General Origin: In the wild, Damon diadema are found along the Eastern coast of Africa – specifically, in the country of Tanzania. They live in caves (typically near the cave’s entrance, as opposed to in the deep-dark parts) and are often found in large, communal groups. Alternatively, they reside in vertical nooks and crannies of tree trunks if all the good caves are taken.
Caves in Tanzania:
Size: Size can vary greatly depending on the age (and sex) of the specimen. Typically, the body length is 1- 2 inches, but the LEG SPAN, it has been reported, can be as great as 23 spectacular inches! The males are larger than females.
Sexing: Young individuals will always look female, but as they age it should become very easy to sex them at a glance. Once the individual has reached a body size of about one inch, you should be able to sex them based on the size of their pedipalps – the pincer-looking, spikey bits at the front. Take a look at the animal from above and locate the part of their “claws” (pedipalps) that look like it could be their elbow. It’s not an elbow – amblypygi don’t have elbows; don’t make the mistake of referring to them as such in the presence of dedicated hobbyists. I have … it didn’t go over well. Once you’ve identified their “elbows,” compare them to the first set of walking legs. Do the elbows meet the leg joints or extend past them? If so, you have a male! Do the elbows not quite reach their “knees”? In that case, you have a female!
Lifespan: There is much debate about the lifespan of this group of animals as a whole, and Damon diadema in particular. If I were to make an educated guess, I would approximate an average lifespan to be 10 – 15 years. My female is approximately 6 years old at the time of this writing. All males I’ve ever owned have been sold or traded within 2 years.
Addendum: As of July 2016, my female is roughly 8 years old and still going strong!
Molting: Damon diadema do not have an “ultimate molt” and will continue to grow throughout their lives. This is but one of the many details that make them so fascinating to me. They will molt much more frequently when they are young – expect a molt every few months. As adults, it may be a year or more between molts. It is important to note that these animals hang upside down from walls, ceilings, or slanted rocks and trees when they are molting. They do NOT go to the ground and make a molting mat or anything of the sort. Keepers MUST provide them with vertical surfaces from which to hang while they are molting – otherwise they may become stuck in their exoskeleton. Vertical molting surfaces are crucial to the health and well being of these animals, and must not be overlooked or omitted when designing their habitats.
Freshly-molted Damon diadema will be white in color, and extra-squishy!
They will turn green-ish within an hour or so:
During their white and green phases, they are especially vulnerable and care must be taken to ensure that all feeder insects are removed, and that no ants have entered the enclosure. I once lost a mature male during a molt because ants had invaded the cage while I was at work and the male was molting. I can only assume they smelled whatever “pheromones” are released during a molt, because I had checked him closely the night before and there were no ants in the enclosure. I came home to find him still white, and eaten alive. It was horrible…
Within a day or so, they will return to their normal colors and you can begin to treat them normally again. I would recommend waiting at least 3 days after a molt before feeding, as their fangs and pedipalps need time to properly harden before they can hunt.
Behavior / Temperament: These are some of the most social, docile arachnids on the planet. To own a group of them is to be forever amazed by their gentle nature. When undisturbed, these animals move very slowly and are content – as with most arachnids – to sit in one place for hours (or days) at a time. However, if you startle one, it will be gone before you can blink. Literally. These little speed demons have the ability (so it would seem) to teleport from place to place. Take care when handling, because they could be on your hand one moment, and on your face the next!
Individuals who have been housed together since birth can remain together indefinitely. Unrelated females can typically be introduced into communal set-ups, provided there is adequate shelter for all individuals. Males are more likely to fight among one another, but if ample space is provided, even they can be forced to get along. Adult males should be removed from mothers and their young as a (possibly unnecessary) precaution, but there is no need to ever remove a mother from her young. When they are old enough, the young will disperse throughout the environment and make homes of their own, but will remain in contact with their mother and siblings if given the chance.
As far as human interaction goes, if you are slow, calm, and deliberate, you will have no problems interacting with your amblypygi. They are nocturnal, and would probably prefer to interact with you at night. Allow them to feel along your hand or arm with their antenniform legs and walk at their own pace. Remember, they are picking up your chemical scent with their legs. I would love to one day prove that they can “learn” their caretakers through chemical markers.
Cage size – the bigger the better. BARE MINIMUM, in my opinion, should be double the width and height of the individual’s leg span at rest. That’s confusing, I know. Let me try to clarify. Damon diadema don’t go around with their antenniform legs (remember, those are the really, really long ones in the front) fully extended like zombies, nor do they keep them curled up or tucked in all the time like namby-pambies. Their at-rest, comfortable posture is to have those long front legs only half extended. Here’s a series of images to help illustrate:
In the example photos above, the male’s resting measurement is 5 inches. If you double that (5 x 2 = 10), you’ll have the measurement of each side of the cage he’ll need. At minimum, his caging should be 10″ long, 10″ wide, and 10″ high. Make sense? Similarly, if you have a young individual whose at-rest leg span is approximately 2 inches, then you would want a cage that is more or less 4” x 4” x 4” – four cubic inches. Not so confusing now, right?
I realize it is hard to find a perfect cube for an enclosure, so you’ll probably have to sacrifice ONE of those dimensions. These are very thin animals, so the depth is usually what gets cut – and that’s okay. To keep things simple, I’d recommend keeping an adult in a ten gallon tank. In fact, due to their communal nature, you could probably keep 3 to 5 individuals in the same tank, as long as they are familiar with one another. Yet another great thing about keeping these guys!
DO NOT – I repeat – DO NOT (!!!) house these animals in kritter keepers! They are very thin and will simply waltz right through the ventilation holes! You were considering it, weren’t you? Everyone does. You’re welcome.
Substrate – Doesn’t matter. I’m not joking. It doesn’t matter. Ignore all the nonsense about Eco Earth and Peat and Organic Soil and I don’t even know what else. It does not matter! The only reason you want substrate in a Damon diadema cage is to hold moisture. As long as it isn’t kept so wet that it molds over, what you use is irrelevant, because the animal will never touch it. They do not burrow – they don’t even walk on the ground unless they’re forced to. So, these guys really don’t care what kind of fancy dirt you put in there.
Décor – Unlike most arachnids, these animals really appreciate a keeper with an eye for interior design. Their environment can make or break them, and if you don’t provide the right kinds of shelter, your amblypygid probably won’t last long. Remember the bit about them molting upside down? Exactly. You must provide lots of rough-textured surfaces on varying angles. Most keepers use cork bark, which is a really good choice. Some use real rocks (be careful that they won’t fall and crush a passing amblypygid!). Whatever you use, the goal is to just make it look like a really bad round of Tetris in there. You want things jutting out all over the place – they love that!
Here are some photos of my girl’s first enclosure:
If you pull out all that cork bark, at the bottom of the pile you’ll find her cork round:
That’s where she spends 90% of her time. She loves it!
If you turn over the cork bark pieces, you’ll find that they’ve all been glued together:
Gluing the pieces together ensures that they won’t fall and crush one of the critters.
I have since moved her into a larger, more display-friendly enclosure from Exo-Terra. I apologize for the poor image quality; this photo was taken with an old cell phone.
Temperature: This is a grey area with this species. Many say that you should keep them warm – say, 80*. Others will argue that caves are cold and they should be kept in the low 70’s. Personally, I keep Gloria somewhere in the middle. Most of the year she lives at a comfortable 77*. During the winter, it will fall to 70*. She enjoys the Florida life.
Water and Humidity: Water and humidity are important to these guys. Think about it – they are naturally found in dark, damp caves, where rain water collects and just sort of recycles inside there. Underground springs and magical sources of water probably supply the caves with a perpetual dampness. They should always have access to a shallow body of water. The vessel – again – doesn’t matter. The main thing is that your enclosure should remain damp/humid/moist without growing mold. I would like to point out the distinction between “damp” and “wet.” You don’t want water puddling and pooling all over your enclosures. The goal is to get some humidity into the air, not create a water park. If your substrate will tolerate watering without molding, then go ahead and wet the substrate once every week or so (maybe not quite so often, depending on how good your ventilation is). I keep a bowl of sphagnum moss in Gloria’s cage to keep the humidity up. I’ve never seen her drink from it, but she prods around in it on occasion.
Here’s a really important link regarding relative humidity written by Stan Schultz, co-author of The Tarantula Keeper’s Guide. I implore anyone who keeps invertebrates to read this through to the end: Relative Humidity Article
As far as getting Damon diadema to drink, it is really important to remember that they often will not drink from standing water. You must mist their enclosure weekly to allow them to drink from whatever vertical surfaces the water droplets collect on. That is one of my favorite parts of owning these guys – watching them come out for a drink each week. They will literally do back-bends to slurp the water off the walls. They use their pedipalps to delicately scoop up water droplets and bring them to their mouths. It’s awesome. And therapeutic. Seriously.
Feeding: Damon diadema are thin by nature, and really don’t eat much. Gloria will take one adult cricket, mealworm, or juvenile roach every week or so. When she is preparing to molt, she will refuse food entirely. Young specimens will have a heartier appetite and I recommend feeding them whatever they’ll take. Fortunately, they don’t seem to be a very gluttonous species, and will usually refuse food if they don’t need it. No need to worry about getting your Damon diadema fat. If it wants to eat, let it.
Breeding: I won’t go into breeding here as I’ve never successfully bred Damon diadema, and I try not to give information on things I know little about. Instead, let me direct you to a PHENOMENAL book by Orin McMonigle called “Breeding the World’s Largest Living Arachnid.” This book has more photos and information about Damon diadema and other varieties of whip spiders than any normal human being would ever need to know. I highly recommend it!
Lastly, if you have anything you’d like to add, or any good sources of information on this species, please leave me a comment!