Tarantulas are regarded as exotic pets, they are fuzzy and fascinating, and loved by many hobbyists and enthusiasts. However, if you are wondering how difficult it must be to keep a tarantula in your home aquarium (or I would better say a terrarium) I can tell you right away.
Tarantulas are mostly docile, easy-going, require little maintenance and will live for several years.
If you look forward to keeping pet spiders or just want to gain more knowledge about these amazing creatures, then this guide is for you! In this article, we will provide detailed information on the care of tarantulas as pets, in addition to some popular beginner species you can easily start with.
Description of Tarantulas
Tarantulas are a group of large and often hairy spiders belonging to the family Theraphosidae. There are over 800 known species of tarantulas and they are native to a large variety of regions including areas that are arid, subtropical and tropical in various continents of the world except Antarctica.
A tarantula has two main body segments: the prosoma (cephalothorax – the fused head and chest) and the opisthosoma (abdomen). It has four pairs of legs and two additional pairs of appendages.
Each leg has seven segments: coxa, trochanter, femur, patella, tibia, tarsus and pretarus and claws. The claws at the end of each leg are used to grip surfaces for climbing. Next to the claws is a group of hairs which aids tarantulas grip better when climbing surfaces like glass. Another pair is the pedipalps which aids in feeling, gripping prey, and mating.
Tarantulas have spinnerets at the end of the opisthosoma. Spinnerets are flexible, tube-like structures that the spiders use to spin silk. The tip of each spinneret is called the spinning field, this is covered by as many as 100 spinning tubes through which silk is exuded.
As the silk passes through the spinnerets, the shear forces cause proteins in the silk to crystallize, transforming it from a liquid to a solid thread.
Origin and Varieties of Tarantulas
Tarantulas belong to the family Theraphosidae and are scientifically classified as following:
The family Theraphosidae comprises of many genera containing the element pelma which means footsole or scopula. Some common genus names include the following:
Acanthopelma – (Greek word: Acantha – spine) which means ‘spiny footsole’
Brachypelma – (Greek word: Brachys – short) which means ‘short scopula’.
Metriopelma – (Greek word: Metrios – medium) which means ‘medium length footsole’.
Schizopelma – (Greek word: Schizo – split) which means ‘split footsole’.
Most Popular Beginner Tarantula Species
Let’s have a look at some of the beginner tarantula species.
1. Mexican Redknee (Brachypelma smithi)
Mexican Redknee is characterized by a black body and dark reddish-orange coloration on knee joints. This species is considered as a first choice among tarantula keepers. These tarantulas are quite docile creatures. They almost never bite thus making them easy to handle.
Note: Although Mexican Redknee tarantulas do have venom, it is not dangerous to humans and usually causes slight redness and itching.
Females become mature and ready to breed at 5 years old, males at 2 years old. The lifespan of females is about 15 – 20 years.
Special instructions for keeping a Mexican Redknee tarantula.
This specie is very easy to care for. They are considered low maintenance pets. Fully grown Mexican Redknee can require at least a 5 gallon (20 liter) tank. Ideally, their enclosure should have humidity levels from 75 to 80 percent. They prefer temperature to be around 75 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit (24 – 26 C). Feeding – once a week. The diet for this specie should include: insects like crickets, grasshoppers, etc.
2. Mexican Redleg (Brachypelma emilia)
It is known as the Red-legged tarantula because it has a dark-colored body with the second joint of its legs being either red, pink or orange. Its carapace is light-colored with a black triangle upfront. It is more docile than the closely related Redknee species, it possesses urticating hairs that are released if the spider feels threatened.
This is a slow-growing tarantula species, 5 – 7 inches (12 – 17 cm) in size across the leg span. Males live up to 5 years while their female counterparts can live for decades (25 years or more!). Females become mature at 3 – 4 years old, males at 2 – 2.5 years old.
Note: Mexican Redleg tarantulas are slightly more venomous compared to Mexican Redknee. People describe it as being close to the average bee or wasp sting.
Special instructions for keeping a Mexican Redleg tarantula.
These tarantulas are not aggressive. They are also considered low maintenance pets.
Ideally, their enclosure should have humidity level from 60 to 70 percent. They prefer temperature to be around 77 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (25 – 28 C). If you provide a sufficient layer of substrate in the terrarium, these spiders can dig holes.
Feeding – 1 or 2 times a week. The diet for this specie should include: insects like crickets, grasshoppers, etc.
3. Chilean Rose (Grammostola rosea)
Also known as the Chilean Fire tarantula or Rose Hair tarantula. The natural habitat of this species is the arid and scrubland regions of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina. The females can live up to 20 years if favorable conditions exist.
Their length ranges from 4 – 6 inches (10 – 15 cm) across the leg span, they are relatively docile and require less maintenance.
Note: Rose Hair tarantulas have weak venom that is not dangerous to humans unless you have an allergy to insect bites or stings.
Special instructions for keeping a Rose Hair tarantula.
Due to the fact that in natural conditions Grammostola rosea species live in an area with a temperature and humidity that varies greatly during the year, these tarantulas are not demanding. A standard temperature of 23 – 26 degrees Celsius (73 – 79 F) and 40 – 60 % humidity will do well.
Grammostola rosea does not belong to arboreal species, therefore, a long tank is preferable. Ideally, you need to provide a sufficient layer of substrate in the terrarium, these spiders can dig holes.
4. Brazilian Black (Grammostola pulchra)
This species is native to Brazil and Uruguay, where it inhabits pampas and plains, using tree roots and other natural shelters to build nests.
Brazilian Black is notable for being docile and gentle in temperament. This tarantula species has a deep black coloration which makes it a favorite choice amongst hobbyists. It has a wide body and leg span reaching up to 17 cm (7 inches).
The female species outlives the male species which is common amongst most tarantulas. According to different data, females can live up to 20 – 25 years.
Note: Brazilian Black tarantulas have weak venom that is not dangerous to humans unless you have an allergy to insect bites or stings.
Special instructions for keeping a Brazilian Black tarantula.
This species likes to digs holes and prefers to stay on the ground. So, a long tank is preferable. Brazilian Black does not like high humidity (more than 70%). The optimal temperature should be in the range of 24 – 28 °C (75 – 82 °F).
5. Pink Toe (Avicularia avicularia)
A species native to Brazil, Costa Rica and the Southern Caribbean. Also known as Guyana pinktoe, Common pinktoe, or South American pinktoe, this is a tree-dwelling or arboreal species and thus, requires a relatively tall habitat with lots of climbing space in captivity.
Its length spans across 3.5 and up to 6 inches (10 – 15 cm) (when fully grown).
This species has a dark-colored body and pink-orange coloring at the top of their furry appendages. They have a short lifespan and usually live between 7 – 10 years, much lesser for the males (2 – 4 years).
This is one of the best choices for beginners. A spider is extremely difficult to provoke to bite, and even then it does, the effect is less than a wasp sting.
Special instructions for keeping a Pink Toe tarantula.
The unique feature of these tarantulas is that although they belong to tree-dwelling species, they do not use the tree or bushes as a shelter. They weave a corridor with an extension in the middle, in which they live. So, it is necessary to arrange dry branches from two different angles so that the spider can weave its ‘air home’.
Pink Toe tarantulas can be very fast when they are frightened. At the same time, they can shoot a stream of excrement in the direction of the threat.
The optimal enclosure should have a high humidity level around 80 – 85 % and temperature in the range from 25 – 28 C (77 to 82 F). Feeding – 1 or 2 times a week. The diet for this specie should include: insects like crickets, grasshoppers, etc.
Keeping and Housing Tarantulas. General recommendation
For arboreal species, the enclosure should be more vertically oriented, and more horizontally oriented for terrestrial species.
A tarantula should be kept in a 5 – 10 gallon (20 – 40 liter) tank or more depending on the size and requirements of the species. Rule of thumb says that the minimum size (length and width) should be like 2.5 size of the tarantula legs span. Terrestrial species (that do not live on trees) should not have more than 2 sizes of their legs span. The reason is that If they fell they can harm themselves.
The top of the tank should be properly secured with a lid to prevent escape, and holes should be drilled in the enclosure to allow for proper ventilation and air exchange.
Note: Be careful with mesh nets or, should I say, do not use them! Tarantulas can get stuck with their feet there, lose a leg or even die because they will not be able to get out. Use DIY acrylic lids.
Ideally, the enclosure should have a cross-ventilation when we have small holes on two sides of it which create this kind of ventilation. In addition, because there are no holes on the top (lid), it helps to retain proper humidity levels.
However, people often use aquariums for their tarantula pets. So, in this case, it can be hard to create proper ventilation without drilling holes on the sides. Therefore, you need to think beforehand – what tarantula species you are planning to have and what kind of tank setup you can provide for it.
Most tarantula species will do well in the temperature range between 70°F – 85°F (21 – 29 C). To be on the safer side, you need to research the specific temperature requirements peculiar to the tarantula species you have and act accordingly.
However, in general, heaters are not that necessary. Until your room temperature is around 70 and they will be fine. Also, keep in mind that burrowers do that to have a cooler spot down in the burrow, so a heat mat will be even counterproductive.
Tarantulas do not need bright light, rather they should be kept in a darker area of a room to evade direct lighting from reaching the enclosure. Incandescent lights should not be used for heating as they are capable of drying out the tarantula.
Tarantulas are not aquatic. Nonetheless, they should have a suitably sized shallow bowl of water available to them 24/7, so they will not drown in it.
Note: It should be easy for the tarantulas to crawl in and out of the water dish (put there some kind of ladder – stones, fake plants, etc). Do not put there any sponges! All you get is unnecessary bacteria, mold, fungus that you do not want to have.
Certain species of tarantulas like moderate to high humidity while others prefer low humidity. The presence of a water dish in the tank is usually enough to maintain this humidity: use a shallow dish, always ensure it is filled with freshwater, and clean the dish at least once every few days.
Another way to maintain humidity level is to spray the tank with water once a day. However, bear in mind that excess humidity will encourage mold growth and infections, therefore it should be avoided. Using a humidity thermometer can make it way easier.
Important: Do not over mist! Do your research because some species do not need it.
Avoid gravel as it can be too harsh for their skin. If soil is your preferred substrate, then you should avoid soil from the yard or garden as it can harbor microbes or pesticides than can kill the tarantulas. Make sure to replace with fresh soil every month and you should provide a place where the tarantula can hide (something like a half hollow log or piece of cork bark).
Also, keep in mind that some species can dig their own burrows. In these cases, it is recommended to have a thicker layer of the substrate. It will allow them to act according to their instincts.
For arboreal species, the enclosure should mimic their natural habitat. Hiding areas, basking areas, small trees/ plants, and ornaments should be adequately provided.
Tank Equipment and Accessories (examples with links to check the price on Amazon)
We can often see pictures where people hold their tarantula pets with bare hands. Although some species are pretty harmless to humans, they are still wild animals and can bite. You cannot tame them. Never forget about it.
In addition, most tarantula species throw hairs from their abdomens, directing them toward the potential threat. If these hairs get in the skin or eyes, they will cause physical irritation at least.
- It is recommended to wear gloves and use tweezers and brush with tarantulas. Do not expose your skin.
- If you touch the tarantula with bare hands, you will need to wash them.
- Never lift tarantula up by its legs!
Behaviour of Tarantulas
Tarantulas are nocturnal hunters. They prey on a variety of insects, other spiders, small lizards, frogs or even birds. They rely on ambush and pursuit to catch their prey. Tarantulas will grab their legs, inject paralyzing venom, and then bite the prey with their fangs. Going forward, they will liquefy their prey to suck it up through their straw-like mouthparts.
Some certain species of tarantulas are ground dwellers or burrowers as they tend to be more docile or a little slower moving while others are arboreal; these species are more challenging to care for and they are more fast and agile.
All tarantulas are venomous and some bites are capable of causing discomfort that might linger on for a few days. Depending on the species, their bites can be quite painful and some of them can be compared to a bee or wasp sting.
Another common feature is molting whereby they shed their exoskeletons to grow. During this process, they can also replace internal organs- including stomach lining and lost appendages.
Also, tarantulas have specialized hairs they use to protect themselves against predators. These hairs are called urticating hairs and are found on New World species. They release these hairs by vigorously rubbing their abdomens if threatened.
Warning: Exposure of the eyes and respiratory system to urticating hairs should be strictly avoided as they can cause irritation to eyes, nose, and skin, even worse – lungs and airways, if inhaled.
Taratulas are carnivores. They seize preys with their legs, paralyze it with venom and then kill it with their fangs. They can also crush prey with their strong jaws. When the prey is dead, tarantulas inject digestive enzymes into the prey to liquefy the body and suck it through their straw-like mouthparts.
Tarantulas mainly feed on gut-loaded insects like crickets, mealworms, wasps, fruit flies, dubia roaches and arthropods eg. centipedes, millipedes. Pinkie mice can be a food source as well if they are properly thawed.
A very common mistake is that people overfeed their tarantulas. Do not do that. It can cause some digestion or molting problems.
Adult pet tarantulas only need to be adequately fed once a week or two while juvenile ones need to be fed more often (2 – 3 times a week). I will repeat – tarantulas do not need to eat every day! According to multiply experiments, they can live without food for months and it does not hurt them.
Also, it is normal for tarantulas to refuse food, so, do not freak out. Tarantulas can fast for long periods ranging from few weeks to months, sometimes this is an indication of an upcoming molt. During this time, always ensure that clean chroline-free water is provided so that they can rehydrate, you can add a sizeable rock inside the water dish to prevent the spider from drowning.
The tarantula will start the molting process by spinning a molting net (a thick layer of silk). Right after that, it will lie on its back and slowly but surely it will push itself out of the old exoskeleton. This is usually a long process and it depends on the species, size, and age.
Once the old exoskeleton is shed, it will take some days for the new one to harden, and during this period, the tarantula should not be fed as it is vulnerable to injury.
Important: The tarantula should not be handled during the molting process and hardening time in order not to injure them. Do not try to help them with molting. Do not turn them over. They have better chances of survival without your help.
Mature male tarantulas tend to be smaller when compared to their female counterparts. The male spider’s abdomen appears to be quite narrow, and they also possess longer legs than the females. Mature males have tibial hooks on their front legs, which are used to restrain the female fangs during mating.
Tarantulas reproduce sexually. Once a male spider reaches sexual maturity and is ready to mate, it will weave a mat on a flat surface. The spider then rubs his abdomen on the surface of the mat and in so doing, will release a quantity of semen.
Afterward, he may insert his pedipalps (short, leg-like appendages between the chelicerae and front legs) into the pool of semen. These pedipalps absorb semen and keep it viable until a mate is found.
When a male detects the presence of a female, the two will engage in courtship displays to lull the female into a receptive stage. The male will approach and insert his pedipalps into an opening in the lower surface of her abdomen; the opisthosoma to release semen into it.
The female spider will deposit numerous eggs in a silken egg sac and guard it for 6 to 8 weeks.
Important: The females are very aggressive during this period and can even kill males. They will stay close to the egg sacs to guard it till it hatches.
Problems Associated with Tarantulas
Dehydration: Dehydration is a common issue with tarantulas when their tanks are not humid enough. To avert this condition, high humidity should be maintained in a tank or container housing the tarantula.
Oral nematodes: This is an infectious disease common with tarantulas, signs include decreased appetite and presence of white material around the mouthparts. The attention of a veterinarian is needed to diagnose this condition and treat it.
Ruptured abdomen: This occurs when the tarantula mistakenly drops or falls from a great height. Their large protruding abdomens can easily rupture from such falls and they can sustain other injuries as well.
Other notable problems include loss of appendages, high-stress levels, and decreased activity.
Sourcing for tarantulas is easy, you can get some specimens from pet stores or reputable breeders. When you purchase tarantulas from a reputable breeder, you will be adequately briefed on its health history, age, and gender. This information will help you in making appropriate feeding and maintenance decisions.
Note: Avoid taking in wild tarantula as a pet. You can never be too sure about its health status and temperament.
Also, you need to carry out a research on the type of tarantula you want to buy before actually buying it, prices can range from relatively cheap to expensive depending on the type, rarity, age, and gender.
Avoid tarantulas with extremely dull exoskeleton, slow movements, hunched body with legs curled under them. These are often signs of bad health.
The first thing that you need to ask yourself before getting a pet tarantula – is that the pet the right pet for you? So, if you are bored with buying the same old conventional tropical fish and if you have an extra free aquarium, it does not mean that you can place whatever you want there.
Having a tarantula can be a different experience but adventurous at the same time. You have to keep in mind that even beginner friendly tarantula species can still bite. So, you have to be extra vigilant especially if there are children around in the family.