Team Tarantula

Drew Toy shows off one of the many tarantulas that have been part of their enterprise. "We have about 100 for sale," she says. Patty Decker / Free Press

Florence couple enjoys breeding large furry arachnids

April Fool?s Day may have come and gone, but for one Florence couple selling and breeding more than 500 tarantulas is no joking matter.

Darren and Drew Toy, formerly of California, say they are enjoying their new lives in Kansas, and it seems their collection of arachnids are adjusting well, too.

Sitting on the floor in their living room, Drew lifted the lid on two large Styrofoam containers and talked about her furry tarantula friends.

?I have 75 personal (tarantula) pets here in Florence,? she said.

As for the business of selling tarantulas, Drew said, they are in the process of restocking.

?We have about 300 for sale,? she said.

To restock, the Toys purchase tarantulas from places such as Florida, Europe and Chile, which she said is currently open for export but closing soon for imports.

?The price for one tarantula can range from $5 to $2,000, which I personally paid once,? she said. ?We just sold one for $700 last month to someone in Colorado.?

Some people might wonder why anyone would pay hundreds of dollars for an arachnid, but Drew explained there are plenty of enthusiasts.

?You never have to clean their cage, unless there?s mold,? she said. ?They eat insects, but only every two weeks. They make really cool webs and as long as the temperatures are constant, they do great.?

A baby tarantula. Patty Decker / Free PressThe Toys do most of their business via the Internet, but Drew said she is willing to sell locally to anyone interested.

?Our customers contact us and tell us what they are looking for, and when we are in town where they are, they buy them,? she said.

This week, husband Darren is taking much of their arachnid stock on the road to California to shows in Anaheim and San Diego, Drew added.

?These shows are everywhere,? she said. ?They can be at convention centers and fairgrounds.?

When she attends the bug shows, Drew said she will not only have her tarantulas with her, but also her Madagascar hissing cockroaches, centipedes and scorpions.

?Anything without a spine we can take,? she added.

One reason for her large variety of insects, she said, is because she raises and breeds them to feed the many tarantulas.

Initial fascination

Drew said her interest in tarantulas started four years ago.

?We used to own a pet store in California, and while Darren was talking to a customer about re-homing the spider, he handed it to me and I fell in love with it,? she said. ?It was my first tarantula pet.?

She described her first fuzzy pet as a Mexican species that was full grown with curly hair.

About a year before the couple and their three children moved to Florence, she gave this first tarantula to a school where it lived until about six months ago.

Most of her personal tarantulas have names and she enjoys their unique personalities.

One species, an African tarantula, is particularly aggressive, she said.

?If someone has a massive allergic reaction to bees and wasps, this one could be dangerous, but for most people Benadryl will work fine,?she said.

Drew said she also owns a six-sided sand spider, which is considered the third or fourth most venomous in the world.

?Her name is Dot,? she said.

?These spiders like to hide in the sand, bury themselves and wait for their prey to go over them.?

Another species is a rose hair spider, which many might associate with the Indiana Jones? movies, she said.

?They look like tarantulas with rosy gray hair, but they are spiders,? she said.

Other hobbies

Along with raising three children, Drew also grooms dogs and cats, raises and sells chinchillas, degu and corn snakes, gopher snakes and sand boas.

?We have ferrets, too, but those aren?t for sale,? she added.

Her love of animals, insects and other furry, fuzzy friends comes by naturally for Drew.

?I grew up on a farm and we had everything from goats, pigs, cats, dogs, peacocks, geese and snakes,? she said.

?My mom worked for veterinarian and also a couple of pet stores.?

Now that she has her own menagerie of animals, Drew said she does all the care.

She also enjoys sharing her knowledge of tarantulas with others.

While in California, Drew said she gave talks at public schools, scouting groups or other organizations.

Having lived in Kansas for only a short time, she said she hopes schools in Marion County will consider allowing her to teach children about these arachnids.

Worldwide exposure

Drew said at any given time, the couple?s tarantulas have come from just about every country in the world except Asia and Australia.

Drew knows her inventory and the scientific names for of her tarantulas.

?We worked with a few venom labs (in California) and learned about certain venom, out of certain species,? she said. ?It?s another reason I know so much about venom levels.?

She said she hasn?t been bitten by tarantulas in the four years she has been around them.

?I use tweezers or a lid to pick them up, and I know first what I am working with,? she said. ?But some will try to get out and run away. If they do, and I have to chase them, they would probably fang me.?

The family moved to Florence from California during the Thanksgiving holiday.

?We moved from a town the size of Wichita to an even smaller town,? she said. ?It is so nice to be here.?

To learn more about the tarantulas or other animals available, visit Drew on her Facebook page, ?Tarantula Drew.?

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