Sunday, June 5, 2016


I'm proud of this

Released in September 2011, my tarantula book, Tarantulas, was written for one purpose: To give tarantula keepers, especially novice and intermediate arachnoculturists, the definitive word directly from one of the hobby's top breeders. It was specifically written because the book people call "The Bible" is about as useful as its namesake. I was approached by T.F.H. to write a manuscript for their joint project with Animal Planet – the Pet Care Library. I was given 27,000 words. I took that as a challenge. A fan of minimalistic novelists like Hempel and Palahniuk, I wanted none of the fluff or editorial twaddle of "The Bible". I strived for concise and clear. I shared the experience of about four decades. I offered instruction based on the breeding of countless species. I didn't think about my colleagues who were also leading breeders. I wasn't writing for them. I was writing for the family in Petco. I was writing for the girl at the reptile show. I was writing for the boy in the library. I think my goal was achieved.

I wonder how many copies it has sold. I haven't a clue. I was a hired gun payed for 27,000 words. I was paid a set fee for producing the manuscript. I receive no royalties. I stripped down the essence of modern entry-level keeping and tarantula biology down to 30,000 words, and then convinced my Editor Tom Mazorlig that it was honed and polished, and I needed the extra three thousand.

I no longer stock these books, but I'm thinking about ordering another box of 50 and offering signed copies again.

T.F.H. also paid me for my manuscript Geckos for their Complete Herp Care series. That was 5,000 words and an appropriate larger set fee. That check was cashed maybe four years ago. The book has never been printed. The editor who I worked with for both manuscript moved on to another job. I contacted the new editor of Geckos after the delay went on. She said that due to the economy the book publication date had been moved back to X (I don't remember the date). She's never contact me. I've never asked again. I had already earned all the money I would. That may sound mercenary, but I got out of the additional work that I would have put into the project as we worked on final edits, photo selection, etc. I was happy to take the money and run, even though I was, of course, disappointed that my book wouldn't reach the herpetoculturists that would benefit from my experience as a gecko breeder. I was hoping to leave two legacies: one to arachnoculture (tarantulas), and another to herpetoculture (geckos). My commissioned monograph on the African bush vipers had never been finished or published. I put so many hours of work into researching that book and corresponding with experts around the world. It was to be the comprehensive work much like publisher Klaus Dieter-Shulz's monograph on rat snakes (Elapse). Not having the gecko book was also disappointing, but I was paid and didn't take nearly as much time as my Atheris project.

At that time I had a website devoted to the Tribe Atherini called World of Atheris. I put countless hours of effort into that as well, and it ran for years before a German copycat's "borrowing" of all my hard-earned content forced me to make the site evaporate. Now I consider the same fate for my Tarantula Bibliography. I've poured time into it for many years and really can't be bothered with it anymore.

Anyway, I'm glad Tarantulas is out there. I'll let you know if I offer a limited run of signed copies. But you can get it cheap and easy from Amazon in both print and Kindle editions.


Saturday, June 4, 2016


It isn't easy to see something surprising after so many years of tarantula keeping. Today I went into my home office, which used to be called "my spider room" but now houses less than 40 lingerers and loiterers, and was shocked. Truly. I decided to clean/feed/water my tub of crickets and saw something strange in one of the big tubs that serve as enclosures for the five adult female Monocentropus balfouri I still have. Perched near the lid was a balfouri, but it was about 1/6 the size of the spider that supposedly lived alone in the enclosure. It didn't take me long to realize that it had to be one of her offspring that somehow avoided detection for a long, long time. I looked at the info labels on the female's tub. Her last sac hatched on June 8, 2015. One year ago this coming Wednesday. The female's young had been sold over the past 6-10 months. Apparently not all though ... This about-to-be-yearling phantom tarantula seemed to be coming out into the open to remind me to buy a birthday gift. I hope it's a male. If so he'd have five dates once he matured including an incestuous romp with mum.


Expecting an Apple visit tonight as he'll crash at my pad after getting scratched out in Belvedere. I'll be in my basement guest house glued to the TV as I switch between UFC 199 and Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. I invited Jason over and hope he'll have the energy after returning from a trip to California for a Brazilian Jui Jitsu tournament. If Jason isn't interested I may be tempted to head to a bar to watch the sports rather than pay the obscene pay per view fee and just text John the code to my garage keypad.

Travel is always on the mind. I'm always looking to get out of Illinois. My dear mates Mark and Kim Pennell are chillaxing in Langkawi, Malaysia where I will return February 2017. Mark is spider hunting on Monday (top secret spoiler alert: there is a new species of Omothymus there that he saw this past February). We're pretty sure it's not O. schioedtei, but an island cousin of it. Remember that you heard it in KISS MY BIG HAIRY SPIDER first. There are perks to reading my twaddle.

While Mark and Kim have been in Malaysia my stepdad, sister and brother-in-law have been on a tour of Spain that has included Portugal, Gibraltar and Tangier, Morocco. Jealousy isn't a desirable thing, but I confess.

So what's on my own wanderlust-fueled agenda? Budapest, Hungary - October. I'll be going there for a week mid-month. For the past two years, Mária and László of macilaci spiders have worked in conjunction with TerraPlaza to put on what has been called The BTS Big 6. Basically they invited some of our BTS Committee former and present and also longtime BTS stalwart Ray Gabriel to lecture. They asked me about speaking in year 4, but this will still be year 3 and is the first time that Mark is lecturing. So there will lectures by: 1. Mark Pennell 2. Andrew Smith 3. Ray Gabriel 4. Peter Kirk 5. Ray Hale 6. Dr. Stuart Longhorn. I think. They aren't exactly good about updating webpage info and such. Doesn't matter. They're all my mates and I've heard them all speak many times. I'm mostly excited about seeing Budapest and the beautiful Eastern European women who call it home ;)

With my new business now underway (moved into my new classroom/office one week ago), I guess that will be it until Langkawi, Malaysia 2017, which I hope might include an excursion to Borneo.

Of course I will always be tempted for a jaunt back to my home away from home in Bristol. I actually discussed the possibility of Xmas with Mark and Kim's daughter Brandon. But, hopefully, Mark will be visiting me the last week of September. We've talked about him maybe flying into another city where I'd meet him in my car. It would be great to show him more of the USA. As of now, his plan is to not work (not tattoo) and just enjoy some American down time. That would be amazing (especially if he cheats by inking me some more). Regardless of what we plan, I know it will include Tiger lager, great food and shooting.

Until next time... MJ