The Beginners Guide to Feeding Tarantulas

Feeding tarantulas isn’t difficult, but there are a number of basic lessons that need to be understood.

In this article we’re going to introduce the topic of feeding tarantulas, covering a range of different sizes and types of spider, so that you can apply these techniques to any species you decide to keep.

What Do Tarantulas Eat?

Tarantulas are carnivores – meaning that they eat other animals. But when it comes to choosing what type of animal tarantulas are rarely fussy. In essence, they’ll eat anything that they can overcome.

At the bottom end this means that they will eat a range of insects, from moths and grasshoppers, to termites and crickets. Goliath Birdeaters have even been recorded eating large earthworms in the wild.

However that’s far from the end of the story. Tarantulas may also willingly eat vertebrate prey, such as small lizards or snakes, rodents or (very rarely) birds. Note that the name “birdeater” is generally considered a misnomer, as very few wild tarantulas have ever been recorded eating birds, no matter how small.

In short, if its alive, and they can catch it, then they’ll probably try to eat it.

What Do You Feed Pet Tarantulas?

Most pet tarantulas are fed primarily on a diet of insects. In the pet trade these are generally known collectively as “feeder insects” or “livefood”. There are a broad range of such feeder insects available, such as locusts, crickets and cockroaches.

Pet tarantulas have been known to take some vertebrate prey on occasion. YouTube is awash with videos of tarantulas catching and eating live mice, for example, but this is not to be recommended. A live rodent has the potential to hurt your spider, and also doesn’t tend to do much for the tarantula’s reputation!

Some keepers will feed their spiders an occasional dead mouse, as sold frozen to snake keepers. Be aware, however, that this can be a messy experience and can require a fair amount of cage cleaning afterwards.

Where Do I Buy Feeder Insects?

For ease, most tarantula keepers buy feeder insects from specialist breeders. These are available in a wide range of different sizes (from tiny baby crickets up to full-sized adults) and tend to come in sealed plastic tubs.

Most reptile shops stock a range of livefoods, but in my experience they can suffer from two major issues. Firstly, many reptile shops sell out of livefood on a regular basis, so a visit never guarantees that you’ll come home with what you’re after.

Additionally, crickets and suchlike kept in their plastic tubs often don’t survive for long, meaning that I often find tubs with just a tiny handful of crickets in them for sale in pet stores.

For these reasons I personally order my livefood online, which is then shipped to my door in a timely fashion. If you’re in the USA or UK then there are a range of mail order companies available to you; feel free to experiment until you find a supplier that you’re happy with.

Can I Feed My Tarantula Wild Insects?

Feeding wild-caught insects to tarantulas is a hotly-contested subject. Some people claim that going out in summer with a net is a great way to offer your spider a wide range of insects at no cost. Others argue that these insects have the potential to introduce parasites or chemicals into your spider tank – something that is best avoided.

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This really is a personal matter, but personally speaking I opt not to feed wild insects to my spiders and instead rely 100% on breeding farms for my livefood.

How Often Should I Feed My Tarantula?

Tarantula appetites can vary quite a bit. Typically spiders from hotter or more humid areas (South America, South East Asia) tend to be faster growing, with bigger appetites to match.

In contrast, many North American species from drier habitats (such as many Brachypelma or Aphonopelma) tend to grow more slowly and have lesser appetites.

I have also found that arboreal (tree dwelling) species such as Avicularia and Poecilotheria also tend to have rabid appetites, with some specimens eating on an almost daily basis (given the option).

Lastly, be aware that juvenile tarantulas tend to eat more frequently than adults, as they’re trying to grow to adult size as quickly as possible.

How often to feed your tarantula is therefore not an easy question to answer, and can depend on a range of different factors including species, lifestage and even the temperature that your spider is kept at.

As a very broad rule I would suggest that juveniles are fed twice a week, and adults once a week.

That said, the best bet is to follow the lead of your spider. If your spider leaps straight on any prey you put in the cage then consider feeding more frequently (or larger prey items). If they pay very little interest and/or some insects remain the next morning then consider feeding less frequently.

Over time you’ll get your “eye in” to how often your spider is hungry, and you can then base your feeding schedule on this information.

Do Arboreal and Terrestrial Tarantulas Eat Different Things?

While many of the more popular tarantulas (such as the Chilean Rose Hair) are ground-dwelling spiders, seeking shelter in burrows or underneath rocks, others dwell in trees.

Here they may make intricate nests out of silk in tree holes or behind pieces of loose bark. The obvious question is whether these spiders need to be fed differently in captivity.

Broadly speaking the answer is “no”. Whatever insects you choose should be suitable, as many insects will happily clamber up tank decor, where they can be picked off by your spider.

Alternatively, most arboreal spiders are perfectly happy to come out and hunt after dark, picking off insects from the cage floor.

Just be aware, as discussed above, that many arboreal species seem to have bigger appetites than terrestrial species, so may eat far more regularly.

What Size Insects Should I Feed My Spider?

Adult tarantulas will eat virtually anything they can overpower, which basically means any of the commonly-available feeder insects. Crickets, cockroaches or locusts are all appropriate prey items for an adult. That said, it does seem that some specimens have preferences, so it can be wise to ask the breeder/pet store what they’ve been feeding them on when you buy your spider.

In terms of the size of insect that a tarantula will eat, most will readily take an item that is as long as they are. This means that an adult Greenbottle Blue, for example, will happily catch and eat an adult locust. However just because a spider is willing to catch large insects, doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t touch smaller prey.

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Other keepers like to offer half a dozen smaller crickets at a sitting for example. While this can work out more expensive in the long run, it can be quite amusing to watch a greedy adult tarantula slowly “hoovering up” insects, trying to catch another cricket while it already have two in it’s mouth, for example.

With juveniles the case is very similar, with the ideal prey items being between half the length of the spider and it’s total length.

However it is spiderlings – or tiny baby tarantulas – that can be rather more challenging to feed. Their tiny size negates tiny prey, which can be rather more difficult to handle.

The best foods for spiderlings are either wingless fruit flies (Drosophila) or pinhead (hatchling) crickets. Both are just a few millimetres long and so an ideal size.

But how are these best handled?

The answer is with a “pooter”. A pooter is a simple piece of equipment that essentially consists of two plastic straws, attached at one end to a plastic container. You suck on one straw, and the vacuum created “sucks” insects in through the other straw.

So you can open up just a tiny corner of your pinhead cricket tub, poke one of the straws in, suck hard, and quickly find you have a number of “victims” in the plastic holding container.

It is then very simple to gently tip one or two crickets into each spiderling’s cage before securing the lid again.

Can I Overfeed My Spider?

Tarantulas in themselves cannot be overfed like some animals (scorpions, for example). As a result you can pretty much feel free to feed your spider as much as he or she will eat.

The only proviso here is that great care should be taken when your spider goes off it’s food. Under such circumstances it is likely that a moult is approaching, and so changes will be necessary to your feeding routine.

What You Need To Know About Feeding and Moulting

When a tarantula changes it’s skin, it’s not just the external skin which gets moulted. In addition, parts of the reproductive and digestive systems will also be replaced. Unsurprisingly, tarantulas therefore tend to stop eating for a period of time before moulting.

If you have been noticing that your tarantula is looking increasing tubby then there’s a fair chance that your pet is coming up to change its skin. This is doubly so when your spider goes off it’s food. If your tarantula suddenly starts to refuse food then take note.

The period of time that tarantulas fast for before a moult largely depends on the size of the spider. A baby may only refuse food for a few days before a moult. In some adult specimens I have known them to refuse food for a month or more before changing their skin.

The key here is that no livefood should be left in the cage. Crickets in particular can nibble at a tarantula when it is changing its skin, causing problems or even death.

Once a moult it completed you should wait for a week or so for your tarantula’s new skin to harden before starting to offer food again.

Still got questions? Just leave them in the comments section below and I’ll answer them as soon as possible…

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