Introduction to Tarantulas
Small facts about Tarantulas
Of the approximately 35,000 known species of spiders, some 800 or so are known as true tarantulas (Family Theraphosidae). They are mostly heavy-bodied, and have eight eyes on a small "bump" at the front of their body (Structural Information). All tarantulas are venomous, although only a very few cause more than a "bee sting" reaction.
General Tarantula Care by Stan Sparks ©
Before you buy a tarantula you should think about the conditions it would need to live a long and healthy life. Many tarantulas die in the first few days because their new owner hasn‘t prepared a suitable home for them. First decide what you want to buy because a small spiderling will obviously require very different accommodation to a large grown specimen. I will assume you are buying a medium-sized tarantula in which case you will need to provide the following.
Keeping your tarantula Healthy
The major things needed to keep a tarantula healthy are to:
Provide a secure escape-proof enclosure;
Provide proper food;
Always provide water;
Know something about the natural environment of your tarantula.
Pet shops will sell suitable tanks in glass or plastic and the size should not be less than about 25cm by 15cm by 15cm high. If you want to create a tank that tries to provide the spiders natural conditions (for example rain forest with leaf litter, logs etc.) then you will need a much larger tank, but you won‘t see your spider very often! I would suggest that you begin with the simple tank without unnecessary contents so that you can watch your tarantula‘s activities.
A 2cm layer of Vermiculite should cover the bottom of the tank and a thin layer of chipped bark or cocoa fibre placed on top of that. These can be purchased from most garden centres and should be kept damp to keep up the humidity levels in the tank. Peat or potting compost should not be used, as they really need to be sterilised and changed frequently.
A temperature of 21-24 degrees centigrade is required for most of the tarantulas that you should buy as a beginner. If you have a centrally heated room which stays at that temperature all the time then you won‘t need extra heating during the winter, but you will between spring and autumn when the heating is switched off. A good pet shop that sells reptiles and spiders will have a variety of thermostatically controlled heating devices including underground cables, heating mats and hot rocks. Tell them the size and type of tank that you are using and they will recommend a suitable heater for you. An alternative is a seed propagator, which can be purchased from garden centres. You can keep your tank inside it. Red light bulbs are not very suitable for heating spider tanks.
The humidity in the tank should not be less than 50-60% and you should buy a little humidity gauge to stick on the inside of your tank. If the humidity drops below 50% your tarantula may die during its next moult.
Food and Water
Crickets and locusts are usually available from pet shops that sell tarantulas and reptiles and you can try other livestock, which you catch yourself, such as moths and caterpillars. Some will even eat earthworms. A tarantula of about 3-4cm in body length will eat 8-10 crickets each week although it will survive on less. Water is vital to your tarantula. It can survive for weeks without food but quickly die without water. A small container such as a coffee jar lid half-filled with water will provide drinking water and help keep the humidity up.
As your tarantula grows it will regularly moult (shed its skin), 2-3 times a year in the case of the half grown individual. Signs of an approaching moult are darkening of the colour and stopping feeding. When feeding stops, remove any live food in case they irritate the spider, or worse, nibble it while it is helpless during the moult. Normally the spider will turn on its back to moult and lie still in that position for several hours. Do not disturb it in any way at this time, as activity may prove fatal. Feed it about 4-5 days after moulting when its new skin has hardened.
Depending on the species and sex, some female tarantulas can live 20 years or more, although most don‘t achieve this age. Males are relatively short-lived compared to females, and generally die within a year and a half after becoming adults.
From the outside, the sex of a tarantula can‘t always be determined with certainty unless the animal is an adult or almost adult. Males are generally more slender than females, with longer legs and smaller abdomens, but these are relative characteristics. Adult male tarantulas of most species have distinct hooks on the bottom of the third segment (from the end) of the front walking legs. Also, adult males (of all spiders, not just tarantulas) always have mating structures at the ends of the arm like appendages (the pedipalps) at the front of the spider; the ends of these appendages appear swollen. Female spiders of any age don‘t have any hooks, and the ends of their pedipalps always look just like the ends of their walking legs. Mature (and almost mature) females also have a "cliff" on the bottom of the abdomen, near its base.
Choosing your Tarantula
For your first tarantula you don‘t want an aggressive, difficult to keep or very expensive specimen. The species commonly sold in pet stores is the Chilean rose, Phrixotrichus cala (formerly known as Grammostola cala) or a related species. Phrixotrichus is a ground-dwelling species, staying in a burrow during the day and emerging at night to feed. Occasionally other species are imported for sale, and specially dealers may offer dozens of kinds.
For the beginner you should stick with the following:
Chilean Rose Grammostola spatulatus (Common) / Grammostola. cala (Beautiful)
Entre Rios Grammostola inheringii
Curly Haired Brachypelina albopilosa
Red Rump Brachypelina vagans
White Collared Pterinopelma saltator