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What Were You Thinking on ></a><a href=Bob Tarte, host of What Were You Thinking on

Bob Tarte
Exotic Pet Expert & Author

Along Came A Spider

..........Wade Harrell on Pet Life Radio

Linda Tarte...............................Wade Harrell


Donít squash that spider. It just needs a little love. Wade Harrell has been keeping invertebrates as pets for thirty-four years and first started keeping tarantulas fifteen years ago. He is the current president of the American Tarantula Society and keeps more than a hundred tarantulas and other arthropods in his basement.

Just in time for Halloween, he joins Bob to talk about why tarantulas make good pets and also discusses the habits of the really big spiders that Bob has been seeing in his woods in West Michigan. Bobís wife Linda shares her horrific story of her close encounter with one of those same really big spiders. Spooky!


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You’ve had a long day and work and you can’t wait to get home, take off your shoes,  plop yourself down in your favorite chair and relax. You walk up to your tranquil, residential home, your neatly manicured lawn in your quiet suburban neighborhood, put the key in the lock, open the door….[monkey screech, parrot screech] and yes, the pets have gone wild! What were you thinking?
Welcome to the show about everything always wanted to know about exotic pets; where to get them, what to feed them, and how to take care of them. You can even find out why some people live with a monkey [monkey screech]. 
Now here’s your host, exotic pet expert and author Bob Tarte. Hey Bob. What were you thinking?

Bob Tarte: You are listening to “What Were You Thinking?” A show about exotic pets.  I’m your host Bob Tarte. Author of the books, “Enslaved by Ducks” and “Foul Weather”.  Which you can read about these on my website,
Now this week we are welcoming Wade Harrell to, “What Were You Thinking?” Did I pronounce your name right; Wade is it?

Wade Harrell: Yes

Bob Tarte: OK Good. Thanks for joining us. Now Wade Harrell has been keeping invertabras as pets for 34 years. And he first started keeping Tarantulas 15 years ago. He is the president of the American Tarantula Society. Now get this. He keeps 100 Tarantulas and other arthropods in his basement. So how the other family members feel about the hundred arthropods in the basement?

Wade Harrell: Well, they’re used to it. I already had, actually, my wife’s pretty happy they’re in the basement.

Bob Tarte: And not creeping around the house?

Wade Harrell: Well, when she met me I had literally in every room of the house a weird critter going on there. But that was a different house. If you were to visit us and go in the basement you would think we were almost normal people.

BobTarte: Almost. I should mention astshq.corg for the American Tarantula Society Website. What kind of things are on the website?

Wade Harrell: Well we have different kinds of downloadable articles dealing with Tarantula care. And typical topics that Tarantula hobbyist need to learn about. Things like if you got a pet Tarantula or thinking about getting a Tarantula.

Bob Tarte: One cool thing on the website is what to do if you find a Tarantula. I always thought of Tarantulas as being creatures of the tropics.  But it says on your website you can find them in Texas?

Wade Harrell: Well actually, most of the southern half of the United States west of the Mississippi River there are Tarantulas. Starting in Arkansas, Louisiana, going west through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, the states bordering them, all the way up too northern California.

Bob Tarte: Wow I had no idea. The website said there are more than fifty species just in America.

Wade Harrell: Yes there are. Actually, right now there is a lot of disagreement among the scientists about exactly how many there really are. There’s quite a few.

Bob Tarte: Well I want to get into what kind of pet a Tarantula makes. And that’s understanding there are all these different species and that certainly different species have different pet potentials. I first want to ask you, “How did you originally get interested in arthropods?

Wade Harrell: Probably my first arthropod I had as a pet, I was about 6 years old, I found on a camping trip a Hercules Beetle. It was about 3 inches long, the males have horns. I thought it was the most cool thing I had ever seen. I kept it in a shoe box for a couple weeks. That was the most fascinating thing to me. Even since then I have been interested in things like that. I had reptiles. I had Praying Mantises as pets growing up and eventually….. I didn’t get into the Tarantulas until the early 90’s I got my first Tarantulas. Since then I’ve built quite a collection of quite a few of them.

Bob Tarte: Tarantulas really have a bad rap as poisonous, deadly, and prone to bite. Wasn’t there a James Bond movie where some villain tried to knock him off by putting a Tarantula in his bed?

Wade Harrell: Yes. If it’s the one I’m thinking of it’s one of the early ones like Dr. No.
Like Dr. No but in the scene there is a sheet of glass you can see between Sean Connery and the Tarantula. He’s not even touching it. It’s funny because there has never been a documented death from the result of a Tarantula bite.

Bob Tarte: So maybe he’s just a bit squeamish.

Wade Harrell: Maybe the filmmakers didn’t know so it’s a really funny scene.

Bob Tarte: What makes a Tarantula a really good pet?
Wade Harrell: Well, they have a lot of the qualities; well it depends on what you’re looking for in a pet.  If you are looking for something responsive or will come when you call it or you want something that does tricks, you probably don’t want a Tarantula.

Bob Tarte: [laughing] Of course that applies to a cat you just said.

Wade Harrell: They are an interesting animal. You just enjoy them for the way they look and for some of their interesting behaviors and they are incredibly easy to keep.

Bob Tarte: Yes, I was going to ask you, “What do you have to do to take care of them?”

Wade Harrell: Very little. They are one of the easiest pets to keep, I mentioned before I had some reptiles too. Reptiles are much harder to care for and reptiles are relatively easy compared to mammals. It’s how these people accumulate these collections because they are so individual, and so easy to keep.
For most of the popular Tarantulas anyway, they need a water source and they need a cage where they won’t hurt themselves. Some of the large Tarantulas live in holes in the ground so if you give them a large cage they’ll climb and hurt themselves. So they don’t rupture themselves and bleed to death. You always have to have water. Feed them. They don’t have to be fed often. My collection is lucky to be fed twice a month. Metabolism is determined by temperature. At room temperature they don’t eat that often. They need a relatively low amount of food.

Bob Tarte:  Now I notice on the website the American Tarantula Society Website that, I know nothing about Spiders; it was very interesting the article said male Tarantulas do not make good pets. Is that in general?

Wade Harrell: Well adult male Tarantulas do have a shorter live span and the appealing thing about Tarantulas is that they are very well lived where you consider some insects live days or weeks. Even though Spiders might live 1-3 years a female Tarantula can live upwards of 30 years depending on the species.

Bob Tarte: Wow, that’s impressive.

Wade Harrell: Males don’t live nearly as long. After they reach maturity most males die, depending on the species, within two months or 3 years. Usually somewhere around a year year-in-a half is about average.

Bob Tarte: Now do some of the Tarantula species have different temperaments giving them better pet potential?

Wade Harrell: Yes. There is a wide variety. There is everything from some o f the North American Tarantulas that barely move and are very, very calm. Versus, some of the Asian and African species that are very fast moving and quick and light. There are roughly 800 species. Taxonomy on them is messed up. So the number tends to go up and down a bit. Roughly around eight hundred.

Bob Tarte: What Tarantulas would you recommend for someone who is maybe starting out with their first Tarantula in terms of availability or temperament or just anything that would factor in?

Wade Harrell:  Well one of the best pet species is also one of the most common species in terms of what’s available which would be the Chilean Rose Tarantula; or sometimes called the Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula. It’s sold in most pet stores. Color can range from a very dull to brown to a very nice, rich pink or red but it’s one of the most common. It’s extremely hearty. Very easy to care for. They are often very docile. But just like any animal, there temperament can vary from individual to individual so you want to be very careful. They generally, they are pretty calm, slow moving and long lived.
My first Tarantula was a Chilean Rose Hair. I got her in 1992 and she’s still alive and well.

Bob Tarte: Oh that’s great. My wife wanted me to ask you if you name your Tarantulas.

Wade Harrell: A lot of hobbyists’ do. I guess it’s kind of a personal choice. I do not. Though obviously it’s sort of a personal choice I guess. It’s never going to learn it’s name or know which is which if there are two that have names.
I never have personally. No.

Bob Tarte: You have other arthropods too.

Wade Harrell: Yes.

Bob Tarte: What types would these be? When we say arthropods, it’s not just Spiders….crabs are arthropods too, scorpions….

Wade Harrell: Anything with a jointed exoskeleton. The Arachnids’ are the Spiders, scorpions and a few of the other groups are not as well known.  Insects are the major arthropods. There are more of those than all other groups combined. Crustaceans, which include crabs and lobsters, millipedes and centipedes, are arthropods.

Bob Tarte:  So do you have all of these?

Wade Harrell: I have some representatives of all of those.  I’ve recently got a few Mantids.  Called Praying Mantis.  Mantids is just part of the group name.

Bob Tarte: Like a Walking Stick?

Wade Harrell: Mantids are predators. Walking Sticks eat plants. Walking sticks aren’t predatory.  Praying Mantises are.

Bob Tarte:  Oh, OK. Well for some reason I thought a Walking Stick was some kind of a Mantid.

Wade Harrell: There was a time when they were all grouped together, Mantids, Grasshoppers and Cockroaches all in the same group. But they’ve since been broken into their own groups.  Mantids are predatory.  They eat insects and things and I’ve got a few of those right now. They are not quite long lived the way Tarantulas are. So I doubt my collection of Mantids will be as big as my Tarantula collection. Tarantulas just stick around.  The Mantids live less than a year total. They grow very fast.  They get to adult size, they reproduce and then some short time after that, they die.

Bob Tarte: Now have you ever heard of, I think they call it, a Fishing Spider?

Wade Harrell: Yes.

Bob Tarte:  Because for some reason this year in our woods, my wife and I live in West Michigan, I have never seen these Spiders before. We were looking up into a tree where there was a Screech Owl and it had a whole where the baby was poking it’s head out of and the next day I looked, next to the hole was, to me, was very large Spider. It had a span of about 3 inches. It turned out to be a Fishing Spider, at least that is its regional name. Can you tell me anything more about that creature?

Wade Harrell:  Fishing Spiders. There’s several of them. There’s 5 different species. The genus is called Dolomedes. The one you saw, was it kind of a dark color?

Bob Tarte: It was. And it had stripes on the leg.

Wade Harrell: It’s probably Tenebrosus.  They are camouflaged like bark and typically, most of them you find close to water but most of them, you can find in other places also. They’re known for, they get their name because they will sit at the water’s edge with 4 of their 8 legs on the surface of the water and they wait for a fish or a tadpole to break the surface tension of the water and then they run out and grab them. 

Bob Tarte: O.k. We do live on the river. So that probably explains why it was there. IT interested me that I had never seen one before. I’ve been here since 1989, I was wondering if maybe for some reason, something about the climate maybe the real dry summer we had favored them for some reason.

Wade Harrell: It could be something like that.  They are very kind of cryptic looking, very camouflaged and very nocturnal.   So you probably don’t see them. They’re probably all around; you just don’t see them that often. There does seem to be more some years than others. I’m not sure what the deciding factor is to that. Some years you’ll find them all over the riverbanks and other times you’ll have a hard time finding any.

Bob Tarte: Well be right back with more of, “What Were You Thinking?”  The show about exotic pets right after this exotic message. What were you thinking will be right back after Bob gets the ducks out of his living room.  Don’t go away.

[commercial break]

Bob Tarte:  Welcome back to, “What Were You Thinking?”  Our guest is, Wade Harrell, president of the American Tarantula Society.  Right now we’re talking about some native Spiders.  Actually Spiders I’ve seen outdoors, around our house.
This is a really gorgeous Spider we just get around our house in the really hot years. I just know it by its informal name, Golden Orb Weaver.  I think it’s called an Argiope.

Wade Harrell: Argiope.

Bob Tarte: Say that again?

Wade Harrell: Argiope.

Bob Tarte: OK. Thanks. [laughs] Yes, a yellow Spider. Gorgeous.

Wade Harrell: They have a lot of different names.  Some of them are called the Black and Yellow Orb Weaver or the Black and Yellow Garden Spider. Sometimes they are called the writing Spider as they have the distinct zigzag pattern in the web

Bob Tarte: Right What is the function of the zigzag pattern in the web?

Wade Harrell: Well, there’s quite a debate about that. It’s got a Stabilimentum. Some scientists suggest maybe it’s to tighten the web, to make the web more , you know, flatten it out, tighten it up. Some scientists have suggested it’s a visual clue for birds to not fly into the web. So birds don’t wreck the web.

Bob Tarte: I thought I read somewhere that the male, which is so much smaller. That is his portion of the web.  Maybe that was his wreck room.

Wade Harrell: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know if the male stays especially in that area. There could be something to that but he doesn’t make it. It’s the female that makes it. One of the most interesting ideas about it is the web is reflects ultraviolet and insects can see ultraviolet. It’s thought that to an insect, with sunlight reflecting off the web, it may make it look like a giant flower. So an insect might fly to middle and of course become trapped.

Bob Tarte: Well, getting back to your Tarantulas. This is sort of an odd question but, what do you do with them? Do you just observe them? Or do you interact with them in any way?

Wade Harrell: Well, I mostly just keep them and observe them. When you get a big collection you end up mostly taking care of them. I also do educational programs with them. I take some of them to school.  I just came back from a real big event in Raleigh, NC, to the Museum of Natural Science and they have a big event called Bug Fest. It’s a big, public, family event. I put up an exhibit for those featuring Tarantulas and other Spiders. I also do another table for them with scorpions and other Arachnids.
And so at that event I had fifteen Tarantulas plus twenty or so Spiders, a half dozen Scorpions and a few other Arachnids.  It was a pretty good display.

Bob Tarte:  If I kept a pet Tarantula what kind of interesting behavior might I notice by watching the Spider?

Wade Harrell:  It depends on what species. The Chilean Rose, they are famous for not doing a whole lot.

Bob Tarte: It sounds like me.

Wade Harrell: Yes. They kind of sit around and wait to be fed. There are other species that will dig holes and burrow and alter their own environment.  Some are perfectly content to sit in the cage and take whatever you give it while others want to move dirt. If your Tarantula is trying to push all the dirt to one side of its cage, it is trying to tell you it wants to dig a hole.  If you give it a deep enough substrate it will dig a little hole and make a little home for itself.
Some of the Arboreal Tarantulas, ones that live in trees, they do some interesting behaviors. They will build a silken tube for themselves in one corner of the cage. Usually incorporating whatever cage decorations are in there. They might do it in a corner, maybe using a piece of wood, making a little tube for themselves like they would in a tree.

Bob Tarte: Wow.

Wade Harrell: Like they were in the wild. And the Arboreals tend to be more active. They have real broad feet and they are really good climbers. You tend to see them on the side of the cage or glass just walking around. You can see them.

Bob Tarte: Well that’s very cool.  Thanks so much for talking to me. My guest has been Wade Harrell. He’s the president of The American Tarantula Society.  And you can find out more about Tarantulas and the American Tarantula Society by visiting So thanks so much Wade.

Wade Harrell: All right, thanks Bob.


Bob Tarte: Well speaking of Spiders, Wade was telling me a little bit about the Fishing Spider, and my wife Linda is here and she’s going to tell us her experience with this large and rather frightening Spider.

Linda Tarte: Oh yes. Well one day I was in the backyard, and we have a release cage for birds, that we put baby birds in before we release them into the woods. And I was out there one day during the late spring early summer feeding them. And straight ahead of me on the outside of this release cage, which is shaped like a telephone booth but a little bigger I saw this enormous, enormous Spider ----- it wasn’t on my side of the fence it was on the other side but it was straight across in my field of vision. It was stretched out.  It was about 4 inches this humongous, big Spider. And it was eating something and I was just totally freaked out by seeing it.
And I backed my way out of that cage/pen, whatever you want to call it, and I went up and got Bob. By the time I got him it was gone.

Bob Tarte: Of course I didn’t really think she hadn’t seen that big of a Spider because I had never seen anything that big.

Linda Tarte: He thought I was exaggerating.

Bob Tarte: I must admit I didn’t believe her.

Linda Tarte: Right and so I thought that’s the last time I’ll ever see that thing.

Bob Tarte: You hoped.

Linda Tarte: I hoped I’d never see that thing again. Well, our next episode with it was Bob had seen a Screech Owl in a tree, a baby Screech Owl, in a hole, in a tree back off in our woods along the path. And he had me come back there one evening. And we were looking for it. It was the second or third night we had seen it.  We looked up at the hole and didn’t see it. He said he didn’t know if I’d want to look up there or not. I did. I got my binoculars and I did look there out and lo and behold there is that great big Spider right beside the hole. It was almost as big as the hole.

Bob Tarte: No Screech Owl but a Spider and I think he could have straddled the hole. And I think it was large enough that the baby Screech Owl stuck it’s head out and the mother probably lived in there too  and they both probably came and went out of the hole.

Linda Tarte: So it was a good 6 or 7 inches and he was a good 4 or over inches and beside it he was almost the total height of that hole. That’s how big he was. Terribly frightening. Believe me I was just scared out of my wits just to look at it. I had horrific feelings for a long time afterwards.

Bob Tarte: Now you never imagine there could be two of those monsters in one summer. You thought that probably the Spider you had seen was the same one by the release cage and it moved say a couple 300 feet away and climbed up this tree and it decided to reside in this tree next to the Screech Owls.

Linda Tarte: Maybe it went in with them or bothering them or whatever.

Bob Tarte: But you had another experience with the release cage.

Linda Tarte: So that was the second episode.  The third episode was…We used to cover the release cage with sheets so they could have a more secluded sleeping time.

Bob Tarte: What kind of birds did we have in the release cage at that time?

Linda Tarte: I can’t remember exactly what kind it was. Do you remember?

Bob Tarte: It was either the Robbins or a couple Woodpeckers.

Linda Tarte: We had some Cedar Wax Wings at one point 2. I don’t believe it was them.  I believe it was that group of 5 Robbins and some other kind of little birds. Anyway there were a few birds in there. This was past the point when we were using that outdoor release cage. I was folding the sheets up. Getting ready to take them back upstairs. We were done with them for a while.  I was carrying things upstairs. I was putting some sheets in the hall closet.
 I walked up the stairs and just kind of felt something on my shoulder and I reached up and I kind of flipped whatever it was off my shoulder and would you believe it was that Spider? I went like this, flipped it, and it went flying into the hall closet and it landed on top of this pile of sheets in all its enormity. I was absolutely scared out of my wits.  Just like I was before.  I was practically speechless.
I said, “Bob, come here, it’s that Spider again.”

Bob Tarte: That thing looked scary enough from the distance through the binoculars. There it was, right in our house.  So I got a jar and scooped it up. And I remember Linda saying, “Don’t put it in our yard. Put it in the neighbor’s woods!”

Linda Tarte: Put it in the front part where nobody would be next door there. I thought that would be the best place for it. We didn’t want to kill it or anything. We just didn’t want to run into it again.

Bob Tarte: So I walked quite a distance and I got rid of the Spider. And we figured that was about it. And also, did you call Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids?

Linda Tarte: At this point we did not know the name of the Spider. We had no idea what this thing was. So I called Blandford Nature Center and she thought she knew what it was because she was interested in Spiders.  But she looked it up.  She said I think what you got there is a Fishing Spider.  And she read the description of it. So we knew what it was after that.

Bob Tarte: So once again we figured that was all. But, we had one more experience. That was when we had people helping us with work around our house and around our yard that Linda can’t do because of her bad back and I won’t do due to terminal laziness.

Linda Tarte: No you’re not.

Bob Tarte: One of the things we were having done was putting a path in our woods. We have lots of high weeds and nettles. We had this real energetic young man named Corey, and in no time at all, using a grass whip, he had cut a path all the way to the river for us and then all the way along the river.

Linda Tarte: He cut it at a diagonal angle going back to the middle path.

Bob Tarte: We thought it would be nice to have one more path that connected to the neighbor’s driveway as we thought it would be nice to be able to walk in a circle. So we showed him where we wanted the path. So one afternoon he came and he cut the path.

Linda Tarte: Yes. And he, in his usual manner, had it done in no time flat. It was half the size of a football field long.  Just an amazing kid. He came back up to the house and said, “Boy, you’ve got some big Spiders in that wood.”  And I said, “What?” And I knew what he was talking about immediately.
I said, “What Spiders? You mean it wasn’t just one?” He said, “Oh no, I saw three of them.” I said, “Oh no. They’re breading in the woods!”  So that made me even more afraid of being in the woods for fear I might see one.  We have not seen one since that time, but they are in there.

Bob Tarte: I’ve been looking and we haven’t seen them. We also found some that are called Golden Orb Weavers this year.

Linda Tarte: One in the Hastas and one out in my front flower bed; where the Mums and all different kind of perennials are. Quite far apart those two beds are but they each sported one of these I call Garden Spiders.

Bob Tarte: Right. And we don’t really have time to tell the story now, but I’d recommend anyone who wants a good story about a Spider to read my book called, “Fowl Weather” and there is a chapter called Golden Orb Weaver.  Now you’re pretty scared of those Spiders, right?

Linda Tarte: Ohhh, since I was a little girl when I tried to pick up one by the leg, when I thought it was dead, and it suddenly came alive and tried to crawl on me….I’m just absolutely horrified by those.

Bob Tarte: You are not really a person who is afraid of…. You’re not afraid of mice.
Linda Tarte: Things in general or even other Spiders….

Bob Tarte: Nope.  You’re fine with most Spiders.

Linda Tarte: There’s something about the look of that Spider that is just an instinctive fear.

Bob Tarte: And yet, Linda ended up actually feeding, catching food, and feeding this Golden Orb Weaver,

Linda Tarte: Throwing it into the web…

Bob Tarte: [xx]

Linda Tarte: I didn’t think it would be able to eat because it didn’t have any covers.  I didn’t think bugs would see it and go in there.

Bob Tarte: So it’s a good story and it’s one of the chapters in my book, “Fowll Weather.” And it’s how Linda overcame her fears of the Golden Orb Weaver to be kind of a friend; to be a little friend for it.

Linda Tarte: I didn’t overcome my fears by the way.

Bob Tarte: But you managed to do it….

Linda Tarte: We wanted to help her anyway…

Bob Tarte: It was amazing.  So, that is about it then for this week’s episode of “What Were You Thinking?” And I want to thank Wade Harrell for joining us.

Linda Tarte: Thank you Wade.

Bob Tarte: Telling us about Spiders; about Tarantulas in particular. And I want to remind people YOU can be the next guest on “What Were You Thinking?”  We would like you to come on and talk about all your exotic pets.

Linda Tarte: Your pets.

Bob Tarte: All your exotic pets.  Anything except a dog and cat because we love dogs and cats but they’re not considered exotic.  Those are for other shows.

Linda Tarte: Think of your best stories you’ve got about your pet.

Bob Tarte: If you have a good story about a fish, a rabbit, a squirrel a skunk, any legal pet.

Linda Tarte: Anything unusual.

Bob Tarte:  Anything legal, just let us know.

Linda Tarte: We’d love to hear from you.

Bob Tarte: You might be our next guest. So send me an email at and in the meantime, please check out my website at and you’ll see lots of pictures of our animals and some of the birds we have raised for the wildlife rehab center and we are going to do a story on the Wildlife Rehab Center in the next show. It’s an interview with Peg Markle. That’s about it.

Linda Tarte: Thanks for listening.

Bob Tarte: Thank you and thanks to our producers.

Linda Tarte: Bye bye.

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