This article is designed to give a very basic knowledge of care for tarantulas. You will need to look up the individual care needs for the exact species you are getting. The aim of keeping tarantulas in captivity is to ensure that the habitat mimics their natural environment – so substrate, size, temperatare and humidity will vary greatly from species to species!
The tarantula by nature is cannibalistic. The primary consideration should be how to house your spider, and it should almost always be housed alone unless you are specifically intending to breed. There are only one or two species that live in communities and unless raised together and known to be a communal spider, always err on the side of caution and house your tarantula alone. Most species are adequate in a small aquarium style enclosure. Few species require more than 10 gallons of space to be content. A secure lid should be provided. Aquarium hoods are not sufficient as they can be pushed off! Spiders are remarkably adept at escaping, and can lift off lids with ease unless they are securely fitted. The cover should have ample ventilation, but if entirely mesh you need to ensure that too much humidity and heat is not lost.
Substrate is important when housing a tarantula, and vermiculite or soil is advised. Some desert species may thrive on sand, but this is rare. Most spiders require a high humidity level, and damp vermiculite, or a vermiculate/sand mix will provide this. It also allows for burrowing.
It is important to provide a retreat for your tarantula, as they can become stressed when out in the open for too long, and will begin to lose the hairs on their abdomen, and even become aggressive. Cork bark is the ideal shelter, and can be placed around the enclosure.
Temperature and Light
The temperature for tarantulas ranges from 70 to 85, with 78 to 82 being the optimum for most species but you must double check with the exact species you are purchasing. A heat mat is the recommended way of providing this heat. Lights can be used, but should not exceed 25 watts, or a red bulb should be used. UVB bulbs can be used to enhance the colour of the spider in some species, but most will not benefit from it. Humidity is extremely important and should generally be kept at 50 – 95%. Too low humidity will result in dehydration and problematic moults but too high humidity can also cause problems – again, you must check with the species you are purchasing what their natural humidity would most likely be.
Tarantulas are opportunistic hunters in the wild, and will generally eat almost anything offered to them. In captivity they prey easily on crickets, grasshoppers and locusts. It is important to provide an additional calcium source, such as powder dusted onto the prey. Adult spiders should be fed once or twice a week, whilst younger spiders can eat every second or third day. Clean water should be provided but ensure it is not enough to drown in!
All tarantulas shed their skin, which is called the moult. When they are coming to their moulting season, they may refuse food, and stop moving around. This is perfectly normal, and they should not be disturbed during this period. During moulting the spider sheds it’s entire exoskeleton. It will spin a web, and then flip over onto it. It may take several days for this shed to occur, and the spider should not be touched during this period. Moving it back onto it’s front could result in serious injury, or even death. After the shed, the exoskeleton will slowly harden back into that of a normal spider. Prey should not be introduced until 1 week after the shed, and then you can resume as normal. An exoskeleton which is a mimic of the spider will be left behind. This should be removed.
Caution should be taken when handling a spider. Some species are aggressive and simply should not be handled. Aside from the aggressiveness of a spider, urticating hairs on the spiders abdomen can cause a rash or skin complaint. The spider can also “kick” hairs from the back of the leg as a defensive mechanism. Extreme care should also be taken that the spider cannot fall or jump, as even a relatively small fall can rupture the spiders abdomen, resulting in death.
It may be of interest to note the spiders anatomy. This picture shows a Brachypelma smithi Mexican redknee, but the anatomy is the same for all tarantulas.