Costa Rica that Joel and I are taking at the beginning of December. We've got flights and rental car booked and I finally booked three nights at a hotel in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Region. Through Instagram, I've met a guy who is into reptiles, spiders and other nature and leads day or night hikes in the area. I'm trying to pin down some private bookings with him. I also intend to first stay at the same base camp as our team did during our 2006 field trip, but they don't have online booking and the emails back and forth are going at Latin American pace. That means snail slow and more than a little confusing.

In other news, Mark Pennell is going to be back in the U.S. visiting the first week of October, which is rapidly approaching! Time is flying isn't it?!? September here we almost are ... Mark will be doing some tattooing again and I will be having another Arachnoparty at my house. I spoke with Chad a few nights ago and I expect he and probably David Lawrence will again make the trip. I know I can talk Apple into it and anyone within striking distance is also welcome. Just drop me a line at spidershoppe@icloud.com.

In closing, I want to stray from relaxing "funday" for a moment. In a recent blog I asked you all to BOYCOTT sellers who are breaking the law and shipping via the USPS. I named Mike Carlton at Inland Sea and Jamie's Tarantulas. Today when I popped into Arachnoboards for a moment I noticed a few others that I will also call out here now. Joe Rossi. I've never dealt with this asshat and haven't heard anything good. Rumor has it that he a brown boxer so it is no surprise that he would ship illegally via the USPS. But as I looked at his overpriced spider list (his ad said "chrysogaster", a species I am working with and that is what caught my eye and had me looking at this dbag's advert) I noticed his shipping info. So add JOE ROSSI to the scumbag list. Let's see if I can find a few more in ten seconds or so ... I mentioned this newbie "Arachno Den" aka eldondominicano in a recent blog. He offers 2-3 day USPS priority shipping. ADD NEWBIE ARACHNO DEN to the scumbag list. I could go on and on if I wanted to look at the hobbyists who don't invent instant businesses. For example GunniesSpiders is offering el cheapo USPS shipping. Scumbag. It would be a lifetime project to add all the hobbyist sellers to the BOYCOTT LIST. So let's just start with those who are "dealers", "pseudo dealers" or "wannabe dealers". BOYCOTT INLAND SEA, JAMIE'S TARANTULAS, JOE ROSSI and the latest newbie wannabe ARACHNO DEN. Don't even get me going on the fact that Vixvy is still posting at will on Arachnoboards. I covered that a long time ago and cut AB and the Scher's some slack after discussing the issue with them. But I still would BOYCOTT and BAN this guy and every other person that is obviously promoting BROWN BOXING by Americans. I'm not cutting any slack anymore.

(BTW, for those who have never seen the law Postal code Publication 52 (Hazardous, Restricted and Perishable Items) 525.4 states: "All poisonous insects and all spiders, except scorpions under limited circumstances (see 526.5), are nonmailable. Other nonpoisonous and non-disease-conveying insects are permitted as stated in DMM 601.9.3.9 and in Exhibit 526.6." This is a FEDERAL AGENCY. MAILING SPIDERS IS A VIOLATION OF FEDERAL LAW.)

Sorry, for the ranty interruption. It was just on my mind as my Sunday day off comes to a close. It's actually hard to get me pissed off and ranty these days as I'm loving my job, feeling healthier and happier, getting completely stoked about Mark's upcoming visit and looking ahead to a return to Costa Rica in three months. Life is good. My therapy is shooting and I do it daily. I'm enjoying my much smaller collection of spiders. It's off to laundry and spider feeding and soon bedtime. Perchance to dream, MJ

#62 - THE BRITISH TARANTULA SOCIETY - PART TWO

#60 solicited new North American memberships to the world's greatest tarantula society. With our first rate Journal, the BTS is definitely on the cutting edge of arachnocultural and archeological education. However, I want to further entice you by mentioning the two great events that the BTS holds each year. An overseas trip to attend one of these may seem like only a dream to many of you, but maybe you are ready for a trip of a lifetime. Even if a trip to the UK for an arachnid event is unattainable, I am sure you will appreciate being a member in a society that successfully produces the premier arachnid-related events in the world.

I've been over to the UK for these events eight times now and each trip has been memorable. The BTS Exhibition in May in the English midlands brings vendors from all over Europe and there is a dazzling array of tarantulas, other arachnids, mantids, phasmids, beetles, snails and other invertebrates. The February lectures in Bristol's west country England has seen some of arachnoculture and arachnology's finest speakers at the lectern. I have been honored to be the keynote/guest speaker twice, in 2007 and 2015.

The BTS Lectures is held in Bristol, England and hosted by Kim and Mark Pennell. This February's Lectures was the 13th annual meeting and the 14th will be held March 5, 2016 at the fabulous Aztec Hotel and Spa. Last year my lecture on my 2014 field trip to Sri Lanka was accompanied by fine presentations by an opening humorous history of the BTS by Ray Hale, Ray Gabriel on the Tarantulas of Nicaragua, Mark Bushell from the Bristol Zoo invertebrate department, Steve Trim from Venomtech, LTD, and an after dinner lecture by Andrew Smith. I can only imagine what is in store for us in 2016. This is the do not miss event for the BTS. It is the best opportunity to socialize with some of Europe's leading arachnoculturists. The night before party is spectacular and the day after the lectures is the Annual General Meeting where all members can attend one of our BTS Committee meetings and be included.

The BTS Exhibition will enjoy its 31st year in May 2016. The past two years we expanded it to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry and saw the largest turnouts and most traders in the event's three decades. Unfortunately, the Ricoh Arena is under new ownership and we were unable to negotiate a reasonable rate so the event is moving again, this time to the Warwick Exhibition Centre on May 22, 2016. Ray Hale does a tremendous job as exhibition organizer and he and his wife Ange, plus our whole BTS committee put a great deal of work into hosting the finest arachnid sales event in the world. In addition to all the goodies the many vendors offer (Brits call them "traders"), the BTS booth - they call it a "stand" ;) - is immense and has all sorts of apparel, schwag, back issues of the Journal, membership renewals and, of course, the Competition. Each year live arachnids and photos and artwork are entered into various categories and judged. The winner of Best in Show is featured on our annual membership card and bookmark. Kudos this year to Maria and Laszlo Gombasne-Gudenus for winning with their female Phormictopus sp. Green! Those of you who are already BTS members should have received your annual membership kit with the Journal that arrived a couple days ago and seen the winning spider.

I'll close this entry with some photos from these events. Perhaps you will start thinking about saving for that trip that you know you deserve. Maybe you'll join me in representing the U.S. at a future Lectures or Exhibition. When I first spoke at the 2007 Lectures, Arachnoboards owners Scott and Debby Scher were there along with Tom Patterson. I know Eric Reynolds and Chris Hamilton have been over for the lectures and my old friend/colleague John Hoke made it across one year. It's your turn ;)

For the 2008 Exhibition I traveled over with my then employer, Alex Orleans of tarantulas.com and Northwest Zoological Supply. That's him in the orange shirt on right. In the sweater (he would call it a "jumper") and spectacles is none other than Carl Portman.

This classic is from the 2008 Exhibition when it was still held in a school gymnasium. In the center is Scottish tarantula legend Ray Gabriel and in the right foreground is African tarantula expert Richard Gallon.
Thanks to the U.S.D.A. you won't see phasmids like these for sale in the States.
Lee Ardern's Welsh The Spider Shop always has about ten tables filled with tarantulas and more!
After my 2007 lecture I took a little side trip to Amsterdam. I saw canals, but mostly I saw coffee shops and the red light district. Those stories will not make it to this blog.
A much younger and much hairier me in the British Museum during my first trip in 2006. That is the type specimen of "Poecilotheria bara/subfusca"
Here I am presenting "Tarantula Keeping: The Next Generation, Innovation in Modern Husbandry Techniques" at the 2007 British Tarantula Society Lectures. This was my first trip over for the Lectures and I was honored to be the keynote speaker.
Jump ahead to the 2014 BTS Exhibition and here is Ray Gabriel, Andrew Smith and I.
This is also from the 2014 BTS Exhibition. Mark Pennell with the perfect photobomb in the background plus, left to right, Shelley Cole, me, Connie Kirk, Maria Gombasne-Gudenus and baby Reka and Laszlo Gombasne Gudenus. 
This is from this past May's 30th annual BTS Exhibition. Spider Shops, New World and Old World. The Spider Shop in Wales owner Lee Ardern and myself.

The British Tarantula Society is truly an international organization and these events see people come from all over Europe. Of course, "all over Europe" is smaller than "all over the United States". For them it's like me going to Tennessee. But if you want to make the pilgrimage (I guess that would be "reverse pilgrimage") and plan the trip of a lifetime to attend a BTS event drop me a line. I will be your guide. MJ

Thursday, August 27, 2015

#61 - THE JOKERS KEEP COMING

I've distanced myself from the hobby. I obliterated Faffbook and I haven't been one of the Arachnobored for years. I do still post ads on AB and, as I mentioned previously, I do intend to keep my photo thread going there since my mate Chad is showing special interest in the Through the Lens photography sub-forum (EDIT: Just discovered that the photo threads are still in "Tarantula Pictures", which is a sub-forum of a different forum (?!?). OH WELL, I did post some more pix in my photo thread.). (Please note that when I use the term "Arachnobored" I am referring to the people who fill their hours in nonsensical discussions on AB (or FB, etc.). I am not mocking or slagging off Arachnoboards as a forum or resource.)

However, when I pop into AB to post my ads (still have a bit of closeout left) or "bump" them up things do catch my eye. Since it is only the For Sale sub-forum I visit I get my chuckles from seeing "new dealers" and posts by dealers I recommend you avoid. And because I am admittedly 100% OCD nuts, there are things that I see that are like nails on a blackboard to me.

Here's an example: Not to pick on some newbie stranger, but there is someone named "eldondominicano" (cute name) who announced that he is "officially a retailer and wholesaler of invertebrates!!" When did he join Arachnoboards? Only eight months ago. Definitely a serious long-term hobbyist ... lmfao. He claims his website will be up within a few weeks and he will be called Arachno Den. Good fucking luck buddy. I'm sure people will appreciate your wealth of experience. Of course, his starter list has all of the species names capitalized. By all means, SELL BEFORE YOU LEARN! (See my ranty sarcasm hasn't completely disappeared!)

Then I noticed a post by "Widow lover". Been on AB for a whole nine months - one month longer than the Dominican Don. 15 whole posts. Definitely an expert. All specific epithets capitalized and generic names misspelled. This list is comprised mostly of species imported and sold by Frank Somma so I suppose it is a new wholesale customer of Frank's. As long as he is getting the initial sale from his new competitor ;) Here's a tip "Widow lover": leave it to an expert like Frank. Or perhaps the King of Widows himself, John Apple. I'm glad you love them, but with apologies to my bro Apple, they are boring-ass spiders. And I'm not sure you're up to the task of selling "Heterapoda", especially if you misspell them that way. And, yes, there is actually a species "davidbowie". You don't write it like the singer's name. You're definitely not up to the task of selling Ctenids and other spiders with significant venom based on the attention to detail found in your advertising. Take a moment and proofread. Whatever happened to marketing as an art? Make a nice looking, properly spelled and formatted ad to purvey your goods. So many amateurs acting like amateurs ...

The jokers keep coming ...

I could go on if I looked at all the nonsense adverts. You see some from respected dealers. More importantly, you see some from some respected breeders. Chris "syndicate" Allen has a nice list of species HE BRED available, but you have to share his passion for pet cereal containers of dirt to appreciate the whole Asian Theraphosid pet hole thing. It's unfortunate that the serious BREEDERS like Chris are in the minority and surrounded by jokers. The "two biggest" sellers of tarantulas don't do much breeding. That's a damn shame.

But what really pisses me off are the USPS shippers. I've known of Mike Carlton of Inland Sea for years. I met him at some shows I did when I was living in Nashville. He was and is a customer of my former employer NW Zoo. He got into some trouble with FedEx and now only ships and receives ILLEGALLY by USPS. He even states USPS in his ads. Where the hell is a postal inspector when you need one? Can't we get this guy and Jamie's Tarantulas and all the other known USPS shippers in trouble. I know they can't chase after every hobbyist who is shipping ILLEGALLY on the cheap. But the two aforementioned asshats are "dealers" who have shipped USPS with every order for years. Please someone tell me who at the USPS to contact. Mike's a nice guy and I wish him no ill will, but he is breaking the law. PLEASE BOYCOTT SELLERS WHO SHIP USPS - dealers or hobbyists.

Another customer of mine during my tenure at NW Zoo was LLL Reptile. Actually, my customer was their wholesale arm Vista Pet Supply who bought thousands of baby veiled chameleons from me. LLL has become very successful as a reptile retailer with four locations in southern California. They have become the "big box" store of the reptile industry as they sell by the Wal-Mart method of SELL VOLUME WITH MINIMAL MARKUP. They buy dry goods direct from many manufacturers and sell at prices nobody can compete with. Then they earn greater profit by marking up WILD CAUGHT reptiles. Sure, they also sell captive-bred, but they have no qualms about selling wild-caught animals and every single reptile show turns their head at this. Even purportedly CAPTIVE BRED ONLY reptile shows allow LLL Reptile to sell wild-caught specimens. They are so big and buy so much booth space that everyone turns a blind eye. Their tables are covered with their cheapo - sadly disposable - lizards and such marked with the typical retailer price ending in .99. And they sell loads of wild collected arachnids. They are advertising on AB and they sell some captive bred arachnids at mostly ridiculous prices alongside their wild caught inverts. Here's a tip. BUY CAPTIVE BRED and buy captive bred only from those who ONLY sell captive bred. Do you really want CB that has been alongside unquarantined volume-sold wild-caughts? Same holds true, and even more so, for reptiles. Buying a captive bred snake from someone whose employee may have handled a wild caught just before taints the health of your "CB". I love that the LLL ad lists all these wild caught Chilean species with the note that Chile is now closed so get them while you can. Half of their list is going to disappear! And what is that douchebag Gearheart going to sell?

Last night I came home from work and fed my spider collection. For the first time I have more crickets than spiders. I'm about to go dump a few hundred adult crickets by my backyard ponds for the bullfrogs to eat before the weather chills any more. In a couple hours I could feed and water everyone. I am such a hobbyist!!! To be honest, as the collection gets smaller and smaller I become more tempted to move more from the "keeper list" to the "sale list". Eventually the amount of time I spend on arachnoculture will have waned to where I am enjoying other things that I used to do and have sacrificed due to the time of running my own business or that of someone else. Disc golf. Guitar. Reading. I won't even be posting ads on AB. The rant in me will have completely dissipated. All my "Tales from the Field" will have been told. I better come up with some new material.

Until we meet again ... MJ




Tuesday, August 25, 2015

#60 - THE BRITISH TARANTULA SOCIETY

I am the North American Coordinator of The British Tarantula Society, which is the world's oldest ongoing society devoted to tarantula spiders and other arachnids. My role is to increase membership in the United States, Canada and Mexico, promote the B.T.S. wherever possible and liaise with North American groups with similar goals such as the American Tarantula Society. I recently functioned in the latter role by discussing with Jen Newman the future plans of the ATS and how they are changing and rebuilding to keep the American organization moving forward.

I urge all of you to become members of the greatest English-language tarantula society and support the British Tarantula Society's efforts in education and conservation. The BTS Journal is the premier arachnocultural publication and a full membership entitles you to three issues of this fantastic Journal per membership year. Although the name states "British", the BTS is an international organization and welcomes arachnid enthusiasts from around the globe.

The BTS Membership year runs from June 1 until May 31. Those of you who are American members probably received your membership kits for the current year yesterday. Unfortunately, the release of Journal 30(2) was delayed a bit and the Journal and its accompanying kit were behind schedule. Included in the kit was a personalized membership card, a bookmark featuring the "Best in Show" from this past May's BTS Exhibition, a very nice sticker and a fun magnet set that allows you to creatively match words, scientific names, etc. on your fridge or other magnetic surface.

I am always perfectly frank about the cost of being an overseas BTS Member. Last time I checked with international postage for your three Journals, etc. it is about $55 in ugly green American dollars. I fully realize that this is cost prohibitive for some people. If you just look at it as $18 per Journal you may find the expense too much. However, if you look at it as also being part of the leading tarantula-oriented organization and contributing to our efforts both in education and conservation you will hopefully realize the investment is worthwhile. Personally, holding the beautiful full color Journal in your hands, which is packed with the writings of leading arachnoculturists and contains serious articles and even peer-reviewed species descriptions, is worth the cost alone for those who can afford it. If your budget is tighter you may become a digital only member and download the full color PDF instead at somewhere just above $22 or so for the year. I solicit your membership and hope that you'll join our group. Please visit http://www.thebts.co.uk/bts-memberships/ for more info and to sign up. If you have further questions about membership do not hesitate to contact Phil and/or Erin in our Membership Office at membership@thebts.co.uk.

BTS Journal Volume 30(2), which just arrived along with this year's membership kit, is extra special to me. I am one of the proofreaders for the Journal, but 30(2) also contains two articles written by your intrepid blogger. In fact, why I don't just list the table of contents so you can see the quality of articles our professionally printed full-color Journal contains. This isn't some amateurish xeroxed DIY assemblage of hobbyist notes and filler. This is a first-rate publication.
  • Chilobrachys guangxiensis: A rediscovery by Hans Cools
  • Some notes and observations on the breeding of Acanthoscurria sternalis by Ray Gabriel
  • Notes on the first American breeding of Pachistopelma rufonigrum by Michael Jacobi
  • Monocentropus lambertoni - A brief overview owith comments on habitat and questions on the validity of our hobby identification by Michael Jacobi
  • Conservation of the critically endangered Desertas Wolf Spider by Mark Bushell
  • Additional comments on specimens of the genus Hysterocrates by Daniella Sherwood
  • The sexing of early instar tarantula moults by Emma Lambert
  • Tarantulas of the World (Book Review) by Peter Kirk
This is a stellar line up of articles and is representative of the quality of information contained in our Journal. You won't find this anywhere else and membership will entitle you to a few previous back issues (online) as well. I am very pleased to have two important articles of my own in this recent issue, but I'd also like to point out one other. Mark Bushell's work with the Desertas Wolf Spider is partially funded with a £500 contribution by the British Tarantula Society. And getting back to my Pachistopelma rufonigrum article, I was pleased to ask my friends and fellow photogs Chad Campbell and Michael Pankratz to add some pix to my article and they added a great deal.

I know money is tight for many in the arachnoculture hobby, but if you can swing $22 or so please consider an "e-membership". But there is nothing like the glossy, color Journal in hand so if you can skip a trip to a restaurant or the movie theater this month please think about full membership. It's 20 quid, plus £15 more for international postage so thats £35 total - currently $55.21. We welcome members from around the world and would be glad to have you on board. I'm sure you'll agree that the Journal content alone makes it worthwhile, but you'll also be supporting our research grants and worldwide promotion of spider conservation and education.

If you have any questions about the BTS please don't hesitate to email me at spidershoppe@icloud.com.

All the best, MJ

Friday, August 21, 2015

#59 - IT'S NOT ABOUT MONEY!

There are a number of previous blog entries that touch on the commercial side of the animal hobbies and focus on the enterprise of making profit off of living things - in our case invertebrates. There follows a short list of those to review. Some are rants about douchenozzles who have unsavory practices in the interest of making a buck, but others are about my own 33 year career earning a living off of living things, which I can tell you is a moral dilemma for anyone who truly cares about animals.


There are many people in this hobby right now (many who I'd call "pseudo dealers", but also the worse among the "weekend warriors") that are in it just to make money. And they don't realize there isn't much money to be made. They may like the animals. It is likely as that is how they initially got their start. But "like" and "passion" are at two ends of a spectrum. Only the truly passionate "animal people" last and they are the only ones who put animal safety, "happiness" and "enrichment" ahead of sales. Just because someone is a "serious breeder" or "big time dealer" doesn't mean that they are "real animal people". They have to have at least a casual interest and usually have a serious interest in arachnoculture, but their goal is profit and for those who are scumbags the animals are secondary to the bottom line.

Over the decades I have been told that I can be difficult to work with. I think most of my sincere, reasonable and intelligent customers would argue otherwise. But there are plenty that I have dismissed and effectively refused to sell to. To my detriment from a financial standpoint, I have always turned away any sale that made me uncomfortable. Sometimes it was my intolerance for stupidity that made be blow off the sale, but more often it was that the person didn't impress me as a serious keeper and I would rather lose a sale than jeopardize a spider (or reptile/amphibian/invert, whatever). Very few people can say that, but I know some of my closest friends, many of whom are "weekend warriors" selling at weekend reptile shows and such also consider animal welfare first and foremost and if someone doesn't strike them as a responsible owner they will refuse the sale.

Think about other retail industries. Can you imagine someone who sells cars, or cappuccinos, or stereo equipment refusing a sale? But the responsible animal seller will not sell something to anyone with the money to pay. He or she will ensure the person is qualified or has been sufficiently educated during the "sales pitch" or turn the potential customer away. It can't be about money.

Since I don't want to keep tooting my own horn I will once again bring up Kelly Swift. I'm not suggesting he is known for turning away sales, but I do know that he is a "real animal guy". Like me has been at it for decades and has a strong herpetocultural background as well as his better known presence in arachnoculture. He has had a bumpy ride. The fire that destroyed his facility and set his business back years and years would have made any "pseudo dealer" move on to something else to sell. I've already made the point that selling tarantulas is not a money making endeavor so I won't belabor that again here. But Kelly has rebuilt and keeps plugging away becomes spiders and snakes are in his blood. I'll make an example of another of my buddies. John Apple earns his living working for another industry. But he has always been a "weekend warrior". He's not looking to "get rich" or turn a big profit to buy some shiny new toy. He just eats, sleeps and breathes arachnids and loves to educate and sells what he breeds and other stuff he buys wholesale to finance his hobby. And that is why he has also done this forever.

The new breed of people who see people like me exhibiting at fancy reptile shows at NARBC and doing brisk business see dollar signs in their eyes. They are disillusioned. Significant money will not be made selling spiders. You'd have a slightly better chance with herps, but you'd be better off finding a niche selling related products than selling livestock. But these new sellers keep popping up because they think they can earn a living. You can't. Read my posts, especially the "Old Career" installment and learn exactly why. You have to approach selling animals as a passion. You will do best if you also treat it as a business and act professionally, but you can't be looking for financial gain, and you can't allow potential sales and profits to make you forget that you are selling living things not widgets. It really is not about money. 

I breed some rare high-end tarantulas. One sac can pay my collection's expenses for the year and allow me to buy shiny new toys, most of which go "BOOM". There is money to be made, but it is hard going and only the passionate about animals will be able to ride out any downswings.

One of my new co-workers has become a very close friend. He made his first million when he was 32. He was a bond salesman and now is a retired multimillionaire. He just comes in to help out at our Range and Tactical Training Center in order to keep busy. He asked me yesterday about how I earned my living for three decades in the pet industry and how profitable my "semi-retired business" is today. Questions like these are often difficult to answer because I know that much of my pet career had me in debt and living paycheck to paycheck with absolutely no benefits and living dangerously with no health insurance. It was my passion for the creatures - what I call being a "real animal man (or woman)" that kept me going. I was doing what I loved and that was more important than "getting a real job" that would have improved my quality of life. I was able to succeed, but much of this had to do with running other people's companies simultaneously such as my stint with Strictly Animals, Inc. some 25 years ago and my 2007-2012 position as General Manager for Northwest Zoological Supply. Only in the latter position did I make a respectable salary - one that is necessary to support a family. Fortunately, I've never had children and was divorced before this job so all of the money I earned allowed me the assets and lifestyle I have today. But this is the exception to the rule. Earning a decent salary is tough in the pet industry including if you are self-employed.

It really bothers me that there are people who aren't my "real animal people" that are just interested in making a buck. You can see them at any reptile show you go to. They have wild-caughts, poorly cared for specimens, sloppy business practices and often ridiculous prices. They are salesman. They probably are fairly new the hobby and might sell industrial products or something and have that slimy used car salesman approach. It troubles me that people who don't know better give this type of asshat money. But the consumer is just looking for a good deal and is focused on price, not the seller's experience level, reputation or motivation.

The really troubling aspect for a "real animal man" is putting a price on a life and taking that amount of money in return for transferring a captive creature to another person who very likely may not give it the exceptional care it had been receiving. This is the soul-crushing aspect of animal commerce that I have mentioned in earlier blog entries. This is why I've tried to retire several times over the past decade and now have retired for good. However, I'm still breeding so I will still have to worry about what kind of homes my "pampered" spiders will end up in. But since "IT'S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY" for me and never has been I will continue to do whatever I can to educate customers so that each spider has its best chance at not only survival, but actually thriving, and I will continue to tell those who I consider unsuited to "fuck off".

Evaluating customers in this way is admittedly tough, especially with arachnid sales. When I was running NW ZOO and we would do shows and sell our baby veiled chameleons it was much more clear cut. If the potential buyer for a veiled chameleon refused to purchase our recommended lighting or supplements or revealed improper housing and seemed reluctant to accept correct husbandry practices it was easy to qualify them as an inappropriate customer and refuse sale. However, with spiders - especially sold via email and the Internet - you can only do the best you can by using questions and impressions of the person's email and then maximize the spider(s)' chance for thriving by spending time on education.

Respect and protect animals. Sell them if you choose, but remember ... it's not about the money. Help weed out those in it for the money by not giving them your business.

MJ


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

#58 - TARANTULAS CAN'T READ

As I've mentioned before, my old ARACHNOCULTURE magazine had a column called "Back Page" where I wrote an irreverent, educational, attempting-to-be-humorous, editorial of sorts on a number of topics. The following one was called "Tarantulas Can't Read". I'm going to reprint it here in its entirety and then comment further afterward. However, the important thing to know upfront is that this was written in my fourth issue of ARACHNOCULTURE almost ten years ago. This was before Faffbook ruled lives and then was mostly used by teenage girls telling you what they had for dinner or posting selfies. This was written in the era when most of the nonsensical moronic discussion of tarantulas took place on Arachnoboards instead of on Faffbook. And this is before my Tarantulas was published by a joint venture of TFH and Animal Planet.

Tarantulas can't read.

Books are wonderful things. More people should read them. As wondrous as the Internet is, it is no substitute for a book. A well-written book is informative and entertaining. A book written by a person who is very knowledgeable about a subject can even be educational. For humans, that is.

From a tarantula's viewpoint a book is rubbish. I won't even tell you what they think of this magazine.

Ever had a Poecilotheria regalis who ignored your pretty lichen-encrusted cork bark and lovely bamboo tube and instead spent the majority of its time on top of or even buried in the substrate?

Ever provided a Theraphosa blondi with a back-breaking amount of damp soil and an exquisitely formed starter burrow only to have it sit in the middle of the enclosure and show no interest in hiding?

How about that Brachypelma smithi that keeps climbing the sides of its aquarium and hanging upside down from the lid?

Are these spiders illterate or something?

The books and the Internet forums are filled with information on their proper behavior. Why don't they follow it? It's almost as if tarantulas believe that captivity and nature are two different things. How dare they?

But they can't just leave it at that, can they. They ignore the books regarding their natural behavior as well. I'm starting to believe that tarantulas don't read at all!

The only rule is that there are no rules (or is it that you don't tell anybody about Fight Club?). Captivity and nature are not... I repeat, NOT... the same.

A wise man or woman once said that if you keep doing something a certain way you will continue to have the same result. The husbandry practices that are routine today are the result of trial and error in the past. Tarantulas died for these lessons. Unfortunately, some continue to in the hands of people who won't learn.

Learning. We're back to the books, magazines, and Internet again. While tarantulas can't read, most people can. They just won't. Not as long as that glowing television has them in a trance.

For those of you who do read, as evidenced by holding this magazine and weighing these words, your tarantulas [and other exotic animals] are proud of you! You are on a quest for information and are digesting different views and recommendations, deciding which instructions have the most value and what might be dismissed. After all, just because it is in print doesn't make it truth.

An insatiable desire to learn as much as possible is one of the most admirable traits a person can have. However, let us not forget that there are many different ways to learn. A book or magazine is not the best way; it's just a very good way.

In my opinion, the best way to learn — after acquiring a good foundation of knowledge from written words and experience — is to observe your animals and open your mind to what they may be trying to tell you. Not only can tarantulas not read, they can't speak either, but if you give them your attention, they'll tell you things you can't learn anywhere else.

A tarantula constantly hovering over a water dish is saying, "Hey, it's too dry in here. I'm getting dehydrated."

The terrestrial tarantula that all of a sudden has taken to climbing the cage walls after you just cleaned or changed its enclosure is saying, "This substrate sucks. Please use something else."

Watch your spiders. See if they prefer the dry or damp or warm or cool areas of their enclosure. Determine whether there is one prey item they pounce on immediately and seemingly prefer.

And when they're sitting there doing nothing and everything seems fine, read another book or search for quality information on the Internet. I won't tell if you read it to your tarantula!



The most important line in my original "Tarantulas Can't Read" is one that I stated in a very recent blog entry: "Captivity and nature are not... I repeat, NOT... the same. I can tell you as someone who has not only kept many thousands of tarantulas over the course of almost 40 years and has observed them in nature around the world, that this statement is gospel. This fact is something that seems to take some people some time to wrap their heads around. Captivity is an unnatural situation and your best efforts to simulate natural conditions are nothing more than that, best efforts. You will never replicate a natural setting. But the advanced keeper and successful breeder will think about things like appropriate retreats, environmental cues, non-static environmental conditions and do his or her best.

This blog entry requires additional reading. I want you to go back and re-read (or ingest for the first time) my third blog installment written way back on June 5, 2015. It's not ten years old like the above, but with 55 blog entries since it may have leaked out of your cerebrum a bit. This entry was one of the most important I've written. It is titled "Information is not Knowledge". Since my ARACHNOCULTURE was published and Arachnoboards was in its best years the hobby has become increasingly cluttered with morons. Just as I've made the point that "Weekend Warriors" can be good and "Pseudo Dealers" can be very bad, "Casual, eager to learn hobbyists" can be good, but the "Pseudo Experts" are usually very bad. They spew nonsense and regurgitate half-truths and conjecture that they read another pseudo expert post. Faffbook and forums have become a cesspool of misinformation. Please, oh please, first judge the expertise of the author of anything you read before you accept anything he or she spouts. Better still, read my book or writings, read articles in the BTS Journal (Which, by the way, I edit), and look for other lesser known fountains of knowledge like Baxter's tarantula book (Now available at lovetarantulas.com as the revised Baxter's Bumper Book of Tarantulas for a few dollar download. Although written way back in 1993 and quickly reworked in 2014 it contains a wealth of information). Of course, I also recommend my Tarantulas in the Terrarium instruction film (free on my YouTube channel) and even the late Bryant Capiz' video, which is also available from Andrew Smith's lovetarantulas.com. While there you might consider Guy Tansley's concise Basic Care Guide or others at http://lovetarantulas.com/keepingtarantulas.htm.
As internet dependent as I admit I've become I still direct you to the printed works of true experts rather than the ramblings of hobbyists with too much time on their hands. Faffbook and Arachnoboards will rot your brain. Get an actual book in your hand, by an actual authority. Have a glass of wine, whiskey or coffee beside you and sit in your favorite chair. Learn the way learning was meant to be.

But then go into your spider room. Wait until after it has been dark an hour or more. Wear a headlamp that has a red bulb capability. Tread softly. Sit and watch without movement. Pay attention to your animal's behavior. Take notes. Keep an open mind. Immerse yourself in their world. It isn't their natural world because the terrarium is not the niche they evolved to occupy. But you will learn. Your arachnids will teach you things that no yahoo like me can put into words. They can't read or write or talk. But they can certainly teach.

My best to all of you, MJ

Sunday, August 16, 2015

#57 - SUNDAY, FUNDAY #5

Damn, it's bed time and I almost forgot my weekly totally random, dear diary, day-in-the-life, off-topic SUNDAY, FUN DAY post!

I love to educate and I love to tell travel stories and I do love to rant now and again. But these off-topic Sunday posts are equally fun for me and I hope some readers enjoy them too. If not, just skip them.

For this week's SF post I will just share my weekend. I worked the 9-5 shift on Saturday at On Target Range and Tactical Training Center. I close on Friday nights so it has affected the ritual me and my bonus dad Joel had going with dinner and a movie every Friday night. We go to iPic Theaters in South Barrington where I have a membership and we sit in our power recliners with pillow and blanket and order good food and drink while we watch the flick. Sometimes we eat beforehand at the neighboring Wok 'n Fire, which has some really good sushi - my favorite food. Now that I am working on Friday evenings, Joel and I have only occasionally been able to catch a movie together, the last being Amy Schumer's excellent Trainwreck. So I messaged Joel on Friday, and asked if he might want to come visit me at work before the end of my shift for a full tour followed by some shooting. I've taken Joel shooting at On Target a number of times pre-employment, but now I could give him the full tour and I no longer pay for range time and have a wide range of company owned firearms to shoot. On all of our previous visits I had just taught Joel to fire a variety of my own handguns. He and I shot machine guns and the .50 cal Barrett sniper rifle out in Arizona during one of our trips to Vegas, but I never shot rifles with him at On Target. We have 12 lanes of 25 yard pistol range on one side of the pro shop and 12 lanes of 50 yard rifle range on the other. He was surprised when I told him that instead of firing any of my guns including the one I was wearing for my shift, we would instead be shooting three .45 ACP handguns from the rental selection that I had chosen (Springfield Operator 1911, CZ 97 BD and Springfield XDM-45 Match), and also three rifles (Smith & Wesson M&P15 AR-15 with an EOTech red dot sight, a Springfield M1A (civilian version of the old military M14) and a Remington 700 with a Leopold scope). Both of the latter rifles are chambered in the powerful .308 Winchester (7.62 x 51 mm).

Anyway, here's a vid clip of the Honorable Joel Greenblatt (he's a Judge!) sending some lead down range with the AR-15.

video

After our range session we visited Kumi Sushi, which is also in Crystal Lake, for some fabulous fresh, raw fish.

Dining on my favorite cuisine.
I've lost 30 pounds now, but this is an unavoidable diet cheat.

Joel and I are going to Costa Rica for ten days at the beginning of December, and during dinner we discussed our upcoming trip. This morning I booked our rental car and made inquiries for our first lodging, which will be at the same location as my 2006 Costa Rica field trip's first base camp - La Quinta Sarapiqui near La Selva Biological Station.

Then I drove to Wheaton, Illinois where an "All Animal Expo" is held twice a month. It's worth the hour drive each way for me just to get crickets for $15 or less a thousand. I don't need as many as I did a month or two ago, but with 500 ct. boxes for $10 that probably contain almost a thousand crickets you can't go wrong and I'll just grow up the unneeded smaller ones. What I always do when they start to mature is dump that excess outdoors! I don't want chirpers or females laying eggs in my terrariums!

On the way there I reached out to my best mate Mark Pennell via FaceTime. Yes, it was while driving. I set my phone horizontally by my dash gauges and mostly kept my eyes on the road. Afterward he texted me a photo of my mates Ray and Ange Hale on his computer screen as he had FaceTimed with them next. Ray and Ange have run the British Tarantula Society for decades and are dear friends who I look forward to seeing on every trip over. I miss Mark, Kim and Brandon and am glad that Mark should be staying with me for a week again during the first week of October.

Rayzor and Angela - the heart of the British Tarantula Society
Two more of the BTS' finest and my dearest mates
Kim and Mark Pennell

Mark is the originator of the "Sunday, Funday" tag as he spends his well-deserved day off chilling and, more often than not, keeping Tiger beer in business. Kim and Mark and their families and friends are members of a local social club and pub called the P.B.A. (Port of Bristol Authority) and Sunday usually sees the whole gang getting together there. So, of course, he had to text me a pic of his first round of Tiger. My only drinking during my now month-plus diet was when I visited the Campbell brothers and the other Minnverts up in Minneapolis last weekend. I gained a few pounds back that weekend, but shed them and more within the next 48 hours so it was another well-earned and necessary "cheat". Now I have to be good all week as we have an On Target company BBQ at the boss' house this coming Saturday. I'll be headed there straight from work with a bottle of Breckenridge Small Batch Bourbon and some blackberry brandy for my boss and maybe a bottle of wine for his wife.


I had to deliver one spider order and also return a male Harpactira chrysogaster to Jason Newland. I had paired one female with the male two weeks ago (that video is here), but hadn't gotten around to pairing my second mature female. Last night, even though I was extremely exhausted and full of sushi and a big bottle of Asahi, I did pair the male with the other female before I hit the hay. Both pairing went very well so I doubt I will need to borrow Jason's male again. The female's are extremely receptive and the males are eager and fearless. I love Harpactira.

Harpactira chrysogaster, adult male

Of course, the first people I greet at each All Animal Expo is Randy and Randy Martinez of Evil's Arachnids. This father and son team have become good friends and also are customers. Mark had asked me to say hi to them and I took this photo to text to Mark.

Randy Sr. and Randy Jr. Martinez of Evil's Arachnids
vendors at Wheaton, Illinois' All Animal Expo

After the show I did what Sundays are best for - feeding spiders and napping! The feeding part is becoming a less-time consuming task, but I've still got plenty more to do on my Tuesday day off, which also will see me sending out more spider orders. I've got to open tomorrow morning at On Target, so now it's time to sleep.

Auf wiedersehen, MJ

Thursday, August 13, 2015

#56 - TALES FROM THE FIELD #12

Before we pop back to stories from Suriname 2012, I'd like to continue in Sri Lanka. It was the trip of a lifetime and I was fortunate to observe my two (or three) favorite theraphosid spiders. Two, if you just count them as Poecilotheria subfusca and P. ornata; three if you recognize the two very different forms of "subfusca". As you can imagine, the tarantula-centric draw of Sri Lanka is the leopard spiders (or tiger spiders or ornamental tarantulas or parachute spiders or whatever you wish to call them). The genus Poecilotheria is certainly the entire reason we were in Sri Lanka. This had us looking to the skies as we examined tree after tree looking for holes and crevices and shining our lights into hundreds upon hundreds of potential retreats. However, our eyes did wander to the undergrowth. Often this was me looking for snakes and lizards and frogs, but we did keep our eyes open for fossorial tarantula species.

Unfortunately, before we left for Sri Lanka we learned that Paul would only join us for the first half of the field trip. He had growing concerns about the safety and likelihood of hassle and potential arrest from wildlife officers, but he had a more important reason to shorten his stay. His mother-in-law was very ill and was living with him and his wife Sue. It would be a lot to ask of his wife to handle the extensive care and related issues on her own for almost four weeks. So he made plans to stay with us for about 10 days and then departed.

Now down to a threesome - Guy Tansley and I, plus Paul's brother Mark who isn't really a tarantula hunter - and with my target species "in the bag", I was quite happy to finish our stay in beautiful Sri Lanka in holiday mode. However, my companions have this attitude that field trips "are not holidays" and that they must always be work and we must always rough it with mediocre or worse accommodations. Additionally, my two companions were running low on funds and my free-spending nature would cause some strain. I did want to visit at least one of Sri Lanka's famed natural parks to see an elephant in the wild and perhaps get a chance to see a leopard. We succeeded in this on a guided trip in Yala National Park, which has various blocks known by other names such as Ruhuna and Kumana. This park is the most visited and the second largest national park and is the best opportunity to catch a glimpse of an elusive leopard. Because of the thick woods seeing elephants there is more difficult, and the best place for elephants is Udawalawe, which is much more open and allows easier viewing of these immense mammals.

I'll post some pix from Yala at the end of this blog entry, but first I want to talk about our fourth and final Sri Lankan tarantula species. After Paul was gone we were determined to find one without him and we really wanted to find a burrowing species. Yala is located on the far southeastern coast of Sri Lanka and is nearby the best places to find Poecilotheria vittata. I had been given a location by a friend to search for this spider, but we were unable to find the exact area and we knew that we would be looking in small trees in an area with many people present and we would be at great risk of attracting unwanted attention. We decided to give up on P. vittata and instead visit an area where my friend Thorsten Kroes had told me of two new species of Chilobrachys that have yet to be described. He sent me photos of both and one was a beautiful specimen with blue legs much like the Vietnamese forms. The other was a blackish species, which according to his info would be found an hour south of the blue form. Of course, we decided to try for the more colorful one.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at the locality provided we could not find the exact area. We were told that it was on the grounds of the temple and we ended up at another temple and forest reserve only about 15 miles to the east after finding some very odd lodging. It would take me a blog in itself to describe where we stayed, but the accommodations were nice. We had a house at the top of the mountain all to ourself. There were two bedrooms so I took my own and Guy and Paul shared the one with two beds. The road from the lodge and most of the other cabins was impossibly steep and rose significantly to the plateau where our own little house was. We were sort of treated like dignitaries as we seemed to be the first "white people" to ever stay at what was, for Sri Lanka, an upscale resort. It seemed to be a getaway place for the more well-off Sri Lankans and up on our plateau they were building a hotel that would have the biggest swimming pool in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, the crew worked mostly at night and sleeping was a bit tough with their generators and machinery making noise.

But back to the hunt for Chilobrachys ... the manager of our "lodge" had suggested a forest reserve and, although we found other interesting creatures there, we struck out with tarantulas. So the next day we returned to the temple a half hour east and sought permission to search the grounds. We sell ourselves as just tourists wanting to look for birds and monkeys in the forest. These are sacred temples and permission from the "head monk" is required. This requires an intermediary and fortunately we had a driver that acted as translator. Most have steep stairs that lead up the hillside to Buddhas and praying areas. By this point of the trip Mark had had it with leeches and hiking and tended to just hang out with our driver. So Guy and I walked through the eerie Buddhist monastery grounds and into the woods searching trees and looking for burrows. There were plenty of beautiful birds and the ubiquitous toque macaques, but no spiders of note. Around the world roadside embankments make for great tarantula hunting and eventually we descended the road with our eyes scouring the mossy embankment. We found burrows with frogs and giant amblypigids and then found tarantula burrows. We expected the spiders we tickled out to be the blue-legged variety, but it seemed that this area so close to the locality Thorsten had given me for that colorful new Chilobrachys only held the black undescribed form. Still, we were happy to finally find a terrestrial and to find another species without Paul. After that I, at least, was in full on holiday mode. :)

The rest of the tale will be with photos ... 
All images © Michael Jacobi except where noted as © Guy Tansley.


Guy at the trailhead leading to the Buddhist Temple
The road that led to the trailhead. Chilobrachys habitat.
Guy and Mark search the roadside embankment.
Guy is dressed for the jungle hunting he and I did. Mark is dressed for hanging back by our van.
Once we started searching the embankments along the road where leeches were few he joined us.
A large amblypid found in a hole in the roadside embankment.

Adenomus kelaartii, a toad we found in embankment holes.
Classic embankment burrow holding Chilobrachys sp.
"Chilobrachys sp."
This gorgeous golden salticid was also found along the road where we hunted Chilobrachys.
Hello to you too!
This eight inch thick as my forefinger millipede was also found along the embankments.
We found three different varieties of this giant millipede throughout southern Sri Lanka.
We called this the white-leg.
There was also one with grayish white legs with a dark band and one with orangish legs.
This toque macaque was curious what the three "pale skins" were doing!





Moving on to a few photos from Yala National Park ...

Yala is one of those places where you hire a safari jeep and they four wheel it at high speed around the park chasing possible leopard sightings. This isn't an activity I enjoyed or recommend. All they care about is getting you to see one so you'll get a tip. There are reports of these jeeps hitting wildlife, including leopards! We were not too happy with the experience, but we did manage to see a leopard in a tree off in the distance. Binoculars were necessary to see the lounging cat and Guy's little point and shoot proved to have an amazing optical zoom and he was able to capture the below photo.

Sri Lankan leopard at Yala National Park. © Guy Tansley
Here is my crop and retouch of Guy's image.
It was far in the distance, but it was a thrill to see what is among my favorite animals for the first time.
© Guy Tansley

If your only experience with peafowl is at zoos and such you probably thought they lived on the ground.
There are loads of peafowl at Yala that reminded us that they do fly and perch.

However, they also spend time on the ground. Peacock in full display.

Yala is also home to grey langurs.

A sambar deer buck. These deer are what leopards eat along with langurs and other mammals.
© Guy Tansley
Feral dogs scavenge on a sambar deer corpse. © Guy Tansley
The southern border of Yala is the ocean. This rock is called Patanagala.
Water buffalo living up to its name. © Guy Tansley
Crested (or changeable) hawk-eagle, Nisaetus cirrhatus. © Michael Jacobi


We did see an elephant at Yala but, as advertised, it was in thick cover and you could barely make it out even though it was 20 yards or less away. I won't post one of those poor images here. The next morning we drove back west and passed Udawalawe where the elephant viewing is supposed to be excellent and were surprised that the highway went right past the reservoir and there was an elephant that had wandered right along the fence line along the road. The Yala elephant was my first wild elephant, but this adventurous Udawalawe elephant was kind enough to venture to the road so I could see my first wild elephant up close and get good photos. I would have loved to do a safari there, but the funds were low for some and this elephant made it unnecessary! Until next time ... MJ

Lucky day alongside the Udawalawe reservoir.
Guy and Mark photograph an elephant who had come to where someone had been dumping produce.
Note the electric fence to keep them in the national park and off the road.




Closing advert: I have unloaded many prize spiders and the list of what is available is getting smaller and smaller. However, I invite you to check out what's left on my the updated list and see if anything interests you. Sorry, USA sales only. FedEx Priority Overnight shipped "HOLD FOR PICKUP" at your nearest FedEx Ship Center only.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

#55 - PHOTOGRAPHY

At the Minnverts gathering this past weekend I was with two serious and skilled photographers: Chad Campbell and Michael Pankratz. As many of you know, Chad is a moderator on Arachnoboards and is better known there as "advan". He mentioned that he had been spending some time improving on the photography subforum there. Since I no longer am on FriendFace, FaceBlock, Faffbook, Fuckbook or Fussbook, I no longer have that outlet for easily sharing images and may resume my "New Michael Jacobi Photo Thread" on AB. However, these are, and will be, watermarked 72 dpi compressed images. I just wanted to remind you that my real galleries, where you can view high resolution images (still at screen resolution though) without watermark, is at exoticfauna.smugmug.com. Please bookmark and revisit every now and again. These are my complete galleries and you can even order prints.

I'd love to share some info on photography skills and possibly turn that into another ongoing series, but here I just wanted to post a few images of spiders that I am packing for customers today and make a few comments on spider portraits and photography in general.

First, for the gear heads, in an earlier blog entry (#12A - PART ONE: SUNDAY, FUN DAY) I mentioned some of the arachnocultural products I use and where to get them cheap. It was just a listing of things I recommend without any endorsement or free product in return. I closed that installment with my camera rig details and I will copy and paste that here.

Camera Rig: The majority of the photos you see me post are taken with a Nikon D7100 body and a Tokina 100mm 1:1 2.8 macro lens. 90% of the images are shot in aperture priority mode at f18 and ISO100 and usually 1/60 sec. Sometimes I go fully manual if I want to select shutter speed a bit, say to 1/125 sec or maybe adjust ISO to 200 or 400. Smaller subjects are usually lit with a Sigma EM-140 ring flash, while larger spiders are lit with a PocketBox Mini Softbox on a SB900 speedlight in the hot shoe. I often use TTL, but may set ring flash to TTL BL or manually reduce output on SB900 or use only one side of the ring flash in certain situations. I never, ever, ever use the camera's built-in mini speedlight. They are taped down! For photography other than spider and herp portraits I use Nikkor's 17-55mm 2.8, 35mm 1.8 and 18-200 VR 5.6. For human portraits I light subject with a Gary Fong Lightsphere mounted on the SB-900 or a SB-600. When in the field if I need to have two set-ups at the ready I use my old Nikon D90 body with the macro lens and flash and use the D7100 with the 17-55 or 18-200.

I shoot both RAW and Fine JPEG, but normally use the RAW file imported into Adobe Lightroom 6/CC on a MacBook Pro for processing. Photoshop CC is used for background removal or to remove unwanted dirt or something from the image. I export my finished images as TIF to an external hard drive and Fine JPEG (6000 x 4000 pixels) to my internal hard drive (these go to SmugMug) and make a 1280 pixel wide watermarked and branded version using both Lightroom and Adobe Fireworks for posting on social media. My full resolution photo galleries are at exoticfauna.smugmug.com where you can order prints.

The important detail above is that I "never, ever, ever use the camera's built-in mini speed light". If you are shooting with a decent DSLR get your flash above or off the camera body. Use soft boxes on speed lights on brackets, arms or held on a sync cord or mounted on a tripod. I will go into further detail in future blogs. However, your built-in flash gives direct, unnatural and unflattering light. You can have some reasonable results and I know at least one photographer who posts tons of decent tarantula pix using this on camera flash. But a trained eye can pick out the poor lighting and the resultant problems with shadows and highlights. Some of these could be corrected in post-production when shooting RAW, but it is best to capture the best data first.

I used to use my ring flash for everything, but it broke a few months ago thanks to my clumsiness and while waiting for it to be repaired I began using my tall SB900 speed light with the Pocketbook Mini Softbox. I normally use this set-up for snakes and lizards and larger creatures on field trips, but it is now my go to method for adult tarantulas and all the pix below were taken with a Nikon D7100 with a SB900 flash on TTL or TTL BL with the softbox. I use the ring flash for small subjects only now. All of the below photos were taken handheld at f/18 at 1/60 sec. Lightroom was used to process the RAW files and add some clarity, adjust white balance and add a bit of vignetting.

Now that I've talked about gear, let's forget all about expensive toys. Yes, if you want to get serious about photography, and especially macrophotography, you need to get at least a midrange DSLR and a bunch of money-sucking add ons. The Tokina 100mm 1:1 macro lens is the best bang for your buck and you'll need lighting other than what your camera possesses. However, to turn a snapshot into a photograph is all about COMPOSITION, COMPOSITION, COMPOSITION. If you are limited to a point and shoot or even a camera phone you needn't worry about f-stops and focal length and such. You should concentrate on composition and making the best use of available light. Google the rule of thirds and other compositional rules. You can break these later, but master them first. Even if you are just taking a selfie for Instagram think about composition. Take sunglasses off (always!), use the rule of thirds, avoid harsh midday light and shadows, try different angles, get artsy. Think about background. Turn your snapshot into a photograph.

Again, all of these photos were taken this morning and all of these spiders were packed to ship to new homes. For many more images of arachnids, reptiles and other creatures, both in nature and the terrarium and without watermarks, please visit my Smugmug. Enjoy, MJ

Psalmopoeus cambridgei x irminia
This spider was offered free and shipped to A.W. with the restriction that it never be bred or sold.

Psalmopoeus cambridgei on its way to A.W.'s mom.
Compare this spider to the hybrid above.

This adult female Iridopelma hirsutum 'Recife' is also on its way to A.W.

T.R. is receiving this adult female Avicularia diversipes
This female Lampropelma nigerrimum headed to T.R. was a complete bitch!
This is the best photo I could capture and you'll notice her spread "jaws" and raised legs.
She alternated between threat posture and biting my forceps to doing the drop and roll.
I'm sure some of you are familiar with how these spiders will just roll into a ball and drop off the wood.
In fact, T.R. is also getting a Lampropelma sp. Borneo, but I couldn't even get her to pose for one second.
Many Ornithoctoninae are stubborn models and I lose my patience quickly.
This adult female Avicularia minatrix on her way to T.R. was much more cooperative.
At first, that is.
Unfortunately, I clipped Leg II left in the photo and after the exposure she ran into a crevice in the driftwood.
I had to break my long-used photo background wood in half to get her out.
Now, I need a new piece.
I was starting to question why I was making packing harder by shooting these photos!
D.D. is receiving this beautiful subadult female Avicularia sp. Peru tomorrow.
I had to prop up half of my now split in two driftwood background.
D.D. got some other Avics too, but most were young specimens and I had had enough camera for the day.