In October and November 2010 I visited Sri Lanka for one month. After arrival in Negombo in the west of the country the plan was to travel north to Anuradphura and then south again through the hill country from Kandy and Kitulgala up to Nuwara Eliya and further south to Hambanthota within 2 weeks. The rest of the time was reserved to stay at the beaches of the south coast. While travelling the first 2 weeks i tried to find as many of the so far known tarantula species from Sri Lanka.
I also tried to visit the places mentioned in the paper " Study of the distribution of the genus Poecilotheria of the Family Theraphosidae in Sri Lanka" by Andew Smith et al.
To read the paper click the following link: www.pdn.ac.lk/cjsbs/text/text34.7.pdf
After the first two nights in Negombo I went a few km north to the countryside just to ask people if they might have seen or know about any Poecilotheria sp. To show them pictures i took a book with multiple pictures of different Poecilotheria spp. and i was surprised that immediately after showing a picture they nodded and said they know where to find these spiders. After walking here and there it turned out that somehow the people only pay attention to the colours but not to the shape of the spiders... so the one they showed me was a Nephilengys malabarensis.
I knew that 10 km north of Negombo it is possible to find Poecilotheria fasciata on the compound of the Coconut research Institution in Lunuwila. So I went there the next day on the way to Anuradhpura but unfortunatley there was just one bad tempered guy who didn`t allow me to take pictures on the plantaton because it was sunday....
But fortunately i found Poecilotheria fasciata just a few km away in a narrow tree hole next to a small road.
Because there was a lot of silk it was easy to find. When looking into the small crack of the tree I saw a couple of spiderlings with a bodylength of appr. 0,5 cm together with the female. End of October it is still dry season in the north of Sri Lanka with the monsoon coming in November. This will be the time the spiderlings might disperse when the amount of food increases due to the rainfall.
Spiderlings of Poecilotheria fasciata:
An Argiope sp. shared the same tree with the Poecilotheria.
On the way north I searched for more Poecilotheria fasciata on many trees but basically north of Chilaw i didn`t find any anymore.
In Anuradhpura i found a single tree within an old forest which showed sign of a Theraphosid spiders because of the shape of the web but I didn`t find the spider to proof.
After doing some sightseeing in Anuradhpura the journey went south again towards Sigiryia which is one of Sri Lankas most famous cultural attraction.
Because foreigners have to pay 25 Dollars entrance fee ( locals 25 cent ) it is also possible to climb the next rock for free with the same sight on the surrounding area.
Next stop was the Hurulu Eco Park near Habarana 50 km south of Anuradhpura where I had the possibility to have a closer look to some forest areas which looked like a perfect habitat for Poecilotheria fasciata. But after intense searching at almost every tree there was not a single sign of a Theraphosidae sp.
Hurulu Eco Park:
But in small bushes there were areas with many nests of social living spiders ( poss. Stegodyphus sp. ? )
Further it was possible to find Agama and different Gecko sp. at the trees:
The Eco Park was also home to some Salticidae spp.
..and of course elephants:
At night nocturnal animals came out and I was able to take a picture of a very beautiful Geckos sp. ( poss. Hemidactylus ) living in termite nests.
The Geckos shared the termite nests with a colourful species of cricket:
This assassin bug looked very much like Platymeris biguttatus from Southern Africa , it was just a bit smaller.
At night funnel web spiders wait for prey ...
...and colourful milipedes can be found:
Next stop was the hill country around Kandy. In the above mentioned article of A .smith in 2003 more than 20 specimen of the lowland form of Poecilotheria subfusca have been found at the Gannoruwa forest and also one specimen in the Gonnoruwa village. The Gonnoruwa forest really existed so I went there to ask people about these spiders and search for them in the mentioned area.
Unfortunately there was not a single Theraphosid spider. And we almost searched the whole forest. Also the people of the village can`t remember that they have ever seen a Poecilotheria sp. ( or someone looking for them )
The only interesting animals we found was a Arnaea sp. which looked like coming from the Hippie times and a small bat in a treehole:
Another place near Kandy which is worth a visit even though there are no Poecilotheria sp. living there is the Udawattakele Sanctuary. Besides a large amount of leeches and the occasional monkeys this forest is home to a ground living Therraphosid spider ( poss. Plesiophrictus tenuipes ).
With a maximum bodylength of about 3-4 cm this Theraphosidae sp. is rather small. Anyways it shows a very defensive behaviour. The burrows can be found at slopes within the forest and are not very deep with a maximum of 20 cm.
The same habitat is inhabited by some other nocturnal hunters.
Another Gasteracantha sp.
Also the Sanctuary is home to Mimosa pudica, one of my favourite plants to play with :
After Kandy we went to the jungle town of Kitulgala with a very humid and hot climate. Rainfall happens every day. Here it is possible the see Poecilotheria ornata in its natural enviroment. To see these spiders it is recommended to ask for one of the guides near the village of the Makandawa Rainforest. They know very well were to find the spiders.
Poecilotheria ornata lives in tree holes which are always closed to the top. It was interesting to see that the spiders did not use any silk within their tree holes. Furthermore the density of Poecilotheria ornata was very low.
Treehole, home of a female Poecilotheria ornata:
another home of a female Poecilotheria ornata :
Poecilotheria ornata waiting for prey at night:
I was told by the locals that this female hatched about 200 spiderlings in September:
The spiders are sometimes hard to find:
Also in Sri Lanka Nephila pilipes inhabits the rainforest:
After the nice experience in Kitulgala we went into the hillside near Nuwara Elyia. Because of the altitude the climate is very different from the rest of Sri Lanka. With temperatuers sometimes around 0 degrees at night it is quite chilly up there. Anyways this habitat is home to Poecilotheria subfusca. These spiders can be found in Cypress trees but we also made an interesting discovery. These spiders seem to adapt to different conditions concerning where to hide. As example we found one adulte female in a tree hole . No silk was used inside hole.
Another one covered a crack in a cypress tree with silk:
It was easy to make the spider come out to take a picture:
But the most fascinating discovery of my trip to Sri Lanka was a female Poecilotheria subfusca living with 2 juveniles in a stone wall even if there were plenty of proper trees around.
In my opinion one of the most beautiful Poecilotheria sp.
The coming days my plan was to travel to the south - east of Sri Lanka to search Poecilotheria pederseni but unfortunately i spent that time at the police station thanks to the criminal driver i hired who tried to steal money from me. So I had to get rid of that guy and I travelled to the coast at Mirissa immediately where there are no Theraphosidae anymore.
One interesting fact is that Sri Lanka suffers from the most lethal snake bites worldwide. After seeing an angry Cobra I believe that: