One of the first questions I get when people find out that I keep tarantulas is whether I handle them. The answer to that is almost exclusively “no”. And part of the reason for that pertains to whether or not tarantulas actually like being handled.
Broadly speaking tarantulas don’t like being handled. Some calmer and more docile species may accept a degree of handling, but it would be a mistake to say that they enjoy it.
The reality of the situation is that if you handle your tarantula then this is all about you. It’s about your pleasure. The tarantula itself would far rather than you just left it alone. Tarantulas are happiest when they are safely tucked away in their burrow, or under a piece of cork bark.
Why You Shouldn’t Handle Tarantulas
Most experienced tarantula keepers recommend against handling tarantulas. This is mirrored by many of the non-profit organisations focused on tarantulas and exotic pets. So why shouldn’t you handle a tarantula?
Physical damage to the spider
Tarantulas that get dropped often die. The tough exoskeleton of a tarantula can easily rupture if the spider is dropped from a height. The result can be your tarantula bleeding to death. That’s not what we’d wish on such a beautiful creature.
The more often you handle a tarantula, of course, the more likely you are to accidentally drop it. Maybe you’re not paying enough attention. Maybe the tarantula suddenly runs or jumps off your hand. The result is the same – a heavy, fat tarantula hitting the ground with a thud.
Risk of loss
Many of the more popular tarantulas recommended for handling are quite slow moving. They plod along at quite a modest pace. But don’t go assuming that all tarantulas move at that speed.
Many other tarantulas are capable of incredible bursts of speed. Of course, tarantulas can also climb up vertical surfaces, and some may even be able to run across your ceiling.
It’s unlikely that you’re going to lose a Curly Haired tarantula or a Mexican Red Knee during handling, but many other species could make a pretty rapid escape. Indeed, many tarantulas move so fast it would be almost impossible for you to prevent them dashing off round your house or out of an open window.
No handling means a far smaller chance of losing your pet tarantula.
Many of the more popular species of tarantula possess urticating hairs. These irritating hairs can be kicked off by a tarantula that feels threatened. It is not uncommon for this to happen when a tarantula is being handled.
While the risks of urticating hairs have been greatly exaggerated by the mainstream media, there is still a risk. Urticating hairs on your skin can be itchy for some days afterward. The same hairs in your eyes or nose can be even worse.
Once again, not handling your tarantula means there is far less chance you’ll be impacted by these hairs.
Tarantulas vary significantly in how likely they are to bite. Many of the “best” tarantulas for handling are deliberately quite docile species and are unlikely to bite. However just because it is unlikely doesn’t mean to say it’ll never happen.
The best way to avoid ever being bitten by a tarantula is simply to always keep your fingers out of harm’s way. Coaxing your tarantula into a plastic container using a long paintbrush or pair of forceps is a lot safer than trying to pick it up.
Why You Should Handle Tarantulas
I can really think of no decent argument about why you might want to handle a tarantula other than for your own pleasure. For some people, that is reason enough, but for others the previous warnings may make handling tarantulas less appealing.
You could argue that handling a tarantula helps you get a closer look so you can carry out a health check or suchlike, but you can see just as much by observing the tarantula through glass or plastic.
Can You Tame a Tarantula?
Tarantulas cannot be “tamed” the same way that a pet gerbil or a parakeet can. They don’t like people and they don’t get used to being handled. They certainly don’t learn to look forward to handling sessions and it would be wrong to claim that tarantulas ever start to like being handled.
If a tarantula is aggressive then it’s likely to remain this way for the rest of its life. No amount of gentle talking or hand feeding will help to calm down an angry spider and make it like you.
Do Tarantulas Bond With Their Owners?
Tarantulas do not bond with their owners. Your pet tarantula honestly wouldn’t care who is looking after them, so long as they have enough food, warmth and somewhere to hide.
Your tarantula certainly won’t learn to recognise you, in comparison to how it reacts towards other members of your household. It won’t pine when it doesn’t see you. Quite the opposite in fact – a tarantula is happiest when it’s left well alone to do it’s own thing without any interference from people.
And, as you might expect by now, under these circumstances tarantulas don’t like to be handled, even by their owner, because no special bond develops between the spider and the owner.
Can All Tarantulas Be Handled?
The general message of this article is that tarantulas don’t like to be handled, and that handling your tarantula brings with it unnecessary risks. Therefore, tarantulas shouldn’t be handled.
However I do accept that some people are still going to want to handle their tarantula. For them, being able to hold a giant hairy spider in the palm of their hand is part of the appeal of tarantula ownership.
The obvious question therefore becomes whether all tarantulas can be handled. The answer to this question is “no”. While there are some tarantula species that are reasonably docile and slow-moving, there are many others that cannot be handled. They’re too fast-moving. Or they’re too quick to defend themselves.
If you’re buying a tarantula with the specific intention of handling it, you’d be well-advised to do your research carefully. In this way you can be sure you’re bringing home a tarantula that is reasonably safe to handle.
Some examples of the best tarantulas for handling include:
- Curly Hairs (Tliltocatl albopilosus)
- Chile Rose (Grammostola rosea)
- Brazilian Blacks (Grammostola pulchra)
- Mexican Red Knees (Brachypelma hamorii)
All of the above species are typically quite slow moving, long lived and are very unlikely to bite under normal circumstances.