Whilst there are some rather expensive and specialist species available, the average tarantula is reasonably easy to care for once you understand a few basic concepts.
Selecting A Species
With around 800 species of tarantulas currently recognised there is a huge variety of species available in the pet trade. Luckily the average exotic pet shop tends to have a more limited range than the professional breeder and most common species are easily kept in the home.
Species recommended for the beginner include the Chile Rose (also known by a variety of similar names such as the Chilean Rose, Rose Chilean and Rose Haired Chile Tarantula) and the Curly Haired Tarantula.
These two species in particular are ideal for a number of reasons. Firstly they are typically very reasonably priced. Adult may often be bought for around £30 while some other species sell for £100+ for an adult. Secondly two species of tarantula are both quite hardy and forgiving and so are easy to care for. Lastly they are both docile species which are unlikely to bite should you choose to handle them.
The key to keeping a tarantula successfully in captivity is in providing the correct accommodation from the outset. Tarantulas do not require much space and an adult can typically be housed in a cage measuring around 30cm in length by a similar depth.
Unless the species is a tree dwelling (arboreal) species – of which neither of the recommended species are – it is generally advisable to try and find a reasonably low tank. Tarantulas may try to climb up the walls of their cage and if they fall damage can occur. Due to this climbing aspect it is also important to have a secure lid for the top of the cage.
Now you know the approximate dimensions the next question is the material. Either a glass or clear plastic container is recommended and there are a huge range of possibilities. For example one could use a fish tank, a plastic tupperware box or one of the custom-made glass vivariums made specially for tarantulas.
Whichever option you choose, it is important to have some form of ventilation in the cage so a suitable solution is often to use a soldering iron to melt a few holes in the lid, thus allowing stale air out and fresh air in.
Tarantulas typically favour a warm environment. To this end, a heater should be used to keep their cage at a temperature of around 24’C at all times. The easiest and most cost-effective way to do this is to use one of the reptile heat pads which cost a matter of pence to run each day. The heater should be placed either under the bottom of the cage or taped to the side. Whichever option you choose, the heater should only cover half of the cage, thus creating a heat gradient.
This gradient means that one end of the cage will be warmer than the other, thus allowing your tarantula to seek out the area which suits him or her the best, and eliminating the chance of your spider overheating or getting too cold.
Once you have your cage and heater there are a few other elements you need to put in place before bringing home your first tarantula.
Firstly we need to place some substrate on the bottom of the cage to enable your spider to feel at home, to dig and so on. Potting compost works well for this when mixed with some vermiculite to help retain moisture.
Next, add a small water bowl, which should be changed daily, to enable your spider to drink when it feels the need. Also consider providing your spider with somewhere to hide as they can be shy, retiring creatures at times. I find a plastic plant pot, laid on it’s side, works well and provides a dark “cave” into which your spider can hide.
Finally, add a reptile thermometer so you can monitor the temperature within the cage and you’re all ready to go.
Tarantulas are carnivores and should be fed on live insects. For adult tarantulas – what you will most likely be buying – there are three main options. Brown crickets, black crickets and locusts. Whilst some other foods are available from time to time it is these three that should form the backbone of your spider’s diet.
Brown crickets are the smallest of these, with black crickets being larger and locusts the largest of them all.
An adult spider should be fed as much as it will eat, once or twice a week. Typically this is 1-2 adult locusts per spider per week though tarantulas to give you a rough idea. Any food which hasn’t been eaten by the following morning should be removed so as to not stress your tarantula.
Tarantulas will typically go off their food before moulting so if your spider stops eating this shouldn’t be anything too much to worry about. Tarantulas like a reasonably high humidity and so spraying their cage from time to time with a plant spray gun (ensuring you don’t actually get the tarantula itself) it recommended, particularly around the time of a moult.