So You Want to Buy a Tarantula…
Oh Give Me a Home, Where My Tarantula Can Roam!
During the course of visiting folks with our eight legged friends, we often get asked questions about obtaining a pet tarantula. So I added this section to help answer some of these what, where, and why questions about getting your first pet tarantula.
WHY? The first question the all prospective pet owners need to ask themselves is “why do I want this animal?” With the increase in popularity that invertebrates like tarantulas and scorpions have seen in the pet trade, “why” is a pretty rational question. If your first answer is, “for the shock value of having a giant spider,” do the hobby a favor and think twice. That doesn’t mean it is wrong to enjoy the looks that people give you when you tell them about the tarantula living in your house, but it probably shouldn’t be the main reason. These creatures are quite remarkable, as you will soon find out shortly after purchasing your first!
WHERE? The first place you might want to look, especially for your first spider, is a privately owned local pet shop. Many of these will have a selection of invertebrates for sale that you can browse. Look to see if the animal appears healthy, has water available (not a wet sponge), a place to hide, etc. One good indication that the pet shop is knowledgeable is if they know the scientific names of the tarantulas. Here are a couple of true phone conversations I have had with prospective pet shops…
“ABC Pets. May I help you?”
“I understand you sell tarantulas. I am checking to see if you have any Grammostola species in the shop.”
“Uhhh…what specificially are you looking for?”
“I’m looking for either an aureostriata or pulchra.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what those are.”
“They may be labeled Chaco Golden Knee and Brazilian Black.”
“We have some dark tarantulas; mostly black.”
I said “thank you” and that was that. I kept looking, and found another private pet shop that was rumored to sell tarantulas. I called and asked the same question, and got this response…
“We don’t have either of those species, but we have a couple of roseas. We do have a lot of other species available, though.”
Sounded promising, so I went to take a look. They carried approximately 50 different tarantulas, all labeled with the scientific name. However, there were many tanks with no water source at all (and some with cotton balls that had been soaked with water some time ago), many with several dead crickets (which means they do not maintain the cages), and even one tank with a dead tarantula in it. Needless to say, I moved on. I ended up finding two local shops that had a selection of tarantulas that were well taken care of, and the staff members were knowledgeable.
You might ask why I don’t go to some of the big chain pet stores that do sell tarantulas. Several reasons, including the fact that they are importing wild caught tarantulas, whereas MOST tarantulas sold at reputable private pet shops are captive bred. Also, the big chains do not always know the proper way to care for a tarantula, thinking that they should all be kept in the same environment.
Another great option is going online. This will probably be slightly more money that you may want to spend on your first tarantula, but there are some GREAT breeders/dealers out there that can guarantee the quality of your purchase. (Go to my resources page for a list of online dealers.)
WHAT? Okay, so what spider should you get? If you were to ask a number of tarantula hobbyists what species makes the best “beginner” tarantula, my guess is that a majority of them would answer the Chilean Rose Hair (Grammostola rosea).
In my opinion, it is smart to start with something relatively easy to help gain experience. If all goes well and you want your collection to expand, you can move on to other species first. For me, there are a few different things that a beginner should look at. First is the expense of that first spider. Roseas are typically inexpensive to acquire ($20 to $30 for an adult). There are some wonderful species that would make excellent first time tarantulas, but the prices can be intimidating for that first spider.
The second thing to look at is how hardy the species is. You don’t want something that has tricky temperature/humidity requirements. The Chilean Rose Hair is about as tough as they come!
Third, you want a tarantula that is known to be docile and slow moving. Roseas have a good reputation for being very calm spiders, slow moving spiders. Remember, however, that there are always going to be exceptions. (These are wild animals, after all.) Some people in the hobby do not like roseas, claiming they are too common and “boring” for them. However, our rosea is still among one of our favorite (and most friendly) spider in our collection.
If you have the money to spend and want something other than a Chilean Rose Hair, here are some other great “beginner” tarantulas. (You may have to order from a dealer online for these.)
The following information is a basic caresheet for pet tarantulas. You will need to adjust various items, such as substrate depth and humidity levels depending on what species of tarantula you are keeping. Additional research on the internet will help you with specific caresheets. (See the “Resources” page for links.)
Before your tarantula is brought home from the pet store, or delivered from a mail order dealer, there are some things you will want to have ready. Here is a good shopping list to start with:
Temperature: Mid 70’s to 80 is optimal for many tropical species. Many from the Americas can be kept slightly cooler. Remember that too cold and a spider may not eat. Too hot and they may not live. Again, this is a good place where specific species research is helpful.
Humidity: Most desert species will do fine with a water dish to provide enough humidity. Obviously, more tropical species will need your help to keep the levels up. You can do this using a spray bottle filled with distilled water.
Substrates: The big three you will often see are vermiculite, peat moss, and potting soil. Do not use bedding used for hamsters or rabbits, like wood shavings of any kind, paper, corn cob, etc. Remember to find out if your tarantula will want to dig a burrow, of if it will be happy using a provided hide. Those that will want to burrow will need deeper substrate than those that will be content under a piece of cork bark.
Diet: A tarantula will eat almost anything it can overpower. However, that does not mean I would recommend that you start experimenting with random bugs and small woodland animals to give your spider a varied diet! Most tarantulas will do just fine on a diet of crickets, feeder roaches, grasshoppers, etc. (If you are using wild caught bugs, be sure that they have not been exposed to pesticides. This will be passed on to your tarantula.) Some tarantula owners will feel small mice (live or dead) to their tarantulas. Like many things in the hobby, you will find mixed thoughts on this practice.
Feeding: Tarantulas are not like other pets, like dogs or cats. They do not require food daily. In fact, tarantulas have been known to go months without eating. Some tarantulas may even fast for a period of time, which to the new tarantula owner, can cause alarm. As a rule of thumb, offer some food (not a large amount) at least once per week. I would offer the food at night, as tarantulas are nocturnal. Be sure to remove uneaten prey if left overnight.
Tarantulas make their homes in one of two places; in/on the ground, or in trees. Ground dwelling tarantulas are called terrestrial, while tree dwelling tarantulas are called arboreal. If you are purchasing your first tarantula, be sure to do enough research to find out which one your tarantula is, as they each have different caging requirements.
Terrestrial tarantulas are more concerned with the length and width of the cage than height. The general consensus is that the minimum floor space is 1.5 – 2 times the leg span of the tarantula. The height of the cage should be enough that the spider can flip over onto it’s back (for molting). Many people go the inexpensive route and purchase plastic storage containers (shoe/sweater box) and ventilation holes drilled into them. Aquariums are also popular choices, but you must be careful that the tank is not too high. Terrestrial tarantulas will explore their tank, which includes climbing the sides and the lid to the tank. There is a good chance that the spider could lose it’s hold and fall to the cage floor. If the spider is too high off of the ground when it falls, that could spell trouble for the tarantula.
Arboreal tarantulas love to climb and will rarely be seen on the floor of their cage. Because of this, these tarantulas should have a cage with greater height than length or width. Many tarantula keepers will turn an ordinary plastic tank or glass aquarium on end, giving the arboreal spider the vaulted ceiling it was born for.
In either case, you want to be sure that you provide water (in a shallow dish), air (ventilation), either a place to hide (cork bark or half-buried flower pot) or enough substrate to dig a burrow of their own, and food. Decorations for your tarantulas cage are strictly up to your tastes. Believe it or not, your spider doesn’t really care!
“A happy Pink Zebra Beauty!”