Petbugs.co.za - Tarantula Caresheet

Tarantulas make great pets and interesting display animals. They are easy and cheap to keep and will give you hours of entertainment. If you want to handle your Tarantula, stick to the more docile, less venomous varieties (unless you enjoy pain). It’s always best to buy from a reputable, well informed dealer.

Cages

Various Glass or reptile enclosures, fish tanks and transparent plastic containers make suitable enclosures for Tarantulas. Wood and melamine cages are usually not suitable due to the humid conditions needed. While spiderlings can be kept in transparent plastic “Curry Tubs” or similar containers, adults need something larger. Before planning your enclosure you need to find out if your tarantula is a Burrowing, Terrestrial (ground dwelling) or Arboreal (Tree Dwelling) spider or a combination, eg Semi Arboreal

Burrowing Spiders need a deeper substrate to burrow in, Terrestrial spiders need a larger ground area and Arboreal spiders need more height and a branch or something similar to make a web in.  A good guide is that the size of the cage should be as follows: Length at least 3x the size of the spider (total legspan), Width 2x the spiders size. Height around 3x the size of the spider for arboreal and burrowing spiders, while terrestrials can be a bit less. So if a Spider reaches 20cm in size a suitable cage will be around L-60cm x W-40cm x H-60cm (less height for terrestrials). Some Tarantulas show a combination of these characteristics, eg terrestrials that climb. These are only suggested sizes and many tarantulas settle well in smaller enclosures.

Most Spiders need a damp and humid cage, so the best substrate (ground covering) to use is a Professional Tarantula Substrate, such as Leaping Lizards Professional Tarantula Substrate. Moist (not wet) Peat Moss, this is available at most Nurseries, is also suitable. Another good option is coconut fibre or coco peat as it is also known, this is organic and works well. Wet the peat lightly if you can squeeze water from it, then its too wet.

Adult Terrestrial and arboreal spiders need about 5cm of substrate and burrowers more than twice that. Some keepers add vermiculite to the peat, this may aid in preventing mould and helps keep the substrate damp for longer.

You can provide terrestrial Tarantulas with an artificial hide box made from a plastic container or similar item. Reptile hide boxes are also suitable. A sturdy branch is needed for arboreal Tarantulas. You will need to spray the cage regularly to keep the substrate/enclosure moist. It is better to keep the surface of the substrate a bit dryer to prevent mold and funguses forming, this can be achieved without compromising humidity by pouring water into one corner of the cage, or even make a hole with a stick. The water will flow to the bottom of the cage keeping the lower substrate moist and the top layer a bit dryer. Arboreal tarantulas are very susceptible to mold, so best to let the substrate dry out before wetting it again to break the mold cycle.

Enclosures will need a few ventilation holes, but not too many so that humidity is compromised. Arboreals need more ventilation. Large Plastic containers work well for bigger spiders and the correct ventilation is easy to provide. If you are using a fish tank, thick Perspex, with holes drilled in it, makes a good roof. These can be hinged onto the tank using small hinges and Marine Silicone. It is better to fix some sort of latch onto the opening of your cage, as Tarantulas are very crafty and extremely strong. Standard fish tank coverings don't really make the best roof as they are too light, and some spiders make nests in them and it is difficult to remove the lids for feeding/cleaning. Spiders are escape artists and can fit through extremely small spaces so be careful how big you make ventilation holes and what roof you use. Arboreals need more ventilation, Cross ventilation is also much better. (ventilation on either side of your enclosure)

Temperatures

The best temperatures differ from species to species, but most Tarantulas will be happy if kept at around 26-30 degrees Celsius. Night-time temperatures can safely drop to around 15 degrees for most tarantulas. Many Tarantulas will thrive without any additional heating in the warmer areas of South Africa. If you do need to raise the temperature a bit, you can stick a small heating pad onto the outside of your cage. Never put a tank or container directly on top of a heating pad, always leave a portion of the enclosure off the heating pad. This ensures that the spider can choose the temperature that it requires. If you have a few spiders, a wall mounted panel heater, near the enclosures works well. These are energy efficient and safe.

Feeding and Watering

Tarantulas should be fed at least once a week, but can be fed as often as every 3rd day if you so wish. Gut-loaded, soft skinned roaches are the safest, healthiest and easiest form of food but crickets, Mealworms, Giant Mealworms, small mice and even specially bred maggots are eaten. I stick to gut-loaded roaches that have been lightly dusted with vitamin and mineral powder. If you are unsure of the quality of your feeders, it is best to feed them for a few days on tropical fish flakes, Pronutro, cat pellets or baby porridge and fresh veggies ( butternut works well ) for moisture. The size of the roaches is important, many keepers feed roaches the same size as the body and head of the spider (without the legs), but I prefer to feed ones that are a bit smaller. I rather feed 2 or 3 smaller roaches than a large one that could possibly injure my spider. A large roach can damage a spider that has just molted, and stress a spider that is about to molt. If you think that your spider is about to molt, rather feed smaller roaches, or hold off feeding until it has molted. If your Spider stops eating and starts to turn a shiny/unusual colour, it may well be about to molt. Wait a day or two before feeding spiders that have just molted.

If you go on holiday and don't have anyone to feed your spider, you can safely leave a  well-fed spider for a week or two without food, but you may Prestick a small bowl with a few mealworms onto the side of your cage. Ensure that the bowl cannot be knocked over, or that they can escape as mealworms on the loose can be more dangerous to your Spider than being without food.

Larger Spiders will need a water bowl in their cage, slings however just need a few droplets from a spray bottle on the side of their enclosure. A heavier type of bowl usually works better, but various lids also work. If the spider continually knocks it over, place a piece of cotton wool in the bowl or prestick it to the side of the cage. Many spiders don't drink from a water bowl (especially some arboreals), but prefer to drink from droplets formed in the cage when you spray it. I always spray a little water onto webs and walls when I feed, just in case. This also aids in keeping up the humidity. Do not use the regular water crystals. The only safe water crystals are  Nutri-Gel, available from Leaping Lizards.

Handling

Though many tarantulas can safely be handled, some Tarantulas do and will bite under certain conditions, so handle with care. Some of the more docile Tarantulas very rarely bite if handled correctly, but it never hurts to be cautious.

Never grab a Tarantula, or just pick one up. Rather slowly place your hand in front of it and gently coax it onto your hand. If it raises its front legs, it may be about to strike, so handle with respect. That said, I have never been bitten (yet) in many years of handling thousands of tarantulas, including the more dangerous ones, (i know many long term handlers that have also never been bitten), so bites are  rare when tarantulas are handled correctly/ respectfully.

The bite from New World Tarantulas (North and South America) have a bite similar to that of a wasp, painful but not dangerous (unless allergic) These will make the best starter tarantulas. The Venom of some Tarantulas is quite powerful especially old world Tarantulas, (from Africa, Asia and Australia) and may cause a nasty bite, so if you want to handle your spider regularly rather stick to the less venomous ones. If you want keep the dangerous t’s, play it safe and keep an anti-histamine (in case of allergies) and a muscle relaxant handy (for pain and swelling)  While most bites, even from the more venomous t’s, usually only cause pain, swelling and discomfort, if you start to encounter any serious symptoms get medical attention pronto, as some people may be allergic to some bites (rare though).

Certain Tarantulas are flickers when stressed, they flick the hairs from their abdomens with their rear legs.  These hairs are irritating to the skin and cause much pain if they get in your eyes. A bald spot on a Tarantula’s back is usually a sure sign of a flicker, so don’t stick your face up its rear end.

Never buy a Spider from an inexperienced person, you could buy a venomous, aggressive Spider and be told it makes a good pet. There are many Tarantulas suitable for beginners. This site has many docile Spiders that make good pets, for sale.

Above all enjoy your new pet but beware: Tarantulas are Addictive, don’t say I never warned you.