Introduction to Tarantulas
Tarantulas come from all around the world. You may have heard the terms "Old" and "New world" species. This simply refers to the origin of the particular tarantula species. Old World species are originally found in Asia and Africa; New World species originate in North and South America. Old World species are typically more aggressive and carry more potent venom -whereas New World species are usually more skittish and have urticating hairs. Urticating hairs are a defense mechanism that can either be rubbed, or flicked off the tarantulas abdomen to ward off would-be predators. Not only can tarantulas be found on most continents, they also reside in a multitude of environments - from the driest deserts to the tropical rain forests.
Are tarantulas dangerous?
Although it is rare, tarantulas have the ability to bite a human. New World tarantula's venom is usually no more severe than a bee sting.* That venom is used to help subdue and digest prey. Old world species have more potent venom and are more prone to biting. It can be extremely painful and uncomfortable to be bitten by an Old World species. Pain, shortness of breath, fever, headache, cramps and nausea are some of the possible reactions from a severe old world tarantula bite. There is no record of a person dying from tarantula bite. Even so, one should always use caution when encountering tarantulas, or any live animal as they are unpredictable. Pictured is Taz the "OBT" - an Old World terrestrial tarantula - in what is known as a threat pose. This is the universal warning posture for a tarantula. "Stay back or I will bite you", says Taz.
So why do New World tarantulas have such weak venom? They have a totally different defensive mechanism: urticating hairs. These ‚Äúhairs‚Äù are located on the tarantulas abdomen and can be rubbed or flicked to ward off would-be predators. Urticating hairs can cause itchy and/or inflamed skin, sinus and eyes. It is advised to use caution when around these species.
* It is widely accepted that an individual can be allergic to tarantula venom in a manner similar to that of a bee sting. I have yet to meet anyone who has experienced such a reaction. I have conducted research and found evidence suggesting tarantula venom lacks protein (a necessary ingredient for an allergic reaction). It is still unknown to me whether or not a person can be allergic to a tarantulas bite. Please use extreme caution when encountering tarantulas. Pictured: Mexican Fire-Leg (B. boehmei)
Choosing the Right Pet Tarantula
Old World vs. New World / Arboreal vs. Terrestrial / Male vs. Female
Arboreal tarantulas are very fast moving and quick growing when compared to most terrestrial species. They require a moist enclosure that demands frequent misting. New World species have urticating hairs but lack the ability/desire to flick them. Old World arboreal species have no urticating hairs but make up for it in speed and venom potency. Arboreals are less hardy than many terrestrial species but can still make a great first tarantula. My first tarantula was a New World Arboreal, A. versicolor (pictured left)
New World terrestrial tarantulas have urticating hairs and many aren't afraid to flick them. Old world terrestrials are fast-moving and are known for their "bite now ask questions later" attitude which can be comical, fun & fascinating for a cautious and/or experienced keeper.
Female's are more sought after because they have a longer lifespan. An arboreal Male, such as Avicularia Versicolor could live about three years while the female would be expected to live eight years or more. Some terrestrial species are extremely long lived. I have known Brachypelma smithi females to live loner than thirty years. When buying a juvenile or adult tarantula it would be ideal to confirm the tarantulas sex before purchase. Sex can be determined via molt. Visit our FAQ for more information. We are unable to determine the sex of a tarantula until they are about 2" in legspan.
Good Starter Species
Rosehair/Chilean Rose (Grammostola rosea) The Chilean Rose is considered "the" starter tarantula. They are extremely hardy but are known to exhibit unusual behavior such as fasting for long periods. Most rosehairs are docile enough to handle (with caution).
Chilean Dwarf Flame Tarantula (Euathlus Sp. Red) The "Species Red" are an extremely docile tarantula. Reaching an adult size of 3" legspan the Chile Flame is considered a dwarf species. I recommend the Chilean Dwarf Flame for owners under 18. They are more temperamentally stable than any other species and more suited to handling (always with caution) because of their small size (pictured is a Sp. Red female)
Mexican Red Knee (Brachypelma smithi) The Mexican Red knee is a great starter tarantula. A slow growing and long-lived species, this docile tarantula will blossom into beautiful black and orange coloring. They are a hardy, low-maintenance species and a great investment. Prized by beginners and experienced keepers alike B. smithi is one of my personal favorites.
Martinique Pink-Toe Tarantula (Avicularia versicolor) The Martinique Pinktoe is a good starter arboreal. Docile yet skittish, A. versicolor would rather flee or shoot feces (with deadly accuracy!) than bite. A. versicolor require an enclosure that is taller than it is wide with plenty of things to climb on and use to make their web. Because A. versicolor requires frequent misting, I would recommend this species to attentive and/or intermediate tarantula owners.
And many others! The species listed are just a sample of some species who can make a good first tarantula. If we think a particular species we have available is ideal for beginners we will note it in the description.
Housing Your Tarantula
An arboreal enclosure should be taller then it is wide - as your arboreal will want to make it's home as high up in the enclosure as possible. If the enclosure opens from the top this could pose a problem for the pet tarantula. Make sure the enclosure opens from the side or middle as not to damage the tarantulas home. Add plenty of items for the tarantula to make a home similar to those found in its native environment. Silk plants and a piece of cork flat, or tubing are what I use for my tarantulas, and what I recommend to other keepers.
Proper ventilation is necessary for a healthy, happy tarantula. Without ventilation mold and fungus could grow which can be dangerous or even deadly to your new pet. Too much ventilation and the enclosure will not hold humidity. The cage you choose for your tarantula should provide the right balance of ventilation and humidity.
Pictured Jamie's Tarantula's adult tarantula enclosure. The enclosure is ideal for either arboreal and terrestrial tarantulas.
Length is more important than height with a Terrestrial species of tarantula. It is important to not have the enclosure be too high as the terrestrial species could injure or even kill itself from slipping off the walls or ceiling of the enclosure. It is important to know if your species is a burrower or likes to use existing media for a home. Your tarantula would love for their new owner to have a hide all ready for them.
Substrate holds moisture which will keep your spiders enclosure humid. I like to use coco-fiber as a substrate for all my tarantulas. Coco-fiber, potting soil, peat moss, vermiculite or a combination thereof, are commonly used substrates. Use only organic and chemical/fertilizer free substrates. Do not use sand, pebbles, rocks or wood chips.
It is extremely important not to use any sort of screen or mesh for your adult tarantula. Tarantulas have two tiny claws at the ends of each Tarsus (that's foot to us humans). It is very easy for a large tarantula to get it's claws caught in a screen. If a leg is caught the tarantula can very easily injure itself - oftentimes these injuries are fatal. I almost lost a prized tarantula to a screen lid. I found her dangling by one leg. We are both so lucky she didn't struggle! Otherwise, I doubt she would have survived the experience. Please don't make this mistake! Slings and juveniles claws are not large enough to get hooked on screen which is why we still use the screen vents on our small and medium size enclosures.
For tarantulas over 2 inches I would recommend the use of a water bowl. Do not use a sponge. Wash and refill the bowl regularly. Make sure the water bowl is wide enough for the tarantula to drink out of. Before 2 inches spiders will drink droplets from regular misting of the enclosure. When misting moderation is the key. The enclosure should not be saturated with water and be able to dry out in a few days time. A period of drying-out between misting will prevent mold, mildew and mites from growing in the substrate. I recommend new keepers to mist about one-third of my tarantula enclosure. The next time mist a different part of the enclosure, allowing the previously misted area to dry without ever completely drying out the enclosure. Keep the tarantulas tubeweb or burrow dry. I wouldn't want water in my living room either!
Tarantulas in the wild will eat anything they can overpower. Although tarantulas will not overeat, it is recommended that you do not overfeed your tarantula. An overly fat tarantula is more likely to injure itself in a fall. Please feed your tarantula captive bred crickets and cockroaches. Wild caught bugs can harbor diseases and some are even poisonous. Breed or buy your tarantulas food. I would highly recommend against feeding tarantulas vertebrates such as pinkies, mice and anoles. It is thought that the calcium in vertebrates is linked to wet molts. Tarantulas will only eat food it can overpower. A good rule of thumb is the food item should be same size or smaller than the length of the tarantulas body. Pictured is an A. ulrichea female eating a dubia roach.
I have been feeding my spiders dubia cockroaches and we both love them. Dubia are more nutritious than crickets (not to mention they are cleaner, quiet and practically odorless). Unlike crickets, they are easy to care for and will not die in a few days, nor do they "munch" on a molting tarantula like crickets can. I feed my colonies organic oranges, bananas and lettuce. The only downside I have found with dubia is they will hide in the tarantulas enclosure much better than a cricket. I simply tweezer feed all my tarantulas. It is a great way to interact with your pet!
Care of small spiderlings
Although spiderlings do not require any "special" care when compared to adults they are more sensitive to lack of water because of their tiny mass. If too much water is given, mold can grow. Mold can be harmful or deadly to a tarantula. If there is too little water the spiderling could die from dehydration and/or have trouble molting.
It is extremely important not to over-water your spiderling. In my experience many spiderlings are lost due to over-care which is often a result of over-watering. For tropical species such as Avicularia and Poecilotheria mist the sides of the enclosure and the substrate very lightly. Water should not run down the sides and flood the enclosure, there should only be little water drops spread throughout. Your spiderling will drink right off the sides of the enclosure. I let my tarantulas substrate dry out about twice a week. This helps prevent mites and mold. I still lightly mist the sides on "dry out" days. In drier/desert areas you may have to mist more often. I recommend my spiderling enclosure kits (pictured right) especially to first time tarantula owners. They include everything needed to house the spiderling and are easy to use - as you just mist through the vent. Our enclosures have the ideal amount of ventilation to keep your spiderling comfortable and well hydrated.
Spiderlings need food small enough to eat. Many pet stores do not sell food suitable for young spiderlings. Spiderlings under 1 1/4" are too small to eat the "small" crickets offered at pet stores. If you must use crickets, the spiderlings will need "pinheads" or freshly hatched crickets. Flightless fruit flies are another popular food source for spiderlings. Flies don't die off easily like crickets. A flightless fruit fly colony will continuously reproduce, feeding your sling for many weeks, sometimes months if you cull excess flies. My favorite food source for small spiderlings are freshly hatched Blatta laterals or "Lats" for short (pictured). Unlike the flies which require proper heat & humidity "Pinhead" Lats (Rusty Red Roaches) will thrive on any fruit, vegetable or grain fragments you offer them and won't die when kept at room temperature. Unlike FFF, lats can't climb glass, and won't escape out of screen vents. Lats are easy for the spider to find and have significantly more nutritional value than flies or pinhead crickets. You can purchase flightless fruit fly colonies and "pinhead" lats in the Feeders page of our Tarantula Store.
Unlike us, tarantulas do not have bones. Therefore, in order to grow, a tarantula must shed its exoskeleton. This process is called molting. Molting is a time when the tarantula is very vulnerable. Please remove all food items from your tarantulas enclosure if you think it may molt. Crickets can easily kill a molting, or freshly molted tarantula.
A tarantula that is close to molting - or has recently molted - will not eat. It will often go in its web or burrow and seal off all entrances. Adults can take up to a month locked away in its web or burrow before it molts. The tarantula will not eat during this time. When a tarantula molts it will usually flip onto its back. Many, many tarantulas have been discarded, by uneducated owners when they are on their backs, about to molt. If a tarantula is dead or dying it will most often curl its legs underneath it. The tarantula flips on it's back, and it could be on it's back many hours before the molting process itself begins. First the carapace will "pop" The tarantula will pump fluid into it's legs to "slide off" the old exoskeleton. Once the tarantula has completed it's molt it will rest on it's back and stretch it's legs. It's fangs will be rendered useless until they harden. It could be weeks before this tarantula eats again.