Beginner’s Guide To Keeping Tarantulas

Perhaps the most divisive potential pet in the UK, tarantulas can actually make really great pets – provided you don’t suffer from arachnophobia, of course.

The most common breeds are generally simple to look after, need little space, are quite clean and make little noise. They can also enjoy being handled and given a little bit of attention if you get the right breed.

This all makes them ideal for anyone who doesn’t have enough time or availability to look after something more demanding but still wants some animal companionship. They’re also great for anyone who loves straying away from the norm.

What You Need To Know First

When you are still at the decision stage of the process, you should always arm yourself with knowledge about your chosen pet.

  • There are over 800 species in total (but only a tiny portion of these are in the pet trade)
  • This can be split into two categories for home pets – arboreal (tree-dwelling) and desert (burrowing)
  • The average life span between all breeds and genders is 8 to 10 years
  • Some female brown tarantulas have reached the grand old age of 36. Females are therefore often the choice for most pet owners
  • The size of a tarantula can be between two and eight inches
  • They will reach their full size between two and eight years old depending on life span
  • The best beginner tarantulas are the ground dwellers or burrowers as they move slower and don’t mind being handled as much
  • Don’t house more than one in a tank – they are cannibalistic so it will end in disaster
  • They change their skin. Adults will do this moulting around once per year, and juveniles four times per year
  • Their blood (hemolymph) is usually a clear white, pale or blue liquid. This could make cuts hard to spot
  • They are carnivores and will need to eat living animals. You shouldn’t buy a pet tarantula if you aren’t happy about this
  • These animals will also need to be kept alive and fed, especially if you’re buying in bulk
  • A tarantula can’t be overfed, but also doesn’t usually need feeding every day – they are happy to dictate when they’re hungry and you will soon learn their patterns

Choosing Your Breed

Only a small handful of the 800 breeds out there are suitable for homes. You still have quite the crop to pick from though.

The most popular, and the best for beginners, is the Chile Rose. They’re pretty docile, easy to please and live for a good amount of time. Slow-moving, they can also be handled. The Curly Hair, Costa Rican Zebra Tarantula, Pinktoe Tarantula and the Mexican Red Knee are also good.

Choose captive-bred tarantulas as opposed to wild-caught. This way they are free of parasites and you can check nothing is illegal

In terms of ones more exotic, the Goliath Birdeater gives you a plate-sized pet, and the Green Bottle Blue looks a spectacle. Cobalt Blue is also vivid, but are best for experienced owners.

Cost To Buy

A tarantula can range anywhere between £5 and over £100 to purchase. The beginner breeds are often near the bottom of this scale.

They can be relatively inexpensive to keep, too. Once you have all of the equipment, you rarely have to purchase replacements, so it is just the food which is the main regular expense. This can be bought in bulk, and maintained and fed until you need it.

The Equipment You Need

They are exotic, so need a lot more than a hamster or cat. Remember that if yours will be growing bigger over the years, you may need to upgrade the tank size accordingly.

  • Tarantula Tank

A suitable home is vital, and it should be glass. Take a look at our picks of the best vivariums for some inspiration.

They generally don’t need huge cages and are housed alone so don’t need to share. Three times the leg-span long and two times the leg-span wide is a good guide, or 2.5-5 gallons for burrowing and 10 gallons for arboreal. An ordinary fish tank or vivarium is often used.

If you have an arboreal species of tarantula, you will need the cage to be tall with twigs and items they can use to climb and build webs, so try leaving it on its side. Burrowing spiders will need a good layer of substrate and hiding places.

Many tarantulas are great climbers, but the tank should not be too tall as if they fell it could be fatal for them. This also means that they should have a very secure lid, but watch out that there is still enough ventilation

  • Substrate

This is the lining at the base of the tank. They may burrow and rearrange it depending on their needs. Chemical-free compost and coir (coconut shell) are the most widely used, and between one and three inches is usually enough for most species.

You can also use reptile bark or dampened sphagnum moss, but tough gravel or artificial turf is too tough

  • Heat

They are cold-blooded but usually come from the hotter parts of the world such as South America. This means they will need a source of warmth. It shouldn’t be anything too intense beaming on to them, so setting the tank on top of the heater or fastening it to the side is usually enough.

Heat is best spread throughout the tank in a gradient effect, with one section cooler than the other, so they can naturally select the area they prefer from time to time. A thermometer can help you monitor this. You should aim to keep it at around 25°C

  • Humidity

Often in the form of a spray gun. It is important they have heat but they also need humidity. Anything too dry can be fatal, especially when they’re changing their skin.

Hygrometers can help you monitor this, too. Ideal levels should be between 70-80%, which is pretty humid indeed

  • Hiding Places

They’re actually quite private and shy and prefer darker conditions to natural light so it can be good to give them somewhere to go when they want to retire. Hides should be like mini caves, which they can properly snuggle into.

Dedicated half-logs are available in pet stores, but a buried clay plant pot on its side works too

  • Water

In addition to the humid conditions, they occasionally need a drink. They don’t need as much as most other animals but will sometimes need some hydration, so a shallow bowl which is only deep enough for them to submerge their fangs is fine. This can also help the rest of the tank stay moist

  • Food

As mentioned above, they are carnivores. They don’t need a bowl or anything – they feed on live insects and have prey instincts. You can read more about feeding tarantulas below

  • Decorations

Optional, but can increase the hiding availability and hold moisture, as well as making it look nice. Arboreal tarantulas can also benefit from this as it will help them to climb. Plastic or silk plants, branches, backgrounds, rocks and vines are good

  • Light

They should be kept in a dark part of a room away from direct light. This can dry out a tarantula. Use a nocturnal or infrared light if you want to be able to see your tarantula in the dark

Keeping Tarantulas

Setting Up Your Tank

Get the home ready, place the substrate and then get the water bowl and hiding place ready.

You will need to take care when setting up the heater, working out the best place to fit it for the gradient effect and ensuring it won’t make the inside too hot overall. You should heat between ⅓ and ½ of the cage.

Monitor the cage overnight before your tarantula is placed. Once you hit between 24°C and 26°C, you are good to go.

Feeding Tarantulas

  • When

Juveniles should be fed live insects once daily. Underfeeding can cause them to dehydrate and die. Adults should be fed somewhere between every other day and twice per week. They’re nocturnal, so this should ideally be done at night with enough time for you to keep an eye on their behaviour before you go to bed. You may want to mimic their natural environment by offering sporadic feeding, such as leaving different lengths in between feeding days.

Food should be eaten within a few minutes of introducing it to the tank. If it hasn’t been, give it an hour before removing it, as too long can cause the tarantula to become stressed. They could also be injured by the food when resting.

Keep a diary of when your spider has eaten and when. Sometimes, they simply aren’t hungry, but if they have gone for a few weeks without eating, they may be in pre-moult season and you will need to keep an eye on them to ensure this goes smoothly

  • What

Crickets are the most popular live insects which can be bought to feed your pet spider. You should aim for one around half the size of your spider at the very most, as larger ones can fight back. Check they’re not too small though – continuous hunting in a short time can cause your spider to become stressed. One larger cricket is better than four tiny ones.

Some species may also eat pinkie mice which have been frozen and thawed to room temperature, but some tarantulas can struggle to realise that this non-moving item is food so is rarely done. It is now illegal in the UK to feed live mice to pets

Keeping Insects For Food

The insects, particularly if they are crickets, should ideally be gut-loaded (recently fed). You can dust them with vitamin powders and should give them a diet of nutritious food because this is essentially what your spider is eating too. Commercial food is available for them.

Because you have to look after these too, it often requires a separate tank in which they can hop about. A plastic box is usually fine, with very small holes for aeration. Keep it dry, and restrict it to 1000 crickets in an 18 x 14-inch box. There is more information about keeping live crickets online.

Cleaning The Tank

The frequency of this varies. For those spiders who need a lot of moisture, this could need to be done up to once per week. For others at a relatively low humidity level, once a year may be plenty.

You will also need to disinfect it. Completely remove the spider and place in a secure separate tank. Scrub everything with a 3% bleach solution, ensuring it is fully rinsed and dry with no bleach smell before adding a clean substrate.

Excess moisture can cause mould and fungus growth so should be avoided. If you notice any of this, you should clean it straight away.

Common Health Issues

Tarantulas generally face fewer health issues than the majority of other house pets. They are prone to very few illnesses, and most are captive-bred so haven’t faced the issues they would in the wild or been able to catch anything from other spiders.

But if you have seen them struggle in a moult, they are slow-moving or they seem to have dry skin or hair, they could be dehydrated. Spray their tank more and top up their water.

They could also suffer from bleeding if they have fallen. They could have done this without you even seeing, but is, unfortunately, the most common cause for premature tarantula deaths. Keeping some household super glue to hand is a great idea. It will mend the wound, clot the flow of hemolymph (spider blood) and repair abdominal ruptures.

There aren’t really any specialist vets for tarantulas in the UK, but a reptile vet may be the best bet. Some can offer advice, but there is no medicine or injections for them so not much can be done if they fall ill.

FAQs

  • Can I Handle A Tarantula?

As mentioned throughout, some beginner species are slow-moving and can be handled. But some of the more exotic breeds will really not appreciate the interaction, and can even be vicious.

It is worth noting that if you can handle your tarantula, it isn’t actually recommended you do so often. They can’t be cuddled like a dog or held like a mouse.

A spiders abdomen is very fragile. If they were dropped, this could be fatal for them, so you should always know what you are doing. Hold them over a very soft surface, and ensure you are prepared if they suddenly get a spurt of energy. Get ready to swap hands as they walk.

To get your spider on your hand, place your flat hand into the tank and gently encourage them onto your palm.

  • Do Tarantulas Bite?

They can if they feel threatened when handling them. In most cases, this is just like a bee sting, but some people may have an adverse reaction to this.

It is more common for some hairier breeds to flick urticating hairs when they feel threatened, which may also cause allergic reaction or irritation in humans.

  • How Do I Feed Live Prey To My Tarantula?

Open the enclosure, making a note of where your spider is and ensuring they can’t dash for the exit.

Using tongs to lower the prey into the tank and then allowing your spider to hunt it is the most popular method. If you’re brave enough, you can just drop them in by hand. Try to do this at the opposite end of the tank to your tarantula as you don’t want to startle them and you should encourage them to hunt it out.

You may also want to hold the prey in the tongs to tease your spider but this is unnecessary generally. If feeding them the mice, dangle the body on some string to mimic movement.

  • How Can They Face Problems When Moulting?

A tarantula could lose a leg. This can regenerate but will require some attention. They can often stop the bleeding themselves, but the super glue can help here if they seem to struggle.

This leg will soon look like their old one after a few moults.

Young tarantulas can get trapped in their exoskeleton. If they need help removing a deformed leg, pinch this with some forceps or tweezers to encourage them to separate it and continue to moult.

You can prevent these issues by being careful when handling them, and keeping them hydrated.