If you’re going to be keeping a tarantula, it’s going to need somewhere comfortable to live. There are literally thousands of options when it comes to what one can use as an enclosure for your little monster, below are some of the items to consider when housing your tarantula.
There are many options when it comes to what substrate to provide for your tarantula. When it comes to breeding, sometimes the type of substrate can be just as critical as temperature and humidity in providing the perfect conditions for a successful breeding attempt with a particular species.
THE BEST SUBSTRATE
The short answer, there is no “best” substrate, because every hobbyist has their own preference for what they believe is the best substrate for their individual tarantulas and by all means, do what you think is the best for your situation. However, in our experience, we find that mixing one standard 20dm³ / 10kg bag of organic potting soil with one fully diluted 600g peat brick or coco-fibre brick makes a very decent substrate mix with good water retention and structural properties without all the flecks from Perlite or Vermiculite. It smells great and is easy to manipulate and shape your substrate if you want to.
One of the most commonly used materials for substrate on it’s own. Available loose in pre-packed bags, or as dehydrated and compressed peat bricks which can be thawed in water.
COCO FIBRE (Coir)
Also commonly used and available in pre-packed bags or compressed bricks which can be thawed out in water. Coco fiber tends to have a lot of hairy fibers and strands and may not be suitable for use with slings/spiderlings.
Organic soils mixes or organic potting soil is a great choice for substrate, especially if mixed with peat or coco fiber.
River sand or building sand should rarely be used on it’s own, especially because of it’s weight and inability to retain moisture. However, it can be used with strictly terrestrial species that are not prone to burrowing and do not require high humidity in their enclosure, for example, Monocentropus balfouri – Socotra Blue Baboon. Other than that, sand should rather be mixed with any of the above substrates to create the perfect substrate for the particular species you are housing.
Vermiculite retains moisture very well but should not be used on it’s own as a substrate. Instead, mix it in with your substrate to assist in moisture retention. It will add light colored flecks to your substrate which you may or may not like, so keep this in mind.
Perlite is porous, absorbs moisture to some extent, is very lightweight and also has lots of cavities that make space for air that roots require to thrive in vivariums. It’s not recommended to be used on it’s own as a substrate and should rather be mixed with your main substrate to give added moisture and oxygen retention to your substrate. Being white, it will be visible in your soil as white flecks as well which may annoy you, but it will do it’s job.
- Bark chips, corn/mielie cobs or husk or anything that will attract mold or bacteria are a bad idea.
- Course sands or gravels are heavy and don’t retain moisture.
- Clay pellets or Hydroton are great for creating false-bottoms in vivariums, but are no good as a main or stand-alone substrate.
- Sphagnum moss, course moss or any stringy plant matter make a very loose and unstable substrate.
- Newspaper, pine shavings or bedding used in snake enclosures are also totally unsuitable for tarantulas.
- No substrate is also a bad idea, even if using water sponges or something similar to hold humidity.
Definitely one of the most cost-effective options for any hobbyist. One can use anything from deli-cups to jelly bean tubs and screw-lid spaghetti tubes to house your tarantulas depending on their size. As long as the container is secure so your monster can’t escape and you are able to add substrate, make ventilation holes and add prey items easily, the sky is the limit.
We’ve seen enclosures being made our of almost any household containers and even some creative enclosures, where people use old CD Cases or transparent packaging of all kinds to fashion themselves inexpensive enclosures.
Beautiful, but usually expensive. Acrylic / Plexiglas / Perspex enclosures are in our opinion the best looking types of enclosures with their sleek transparent appearance. They don’t get as cold as glass enclosures meaning inside temps are just slightly higher in cold weather. Also, because it’s easy to drill through Perspex, it’s easy to add ventilation or drill holes for lighting or fittings that might need screws or bolts.
The most common solution for enclosures that come in all shapes and sizes depending on where they are made. Many hobbyists have unique space requirements and elect to design and make their own glass enclosures to fit their unique needs. We’ve seen everything from plain square or rectangular enclosures to hexagonal and octagonal enclosure that stack on top of one another. As long as one possesses the skills, many interesting enclosure designs are possible with glass.
Some negatives about glass is that it’s difficult and to drill holes and near impossible to cut shapes or notches in to glass for any special fittings. Glass also tends to transmit temperature more effectively so enclosures can be a bit colder or warmer depending on the climate. There is also the risk of glass cracking or breaking if bumped by mistake or if the glass is too thin to support the amount of substrate and decorations being used in the enclosure.
The best of both worlds, where a combination of Plastics, Acrylics, Glass, Aluminium and all sorts are used to create an enclosure. These are more difficult to build because a blend of materials and bonding materials is needed, but provides the most flexibility for hobbyists looking to make their own enclosures.
A hybrid enclosure might have the majority of the enclosure made of glass and silicone to hold it all together. Acrylic/Perspex might then used for all panels where ventilation holes can be drilled easily. Plastic or Aluminium rails are then used for the acrylic panels to slide in to place. Any doors or opening panels can lock in place with the use of a magnetic catch or latching hinge. The choice is yours.
BRANDED / PROFESSIONAL ENCLOSURES
Where the big bucks start… There are a few companies out there that manufacture creature-specific enclosures, purposefully designed to provide the best living conditions for a specific creature. These are usually very well made and cleverly thought through to make it easy for the hobbyist to care for their pet, sometimes coming with cool fittings and lighting solutions so your enclosure is not only functional, but aesthetically pleasing to the eye as well. Some of these enclosures are so attractive they can be used as a showpiece in a home or corporate setting.
There is a large movement among exotic creature hobbyists the world over towards living vivariums and enclosures. Hobbyists are making use of specially arranged organic substrates to allow the growth of real living plants, as well as certain micro-organisms that help keep everything in balance. These require quite a lot more investment in terms of time and sometimes money, but can be extremely rewarding and beautiful, not to mention to amazing conditions it may provide for your little monsters.
Believe it or not, living enclosures like this are possible in any of the enclosure types mentioned so far… We’ve even seen them made as tiny as a shot-glass with living creatures inside.
A species that is known to be fossorial spends most of it’s life living in deeply excavated burrows. In nature, these burrows can be anywhere from a few inches, to over a meter deep.
Therefore, an enclosure for a fossorial species should provide plenty of substrate to allow the specimen to burrow at leisure. It’s up to the hobbyist to decide the size of the enclosure, but a general rule of thumb is that any enclosure should at least provide space that is four times the size of the tarantula living in it.
Attention should also be paid to the substrate used. A substrate that is too loose is a poor choice and will collapse on your tarantula. On the opposite scale, a substrate that is too hard will make it difficult for your monster to burrow. Try a mix of substrates until the mix is firm when squeezed in to a ball in your fist, but will also break apart easily if needed.
In nature, fossorial tarantulas are free to burrow as deeply as they like and it stands to reason that the temperature and humidity in a burrow will change as the burrow gets deeper, thereby allowing the tarantula to self-regulate by moving up and down the burrow to find the sweet spot for their needs. This is difficult to provide in an artificial enclosure unless you plan to build a 2m x 2m enclosure, heck why not, nobody’s stopping you.
Terrestrial species spend a lot of there time on the surface, but many also have burrowing tendencies, especially if a retreat or shelter is already provided.
In this case they might decide to excavate the shelter a little more until it’s more to their liking. Depending on the species, some may spend more time in their shelters or burrows than others, but they will also roam their enclosures or sit out in the open as well.
An enclosure for a terrestrial species should provide plenty of surface area for the specimen to roam, as well as about 5 to 10cm of substrate to create a shallow burrow if needed. As always, any enclosure should at least provide space that is four times the size of the tarantula living in it.
Substrates are less critical for terrestrial species and can be made of coco fibre, peat moss, organic potting soil and various types of sand, or a mix of any of these.
The substrate should not be too soft or loose that it’s difficult for a tarantula to walk in. Nor should it be so firm that the tarantula is unable to burrow if it chooses to.
Arboreal species (defined as: Living in trees) require a vertical style of living. Just as with all other types of tarantulas, the enclosure should at least provide space that is four times the size of the tarantula living in it, in the case of arboreal species, this means vertically.
As slings/spiderlings, some arboreal species might start out by building webbed burrows at the base of a vertical structure and will gradually move higher in the enclosure as they grow. Some species, like Psalmopoeus irminia – Sun Tiger or Psalmopoeus cambridgei – Trinidad Chevron are very arboreal in their behavior, but will always create a shelter that burrows a little in to the substrate. It can differ from species to species.
Once again the substrate in this type of enclosure should not be too hard or too soft so the specimen can dig or burrow if it chooses to.Other than this, a solid vertical structure should be provided that functions as a hide or shelter for your specimen as well. A good example for this would be a hollow piece of bamboo, hollow cork bark branch or any other branch that’s hollow and has one, two or even more exits and entrances.
But at the very least, the provided shelter should have a nice dark hide that the specimen can retreat to.
Besides for a water dish, a shelter and perhaps something to climb on, enclosure decorations are purely for the hobbyists enjoyment and provide little benefit to tarantulas. However, there is nothing more beautiful than a beautifully decorated vivarium with subdued lighting that almost creates the perfect jungle setting.
You can use almost anything around the house or garden to decorate your enclosures, however MAKE SURE to clean these items thoroughly before introducing them to your enclosures. You don’t want some nasty bacteria, pest, mold or fungus becoming the reason your tarantula has died. Blazing organic items in the microwave for 10 or 15 seconds should do the trick. For items that can not go in the microwave, consider soaking them in boiling water with a few tablespoons of salt, or by chucking them in your dishwasher for a good clean and then rinsing them in clean water before introducing them to your enclosure.
Artificial plants bring some color to your enclosure but can look a little cheesy depending on the type and manufacturer. The up-side is that they always look the same and don’t need water or maintenance. If you’re going to use artificial plants in your enclosure, make sure to use wide leaf type plants and not fine frilly or spiky leaf types because it’s almost impossible for a tarantula, especially an adult, to balance or walk on them. Also, don’t pack your enclosure so full of plants that your tarantula has little room to move.
Some hobbyists refuse to put plants in their enclosure unless they are real living plants. Live plants undoubtably give you the most beautiful and natural settings, but unfortunately live plants also require slightly more maintenance as well as sufficient lighting, moisture and a suitable bio-active substrate in which to grow. If you want some excellent tutorials on building live vivariums, check out SerpaDesign’s Channel on YouTube.
Many hobbyists choose to use rocks in their enclosures. If you choose to grab something out of your garden, make sure to give it a good scrub using a hard bristle brush and then place it in a bucket where you can cover it with boiling hot water to ensure it is clean and free of any pests or poisons. For extra measure, chuck it in the dishwasher when no-one is looking.
Different woods can add the most beautiful appearance and structure to your enclosures. Drift wood, cork bark, knotted woods like olive wood etc., are great options. Make sure to sterilise them by boiling them in water and even cooking them in the microwave for 15 seconds or so to ensure that any pests or bacteria have been destroyed before placing them in your enclosures.
SHELTERS AND HIDES
Many people elect to use a molded terracotta pot as the first hide or shelter for their tarantulas. They don’t attract mold, are just heavy enough to stay in place and provide a solid safe retreat for your monster. Water dishes that can be bought at pet stores are often made of ceramics but make sure to test that they are properly baked and don’t soak water through them. You might also find fancy decorative shelters made to look like skulls, dragons or other monstrosities made from ceramics.
When it comes to arboreal tarantulas, hollowed out bamboo, palm husk, cork bark and hollow pieces of drift wood make the perfect shelter for them to hide in and do not attract mold.
Something we insist every single tarantula should have in their enclosure regardless of species. Shallow glass, ceramic or plastic dishes are great choices for water dishes and make it easy for your tarantulas to drink from. In the case of arboreal tarantulas, some hobbyists will mount a small water dish high up in the enclosure against the tarantula hide or fixed to the enclosure itself to make access to water easier.
Humidity can be critical to many species and should be maintained correctly to provide a comfortable environment for your little monsters. Most species can adapt to changing, low or high humidity so don’t panic, but try your best to keep humidity close to recommended levels as possible. Make sure to invest in a few 2-in-1 Thermometer/Hygrometer gauges. They are priceless when it comes to keeping you informed of what’s going on inside your enclosure, even if they are a little inaccurate.
If you’ve created a good substrate mix, it should be able to retain a fair amount of moisture. This moisture as well the the moisture from any open water surface like a water dish, or living plants will all affect the relative humidity inside an enclosure. It’s up to the hobbyists to play with different elements until the humidity in an enclosure is within the recommended range for a specific species.
REMEMBER: Care sheets give a recommended humidity for a specific species, but don’t take in to account that ambient humidity varies from area to area and different adjustments will be necessary for your enclosures based on the humidity of a specific area.
LOW HUMIDITY SPECIES
Some species don’t need high humidity in which case the substrate can be allowed to dry out completely and the humidity from a nicely sized water dish might be sufficient.
MEDIUM HUMIDITY SPECIES
Some species require humidity in the region of say 50 to 60 percent in which case the substrate can also be allowed to dry out completely. However, the hobbyist can then over fill the water dish so it flows on to the substrate around the dish creating a wet corner or section of the enclosure that will bring the humidity to desired levels.
HIGH HUMIDITY SPECIES
There are many species that require high humidity as well. In a case like this, the substrate should always be kept moist with regular “rain” droplets gently sprayed around the enclosure to ensure that humidity levels stay higher. NOTE: Pay close attention to temperatures and especially ventilation in enclosures with high humidity as they provide the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, mold and other nasty stuff.
If you live in an extremely dry area, you could use a humidifier to assist with increasing the overall humidity in a room that houses your monsters.
Temperature in your enclosures can also be critical to certain species so once again, make sure to invest in some 2-in-1 Thermometer/Hygrometer gauges to keep you informed.
South African summers are very moderate to tropical depending on where you are based and generally, our climate provides temperatures that are warm enough to keep most species at room temperature both day and night. However, if you have species that require warmer or colder conditions during our summer, you can either move them to an area which is warmer or cooler depending on the species, or move them to a room that has an air conditioner that can assist you with regulating temperature more accurately.
Some hobbyists take this to the extreme unnecessarily, but when it comes to breeding, exact temperature and humidity control can be the make or break element for successfully breeding a certain species.
Winter in South Africa is nowhere near as cold as many countries around the world, however there are certain areas that can have severe cold and hobbyists will have to take suitable measures in their particular areas to provide suitable conditions for their tarantulas. Again, don’t panic. Tarantulas have survived millions of years of evolution and can handle cold weather and sudden drops in temperature as long as not too extreme.
ARTIFICIAL HEATING / COOLING
Should you decide to add artificial heating or cooling to your enclosures, you could consider fitting an air conditioner to a specific room so that the temperature in the entire room is maintained at a constant level, or place a heater/cooler in the room to achieve suitable temperatures over all.
Heating pads and mats can be great for warming an enclosure, but care should be taken because most of them don’t come with thermostats and simply heat to their full ability, which could end up drying out an enclosure and even overheating it, dehydrating and killing your tarantula.
What we rather suggest is placing a heat mat or pad on the side of a larger glass tank which will warm the whole tank. Now put the lid on with your temperature/hygrometer inside and watch the temperature. A medium size heating mat should warm a medium sized tank to between 22 and 24 degrees Celsius in winter, and all the way up to 30+ degrees in summer. You can then open the lid a little at a time to let heat escape until the tank is at a temperature you are happy with. Now you can place all your tarantula enclosures inside this larger enclosure to keep them warm without overheating them.
We do this for all our slings and it works fantastically well when there is a severe cold front.