Tarantulas have been a relatively popular pet now for several years. They are unique, quiet, and need little space, and keeping tarantulas as pets can make a fascinating hobby. In fact, tarantulas are one of the most low maintenance yet exotic pets you will find. In addition, tarantulas are gentle and can be trained quite well as pets.
Tarantulas are a member of the spider family. Like other spiders, they have 8 legs, and 8 eyes close together. Beyond that, there are some very interesting and distinguishing characteristics that set them apart from other spiders. They have very hairy bodies and legs, can live about 30 years. They spin no webs but catch prey by pursuit and fighting. Many tarantulas also “speak” by produce a hissing sound by rubbing their jaws or front legs against each other.
There are over 800 species of tarantula. They are native to many areas and climates in the wild. They are roughly divided into two groups: “old world” (from the eastern hemisphere) and “new world” (from the western hemisphere). In terms of pet care, they are further divided into desert or tropical species, and ground-dwelling or aboreal (tree-dwelling).
Tarantulas range in size from only an inch or so to relative giants measuring nearly a foot across. The Goliath Tarantula, which inhabits South America, reaches a body length of 5 inches with a leg span of up to 12 inches . Even the small tarantulas reach a relatively large body length of 1.5 inches. However, the vast majority of species stay small enough to be safely and comfortably housed in a standard 5 to 10 gallon terrarium or aquarium tank (a cover should be provided to prevent escape).
The majority of tarantulas are black (most males) or brown (most females), but some species exhibit striking colors. The Mexican Red-legged Tarantula has bright red leg markings and Cobalt Blue Tarantula has legs colored deep blue. The degree of coloring varies with the species and geographical location. Even “plain” brown spiders vary greatly in shade from a soft tan, through reddish brown to dark brown.
As an example of the pet tarantula, a great and popular choice for the beginning spider owner is the pink rose or the Chilean Rose tarantula. It grows to a manageable size of 3 to 4 inches and has a relatively mild temperament. They are naturally docile and slow moving animals that can be easily handled by the novice keeper with some care. It is also a ground dwelling spider, meaning that it lives in a burrow during the day and feeds usually at night. The ground dweller is a much easier habitat to replicate to make your spider feel at home and be comfortable.
Yet another fascinating phenomenon displayed by the tarantula is molting. Tarantulas have exoskeletons because they do not have internal skeletons. Exoskeletons do not allow for growth so in order for the tarantula to grow it has to molt out of its old exoskeleton. The old exoskeleton splits and the spider works its way out. Adult tarantulas molt once or twice a year, and baby tarantulas molt more often since they are growing so quickly.
Observing the molting of tarantulas is surely one of the most exciting experiences in keeping them. If you notice your tarantula on its back, it is probably molting. Most tarantulas will fast for about a week before the molting starts and they definitely will not eat during the molting. Do not put live crickets or other food in the cage during the molting. It takes several days for the new exoskeleton to harden. Molting is stressful on a spider, and it is also completely vulnerable at that time, so do not handle or disturb it at all at this time, but observe with fascination!
As we said at the beginning, tarantulas are one of the most low maintenance pets you will find. A 5 to 10 gallon terrarium or aquarium tank (with a cover to prevent escape) will do great. And once a habitat is initially set up, the only essential things left to do is a weekly or twice-a-week feeding, and regular misting of the habitat with some room-temperature bottled water to maintain proper humidity.
For food, live crickets or some other similar insects can be bought at your local pet shop, but you should not capture and feed to your tarantula insects from the wild because of the possibility of pesticides and other contaminants. One or two crickets per feeding is usually good, depending on the size of your tarantula. Water should be always available for your tarantula to drink, and should be offered in a dish that is large enough for the tarantula to fit its body in but not too deep so that it will not accidentally drown.
You should try to keep the tarantula’s enclosure clean. Insects that you feed your spider can be a bit messy when the spider is done consuming it so clean the remains up. The spider’s excrement can be easily cleaned up with a tissue or paper towel. With regular light housekeeping, the caging material and cage itself need not be cleaned out more than a once or twice a year.
For humidity, desert species can be sprayed lightly about once per week, and rain forest dwellers as much as once per day. Desert tarantulas prefer a humidity of 30% to 50% range. Tropical species require higher humidity from 75% to 100%. Most tarantulas can be maintained comfortably in a temperature range of 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and this means little or no supplemental heating is required to maintain these animals. Having a humidity gauge and a thermometer is a good idea just to make sure your spider’s conditions are about right. Do keep the cage or tank out of direct sunlight. Glass containers especially can get very hot which can kill your tarantula. Also, added lighting is not needed and can be harmful.
For maximum enjoyment for both you the pet owner and your pet, you can decorate your tarantula’s habitat a little bit. It is not difficult to design a simple, yet aesthetically pleasing and naturally beautiful enclosure. Simple experimentation will reveal what works for you and for your pet. In fact, decorating and designing your pet’s habitat can be one of the most fun and creative experiences in keeping a tarantula! It is a good idea to research the origins, behaviors, and needs of the species that interests you before you buy it, or begin filling and decorating a habitat.
As mentioned, some species come from harsh deserts, and these tarantulas tend to be ground-dwelling burrowers. Others live high in the rainforest canopies of Asia and South America. Obviously keeping a tropical tree spider in a dry setup with no vertical height for climbing would result in a stressed and short-lived animal. Tropical, tree-dwelling species can be kept in taller encloses with slightly less floor space than previously recommended. Likewise, deeper enclosures can be utilized for burrowing desert species. Given some time in their home, most tarantulas will begin to create their own hide-outs, some even moving around cage furnishings. This is good, let them do it. Your tarantula knows better than you do what it likes.
You should keep in mind of some bare minimums common to all tarantula habitats. There should be a simple hiding structure or shelter such as a half-log or coconut hut, or perhaps some pieces of stone or driftwood. However you choose to do it, remember the basic idea of making your tarantula feel secure at home. Do not overdo the decorating, you should probably leave about 1/3 to 1/2 of the habitat floor bare and in the open for your tarantula to explore. Some substrate (cage bedding) will be needed, the best being pure orchid bark, coconut husk peat bedding, pure vermiculite, or relatively clean potting soil, or even a mixture of these.
The most difficult thing for most people is getting close enough to a tarantula for the first time to see them for what they really are. Not scary beasts out to bite you, but instead, incredibly agile and interesting creatures. Tarantulas are delicate animals, and when handling them be very careful that they do not fall, as they can be skittish and a short fall can injure them severely or even kill them.
It is true that tarantulas are not the best choice as a pet that you will be able to handle very much, but this is largely due to stress and danger to the spider rather than danger to the handler. For the tarantula owner, the chances of being bitten by a tarantula are extremely rare and even if through carelessness a bite should occur, the venom when injected into a person usually causes only slight swelling, with some numbness and itching which disappears in a short time. If it occurs, clean the bite site with soap and water and protect against infection.
Although they are not the cuddly variety, tarantulas are fascinating creatures that can be wonderful, gentle pets. The key to successfully owning any exotic animal is to know as much as you can about the species itself and the care of it. If you have any questions about tarantulas and their care, just ask us and we will help you any way we can.