I’ve kept pet tarantulas for over 20 years. In that time I’ve had hundreds of specimens and bred dozens of different species in my home.
Until people find out I seem just like any other normal person. However as soon as friends and colleagues discover I have tarantulas – not just one but a whole collection – they become fascinated.
The questions flow.
Interestingly I have found over the years that the same questions keep cropping up time and again. For anyone interested I therefore thought I’d pull together a list of frequently asked questions about tarantulas.
Where Do You Keep Them?
For many, many years I kept my tarantula collection in my bedroom. The thing about tarantulas is that people very rarely stop at one.
Soon enough you’re adding ever more specimens to your menagerie. As collections grow, so too can where they’re kept.
These days I keep all my spiders in my home office, simply because the collections has grown too big for the bedroom. And incase you’re wondering, yes I slept absolutely fine with a few dozen tarantulas at the end of my bed!
Do They Ever Escape?
The next question I seem to get asked is whether they ever escape?
After two decades of keeping tarantulas I’ve had three escape.
After that many years that’s pretty good odds.
Each time the tarantula was quickly found and returned safely to it’s cage. Each time it was my fault for not closing the lid properly. And no I never got bitten by any of the escapees.
Do You Hold Them?
Non-tarantula keepers seem to be obsessed with the idea of holding tarantulas in your hands. The reality is that there are very few tarantulas that can be safely held, without either risking danger to the spider or yourself.
For example, some tarantulas – like those from Southeast Asia – are known for have quite potent venom. Some stories suggest they can lead to a swollen, stiff arm and considerable joint pain for several days after a bite. You don’t want to get “tagged” by one of these.
Other tarantulas are very fast-moving and would be difficult to manage outside of their cage.
Just as importantly, if a tarantula gets dropped their soft, squishy abdomens can rupture, leading to death.
As a result, while it’s probably not the exciting answer that you were hoping for; no I don’t deliberately handle my tarantulas at all. It’s safest for all parties. Things are typically the same for most experienced keepers.
Do Tarantulas Bite?
Tarantulas can bite, of course.
There are over 500 different species of tarantula known to science, and probably 100+ of these are available in the pet trade if you have the budget and you’re willing to put the time into finding them. Each one differs in how likely they are to bite.
Some, like the Curly Hair and the Greenbottle Blue are quite docile, and the chances of a bite are quite slim. Others like the so-called “Orange Bitey Thing” got their name for a reason and are far more likely to try and strike.
If you want to buy a “docile” tarantula then it’s entirely possible to do so. Once you tire of handling tarantulas, however, it is normal to move up to some of the more “bitey” species as they’re often beautifully colored.
Why Do You Keep Tarantulas?
Many people look on dumbfounded when they hear I have a room full of tarantulas. Why would anyone do such a thing? Couldn’t I just get a dog, or watch football on the TV?
The reason to keep tarantulas is possibly the toughest question of all to answer, and it’s one that I’ve wrestled with over the years. Eventually I decided that liking tarantulas is something subconscious, just like why you prefer some foods to others, or some music but not other.
A desire to keep tarantulas isn’t really a logical decision – it’s just a deep-seated interest in your psyche.
What Do Tarantulas Actually Do?
By this point people have found out I don’t hold my tarantulas.
Anyone who has seen tarantulas in a zoo or a pet store knows that they don’t really do much.
They don’t offer you affection.
They don’t move around much.
They might only eat once every week or two.
So what do they actually do that makes them such fascinating pets?
The answer here is to think of keeping tarantulas as more like gardening than looking after other more traditional pets. Plants don’t really “do” anything, but millions of people round the world invest time and money into their gardens.
To the tarantula keeper, there is pleasure to be had in admiring a beautiful tarantula.
They’re not all boring hairy brown things like you might expect. There are blue tarantulas, purple tarantulas, orange tarantulas and more. They vary in size from a few inches across the legs to 12” or more.
What’s more, like the gardener, there is pleasure to be had in learning about your specimens and providing them with the very best conditions to flourish.
Done right they grow and prosper and all the while you’re expanding your knowledge.
That tiny baby tarantula (typically known as a “spiderling” or “sling”) eventually turns into a majestic adult after years of effort. Maybe they themselves will breed for you producing the next generation.
Yes, as a tarantula keeper – like a gardener – you must be patient. But stick with it long enough and that patience is rewarded.
Long Long Do They Live?
Tarantulas can vary massively in how long they live.
There are two considerations really. The first is how long they take to reach adulthood. North American tarantulas tend to grow quite slowly and can take 3-4 years to reach adulthood. In contrast some Asian and South American species grow much faster and can mature in 18 months to two years.
Once tarantulas reach adulthood things get even more interesting.
The adult males typically won’t get to see their first birthday. They don’t eat very much after they become adults, as they’re so focused on reproduction. They often get eaten during one of these encounters, but even if they don’t it is quite unusual for an adult male to live much past a year.
Females, on the other hand, can live for years afterwards.
The slower growing species we mentioned from North America are particularly long-lived and may survive for 20 years or more as adults. Lifespans tend to be a bit shorter for fast-growing species.
So, adding all this together, tarantulas can live for anything from 2 or 3 years right up to 20+ depending on factors such as what species they are, how much they’re fed, and their luck in the mating game.
Do Tarantulas Need Heating?
Most tarantulas come from the warmer parts of the world. If your home remains at 20’C+ all year round then they may well be fine at room temperature.
For most of us in temperate climates, however, some supplementary heating can be beneficial.
Luckily heating a tarantula cage needn’t be difficult. Reptile stores sell a range of modestly-priced heaters such as heat mats and heating cables. These can heat your tarantula for just a few pence per day.
Experts recommend that you always use a reptile thermostat to control the heat inside your tarantula cage. Generally speaking you’ll want to heat just one side of the cage to a comfortable 24-26’C.
The other side is left unheated, so that it stays a few degrees cooler. In this way your tarantula can move about and select the area that suits them best, moving from warmer to colder parts just like a lizard basking in the sun.
How Big Do Tarantulas Grow?
With so many different species available to hobbyists there are a huge range of adult sizes. The biggest tarantulas in the world – the Goliath Birdeaters – can reach up to 30cm when measured diagonally across the legs (known in the hobby as “legspan”).
In truth, however, very few spiders get so big.
The more popular hobby species such as the Mexican Red Knee and Chilean Rose Hair attain far more modest proportions of some 5-6” across the legs.
While I know this still sounds very large indeed, such a spider is very easily housed and kept at home in an average-sized vivarium.
What Do You Feed Them?
Tarantulas are carnivores, and will eat any prey items small enough to be caught. In captivity tarantulas are typically fed on live insects – things like cockroaches, crickets and locusts.
While some people breed their own at home, it is more normal to purchase these insects in tubs from specialist “feeder farms”.
Any Other Questions?
Got any other questions about keeping tarantulas? If so, why not leave a comment below and I’ll try to answer them!
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