Tarantulas

a Tarantula resting on a leaf

Tarantulas are a unique and fascinating pet that can make an excellent addition to any family. They have been kept as pets for centuries, and they are becoming increasingly popular today.

Tarantulas belong to the Theraphosidae family of spiders, which includes more than 900 species. They come in a variety of sizes, colors, and shapes, so there is sure to be one that fits your needs.

Tarantulas are arachnids that are native to the Americas and Europe, and are usually found in tropical climates. The only ones we’ll be discussing here will be new world Tarantulas (ones from the Americas, because they’re far less aggressive and dangerous as pets). They are not venomous, and are relatively harmless to humans.

Tarantulas are relatively easy to care for, making them a great choice for first time pet owners. They require minimal space and can be kept in a terrarium or aquarium with proper ventilation. Tarantulas should be fed live insects such as crickets, mealworms, and waxworms.

Tarantulas are very docile animals, and are generally considered safe for children, as long as they’re not holding them. They are also very easy to care for. They don’t require much food, and will eat insects and smaller living food.

Tarantulas are also very quiet, and won’t disturb you while you’re sleeping. You can even leave them alone for several days without worrying about them getting out of control. 

Tarantulas can be many different colors, including black, brown, red, yellow, orange. You can find them in a number of different pet stores near you. Depending on the species of Tarantula you are after, some will cost as little as $25, and rarer species will run as high as $150!

Tarantulas make great family pets because they are relatively docile and don’t require a lot of attention. They’re low maintenance and don’t require a lot of cleaning or upkeep.

In conclusion, Tarantulas are a great choice for first time pet owners who want something unique and interesting. They require minimal space and care, and they make great family pets. So if you’re looking for an unusual pet that is low maintenance and full of personality, then a tarantula might be just what you’re looking for.

Tarantula Information

  • Average Length: 5 to 8 inches
  • Average Weight: Less than 20 ounces
  • Skin Appearance: Hairy with or without striped color patterns
  • Skin Colors: Black and red; Light brown and tan 
  • Grooming Needs: Low 
  • Shedding: Several times before adulthood
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: Yes
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: No 
  • Good Pet: Depends on individual species 
  • Safe with Children: No
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: Yes
  • Good for Less Experienced Pet Owners: Yes
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: Abdominal Fractures, Dehydration, and Problems Molting
  • Average Life Span: 5 to 20 years (females live longer)

Physical Appearance of Tarantulas

a Tarantula waiting on a moss covered branch for its next meal to come to them

Tarantulas are a group of large hairy spiders. They have 8 legs, an abdomen and a cephalothorax – a term used for the fused head and chest of spiders. Their legs, eyes, mouth and fangs are attached to the cephalothorax.

Tarantulas have spinnerets (the silk producing organs on spiders) at the end of their abdomen. They also are able to produce silk from the ends of their feet to help them climb on slippery surfaces like glass.

It’s not too difficult to tell male and female Tarantulas apart. Male Tarantulas tend to be thinner and shorter lengthwise than females.

There are over 1,000 species of Tarantulas and they have a wide range of different appearances. Some have vibrant colors while others are plain or have striped patterns. The most popular Tarantula species kept as pets are:

Temperament of Tarantulas

The temperament of the Tarantulas varies based on the individual species. Most western species are calm and don’t get aggressive but Tarantulas as a group don’t like being handled. Eastern Tarantulas have a completely different mentality and are for the most part extremely aggressive. Because the eastern Tarantulas are so aggressive we will only focus on western varieties for family pets. They can also be called New World or Old World Tarantulas, and if you want to know more about them we have an article here.

As mentioned earlier, Tarantulas don’t like to be handled. The Mexican Redlegs and Mexican Red Knee are an exception because they allow their owners to handle them.

Tarantulas are nocturnal and will spend most of their day sleeping. They will only become active when hunting prey, usually during the evening. They move slowly and are docile pets.

a Tarantula with its front legs raised up in a defensive position

Tarantulas have urticating hair on their bodies. These are bristle-like defense mechanisms that they release when they feel threatened. The urticating hairs can lodge in the skin of other animals and humans. While it will not cause a serious injury, the urticating hair can cause skin and eye irritations in humans.

Tarantulas should be handled with extreme care because some species can bite if threatened. Their bites are venomous, but most Tarantulas species venom is similar in strength to that of a bee or wasp. Tarantula bites will usually cause slight pain, swelling or redness where you are bitten. Only a few Tarantula species have highly venomous bites that can make their owners sick or kill them.

Their Compatibility with Children

Children should not be allowed to handle Tarantulas. The skin irritation caused by the Tarantula’s hair and their painful bites can be harmful to children. Children should wash their hands if they interact with your Tarantula or their cage. Washing their hands should remove any urticating hairs that they could have come in contact with.

Living Space for Tarantulas

Tarantulas are not social pets and should be housed alone. Their cage should be secured with a lid to keep them from escaping. Use a lid that is well ventilated so fresh air can get inside their cage.

A glass or plastic aquarium can be an ideal enclosure for spiders. Other good choices are a glass or plastic cage. Whatever you go with, the tank should be placed in a quiet location. Too much noise can be stressful for your Tarantulas.

Cage Size

a Tarantula blending in with the log that they're resting on

The cage size will vary based on the Tarantula species you have. For ground-dweller Tarantulas the cage should be at least three times the length of their legs. The width should be at least double the length of their legs and height that is taller than their leg span.

A 5 gallon or 10 gallon tank should be large enough for your Tarantula. A larger tank is not recommended because it will make it difficult for your spider to hunt for food. Some of the best cages for ground dwellers are the same ones that are made for reptiles. We’ve found that reptile terrarium tanks make great homes.

For tree-dwelling Tarantula species the length and width should be the same as it is for land-dwelling species. The only difference is in the height of their cage. The height of the cage should be around one foot. This height will let you add branches inside their tank and give your Tarantula room to climb.

Substrate and Decorations

The bottom of the tank can be lined with a layer of vermiculite or a mixture of potting soil and vermiculite. Vermiculite is spongy and absorbs moisture very well. You’ll want 2 to 4 inches deep in the enclosure to allow your spider to burrow.

If you have a species that likes to climb, branches should be added that they can climb. This is optional for ground-dwelling Tarantulas but it is important for Tarantulas that like to climb.

Create hiding spots by using cork, a hollow log or a clay flower pot. It’s possible to get really creative if making decorations is your thing. The main thing is that your Tarantula feels safe in their hiding spot

Best Climate for Tarantulas

a close up of a Tarantula while it waits for something to eat

The climate needs of individual Tarantula species can differ from one another. Refer to the specific species articles to find out about any specific climate needs of your Tarantula species before setting up their tank.

Lighting

Tarantulas are nocturnal insects and don’t need additional lighting equipment. If you want to observe them at night you can set up some LED lighting on the lid for their cage. You’ll want to keep the lighting dim so that it doesn’t disturb them too much.

The enclosure you set up shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight because it is bad for your Tarantula. Tarantulas are cold blooded and can’t regulate their body temperature on their own. Exposing them to sunlight can overheat them, without them even realizing why its happening. Their cage should be kept in a location that doesn’t receive direct sunlight.

Temperature

Tarantulas usually don’t need special equipment like heat lamps because they do well with lower temperatures than other insects. The best temperature range for them is between 69.5°F and 75°F. If your home is colder than 70°F, use an under-tank heat pad to keep the temperature warm enough for them. Heat lights should not be used because they can dry their cage. Most Tarantulas can handle much warmer environments during the summer, but don’t let their cage get past 95°F

Humidity

Some Tarantulas need high humidity above 60% and there are several ways to keep the humidity high. Misting the tank regularly is one of the easiest ways. Plants kept in their enclosure like mosses that retain moisture, or a substrate like vermiculite which holds moisture very well. A hygrometer in their cage will let you can keep an eye on the humidity level. 

a Tarantula moving across the ground of their enclosure

The Attention a Tarantula Needs

Tarantulas don’t need a lot of attention. They only need a few hours of your time every week to feed them and make sure that their humidity is good.

Handling Tarantulas is not recommended because most Tarantulas have urticating hairs that they can release when they feel threatened. This hair can cause skin irritation. If the hair gets into your eyes, it can lead to serious inflammation. For safety, avoid rubbing your eyes after feeding them or doing anything with their enclosure. Always wash your hands after interacting with your spider or doing anything with their cage.

As we mentioned before some Tarantula species can bite if they feel threatened. Most Tarantula species should only be observed and not held. The only time you should handle your spider is to move them so you can clean their cage. While cleaning, carefully move them inside a container rather than moving them with your bare hands.

Health Issues

Common health issues in Tarantulas:

Abdominal Fracture

If your Tarantula falls, there is a chance that they could rupture their abdomen. If their abdomen has ruptured you’ll see a clear or yellow looking fluid leaking out of them. Essentially this is them bleeding.

There are a number of tricks that Tarantula owners will use to try to stop the bleeding. Flour and cornstarch are very popular as is super glue. Super glue dries fast and will help stop the external bleeding. Depending on how bad the internal injuries are, it might not matter though.

Make sure that your Tarantula has access to all the water they need, and depending on how they appear, you may want to wait to feed them. If they live beyond a few days they should recover. Just remember this is why it’s best not to handle Tarantulas.

Dehydration

Tarantulas need water to survive, but they don’t need to drink water everyday. Spiders can live for weeks, possibly months without food and for three weeks without water. 

Tarantula dehydration symptoms you’ll see: 

  • They’ll be lethargic 
  • Their body will look shriveled or shrunken 
  • Their body may look wrinkled

A mildly dehydrated Tarantula will usually have a shrunken abdomen and be inactive. A severely dehydrated Tarantula will usually have some degree of leg curling underneath their body.

The treatment for dehydration is water. It’s best to keep a water dish in their enclosure to keep your Tarantula hydrated. A mildly dehydrated tarantula will usually recover within 24 hours, but if they’re very dehydrated a couple of days might be needed.

If you think that your Tarantula isn’t rehydrating contact your vet immediately.

Oral Nematodes

Usually by the time nematodes are noticed it’ll be too late to save your Tarantula. By the time they’re coming out of your Tarantula’s mouth, they’ve already done a lot of damage inside of their digestive system. 

Still some people have reported success using treatments to kill the nematodes, and a veterinarian can remove the nematodes while a Tarantula is under anesthesia. If you think your Tarantula has nematodes it’s very important to talk to your vet as soon as possible. Tarantulas that are born in captivity are less likely to be affected by this disease.

Tarantulas don’t need to eat very often. Because the nematodes don’t kill Tarantulas directly, death by starvation can take months.

Tarantula Oral Nematode symptoms you’ll see:

  • White material around mouth parts
  • Decreased or non-existent appetite

It’s important to remember that Tarantulas can fast for weeks at a time and this is normal. If you start to see anything white appearing near their mouth you’ll want to immediately contact your vet. Of the 2 medications that have reportedly been used to kill the nematodes, Cefotaxime will require a prescription from your vet. Pyrantel should be available over the counter, but used alone it doesn’t seem very effective at killing nematodes.

Molting Problems

For insects that molt, molting is the most dangerous time for them. If the conditions are not right during the molting process they could die from being trapped in their old body.

Signs your Tarantula is having problems molting:

  • Stuck in the old carapace
  • One or more legs fail to release from the carapace

Humidity is very important to molting. If you know that your Tarantula is about to molt it’s always a good idea to raise the humidity level within their enclosure. If your Tarantula is dehydrated it can also make molting difficult.

If you notice that your Tarantula is stuck and unable to free themselves from their old carapace there are a few options. With a wet paint brush or qtip you can try to help moisten the area where the problem is. 

If they have a leg that they can’t free and water isn’t helping get it out you can try to pull the old carapace off with tweezers. Be careful and don’t try to pull too hard because pulling too hard could damage or remove part of the leg. If the leg becomes damaged and doesn’t fall off on its own in a few days it should be removed. If left in place it’s very likely to cause problems in the next molt.

General Tarantula Care

There is not much that needs to be done to care for Tarantulas. Uneaten food should be removed daily and their enclosure should be spot cleaned every other day. The entire enclosure should be cleaned thoroughly and the bedding changed about once every six months.

Feeding A Tarantula

tarantulas love eating crickets

Tarantulas are carnivores and should be fed live prey. Their primary diet should consist of crickets and can be complemented by other insects like super worms, roaches and mealworms. Large Tarantulas can be fed pinkie mice or small lizards.

We recommend gut-loading insects before feeding them to your Tarantulas. Gut-loading involves feeding nutritious food to the insects that are fed to them. The nutrient then passes on to your Tarantula when they eat the insects.

The size of the insects you feed them should be smaller than your Tarantula’s body. The prey should be dropped inside their enclosure. Don’t drop several insects inside their cage at once because the insects could bite and injure your Tarantula. Remove whatever is uneaten after 10 minutes so that their food can’t injure your spider if it’s not hungry.

Adult spiders should be fed once a week and younger spiders can be fed every one to two days. The ideal feeding time is during the evening because that is when they are most active.

A water bowl should be placed inside their cage. Clean the water bowl and replace the water daily.

Related Questions:

Are Tarantulas Legal to Keep as Pets?

Tarantulas are legal to keep in the United States, except for Hawaii. The state of Hawaii has placed a ban on owning or transporting several exotic pets including Tarantulas.

What Tarantula Species are Best for Beginners?

There are over 1,000 Tarantula species. Beginner pet owners should look for a Tarantula that is calm and doesn’t bite. These include Mexican Red-Knee, Chilean Rose, Curly Hair and Pink Toe Tarantulas.

What do I do if My Tarantula Bites Me?

As mentioned before the bites of Tarantulas are venomous and can cause mild reactions like swelling or pain. Sometimes it can lead to blood poisoning. The best thing to do is to visit your doctor.