Dangerous wild animals: species guidance
Individual species guidance on the keeping of dangerous wild animals.
Venomous invertebrates (spiders and scorpions)
Family ctenidae: all species of the genus phoneutria (wandering spiders)
Family hexthelidae: all species of the genus atrax (Sydney funnel-web spider and its close relatives)
Family sicariidae: all species of the genus loxosceles (brown recluse spiders (also known as violin spiders))
Family theridiidae: all species of the genus latrodectus (widow spiders and close relatives)
Family buthidae: all species (buthid scorpions)
Family hemioscorpidae: the species hemiscorpius lepturus (Middle Eastern thin-tailed scorpion)
This guidance provides basic safety and husbandry information for the group, however it is recommended that keepers research species-specific husbandry information before applying for a licence.
Spiders and scorpions must be housed in secure tanks (vivaria) or plastic containers kept inside a locked room. The plastic containers are normally secured in an escape proof locked cabinet.
The husbandry requirements of spiders and scorpions vary between species. It is therefore impossible to give detailed husbandry information for each species listed in the Schedule to the Act.
In order to protect the welfare of the animals being kept, keepers must be able to demonstrate a good knowledge of husbandry and safe handling of the species they wish to keep. Visitors must not be allowed to handle venomous spiders or scorpions.
There should be a second named person on the licence who is competent to care for the animals should the owner be absent or incapacitated.
Spiders and scorpions have the ability to squeeze through very small gaps; therefore tanks or other containers must be solidly constructed, with tight-fitting lids, and covered ventilation holes.
The amount of space required by these invertebrate species is quite small. So long as there is room to move around, access food and build a web or take refuge in a shelter (if appropriate), then the space provided is probably adequate.
Temperature requirements vary between species, however a normal room temperature of between 24 to 26ºC is generally acceptable to most species.
There is no specific lighting requirement for these species.
Humidity requirements will vary between species. Humidity may be increased locally by the provision of water or damp sponges in the enclosure or by spraying with a fine water mist.
If drinking water is provided, the floor covering must be capable of absorbing any spillage. Suitable enclosure floor coverings vary between species. For invertebrates requiring high humidity levels, an absorbent substrate such as vermiculite, peat moss or bark chippings may be used.
Tanks should be cleaned as required. Food debris should not be allowed to accumulate. The animals must be removed to secure temporary housing whilst a thorough clean is carried out.
Social dynamics and behavioural considerations
Venomous invertebrates are generally kept singly.
Some species are more aggressive than others, and keepers should be aware of the risks when handling their animals.
Handling of all species should be kept to a minimum.
Prevention of escape
Rooms in which invertebrates are to be kept should be adapted to make escape from the room difficult. Specialist invertebrate rooms should have no open fireplace and no gaps in the walls. Any ventilation ducts must be securely covered with a fine mesh. Windows should be sealed shut or covered with fine mesh.
Vivaria housing spiders or scorpions should have solid sides, floor and top, with no gaps and covered air holes, and all tanks should be tightly secured unless access is necessary.
It is strongly recommended that the primary tanks or boxes housing the animals be stored in a secondary, escape-proof lockable cabinet, which will contain any animals, should they escape.
A 30cm high lip at the bottom of the door (which the keeper must step over) will help to prevent an animal escaping from the room as the door is opened.
The door to the room must be closed before animals are handled.
Food and drink
Spiders and scorpions are normally fed once a week on live food, for example mealworms or crickets. The appropriate food and feeding interval will vary between species and the size of specimen kept.
The use of calcium dusting or gut-loading supplements for live prey may be appropriate.
Drinking water is required by most species. Shallow dishes of water, with a means of escape if the animal should fall in, should be used. Alternatively, a sponge or other absorbent material may be used to absorb the drinking water to prevent the animals from drowning.
The animals must be monitored at appropriate intervals, normally at least once every 24 hours.
Exercise and enrichment
Some species require a hide, such as an overturned flowerpot or bark. Some web-building spiders, such as the black widow, require only anchor points on which to build, such as twigs. Certain scorpion species will dig if sand, compost or bark is provided.
The use of long-handled soft-tipped forceps is recommended to handle these species.
When removing spiders or scorpions from their tank for any reason, it is recommended that the keeper work with a “tank within a tank”, i.e. surrounding the tank housing the animal with a larger tank (a large plastic storage box for example). If the spider or scorpion is dropped or wriggles off the forceps, it will still be retained in the second container.
Provision for moving the animal(s)
Some contingency for safely moving animals should be in place in case veterinary attention is required, or in the event of an emergency. A plastic box with a lockable, snap-on lid may be used. A licence, issued by the local authority, for the keeping of these animals may specify restrictions on the movement of these animals and procedures to be followed.
There should be a written contingency plan in place to be used in the event of an emergency, for example fire, flood, animal escape or injury to the keeper.
The greatest danger from venomous invertebrates is posed to the keepers themselves. The contingency plan should include the details of who to contact at a local hospital in case of being stung, and what the procedure is to deal with venomous stings, and this should be clearly displayed inside the room.
The licence may also specify procedures to be followed in the event of an escape and on the provision of information to the emergency services.
You are required to notify the local authority of any intentions to breed the animals.
When a licence is issued to keep venomous species, it may be required that keepers notify the local hospital in writing of which species are being kept, to allow the medical staff to research appropriate anti-venoms.
Prevention and control of spread of infectious disease
Ideally, keepers should establish contact with a veterinary practice able to advise them on the medical care of their animals. At the very least, arrangements should be in place for the emergency humane euthanasia and safe disposal of the species held. The venom of these animals may still be harmful even after the animal is dead.
There are no transmissible diseases carried by these animals that pose a risk to the general public as long as there is no direct contact, and visitors are not allowed to handle the animals or their by-products.
- CITES enquiries
- import enquiries
- licensing enquiries, contact your local authority
- reporting an escaped animal, contact your local authority or police
- other enquiries related to the DWA Act
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