Tarantulas are quiet and need little space, so keeping them as pets can be a fascinating hobby. There are over 800 species of tarantulas belonging to the family Theraphosidae. One of the more popular species kept as a pet is the Chilean rose (Grammostola rosea).
The pinktoe (Avicularia avicularia) is often cited as a good first arboreal tarantula but not a good first tarantula overall. In general, arboreal species are more challenging to care for, and the pinktoe is quite fast and agile, making handling more difficult.
Female is usually the better choice simply because females tend to be much longer-lived than males. A female Chilean rose may be expected to live over 20 years whereas the male of any species will not likely survive more than a couple of years.
Housing the Tarantula
If you have an arboreal species of tarantula you will need a tall cage, and a burrowing type will need appropriate substrate or hiding places. Generally, spiders should be housed one to a cage as they are not social.
For burrowing or terrestrial spiders, a general rule of thumb is that the cage should be approximately three times the leg span long and double the leg span wide. A 5-gallon aquarium will work well. A larger tank is not better in this case, as tarantulas do not need a lot of extra space and a large tank may make prey harder to find.
Arboreal tarantulas need a cage that is tall to provide climbing room with branches, twigs, or some other structure on which the spider can construct its web. On the bottom, a substrate of vermiculite, or vermiculite mixed with varying ratios of potting soil and/or peat, should be provided at least 2 to 4 inches deep to provide burrowing room and to hold moisture.Your tarantula also needs a place to hide. A piece of cork bark, a half hollow log or half a clay flower pot.
Heat and Light
Tarantulas do not need bright lights but rather should be kept in a darker area of a room where direct sunlight will not fall on the cage. Heating strips or pads can be placed under a small part of the cage for heating needs. Most species of tarantula do fine somewhere between 75 to 85 F.
For tarantulas that don’t require high humidity levels, a water dish (shallow) in the cage and misting once a week should be sufficient.For those that require higher humidity, more frequent misting will be necessary. In any case, temperature and humidity gauges should be used to monitor conditions.
The cage should not need cleaning frequently. For spiders kept at a relatively low humidity level, once per year is likely enough. For those kept in a more humid environment, this will need to be done more often.
Food and Water
A diet of crickets, supplemented with other insects, is fine for pet tarantulas and adults only need to eat about once a week. Adults may also fast for extended periods (a month or two is not unusual), particularly before a molt. Growing spiders, however, should be fed several times a week.
Meal worms, super worms, and roaches can be fed on occasion. Large tarantulas can even be given pinkie mice and small lizards if desired, although it is not necessary.
The most important thing is to keep the food smaller than the tarantula (that is, smaller than its body) and make sure the tarantula isn’t harmed by its prey. This includes not feeding any wild caught insects unless absolutely certain there is no risk of pesticide exposure.
Molting is how the spider grows to a larger size, by shedding the old exoskeleton and producing a new one. This is a stressful time for a spider and also when humidity levels are most critical.
The spider stops eating and then will lay on its back to molt. The molting process may take several hours. The spider should not be fed during this time as it is vulnerable to injury.
Are Tarantulas Venomous?
Tarantulas bites are venomous. However, for most species, the toxicity of their venom is much like that of a bee or wasp. It is most likely to cause a nasty local reaction including pain, redness, and swelling.
Another concern with regards to handling tarantulas is irritation and itching from special hairs found on some new world tarantulas. These tarantulas possess what are called “urticating” (itch-causing) hairs on their abdomens, which they can release by vigorously rubbing their abdomens if threatened.
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