Three of Great Britain’s top experts on tarantulas – Andrew Smith, Stuart Longhorn and Guy Tansley – recently paid a visit to the Ecological Center of Pinar de la Venta, where naturalist Rodrigo Orozco is raising 6,000 tarantulas in captivity with an aim to ending poaching of these spiders in Mexico.
Smith was deeply involved in taxonomy in his younger days but now dedicates his time to making documentaries telling “the cracking stories behind many species of tarantulas.”
I asked for an example of one of these stories and Smith told me that perhaps the most beautiful tarantula in the world (“breathtakingly beautiful,” was how he put it) is the Mexican redleg, Brachypelma emilia. When Adam White first described this delightful creature for the Zoological Society of London in 1856, he stated it was “a spider from Panama, hitherto apparently unrecorded.”
Why in the world had the eminent White placed this Mexican spider in Panama? While you and I might merely have scratched our heads, Smith and Longhorn set themselves to study the log of HMS Herald which had brought the first specimen of this spider to England. Discovering that the ship had docked for a few days in San Blas, Mexico, before sailing for Panama, Smith and Longhorn headed for Nayarit.
“The log shows that two officers were dispatched to Tepic while the ship was at San Blas,” says Smith, who then set out on the old trail to Tepic where local people told him “Sí, sí, when it rains we see that rojo y negro spider, as big as your hand.” And there, indeed, the researchers found the lovely emilia.