Hello all! Today we once again have post that is a bit different from the usual collection update. Instead, I present to you an interview with Declan Hegge AKA RezonantVoid from Arachnoboards!
For those of you who don’t know, RezonantVoid is one of the premier Australian invertebrate enthusiasts. Besides maintaining a collection containing many of the native Australian species of tarantulas across all four known Australian genera (Phlogius, Selenocosmia, Selenotholus, and Selenotypus), he also keeps a wide array of non-tarantula mygalomorphs, scorpions, centipedes, and various other invertebrates, to go with a few species of reptiles. He is mainly active on Arachnoboards, where he
teases shares his knowledge and photos with us foreign enthusiasts, while also dialoguing with and helping the many other Australian enthusiasts to be found on the forums.
I reached out to RezonantVoid during the Australian bushfires catastrophe, which we discuss a little in the interview, and he granted me permission to ask him a few questions. So without further ado, here is my conversation with him.
Arthroverts: “How did you originally get into the hobby?“
RezonantVoid: “Okay so I guess to kick off, inverts have always for whatever reason held a special place in my heart since I was literally 4 years old. Ever since I can remember I’ve always been flipping rocks and logs, seeing what I could find underneath. But what really got me started on becoming a dedicated hobbyist was discovering “The Dark Den” on Youtube in late 2017. I’d been casually keeping a handful of scorpions since 2008 but never as a serious hobby, yet watching his video just fanned the spark of enthusiasm I had into a blazing inferno.
I can’t remember the exact dates, but I’m pretty sure by mid or late January 2018 I had my first 3 T slings (I’d unsuccessfully kept a few slings in the past but this time I was determined to get it right), and before I knew it I had like 11 T’s across all 4 described native genera. My first time dealing with trapdoors was rescuing a bunch from a job site before a [concrete] slab got poured, and I fell in love with them so much that I primarily shifted to keeping our non-tarantula primitive species, going on eventually to mouse spiders and Atracids.”
Euoplos turrificus. Simple coloration does not always make for an unhandsome specimen, as exhibited by this specimen.
A: “What is it about invertebrates that so interests you?“
RZ: “I can’t really say there’s any one specific thing that makes me feel drawn to them. I will say though, that a truly massive part of my interest in wildlife as whole came from Steve Irwin. As a kid we had almost every one of his films on DVD or even video tape (far out, times have changed!), I swear I must have watched those things almost daily. He taught me and no doubt many others that our wildlife is not all dangerous, just grossly misunderstood. That’s a lesson I’ve taken with me ever since and almost certainly a big part of why I ventured into inverts despite most people’s reactions. You can gaze at them for hours and learn something new just about every time. And of course, nothing can surpass the elation of opening a burrow to find hundreds of tiny spiderlings inside and realizing that pairing 6 months back was indeed successful.”
A: “Do you think that being an enthusiast in Australia, decidedly limited in the exotic species available, ha ha, has either helped or hindered you in your hobby journey? Does the plethora of native Australian species make up for it you think?“
RZ: “Lack of exotics was a roadblock I hit very early on and admittedly I did get very down about it. Next day I read an article about our unnamed floodplain tarantulas in the northern territory that spend months underwater. I was asking for stuff out of reach when I had insane critters right under my nose that I had no clue even existed. I really went all out researching at that point, pretty sure around March-July 2018 almost constantly studying our described native Mygalomorphae, and let me tell you, its crazy how many we have. Between Nemesiidae, Atracidae, Idiopidae, Barychelidae, Migidae, Theraphosidae and probably 20 others I forget, the number of species offsets the lack of exotics 10 fold. in fact, I would go as far as to say living here is the hobbyist dream. Name one other place where you can go to just about every untouched piece of bush and find multiple species of primitives that most likely aren’t even described! If I could have bought things like Brachypelma and Poecilotheria, I can guarantee I would never have had the variety I have now.”
Aname sp. “Gold”
A: “Even so, is there a foreign species that you wish you were able to keep?“
RZ: “That question is quickly summed up with Linothele megatheloides.”
A: “What is your favorite species you’ve kept? Is there still a “Holy Grail” species you’re searching for?“
RZ: “Its a very tough choice but I’d have to narrow it down to either Hadronyche formidabilis or Idiommata sp. “Silverback/Electric Blue”. Both are my top 2 rarest species and have me checking their containers first up every night.
Right there’s a holy grail species, Xamiatus magnificus. The world’s largest known wishbone spider. It is so rare that no photos of it exist online, but there are a few of Xamiatus rubifrons, a very similar looking smaller species. I actually know where the latter are found but haven’t had the opportunity to visit yet. I’m honestly not sure if I will ever find it, but I’ll absolutely keep looking.
Hadronyche formidabilis. The deep black is strangely attractive. Much more so than anything Grammostola pulchra can offer anyway.
A: “How large is your collection? Do you see it growing further in the future?“
RZ: “My collection is actually way smaller than I originally thought, unfortunately I lost a few species recently. Probably at around the 60 or so permanent members mark. I’ll definitely be trying to grab a few more things soon though, in particular from the Nemesiidae.”
Namea salantiri. Gorgeous coloration on this specimen.
A: “We’ve all heard about the Australian bushfires, but how has it affected you and the Australian front of the hobby?“
RZ: “I know others including at least one other Arachnoboards member who have been directly impacted, but if I’m honest I personally have been largely unaffected to this point. I live outside the fire grounds, but not 2 hours south of me the Coffs Harbor area got really badly scorched. Unfortunately this area is home to a massive diversity of araneofauna including some species that are almost never seen by members of the public, such as the genera Xamiatus and Ixamatus. I know one private property in that area (luckily I think the fires missed it) with the following species just in their front and back yard:
*Arbanitis sp. “Coramba” 1 & 2
So there are places quite close to me that have suffered significant loss, especially amid wandering male season, but not me. Worst we’ve had is extensive smoke blanketing our town but my inverts don’t seem ‘badly’ affected yet by it.
However, the absurdly high temperatures also call for massive shipping delays with inverts, and I even got my first thermally insulated box with a cold pack the other week haha. Breeding efforts in captivity will surely have slowed down too, prices go up as does demand, and more species get impulse collected from the wild by panicking collectors. I would say that increase in collecting most definitely affects all major invertebrate groups, but since spiders are considerably easier to locate and capture than scorpions and centipedes I would have to guess they are being hit the worst.
A picture of the havoc taken near Declan’s abode. The white marks on the ground are where a tree was literally reduced to nothing but ash.
A: “Are captive breeding efforts the only remaining hope for some species who have had their native locales destroyed?“
RZ: “I think this is quite an accurate statement. From my perspective, I’ve already seen a handful of colonies obliterated, with the greatest effect being on lidless trapdoors like Arbanitis. I’m sure a regular low intensity bushfire would normally be quite survivable, but we are talking drought fueled megafires over 30m (90ft) tall that vaporize just about everything. One locale about 40 minutes away was reduced to nothing more than charred burrows with a few exoskeletons inside.
Let’s say a fire goes through a 10,000 strong colony spread over 1 square kilometer, and wipes out half of them. 5,000 is still a lot, but that number may take decades to replace the original numbers. Ants are the quickest insects to bounce back from a fire, which aren’t the most nutritious food for growing slings. Many slings may even get eaten while trying to catch them, due to a lack of other available prey.
So what happens to colonies reduced to mere hundreds or less? Depending on how spread out the survivors are, the 3 day average lifespan of male traps in the wild is hardly enough time to pair with a female. In such a case, captive breeding is almost 100% the most effective way of repopulating, being able to guarantee the survival and growth of every individual sling from an egg sac. Saddest of all though, while the fires have indeed stopped, is for many species this has come too late. National parks are a great way to keep wild populations safe, but in my opinion there is no point in doing so if you don’t have backup populations in captivity. I hate to think of the hundreds of species lost this summer in such areas because nobody was allowed to secure a handful of individuals prior to the fires”
Burnt-out Arbanitis sp. burrow.
A: “Do you think the Australian government will change the regulations in regards to this at all?“
RZ: “I have to say I strongly doubt it. The vast majority of attention has been given to protecting Koalas and other mammals which while are definitely important to conserve, are not the baseline of the ecosystem. Very little regard is given to invertebrates down here other than by hobbyists and scientists. I was actually really impressed to see there was one single news article that did mention how we need to shift a lot of attention to protecting invertebrate fauna, but it was very brief. With their attention fixed on “bigger” issues, I can’t see politicians making any adjustments to current national park laws allowing more people to establish captive populations. You can apply for Scientific Collection Licenses but the aim is more for studying specimens and less about conserving them. I also believe you need prior qualifications to obtain one but I hope I’m wrong. In any case, I think some of even the more commonly available species in the hobby here have become a heck of a lot more important to keep established and hybrid free in case there is a need for wild release in the future.”
Scorched forest areas. These photos were taken a few weeks after the fires went out, hence the new green growths on the trees (gumtrees have specially designed, fire-resistant branches, allowing them to kickstart the process of regrowth in regions ravaged by fire).
A: “How can we foreigners help? Is sending money and raising awareness enough?“
RZ: “It’s difficult to say exactly what effect overseas funding would really have, because there aren’t a lot of organizations that could use it efficiently for its intended purpose. Nearly all hobby species here come from regular civilian enthusiasts going out collecting, and the majority of hobby expenses come from the exact same things as anywhere else (such as buying feeders, enclosure supplies and whatnot). It’s not like a ton of hobbyists can just throw up their bank details online and expect heaps of people to donate them money “for the conservation of critters affected by the fires”. I’m sure there are many other groups here that care for general animals hurt by the fires (like koalas, possums, native birds, and the like), and for the time being any willing donations are probably best spent on them until an organization arrives that pays veteran collectors to gather endangered inverts for captive breeding.
From my perspective, the best thing everyone can do to help our inverts, is simply spread the word about their importance and share our love for this wonderful hobby. Only by raising more awareness of how essential they truly are to everyday life, regardless of how scary they may appear, can we squash the stigma people have about inverts, and not inverts themselves.
While I would never wish this dreadful virus on anyone, I think its actually going to be interesting to see how quarantine has benefited various insect populations worldwide. With less traffic on our roads, late blooming mature males and flying insects are less likely to get hit by cars, meaning more of them successfully make it to a female. Maybe this short breather after the fires here is just what they need to get back on track to repopulating lost habitats. All we can do is hope.”
A: “Hope is indeed something we could all use right now, whether it be for humans or animals.“
Arbanitis sp. “Coramba”
I’d like to thank RezonantVoid for agreeing to do this with me. If you’d like to help but don’t know how, remember what he said; “Only by raising more awareness of how essential they truly are to everyday life, regardless of how scary they may appear, can we squash the stigma people have about inverts, and not the inverts themselves.“
If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or RezonantVoid. Only together can we work towards conserving species, in Australia, the US, or wherever you are.
“For we know that the whole of creation groans and travails together until now.”