In May/ June 2015 I spent two weeks in in northern and southern Cyprus to photograph and document the habitat and ecology of Chaetopelma olivaceum, the largest of the few European tarantula species.A detailed article about the ecology and some remarks about Chaetopelma karlamani has been published in this Arachne Magazine of the DEARGE .
Cyprus is an island in the eastern Mediterranean and a famous holiday destination. But the island also offers great nature and excellent wildlife watching opportunities , including tarantulas.
Especially in the mountains the landsacape is dominated by typical mediterranean pine forest and in summertime the humidity is low.
Cyprus owns a unique fauna including many reptile species. This one is one of the largest and most common - the Hardun ( Laudakia stellio cypriaca ) It likes elevated places where it has a good view on the one who may disturb it taking its sunbath.
Phoenicolacerta troodica, a lizard which is endemic to Cyprus
A common sight especially a night is the gecko Hemidactylus turcicus
This is an unknown Gecko sp. which I found mostly under stones within the forests of the Besparmak Mountains.
The Large Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis) is an extremely fast non poisonous snake which can reach a length up to 2,5 meters . This one is a juvenile I found in the monastery of Bellapais.
The worm snake Typhlops vermicularis
One of my highlights was to find the common chameleon Chamaeleo chamaeleon recticrista
Of course my main focus was on arachnids. While turning stones during the heat of the day to look for spiders it was possible to find many Scolopendra cingulata - the european centipede. They reach a bodylength between 10 and 13 cm and are very fast if they get disturbed.
Argiope sp. from Karaman in northern Cyprus.
unknown Araneae sp.
The debris spider Cyclosa conica. The webs of these spiders are characterized by a vertical stabilimentum running down the center. It is composed of dead prey and other debris and is used as a hiding place for the spider. The material in the stabilimentum may also serve as a decoy to mislead predators into attacking the debris.
A very beautiful jumping spider is Philaeus chrysops . This is a female at its retreat where it hides at night. At day they actively hunt for prey.
In the Troodos mountains I was able to find the false widow spider Steatoda paykulliana. These spiders only differ from the widow spiders ( Latrodectus sp. ) by the sexual organs and the position of the eyes. The behaviour is the same and also the Steatoda spp have a painful bite. But they seem not to have the same effects on humans as the Latrodectus spp.
unknown spider species which occupied cracks in stone walls.
Burrow of a Lycosa sp. within the Besparmak Mountains in northern Cyprus
I was happy to find Lycosa praegrandis inside that burrow. A beautiful spider with a typical arrangement of the frontal eyes.
In northern and southern Cyprus sometimes I saw these dense webbings between rocks. After carefully removing parts of it I found Eusparassus sp. staying there during the heat of the day. This is a large and very fast huntsman spider.
Huntsman spider - Eusparassus sp.
Of course my main object was to find the european tarantulas of the genus Chaetopelma. They occur all over the island but are anyways difficult to find if one doesn`t know the exact habitat which these tarantulas prefer . In summary one can say that Chaetopelma spp. avoid sunny and hot places. Pine forests like on the picture below belong to one of the preferred habitats.
Within the forest the spiders build their burrows preferably below flat stones. On this picture the stone is removed and the retreat of Chaetopelma olivaceum is easily recognizable
Young female of Chaetopelma olivaceum
Mature male of Chaetopelma olivaceum. The males walk around searching females mainly between April and July.
Forest habitat of Chaetopelma olivaceum
Chaetopelma olivaceum is very defensive. If disturbed they raise their front legs to threaten and they don`t hesitate to bite.
Video of defensive behaviour of Chaetopelma olivaceum
Another typical area where to find tarantulas on Cyprus
Juveniles and nymphs often use seperated silken tubes below the same stones. Also the mature females can be found at the same place.
Small juvenile after molting. After molting the spiders are almost black.
In June there is plenty of food . Therefore the spiders have large Opistosomas.
Another juvenile after a molt.
Large female living under the same stone as some juveniles. The Opisthosoma is very large because the spiders eat as much as they can to prepare for the breeding season
Different tarantulas found under stones
Chaetopelma olivaceum also occurs near human settlements and even within villages and larger cities. At these places they inhabit stone walls and most retreats are at about 1-2 meters above ground level. Within the stone walls they seldom use silk so best time for spider hunting is the night when the tarantulas sit in front of their retreats. The picture shows the village of Bellapais, one place where to find tarantulas.
Typical stone wall where to find Chaetopelma olivaceum
Chaetopelma olivaceum at night waiting for food.
Hunting for tarantulas in the village of Bellapais
Places with the highest number of individuals are old ruins and gravesites. One reason is the density of milipedes which are the main food of the tarantulas on Cyprus. These graves where home to dozens of individuals.
Milipede. Thousands of them roam the graves at night
Burrow of Chaetopelma olivaceum. The entrance is full of milipede fragments.
Different mature females at night.
Here I was able to find the largest specimen with about 6 cm bodylength.
Several tarantulas at night
Of course it is possible to find Chaetopelma olivaceum at other places too but it is much more difficult. In spring mature males often cross the streets or hide inside the houses of people. This one already had his best days...
To find tarantulas in the mountains is hard work. Here the burrows are more or less the ones of ground dwellers.
Burrow of Chaetopelma olivaceum witin the mountains in Cyprus
Finally one can say that Chaetopelma olivaceum adapts to different habitats. From retreats under stones, walls of graves and ruins or elevated within walls within villages.