You have decided that you would like to have a Tarantula as a pet, or perhaps already have one, if so, what a great choice as cute tarantulas are great pets for the enthusiastic hobbyist and seasoned expert.
Tarantulas are cute and colorful spiders in the ‘Theraphosidae’ family, of which there are approximately 900 species. These spiders are divided into 3 groups and grouping depends on their lifestyles in the wild.
1. Free-range Or Wandering Tarantulas: This group creates temporary or semi-permanent habitats under rocks, leaf litter, and even fallen branches. They will also use burrows that small creatures like rodents have excavated.
2. Arboreal Or Tree-dwelling Tarantulas: This group makes tube-style nets between the branches of a tree, and this group rarely comes to ground level.
3. Burrowing Tarantulas: This group digs their own burrows, but will also improvise and use other small pre-made burrows. Aside from when the mature male goes in search of a mate, they tend to inhabit the burrow throughout their lives.
Tarantulas are generally low maintenance and quite hardy pets, provided the correct temperature and humidity levels are maintained, and these exotic and virtually silent creatures that are inexpensive to feed and easy to house make ideal pets for the caring and conscientious owner.
How To Choose Your Pet Tarantula
Most people buy their tarantulas from pet stores, specialty breeders, and even online. The Internet may not be the ideal medium to buy your Tarantula spider unless the source is highly recommended, as it is always preferable to be able to see the spider and assess its health before buying it.
Not all Theraphosidae tarantula species are suitable for novice breeders, and this is where a specialized breeder or a good pet store can step in and properly advise you.
Many species are aggressive and move very fast, and therefore it stands to reason that the tamest, slow-moving, and relatively safest spiders to handle are the best species for the inexperienced and even experienced keeper.
Increasing interest over the years, certainly since the early 1970s, has led to a proliferation of species available and with the increased knowledge of successful breeding techniques, most, if not all, of the tarantulas purchased now are bred in captivity, which decreases the pressure on wild-caught specimens.
Top 5 Recommended Tarantulas To Keep As Pets
The following species of tarantulas, from the genera Brachypelma, Avicularia, Eupalestrus, and Chromatopelma are generally among the most recommended spiders for beginners and even for the most experienced keepers.
These exotic tarantulas have amazing temperaments and exhibit genuinely docile behavioral traits, and these spiders would rather flee than attack.
1. Brachypelma Albopilosum (Honduran Curly Hair)
The original habitat of this species is found in the savannas of Central America. Although not as colorful as some of its cousins, this spider radiates its own charms.
The tan and gold hairs that cover their body give them a very attractive scruffy look. However, like most other Central American tarantulas, they have urticating or Ficking hairs, which can be used for defense.
However, they are not quick to move. As they are burrowing tarantulas, their enclosure requires more ground space than height.
Growing up to 3 inches, they tend to be seen more on the surface than in their burrows.
- Humidity: Recommended humidity for these species is between 65-70%.
- Temperature: The recommended temperature for these species is between 70-85 degrees F (21-29 degrees C).
- Food: Crickets, little insects, mealworms, and adults will even eat pinkies and fuzzy mice.
- Lifespan: Males: 4 years. Females: 8 years.
2. Chromatopelma Cyaneopubescens (Green Bottle Blue)
The original habitat of this species is the harsh and dry climate, the desert areas of northern Venezuela, Paraguana. Extremely colorful with its vibrant orange abdomen and deep blue metallic legs make this species very popular amongst hobbyists. However, these spiders can be a little scary, so nervous newbie keepers could drop these tarantulas.
Being classified as Semi-Arboreal (earth and tree-dwelling) makes them a large spider screen as they are active and create wonderful silk web retreats, which can partially cover your enclosure.
- Humidity: The recommended humidity for these species is around 60%.
- Temperature: The recommended temperature for these species is 70-78 degrees F (21-26 degrees C).
- Food: Crickets and insects.
- Lifespan: Males: 4 years. Females: 12 years.
3. Brachypelma Smithi (Mexican Red Knee)
The original habitat of this species is the Pacific coast of Mexico. These beautiful and vibrant ‘red knees’
spiders are extremely popular with all levels of guardians. However, a common problem associated with these spiders is the fact that they are well known for Urticating Hairs, which are quick to use.
Being burrowing and land-dwelling, this species requires more land space than height.
- Humidity: The recommended humidity for these spiders is 50-60%.
- Temperature: The recommended temperature for these spiders is 70-80 degrees F (21-27 degrees C).
- Food: Crickets, insects, mealworms, and adults will even eat pinkies, furry mice, and even lizards.
- Lifespan: Males: 10 years. Females: 30 years.
4. Avicularia Versicolor (Pink Toe)
The original habitat of this species is Lesser Antilles-Guadalupe, Dominica and Martinique in the Caribbean Sea.
This technicolor spider is an excellent display species and a highly recommended choice for beginners.
However, humidity and temperatures are paramount in keeping these tarantulas. They are very docile and would rather flee than flick hairs at you.
Being tree dwelling height of the enclosure outweighs the floor space. They prefer to make their nets near the top of the terrarium.
- Humidity: The recommended humidity for these species is 70-80%.
- Temperature: The recommended temperature for these species is 70-80 degrees F (21-27 degrees C). Although they are resistant, they can tolerate temperatures as low as 65 degrees F (18 C).
- Food: Crickets, insects, moths, and adults will even eat pinkies and lizards.
- Lifespan: Male: 3 years. Females: 10 years.
5. Eupalaestrus Campestratus ( Pink Zebra Beauty)
The original habitat of this species is the grasslands and savannas of Paraguay. This spider is often considered the most sought after tarantula and is ideal for the beginning hobbyist. However, its slow growth rate, 4 to 5 years before reaching its adult size, may deter more impatient caregivers. This tarantula is very docile.
Being burrows and land dwellings, this species requires more land space than height.
- Humidity: The recommended humidity for these species is around 70%.
- Temperature: The recommended temperature for these species is 75 to 80 degrees F (24 to 27 degrees C).
- Food: Crickets, insects, and adults will even eat pinkies.
- Lifespan: Males: 10 years. Females: 25 years.
This is not the definitive list of easy to maintain tarantulas, as there are many more that beginners and experienced hobbyists can easily keep. A good breeder or pet store may recommend other species.
Adequate Housing And Habitat
Once you have chosen the tarantula species that best suits you, the next step in ownership is to obtain adequate housing and habitat to maintain it.
The great aspect of maintaining a tarantula is that the setup can be very simple. The most important factors in your spider’s enclosure and accommodation setup is making sure to provide the absolute needs, which are the correct temperature, the correct humidity level, a hiding place, substrate, rocks (natural or synthetic), branches for arboreal species, vegetation if required, food and safety.
You will hear many terms to describe the required housing for your spider, the most common being, aquarium, vivarium, terrarium, cage, and enclosure.
Most pet stores and breeders must sell a variety of these housings, ranging from the cheapest plastic containers, which have the necessary snap-on ventilated lid, to the most expensive glass style in the enclosure with front or top opening lids and doors.
Regardless of which variety you choose, you need to make sure they can be securely fastened, as the tarantula is surprisingly strong and is known to prise loose tops. Because tarantulas in their natural state exist in relatively confined areas, are predatory, and most live a solitary life, large enclosures are not a requirement and in some cases not even desirable.
Notable exceptions to the solitary lifestyle are the Pink Toed and Chilean Rose tarantula species. Either species will tolerate more than one specimen, provided they are the same size, food is abundant, and a slightly larger enclosure is provided. It can also temporarily house mature males and females of the same species together for breeding purposes.
For a single spider of the land-dwelling and burrowing species, a cage size of 1 foot (30 cm) is generally suitable. The slightly larger cage size is required for wandering species and a taller cage is required to accommodate the vertical branch of a tree-dwelling species.
Location And Sitting
The positioning of the enclosure is of utmost importance.
- Do not locate it in direct sunlight.
- Do not place it next to a stereo system, television, or computer screen.
- Do not locate where there is heavy foot traffic (people who pass all the time).
- Do not place it in the same room as people who smoke (nicotine is a strong and powerful insecticide).
- Do not locate where it is felt necessary to spray furniture polish, air fresheners, deodorants and, most importantly, fly or insect sprays.
Although tarantulas prefer shade, do not place them in a dark closet or cover them permanently, as they benefit from a natural source of day and night light. Tarantulas are nocturnal.
The substrate performs two very important tasks. It helps to regulate and control the humidity level in the enclosure and also allows a spider to burrow.
The depth of the substrate will depend on the tarantula species if it is a burrowing spider, and the amount required to effectively aid in humidity control.
As a general rule, a substrate depth of 3 to 4 inches (75-100 mm) is usually sufficient.
Wandering and ground-dwelling species, including burrowing spiders, require slightly more ground space and a deeper substrate than arboreal species (tree-dwelling). In fact, many breeders of arboreal species use very little substrate, preferring to use only bark chippings as ground cover for their spiders.
However, never use coniferous or cedar products, such as orchid bark, cypress, and others, as many of these products are toxic to arthropods.
Breeders and pet stores tend to promote and sell their own preferred brand of the substrate, but some examples are:
- A mixture of peat (70%) and sand (30%) has proven to be a popular substrate (do not use sand alone). However, peat can promote fungi or even mites if the correct degree and level of moisture and humidity are incorrectly maintained.
- Bark chippings do not allow burrowing for terrestrial spiders, making this form of the substrate more suitable for tree spiders.
- A regular with reptile breeders is coconut coir, which is sold in blocks.
- Horticultural vermiculite, another popular option, as this product is inorganic. A drawback to this medium is that it is too light to allow adult spiders to burrow; therefore, additional substrate or features must be added.
- Chemical-free soil or potting soil is also a successful medium.
- It is also recommended to use an ‘Oasis’ block, which can be purchased from a florist into where holes and tunnels can be carved with a sharp knife.
- Another great substitute is to use a Thermalite building block. These proprietary blocks can be hollowed out and tunneled using a sharp chisel or even a screwdriver. These blocks can be placed on top of other forms of the substrate to allow a spider to burrow.
The importance of a good substrate is that it can help maintain the correct humidity level. Many tarantula holders select a corner of the enclosure to be the cool end, where they place the water dish and also keep that corner very slightly damp/moist (not wet).
Hideaways And Dens
As with wild spiders, all captive tarantulas must have some facility in hiding and feeling safe. Wandering tarantulas will use hollow logs, cork bark, and even driftwood (as long as it’s properly cleaned and sterilized), to make the perfect hiding place.
These decorative items are exceptionally cheap and almost always very pleasing and attractive to your eyes.
A small rock formation is also ideal, as long as it is well fixed and does not move easily, as tarantulas can be surprisingly strong. An unsafe formation could fall on the spider and cause irrevocable damage. Avoid all items with sharp edges.
Artificial resin rock caves can also provide a safe and moist shelter. Even household plastic gutters can be used with good results.
Burrowing tarantulas, as the name implies, prefer to bury themselves and make their own den. However, they’ll be more than happy to use a wandering tarantula den as their habitat, with just a little more burrows thrown in for good measure.
Always make sure there is a good 3 to 4 inch (75 to 100 mm) suitable burrowing substrate.
Tree dwelling tarantulas prefer a matrix of vertical branches, thick enough for the spider to rest. Placing a smaller piece of hollow cork bark between the branches makes an ideal place for the spider to build its web.
Decorating the enclosure with plastic aquarium plants or silk plants and leaves for an attractive enclosure landscape is a personal choice rather than a requirement and not a necessity.
A slightly larger cage may be required depending on the amount of vegetation/plants installed. The trade-off is; the more you put, the more you have to clean.
An important aspect of tarantula health and wellness is being able to maintain the correct level of humidity. A tarantula’s respiratory system cannot function properly and efficiently without being wet at all times. In a completely dry atmosphere, tarantulas can suffocate.
Too high a humidity level can cause the enclosure to become too wet and wandering and burrowing tarantulas can suffer. Humidity can be regulated by adding water to certain areas of the enclosure to moisten the substrate (not soaking it).
A small dish of very shallow water (narrower than the spider’s leg span) is often recommended, although if humidity correct is properly maintained is not always a necessity. If necessary, it should be placed in the wet corner or in the cage section.
The tarantula will not require this item as a drinking container, as they get all of the liquid requirements from their prey or condensation on the side of the cage, but this simple dish helps maintain the humidity level.
In the case of wandering tarantulas, a small exclusive part of the substrate can be kept moist, while the remaining part is kept absolutely dry. Burrowing tarantulas should only have their burrow or hideaway kept moist.
Tree dwelling tarantulas must have the total floor area of the moist enclosure.
An accurate and reliable moisture meter, which can be purchased from a pet store or obtained from the breeder, is an absolutely must-have item. These indicators range from a cheap and simple type of analog dial too much more sophisticated but more expensive electronic digital indicators.
Electronic digital types are often combined with a digital thermometer. When buying a tarantula, always get the correct humidity requirements for the spider you choose.
Most tarantula species prefer the temperature range of 23 to 27 degrees C (73-80 degrees F), although a slightly higher or lower temperature range can be tolerated.
However, tarantulas experience temperatures of 86 degrees F (30 C) for prolonged periods of time that will dehydrate and almost certainly die.
At the other end of the spectrum, tarantulas can tolerate temperatures as low as 60 degrees F (15 C) for short periods of time, but will not be able to digest their food at this low temperature and this can be fatal.
If the ambient temperature falls below 68 degrees F (20 C), for long periods of time, i.e. in winter, the provision of a controlled supplemental heat source is required to heat the air and elements in the enclosure. It can be in the form of heat mats, pads, heated artificial rocks, ceramic heaters, and incandescent lamps.
However, remember that the use of thermal mats that heat the bottom is not recommended for burrowing tarantulas. To cool down, they will bury themselves to escape any excess ambient heat.
Heat mats can be placed on the sides of the cabinet. Any form of auxiliary heating must have a means to precisely control the output. This is generally accomplished through the use of a thermostat connected to the heat source.
Thermostats range from the simple on and off types of the manual switch.
Pulse Proportional Thermostats are used with ceramic heating mats, pads, and heaters, but are not suitable for light bulbs. They are also available with day/night temperature differential facilities.
The type of electronic solid-state automatic dimming that automatically regulates the heat output source to reach the desired temperature. These more expensive types are compatible with all conventional heat sources, such as mats and heating pads, and are also great for controlling incandescent bulbs, like popular infrared lamps.
These are dimmer stats that can also provide day/night temperature differentials. Great care must be taken if an electric light is used to provide light and heat, as even a low 25 watt light bulb can raise the room to deadly temperatures.
This scenario demonstrates the importance of adjusting both the thermometer and the thermostatic control.
A thermometer is an essential item if you want to keep tarantulas successful. There is a wide range of thermometers available.
Chemical strip thermometers that stick to the side of the cabinet and display a reading.
Bimetal dial thermometer types.
Alcohol or mercury thermometers enclosed in glass.
Electronic digital thermometers are the most expensive but can be linked to compatible thermostats/dimmers for precise temperature control.
Great care must be taken if the enclosure is of the plastic-type. A heat sink should be placed on the heat mat to dissipate and distribute the heat evenly.
Tarantulas are not smelly or dirty creatures as they excrete a fast-drying fluid with virtually no odor. In general, cleaning the premises 3 times a year is sufficient.
Do not try to clean the cage with the spider present. Always transfer your pet to a separate container before cleaning begins.
Remove everything from the cabinet and wash it well.
Replace the entire substrate with a new, completely clean one and rinse all permanent features and items, especially the water pan.
The water dish should be cleaned regularly, every other day or daily, if there are floods (insects), are present. This will prevent the water from becoming foul and moldy.
Feeding Your Tarantulas
Proper humidity and temperature levels are vital and tarantulas may not feed if their requirements are not met.
Tarantulas are natural hunters and predators and for this, they prefer live prey. Their main food is other invertebrates such as crickets, grasshoppers, moths, beetles (but not chafer beetles, as they can be poisonous when eaten), mealworms, and cockroaches.
It is better to offer prey one by one to avoid traumatizing the tarantula.
These foods can be gut loaded before being introduced into the spider. This involves feeding the prey and making sure it is well fed fresh fruit and water before feeding time.
There are numerous excellent gut-loading products on the market, and all are available from the breeder or from good pet stores. Some larger tarantulas will eat pinkies (baby mice) and even smaller lizards.
Some people may find feeding baby mice to the tarantula a definitive no-no. If so, there are alternative commercial sausages available.
It is advisable and a good rule of thumb when feeding your spider to offer prey that is slightly smaller than your spider’s body length, which is also about half the length of its leg. Many mature spiders will eat prey as large as they are.
Tarantulas catch and grab their prey with their fangs pressed against the rows of teeth on chelicerae.
Poison is then injected into the prey, helping to liquefy it, and the predigested food is aspirated through the mouth and into the stomach.
The remaining drained hollow shell is cast aside.
Tarantulas in the wild can go several weeks without food without long-term problems, but in captivity, baby spiders should be offered food at intervals of every two to three days, although more regular feeding may promote faster growth, immature spiders about twice a week, and adult spiders weekly for a week and a half, although some may eat only once or twice a month.
Individual appetites will vary and a good caregiver will soon establish a proper eating routine.
Since many species are nocturnal, the offered prey can be left overnight, but any uneaten food, dried shells, and bolus (a food ball and silk) must be removed the next morning.
The most aggressive species usually pounce on food as soon as they are introduced into the cage. All live food, especially crickets, should not be left in the enclosure with a dumb spider, as crickets that are omnivorous may try to eat your spider when it emerges from its old skin and the body is still very soft.
Tarantulas approaching their molt may refuse food, sometimes for weeks, before the actual shedding process begins.