Why Won’t My Tarantula Eat?

It can be very stressful for a new tarantula keeper when your spider stops feeding. The first bit of good news, however, is that most tarantulas can go for weeks – if not months – without eating and suffer no ill effects. So this is not yet the time to start stressing. 

There are a number of reasons why your tarantula won’t eat. The most common of these are:

  • Lack of Appetite
  • Fasting Before a Molt
  • Hardening Up After a Molt
  • Temperature Too Cold
  • Dehydration
  • Feelings of Insecurity
  • They’re a Mature Male

While going off their food for a while is unlikely to do too much harm to your tarantula it is worth investigating all the possible causes. In this way you can be sure there isn’t anything more serious going on that needs more rapid attention. 

Lack of Appetite

Tarantulas will only eat so much before – like you or I – they start to feel full. A tarantula fed regularly – such as once a week as an example – may occasionally refuse a feed. Then another week or two later they’ll be back to munching any feeder insects you offer. 

If your tarantula has been eating without issue for a long period of time but then suddenly one day refuses don’t worry too much. Give them a week or two without food before you try again. 

Why Won't My Tarantula Eat?

Fasting Before a Molt

Tarantulas normally go off their food for anywhere between a few weeks (most normally) to some months before they actually molt. 

It is wise to keep a record of when your tarantula molts, so you can see whether a sudden refusal to eat falls neatly in their past molting pattern. If in doubt there are a number of signs that may indicate that your tarantula is coming up to molt. 

Hardening Up After a Molt

It isn’t just before molting that tarantulas won’t eat; they’ll normally refuse food for one to three weeks after a molt too. This is because their tough exoskeleton (including their fangs) are still soft and pliable, and need time to harden up properly.

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If you find a sloughed skin in your tarantula’s cage then you almost certainly want to wait a couple of weeks before you try feeding them again. 

Temperature Too Cold

A tarantula that feels cold will often refuse to eat until warmer weather abounds. 

There are a few options open to you in these cases. Firstly, you can just be patient and in springtime you should find that your tarantula begins to eat again. 

Alternatively, of course, you can increase the temperature in your tarantula cage so it’s nice and toasty. It can take tarantulas a few weeks to begin eating again after a temperature increase, but soon enough they’ll be tucking back into a cockroach or a locust. 

There are a number of ways to warm up a tarantula tank, though arguably the easiest way is simply to move them into the warmest room in your home, or to move their cage up to a higher position where naturally the air will be slightly warmer.

Dehydration

A dehydrated tarantula will often refuse to eat. But luckily this is a very easy problem to solve. Simply add a shallow water bowl to the cage and routinely refill it to ensure your spider has fluid to drink at all times. 

Stress

Tarantulas are naturally quite secretive animals, and spend the majority of their time hidden away from view. In captivity this often means giving them the option to dig a burrow and/or providing a hide such as a piece of cork bark.

A tarantula that doesn’t have anywhere to hide away may exhibit stress by losing their appetite.

Of course there are other factors that can cause stress in tarantulas too – such as excessive noise, vibrations or physical interference.

Whatever the case, try to ensure that your tarantula is kept in a quiet, calm part of your home where they live in peace, hiding from view as they choose. 

They’re a Mature Male

Adult male tarantulas eat only very rarely. Their mind is on more important things – primarily finding a mate.

While it isn’t true that mature male tarantulas will never eat, I find they do so far less regularly than growing juveniles or adult females.

Fortunately identifying a mature male tarantula is quite simple as their pedipalps (the small leg-like appendages by the mouthparts) change quite significantly in appearance. In mature males these look like they’re wearing boxing gloves on the end. Some species may also develop “hooks” under their first pair of legs which are even easier to spot. 

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There is no real solution to this factor. Adult males do what adult males do. Try to offer food from time to time (every 2-4 weeks) but don’t be surprised or worried if they refuse a feed. It’s just the way things go with adult male tarantulas. 

Conclusion

A tarantula that has refused food once or twice generally isn’t a cause for concern. Your tarantula isn’t going to starve in that period of time. At the same time, it’s worth doing a little investigation to see if you can figure out the cause, and whether you need to make any changes to their care.

Could they be coming up to a molt, or have recently molted? Are they an adult male? Are they too cold, thirsty, or suffering from stress for some reason? Once you’ve checked and remedied these issues it’s just a matter of being patient. 

All being well, and assuming all cage conditions are suitable, your tarantula should start eating again soon enough. And you’ll be left wondering what all the fuss was about 😉 

Richard Adams
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