Gresham, C., Mathews, F., Ferguson, A. et al. 2022. Does handling for public talks in zoos affect the behaviour of captive Mexican red-kneed spiders Brachypelma hamorii? Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens 3(2), 158–169.

Zoos include invertebrates in visitor interaction sessions to educate and spread conservation messages to the public. Yet, the welfare implications of these encounters on invertebrates are unstudied. Empirical studies reveal negative effects of handling on vertebrate species, thus providing reason to investigate impacts on invertebrates. Mexican red-kneed spiders Brachypelma hamorii are regularly handled by keepers for public talks at the Zoological Society of London, London Zoo. This study investigates whether handling affects the spiders’ 24-h activity and enclosure usage. Three spiders were filmed under infrared light for 24 h following being handled, and on control (no-handling) days. The proportion of time that spiders spent under cover or exhibiting locomotion, limb-interaction, and object-interaction behaviour was recorded using instantaneous scan sampling. The spiders spent, on average, significantly more time under cover (7.8% increase) and exhibited significantly more limb-interaction behaviour (1.4% increase) on handling days. Handling for public talks therefore affects the behaviour and enclosure use of these captive Brachypelma hamorii. Although it is not yet possible to infer welfare implications, the presence of these behavioral responses suggests that protocols to monitor the behaviour of invertebrates following handling should be developed, and further behavioral studies are warranted to validate potential stress indices.