Before you go out and order your first tarantula you need to ask yourself why do you want a tarantula?
It may be that you suffer from arachnophobia and you think it might help you overcome your fear of spiders. It may be that you love animals but do not have the time or space to commit to a dog or a cat. Or it might just be that you would like a cool pet?
Whatever your reason, since tarantulas can live for 20 to 30 years or more, before deciding to purchase your first tarantula you should read the below.
How expensive is a tarantula?
For most people, the cost is an important factor in choosing a pet tarantula. Not only will you need to buy the animal which can cost upwards of hundreds of pounds, you will also need to buy a suitable habitat to house it in.
Spiderling (sling), Juvenile, Sub-Adult or Adult
In general, when looking to purchase a tarantula, you will come across these terms. While it may be tempting to purchase a spiderling (a baby spider), as they are normally very affordable, in our experience these are not ideal for a first time tarantula keeper.
Depending on the species, slings can be quite difficult to care for as they require specific temperatures and humidity for molting. Also due to their tiny size, usually around 1-2cm leg span, finding livefoods and feeding them pinhead crickets or fruit flies can be very tricky.
Unless you have a number of spiderlings or other bug eating pets, you may also find that a lot of your livefoods are going to waste since they will either die or outgrow your sling.
It is also worth noting that many tarantulas take a long time to mature, sometimes as long as 5 to 7 years, so if you want a large spider (as most of us do) then you will need to be patient.
Our recommendation would, therefore, be to either choose a juvenile or a sub-adult/adult tarantula if you are new to the hobby. Your local availability and prices may determine which would suit you best.
Juvenile tarantulas, again depending on the species, are normally around 5-7cm and will often look like a smaller version of their adult counterpart. Adults are typically more expensive, with the females being the most expensive. This is because in general, female tarantulas take a little longer to mature than males. Females tend to live for much longer.
Best beginner tarantula species
Thanks to TV and movies, when most people think of a tarantula, more often than not they will think of the iconic Mexican Red Knee.
However, it may be surprising to people new to the hobby, that this isn’t the only tarantula and that there are hundreds of different species, many of which are available to keep in captivity.
Handling your pet tarantula
Many new tarantula keepers believe that they need to handle their pets however this is not the case. Since there is no benefit to the animal, we do not recommend handling any tarantulas due to causing them stress or the risk of injury or death if dropped.
If you are planning on handling your pet then some species are more suitable than others.
While we would strongly recommend against handling an old world species (see below) due to their medically significant venom, some new world species are also unsuitable due to their urticating hairs or defensive nature. For example, the urticating hairs on Goliath Birdeater (Theraphosa blondi) are particularly irritable and painful to people or the Venezuelan Sun Tiger (Psalmopoeus irminia) a stunning black spider with bright orange markings on its legs and abdomen are very fast, defensive and unpredictable.
Will a pet tarantula bite you?
Since tarantulas are effectively wild animals, they cannot be tamed and they do not particularly care for people. As such, there is always a risk that a tarantula will bite you if it is handled.
However, with the right care and understanding, tarantula bites are not actually that common and if you do wish to hold your tarantula, instead of just picking it up causing alarm and the risk of a bite, it is sensible firstly to gently tap your spider’s abdomen (bottom) or back legs to see how it reacts.
If your pet calmly walks forward you may be able to lay your hand down flat to allow it to walk onto you. If however, it turns around to face where it was being tapped from, especially when acting defensive, then it is best not to try and pick them up as they will be more inclined to bite.
Defang pet tarantulas?!
Shockingly people will sometimes ask if pet tarantulas can be defanged. While technically they could be, the simple answer is no they should not be. Not only would this be cruel but could ultimately kill the tarantula since they rely upon their fangs for feeding.
The main form of defence for most new world species are microscopic barbed hairs which are kicked off their abdomen towards a would-be-attacker with their back legs.
Depending on the species, these hairs come in different shapes and sizes, some of which are more effective against humans than others.
These hairs, regardless of the species, are highly irritable to your eyes and respiratory tract.
It is therefore important not to get your face too close to your tarantulas, particularly if you see them kicking hairs.
New World or Old World Species
As noted in our Old World Tarantulas vs New World Tarantulas article, tarantula species are often classified as either new world species or old world species and, while there are always exceptions, it is generally accepted that beginners should avoid old world species due to their fast speed and more potent venom until they have had some experience in keeping tarantulas.
Terrestrial or Arboreal Species
Assuming that you will be choosing a new world species, your next question might be whether you would prefer a terrestrial (ground dwelling) species or a arboreal (tree dwelling) species.
Generally speaking, new world terrestrials are easier to look after since they are usually more docile and less skittish than arboreals. Arboreals by their very nature are much more agile and are much more capable of jumping.
Also, since many arboreal species live in trees, they usually require more specific temperatures and humidity. Whereas most new world terrestrials will be happy to be kept fairly dry and at room temperature.
It is also important to bear in mind that since arboreal species prefer to climb rather than burrow, they will require a setup that has less substrate and more vertical space than a typical terrestrial setup.
Tarantula Habitat Setup
Once you have decided on which tarantula you will buy, as there is not one setup for all, you will need research that specific species to have their enclosure set up correctly.
This can be simply deciding on what size enclosure you will need, whether it will be for a terrestrial or arboreal species but also you will need to ensure that you have the temperature, humidity and water
If you do not mind how their setup looks, you can use pretty much any plastic tub with some air holes drilled or melted in with a hot nail or a soldering iron. Cross ventilation, holes in the sides to allow air to move through, is particularly important, especially for arboreal species which enjoy higher humidity levels.
The important thing to remember is that the lid must be secure and that it must not be too big.
Tarantulas do not need a lot of space, in fact when it comes to tarantula homes, less is usually more. Tarantulas do not move around a lot and will often find a nice dark place to hide and spend most of their lives there waiting for their next meal to wander along.
If the space is too big the chances are it won’t actually use the extra space and also it can make it more difficult for the spider during feeding. In captivity, it is generally best if the food is eaten immediately to avoid any potential issues later down the line with moults etc.
While there are no hard and fast rules, a good guide for terrestrials would be to have a total floor space of about 2 to 3 times their leg span.
For a terrestrial species, since they can be seriously hurt from a fall, the height should be no higher than 1 times their leg span. If you find that your tank is too high then you can reduce the space between the floor and ceiling by increasing the substrate.
Unlike terrestrials, arboreal species will require more height than floor space since they will spend most of their time off the ground. Also, since arboreals have evolved differently, having slender bodies and longer legs, they are more suited to climbing.
All tarantulas need substrate, however, how much will depend on the species. Logically, species that burrow (fossorial species) will require the most substrate. The species that climb (arboreal species) will require the least and the ground dwelling species (terrestrials) will be somewhere in between.
Generally speaking, regardless of whether they are terrestrial or arboreal, when they are spiderlings the majority of tarantulas will burrow.
It is not recommended on using dirt from outside since that could contain parasites or insecticide.
A commonly used substrate is coconut fibre/coir which can be purchased and stored as dry bricks. 4 litres of water added to each brick makes approximately 9 litres of coconut fibre substrate. Using warm water rather than cold water can make this process a bit easier as well as being more pleasant on your hands.
If you need to raise the humidity of your setup then you could mix in topsoil (ensuring that it is free from chemicals) or if you need it drier you could mix in vermiculite.
Once your spider is settled into its home, unless you have an outbreak of mould, fungus or mites it is not usually required to change their substrate. Spot cleaning by removing livefood carcasses is normally all that is required until your tarantula naturally outgrows its enclosure.
Heating and Lighting
In the wild tarantulas tend to live underground in burrows or inside rotten tree branches out of direct sunlight.
Since tarantulas are not designed to be out in sunlight, they should not be subjected to bright or hot lamps in captivity. Not only is this likely to stress your spider since they will feel vulnerable, but there is also a real risk of death since they will likely overheat and dry out.
The best method for keeping your tarantulas at the correct temperature would be to keep the room they are in at the correct temperature. However, since this is not always practical, the good way to keep their temperatures up is by using a heat mat and thermostat. Different species will have different requirements so it is always advisable to research each species separately.
A basic but important bit of equipment for your pet is a hide. Hide’s are just that – somewhere where your tarantula can hide away from the outside world. In the wild tarantulas are not the apex predators that many arachnophobes fear but they are more than often food for other animals and as such, they will naturally want to hide out of sight to feel safe.
Hides come in all shapes and sizes. Hides, such as this one, that have been made for geckos are ideal or if you want a more natural look then cork bark is perfect as they look amazing and do not rot or go mouldy like other natural materials.
Alternatively, if you are on a budget, plant pots, broken bricks, rocks or anything that contains a dark space that won’t collapse can be used.
Food and Water
Spiderlings aside, which can be difficult due to the size of their tiny prey, most tarantulas are very easy to care for when it comes to feeding and watering them.
What do tarantulas eat?
Tarantulas are primarily insectivores, however on occasion, they have been known to eat small mammals and birds.
In captivity, however, where food is not scarce, we would recommend that they are only fed insects and their larvae eg mealworms.
Tarantulas will eat most readily available livefoods such as crickets, locusts, mealworms, dubias and waxworms.
Our favourite feeder insects are turkistan roaches also known as red runners. These insects are great for tarantulas since they run (hence the name) and unlike dubias which are also a great feeder, they do not bury themselves in the substrate. In addition to their great nutritional content, their ease of care, this makes them the perfect tarantula feeder.
Another important factor when feeding tarantulas is that they should not be given more than they can eat. Livefood running around your pet’s enclosure is not only annoying for your pet, during a moult, they can also be fatal.
Finally never be tempted to feed your tarantula wild caught insects as they could contain parasites or insecticide, neither of which are good for your pet.
How often should you feed your tarantula?
This will depend on several factors such as the age, sexual maturity, species, temperature and what it is being fed.
As a general guide, tarantulas should not be fed more than once a week. Do not worry if your tarantula refuses to eat as this can be quite normal. The important thing is to remove any uneaten insects from the enclosure.
Some species, such as the commonly kept Chilean Rose Hair, will go through fasting periods where they do not eat for months. Again, while frustrating as a tarantula owner, this is quite normal and you should not worry.
Do tarantulas drink water?
Since it would appear that tarantulas can obtain the majority, if not all, their water requirements from their prey, you may think that they do not need a separate water supply.
However, whether the above is true or not, what we do know is that tarantulas will drink from a water dish.
It is therefore recommended that, except for spiderlings which are often kept in moist enclosures anyway, you should always have a water dish in your tarantula’s enclosure.
Again, similar to the hide above, there are commercial products available which have a natural look to them.
Bottle caps and small deli cups are often used if you are on a budget.