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Keeping Tarantulas & Spiders

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 25 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Keeping Tarantulas & Spiders

Tarantulas are one of the most popular exotic pets and provided they are given the right sort of conditions, food and care, they are otherwise fairly undemanding in their needs.

There are many different species of spiders offered for sale which go under the name “tarantula,” but in practical terms there are two main types – tree-dwelling and ground-dwelling. Choosing your first tarantula can be a daunting prospect, but as a general rule, the ground-dwelling kinds are the best sort to start with, since they tend to be less agile and not so adept at escaping as their tree-living relations.

Housing Tarantulas

Tarantulas don’t need particularly spacious homes, so a small aquarium or similar tank will be fine. For most ground-dwelling species, the tank should not be much higher than the spider is long – a fall can cause serious injuries for these heavy bodied creatures, so it’s as well not to let them have the opportunity to get too far off the ground. Obviously, tree-dwelling species, which tend to be more sure-footed, will need relatively taller quarters.

Whatever kind of tank you opt to use, make sure it has a securely fastened lid; even the apparently slowest and clumsiest of the clan can do passable impressions of Houdini given the chance!

Temperature and humidity are important for all kinds of tarantulas, so a good heating system – most often a heat mat – and a humidity gauge are musts for the spider-keeper. They need to be kept at around 24-30 degrees C (75-85F) and at a humidity of between 60 and 75 per cent for scrubland species and 75 to 90 per cent for those which naturally live in rainforests. Getting both of these right is important, since they affect both appetite and the animal’s ability to shed its skin.

Ground-dwelling tarantulas also need a generous layer of flooring material – sphagnum moss, vermiculite or shredded cork-bark are ideal – which will let them burrow, together with some suitable hiding places and a water supply, in a shallow bowl or proprietary tarantula sponge.

Food And Feeding

Spiders are carnivorous hunters, and will eat almost anything smaller than themselves – which is why they should always be housed individually! For most varieties, their natural prey principally comprises a variety of small insects and other arthropods – so a diet of locusts, crickets and mealworms will be fine, with the occasional supplement of a few wild-caught items from your own garden.

The golden rule is never overfeed pet spiders, since over-stuffed animals can have problems moulting; for tarantulas, once or twice a week is normally often enough and always remove any uneaten food, or remains of insects that have been devoured, promptly.

Handling Tarantulas

It comes as a bit of a surprise to most people that tarantulas are remarkably fragile and even dropping a relatively short distance can cause them injury or even death. Humans can be injured too – many species have the ability to flick irritant hairs from their abdomen and their bite, which though generally no more harmful than a bee sting, can cause a bad reaction in some people. As a result the British Tarantula Society recommends a no-handling policy, but this needn’t spoil your enjoyment of your pet. After all, countless fish-keepers around the world don’t get to stroke their pets either!

Top Tarantulas

Although there are many types commonly seen on sale, some of the best ones to start with are:

  • Grammostola species including the Chilean Rose Tarantula (Grammostola rosea), G. inheringii, G. spatulatus and G. cala.
  • Brachypelma species including Mexican Red Knee (Brachypelma smithi), Mexican Red Rump (B. vagans), Curly Haired Tarantula (B. albopilosa)
  • Aphonopelma species
  • White Collared Tarantula (Pterinopelma saltator)

Whichever you choose, you’ll be sure to have an interesting and surprisingly long-lived pet which given the right conditions, could be with you for 10 years or more.

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