When joining the tarantula hobby, many of us believe we will just have one, or maybe two tarantulas… This is rarely the case and most people don’t understand the addictive nature of the hobby and for many of us, there are 20 tarantulas living in our houses before we can blink.
Whether choosing your first tarantula as a beginner, or choosing your next tarantula or tarantulas for your collection, there are some things to consider.
IS A TARANTULA THE RIGHT PET FOR YOU?
As far as exotic pets go, tarantulas are easily one of the easiest and most rewarding creatures to keep as pets. But they aren’t for everyone. Here are some things to consider.
With the huge range of choices a keeper has; from the tarantulas themselves all the way up to the different enclosure types and accessories available for them, keeping tarantulas will pretty much cost you what you are willing to spend.
You could pick up a tarantula sling (spiderling), with a cheap plastic enclosure, hide and water dish for under R50.00 ($5). You could also buy a rare species, with a fancy vivarium loaded with accessories, costing thousands.
It’s really up to you, and we promise you that even the cheapest of tarantulas can be just as rewarding to keep as the expensive ones.
Tarantulas require very little in terms of basics for healthy survival.
A secure enclosure that’s roughly four times their size (vertically for arboreal and horizontally for terrestrial or fossorial species) with decent ventilation, a water dish and a few inches of clean substrate to live on comfortably is sufficient.
Everything after that is just extras for the enjoyment of the hobbyist.
Feeding tarantulas is easy. They eat basic invertebrate feeders like fruit flies, crickets, grasshoppers, meal worms and a variety of hobby-bred roaches.
Some keepers like to feed a pinkie, fuzzy or full grown mouse (depending on the size of the tarantula) once a year as a varied calcium-rich meal. However, feeding vertebrates to our invertebrates is generally not considered good practice. Oh and by the way, if these things freak you out, keeping tarantulas is probably not for you.
When offered a prey item, a hungry tarantula will snatch it up and immediately use it’s fangs to impale and kill it, injecting venom if it chooses. It will usually start doing what we all lovingly refer to as the “happy dance”, where it will start bobbing up and down and turning in circles in order to create a small feeding mat. After sucking on it’s prey item for a while, it will lay it’s food down on the feeding mat and wrap it up with webbing from it’s spinnerets before picking it up again to continue eating.
When the tarantula has finished eating, which can take anything from hours to days, all that remains is a food bolus – which is basically made up of any un-digestible parts of the prey item, neatly wrapped in to a little silk ball or bolus.
Tarantulas can be fed as often as they will take food, every second or third day, or once a week, it’s up to the keeper, but be cautious of over-feeding / power-feeding as this is said to shorten the lifespan of your tarantula. Tarantulas can also survive for weeks without food, so you can take that trip overseas if you need to, just make sure they have access to water and are kept in a room or space that remains between 20 and 28 degrees Celsius. So as you can see, you decide how you feed and when you feed your monster without having to worry too much.
This is probably the best part of all. Tarantulas are actually very clean creatures and require very little maintenance, which is why it’s so infuriating to see experienced keepers and well known shops stocking tarantulas in bad condition because they’ve been totally neglected.
The keeper only needs to do the occasional weekly checkup to make sure that everything is in order. Any un-eaten food or food boluses should be removed from the enclosure to prevent bacteria, mold or unwanted pests taking root. The obligatory water dish should be topped up or cleaned out if necessary because some species will actually deposit all their leftover food boluses in the water dish. It’s quite amazing to see.
The only other requirement might be a light occasional misting of the enclosure to maintain humidity levels.
We do not endorse or encourage the handling of Tarantulas at all, especially when it comes to old world species. In fact, we suggest that you treat them like tropical fish, beautiful to observe and care for, but you wouldn’t handle your tropical fish now, would you?
These are wild and exotic creatures, evolved through millions of years of instinct and survival, they are not domesticated pets like cats or dogs and are never handled in their natural habitat.
Regardless, many tarantula hobbyists elect to handle their tarantulas but they do so completely at their own risk and the risk of injuring or killing their spider. Although tarantulas pack a mighty bite with venom that can cause all sorts of side effects, they remain very delicate creatures that can be killed with very little effort.
If you are showing your tarantula to a child, a friend or a guest and a bite happens or one of you gets a fright or are bitten and the tarantula is flicked away in fright, death of the tarantula from any substantial impact or falling any substantial distance is almost a certainty. So now you or your guest are in pain, and your tarantula is dead. Not cool.
If you choose to handle tarantulas, do it with extreme care and do it somewhere on the floor or a large flat soft surface so that the spider can’t fall far and so that both you or the spider can flee easily without getting hurt.
When handling, the Tarantula is also feeling your warmth, wind from your breath and any movements you make, this could cause them react in defense by either flicking urticating bristles or if pushed far enough… a bite. So always be very cautious.
Or just don’t handle them. Your choice.
CHILDREN, DOGS, CATS AND OTHER PETS
Have inquisitive children or other pets in the house? Make sure they can’t get at your tarantulas. Kids will be kids, and if you intend on bringing tarantulas in to a home with children, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your children are educated and insulated from any harm befalling them.
With regards to dogs, we have a PDF report detailing 9 bites to humans and 7 bites to dogs by the Selenocosmia spp. and by two Phlogiellus spp., in Australia. In all 9 human bites, pain, swelling and mechanical damage from the bites themselves were all that were reported. However, in all 7 cases where dogs were bitten, within 30 minutes and 2 hours after being bitten, the dogs all died. This is not necessarily the case with all tarantulas, but again, insufficient studies have been done to prove otherwise.
We have no info on how the venom affects cats, but lets not find out.
Therefore we must impress on you how important it is to ensure the all enclosures close properly and if you should have an inquisitive or destructive dog, cat, child or anything else in the house likely to cause chaos, ensure that your enclosures are out of reach, can be locked or latched shut – for everyone’s safety.
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS?
Tarantulas, just like any animal, remain exactly that, animals. All creatures have behaviors and instincts that help them carry out their lives and duties in the animal world. And all should be respected equally.
Tarantulas are usually classified under one of two main categories, New World or Old World. At MyMonsters, we like to call the new world species Itchy and Scratchy, and the old world species Bitey and Fighty. If you are a beginner, we advise that you stick to New World Species until you are confident enough to handle the speed and temperament of the Old World Species.
Here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions:
Are tarantulas dangerous?
Yes, of course they are. But so are elephants if you don’t respect them.
Can Tarantulas bite?
All tarantulas can and will bite if provoked. In the case of old world species, they might not even need provoking.
Which tarantulas don’t have venom?
All tarantulas possess venom and can choose whether or not to use it.
If a Tarantula bites me, will I die?
Tarantula venom from either Old World Species or New World Species is NOT powerful enough to kill an adult human being. To date, no human deaths have been documented as the direct result of an envenomated bite, but also there have been very few studies on various Tarantula species venom and their effects on Humans or how this would affect adults, children, animals etc. Any deaths that have indeed been attributed to a tarantula bite are usually due to poor care of a wound after a bite, like from infection, septicemia or gangrene.
Most New World species possess urticating bristles (often referred to as hairs) which are tiny sharply barbed bristles usually found in a concentrated patch on the abdomen of the tarantula.
When annoyed or frightened, tarantulas that possess these bristles will flick them in to the air by rapidly flicking their rear legs against their abdomen in the direction of a threat as a defense mechanism. These bristles are coated in allergens that can cause intense itching and allergic reactions, even hives, in certain people. Unfortunately the keeper will only know how badly s/he will react to these bristles after coming in contact with them.
A tarantula with a bald abdomen like the one in the above picture is usually not a happy camper but not always. Certain Tarantulas will actually constantly and actively rub the bristles off their abdomen and around their shelter as an extra defense which is fine.
It could also mean a few negative things, but the main causes are stress due to constant harassment or annoyance by people, feeder items left in the enclosure or discomfort due to some kind of problem with it’s habitat; like excess humidity, vibrations from fans, kettles boiling or other appliances that vibrate through the surface that the enclosure is standing on or anything that might attack the many senses that a tarantula has, so always keep your enclosures clean, suitably set-up for the particular species and in a suitable place where the enclosure is not subjected to noise, vibrations or too much activity.
A careful hobbyist should always wash his/her hands after working with their tarantulas or in their enclosures to ensure that these bristles/hairs are removed and avoided as much as possible. They become airborne very easily and you will inevitably get some on you.
GREAT CARE should be taken to avoid getting these bristles in your nose, any soft tissue and ESPECIALLY your eyes, which can cause terrible and painful irritation that may require serious medical attention in order to try and remove them!
BITES AND VENOM
All tarantulas have venom. Both New World and Old World species possess venom which they use to subdue their prey. The venom in New World Species is said to be weaker than the venom in Old World species, but no concrete studies have been done to clarify this.
Regardless, anaphylaxis is always a real threat for anyone, even people are not allergic to spider or bee venoms and a sudden anaphylactic shock is life threatening for anyone.
Bites from New World species are not common, however, people that have been bitten by a New World species that also injected venom, liken the pain to that of a bee or wasp sting (although their venom’s are completely different).
This doesn’t mean that a bite from a new world specimen would not be extremely painful, because lets not forget that the fangs on a Tarantula can easily reach 1cm to 2cm in size, meaning the mechanical pain from a bite would kinda be the same as being stabbed by two large needles. We don’t recommend it..
On the other hand, people that have reported being bitten by an Old World species, have reported intense burning, sharp pain, blisters at the site of the bite, a feeling of running water under the skin and severe cramps many days after a bite.
Bites from Old World Tarantulas are far more likely due to their temperament and lack of alternative defense so this is why Old World tarantulas are not recommended for beginners or inexperienced hobbyists.
To date, although there have been conflicting reports, we are not aware of any human dying as a direct result of a tarantula bite. Although a bite to a small child or directly into the main artery of an adult could be life threatening for sure. Getting bitten is obviously NOT RECOMMENDED.
However, as mentioned above there have been reports of tarantula venom from certain species being deadly to dogs, not that a dog and a tarantula should ever come in contact with each other under the hobbyists watchful eye, of course.
Bites seem to happen most often in two situations… The first is where a keeper was being careless or reckless while conducting maintenance on their tarantula enclosures and the second is usually when some form of handling was attempted. We’ll say it again, always take care, and rather don’t handle your tarantula.
MALES & FEMALES
Tarantulas will at some point reveal themselves as either a male or a female. There is some speculation around what makes a tarantula male or female because there is evidence that as slings they are sex-less and sex is determined and formed during growth and according to various external influences like temperature, humidity etc. Regardless, you will inevitably end up with either a male, or a female tarantula.
Nature has made sure that males grow faster and mature sooner than females do. The sooner a male reaches maturity, the sooner he can mate with as many females as possible to ensure the survival of his species. This has led many keepers to believe that when they have two tarantulas and one is growing much faster than the other, that it’s a male. Although this is possible, the only way to 100% ensure the sex of a tarantula is to sex it by inspecting a recent exuvium/molt/skin which is explained in more detail on our “Sexing Tarantulas” page (still under construction).
Males typically live much shorter than females with lifespans as little as 2 to 3 years. Certain species have males making it to around 11 or 12 years, but not many.
When a male molts for the final time, it’s known as his “ultimate” molt, which sadly means his life is beginning to end and he has roughly a year left to live. When this happens, his full maleness should be revealed and (in some species, not all) a set of tibial hooks/spurs will now be visible under his front pair of legs. His pedipalps (the short “legs” next to the fangs) will now look different, almost like the tarantula is holding a fist, or has a set of boxing gloves on. This is because he has now developed a set of palpal bulbs in which to store sperm that he will use to fertilize a female.
Males can also look completely different after their ultimate molt, this is called sexual dimorphism. This means that males and females exhibit completely different appearances. In this situation, males can have completely different coloration with long spindly legs, a smaller abdomen and a completely different looking set of setae/hairs over it’s body, along with it’s new palpal bulbs and tibial hooks/spurs.
Female tarantulas are generally what hobbyists are after, because they grow slower and live a lot longer than males. Females can live anywhere from 12 years old as with certain dwarf and old world species, all the way up to over 40 years old in some new world species. You have to admit, for a bug… that’s pretty crazy. Just think, a 40 year old person buying tarantulas might die before their tarantula does! A very strange thought.
When females mature, they display no differences or changes in their bodies or behavior and generally look the same as always. However, their sexual organs will be mature for breeding if the hobbyist chooses to breed. Most females will have developed spermatheca (pronouced: spur-mah-theeka), which can basically be described as a “sperm pouch” in which to store a male’s sperm after mating. Not all females develop these spermatheca like; Encycratella olivacea – Tanzanian Black & Olive Baboon, who do not develop spermatheca at all and are able to store the males sperm after a molt.
With most females, when they molt, the spermatheca (and any sperm from a mating) will remain with the old exuvium. This is why inspecting an old exuvium/molt is the most accurate way of sexing a tarantula, because the spermatheca of a female can clearly be seen under close inspection. However, in the case of tarantulas like Encycratella olivacea – Tanzanian Black & Olive Baboon, the male’s sperm is stored in the oviducts and uterus of the female, meaning that it will not lose the sperm and a mating will not go to waste should the female molt.
Whereas with females that do have spermatheca, the spermatheca and sperm are both lost after a molt and the breeder will need to wait for another opportunity to mate the female if the male is still available. This is often not the case because females can take months before molting, meaning males die during the waiting period and all is lost.
FOSSORIAL, TERRESTRIAL OR ARBOREAL?
FOSSORIAL – Burrowing species
Fossorial tarantulas will seldom spend time out in the open and prefer dwelling in the deeps of their burrows.
These are sometimes fondly referred to as a “pet hole”, because crickets, roaches and other feeders added to the enclosure soon disappear, with only the webbed entrance of a burrow to blame…
Some examples of fossorial tarantulas
Chilobrachys dyscolus – Asian Smokey
Fossorial Habitat / Enclosure Considerations:
Fossorial species will construct deep and intricate burrows and generally require a habitat with deep substrate which allows them to burrow. A conscientious keeper might provide them with a small hole as a starter burrow, which the tarantulas will soon take advantage of in order to construct it’s palace beneath the substrate.
TERRESTRIAL – Ground dwelling species
Terrestrial tarantulas can also be opportunistic burrowers. Some species are bold and will spend all their time out in the open, and the opportunistic burrowers will spend fair amounts of time in their burrows, but will also explore their enclosures from time to time, especially at night or when they feel it safest to come out. Terrestrial tarantulas generally make better display animals, especially in the case of the bolder species.
Some examples of good display terrestrial tarantulas
Terrestrial Habitat / Enclosure Considerations:
For most terrestrial species, the bare basics are enough. So what are the bare basics? An enclosure with substrate that’s about 5 to 10cm deep, with a water dish and a hide or artificial cave. Some species are re-decorators and might move things around just the way they like them, which is awesome and fun to watch as it happens.
ARBOREAL – Tree dwelling species
Although some live closer to the ground, certain species can only be found high up in trees, so in general arboreal tarantulas require an enclosure with more vertical space than horizontal space. These species often have long, elegant and feathery tarsi/feet which assist them in their vertical lives and also give them immense size in cases like the old world Lampropelma and Poecilotheria species.
Some examples arboreal tarantulas
Arboreal Habitat / Enclosure Considerations:
Arboreal species are quite popular not only because their enclosures are vertically oriented and take up less shelf space per enclosure, but watching them make use of the vertical space with elegance and grace is quite hypnotic. Arboreal enclosures should generally consist of substrate that is about 5 to 10cm deep, with a vertically placed piece of cork bark, drift wood or other vertical solution that will allow the tarantula to hide or construct it’s own system of webbing to call home.
SO YOU’VE CHOSEN A TARANTULA. WHAT NOW?
WHERE TO GET YOUR TARANTULA
Pet shops, online stores, classified listings (like OLX, GumTree or Junkmail), pet expos, from private sellers or directly from breeders; are all examples of where you can buy the tarantula you have finally decided on. But there is a little more to consider.
Buying in person
Buying at a trade show, or in person from a private seller or breeder is the best option because you get to see the tarantula before you buy it. This way you can also see the condition of the tarantula and how the person selling the tarantula has cared for it.
Buying online & from classified listings
Buying online or from a classified listing carries one main risk, you don’t get to see the condition of the tarantula or how it was cared for before you buy it. We have personally visited the premises of certain breeders and online shops in South Africa and we can tell you with all confidence that WE WILL NEVER BUY from some of them.
Enclosures are not maintained, huge tarantulas are kept in enclosures so small that the specimen can basically only turn in circles. Food is left rotting and molding in the enclosures and some enclosures even had dead specimens inside and the online store owner honestly couldn’t care less. They are only interested in the money they make from tarantulas and couldn’t care less for the creatures. The sad thing is many of us know these people/places… Don’t feel bad to ask the breeder or seller to send you a picture of the exact specimen you will be receiving before you buy it. If they hesitate to do this for you. Walk away.
Also, be extremely careful of dodgy sellers on classified sites like OLX, GumTree etc, because some sellers will advertise a tarantula as one thing, but what you receive is totally different. Too late now, your money is gone and you ain’t getting it back.
A great example and common scam is Theraphosa blondi – Goliath Bird Eater. These are extremely rare and high in demand, so dodgy individuals will advertise them for sale and you as the desperate keeper will pay the seller, very excited to receive your new super rare Theraphosa blondi. Your spider finally arrives and if you aren’t experienced enough to identify the species you are buying as a sling, so you feed it and raise it, only to find out in a year’s time that you were sold Lasiodora parahybana – Salmon Pink Birdeater at the price of a Theraphosa blondi. Ask the seller to take a pic of the tarantula next to a current newspaper or something with today’s date on it. Or even better, ask if they will allow you to come and fetch the spider in person rather than have it shipped (if it’s close enough of course). If the seller will not take a dated photo for you, or allow you to drive there and view the specimen yourself before buying, walk away!
QUESTIONS TO ASK
How old is the tarantula?
This is important, because you don’t want to buy a tarantula with a lifespan of 10 years, when it’s already 9 years old or you will only have it for a year before is passes on. Females mostly live longer than males, anywhere from 10 years to 30 years old and more. Males generally live to be between 2 and 3 years old, only certain species make it longer than this.
When last did it molt?
This is also useful to know because tarantulas that are about to molt (pre-molt), or molted very recently, might refuse to eat.
When last did it eat?
Always be weary of tarantulas that refuse to eat. A tarantula in good health that refuses to eat may be in pre-molt or may have eaten too much or too recently to eat again – but it will still look and act healthy.
It’s abdomen/opisthosoma will be plump or fat (if the T has eaten too much) and if nudged along or disturbed, should still react normally and move with speed and ease. The only reason a tarantula should be sluggish and slow to rect, is if it’s abdomen has turned very black (due to the new spider beneath) and is very very close to molting.
However, if the tarantula is not responsive, constantly curling it’s legs under it’s body, moves sluggishly or erratically or uncontrollably, it has serious problems and should rather be avoided.
Is the specimen Male, Female or Un-Sexed?
In general, slings will be unsexed because it’s basically impossible to tell the sex of a spiderling. Juvenile specimens may or may not be sexed either because the breeder has not yet had the opportunity to sex the specimen, or it hasn’t yet matured enough to tell it’s sex. Most hobbyists are on the hunt for females because they live far longer. Breeders are usually more interested in males for use in their breeding programs.