THE TARANTULA RAVE:
In the jet setting age we are living in, when mankind is placing more emphasis on themselves, because of tight time schedules, people are shifting from the traditional pets that requires a lot of time and finances, and venturing into the more exotic and less demanding animals. The tarantula is the twenty-first century pet. Some exotic pets have proven disastrous for the casual pet owner. But with the tarantula, it has been beneficial to people and tarantulas. The growing demand for tarantulas as pets has cause the arachnid industry to blossom. There have been several books published, and documentaries featured on television showing them in their natural environment. Such exposure have educated the public to the true nature of the tarantula and incited an interest to own this fascinating creature.
For further impression a tarantula requires little maintenance. Most are hardy, doesn’t need to frequent the vet, neither has to be taken for a walk or groomed; they take up little space, doesn't make any noise, and doesn't smell or carry any diseases that are harmful to man. And under proper care, you can expect many years of pleasure and excitement with your pet tarantula.
PURCHASING YOUR FIRST TARANTULA:
You need first to determine whether you want an Arboreal, Terrestrial, or a Burrower. I would suggest that your first tarantula be a terrestrial. Most terrestrial tarantulas will burrow as a spiderling, but once they reach juvenile age they tend to expose themselves more. Arboreal care can be very tricky as spiderlings. And unless you want a pet hole, I don’t recommend a burrower as a first tarantula. Another thought before purchasing is the age of your tarantula. Remember, the older your tarantula is, the more expensive it will cost. All of my tarantulas were purchased as spiderlings or as juveniles. I would advise choosing a juvenile for the following reasons: they are hardier, are much easier to sex, their food source is more readily available, and they look more like the adult (color). My first purchase of spiderlings was four (4) Brachypelma smithi. I couldn't believe how small they were when I first saw them. I thought that I would not be able to raise them. They turned out to be three females and one male. The male I traded once it matured, and one of the females died at three inches (3"), of an unknown reason. I gave a female to one of my sons in N.C., and I have the other female. Now they are at least six inches (6.5"). Most spiderling can prove to be easy to care for.
Most of the tarantula diet is comprised of insects, but some tarantulas get large enough to eat small vertebrates. Some tarantulas stalk their prey, slowly sneaking up and pouncing on it. Others wait at the mouth of their burrows or tube web for food to come to them, which they will attack and pull into their lair to be consumed.
Tarantulas do not eat their food solid. They must first predigest their food by injecting it with venom from their chelicerae (fangs). After the venom has liquefied the prey, they will then slowly suck it in. Their stomach is a long tube the full length of the tarantula body. Their digestive system breaks down the food the rest of the way and then it is absorbed into the tarantulas body.
I feed all of my adult tarantulas a variety of food, which includes crickets, lizards, roaches, meal worms and pinkie mice. Even though a hungry tarantula will attack a prey its own size, I always ensure that the food source is not larger than the tarantula’s body length, minus the tarantula legs. I occasionally (once or twice a year) feed my larger tarantulas, fuzzy mice or house geckos. All food that is not eaten within 24 hours should be removed. We basically feed our juvenile tarantulas 2-4 cricket a week, and our spiderlings two (2) pinheads a week. If pinheads are not available a cricket leg will do. If your tarantula stops feeding, there is no need for concern; tarantulas can go many months without eating, without a health problem.
Learn your T's eating habit and feed accordingly. Learned how many feeders she will eat at one feeding and how often to feed her. I gorge my tarantulas and wait until they are hungry before I feed them again, which is normally weekly. This I do because I have so many spiders to feed. If you only have a few, you may want to see them eat every other day; then you must feed them less, so they will be hungry during their next feeding. You must also factor in the size of your feeders.
Tarantulas are not always the hunters, sometimes they can become the hunted. There are many types of predators of tarantulas. Some predators include wasp, birds, lizards, snakes, coyotes, scorpions, centipedes, other tarantulas and even man.
ROACHES vs CRICKETS
I prefer to feed my tarantulas roaches, but because of the size of my collection, I haven't been able to raise enough roaches to constantly feed them, so I give my T's crickets, which I buy by the boxes. Roaches are a better source of nutrient than crickets, plus if you raise roaches yourself, you can determine what goes inside your prey, eliminate mites and the dreaded nematode.
The preferred feeder roach I use is Blaberus discoidales. This is a prolific breeder species, which is readily avalable and a excellent source of food. This roach is also ovoviviparous and unable to climb smooth surfaces.
To give an analogy, roaches are like feeding organic and crickets would be a staple food.
I have never fed my tarantulas superworms. I prefer my tarantulas to stalk its prey. If you don't place a superworm near the tarantula, they have a tendency to burrow.
Roaches are more expensive to buy than crickets. Crickets are more readily available for sale than roaches, but roaches are much easier to raise than cricket. Most cricket breeders feed their crickets a diet with calcium, because they are also raised to feed reptlies. I have read that calcium may cause problems with a tarantula that is in molt. I have not proven this theory.
I bred the Brachypelma sabulosum species about fourteen years ago and several hatchlings escaped out of the enclosure. Two years later, I found one and it was four inches, leg length. I kept several sack mate spiderling and the largest was only two inches. The T that I found loose in my shed, fed on roaches that frequent there. This is why I believe roaches are a better food source. I know that there are those who would object, but when I saw the difference in the size, it was proof enough for me. Roaches also live longer than cricket and are more interesting. Either prey a tarantula will accept.
I very rarely see my tarantulas drink water; yet they should be supplied with clean drinking water at all times. This can be provided using any shallow dish for an adult or a plastic bottle cap for a juvenile. Having an open water dish in the tank also helps with humidity. The container should be shallow enough for the spider to immerse its entire chest in order to drink. To prevent crickets from drowning in the water, I place a piece of granite rock in the dish to act as a ramp. I mist the walls and deco of the spiderling and arboreal species enclosure to ensure they can drink water.
The window to my tarantula room is a natural lighting source for my T's. I have artificial lighting in the ceiling of the room for better viewing and a flash light if needed. I do not use, nor recommend direct artificial lighting over a tarantula enclosure.
I use the plastic Exo-Terra terrariums enclosure for all of my tarantulas except the arboreal (see picture). The top of the tank vents, for most of my terrestrials and burrowing tarantulas, are three-forth (¾) closed with clear shipping tape My arboreal tanks I keep the top vents opened half way for more ventilation, but I must mist the cage more often (once a week). This method has proven successful for me with arboreal.
For all of my tarantula containers, I use a mixture of peat moss, vermiculite, coconut fiber and red dirt, as the substrate. I place two inches of substrate for the arboreal; for the basic terrestrial setup I use enough substrate for them to burrow in their hide, and for the obligate burrowers, I use adequate substrate twice their body length for them to burrow completely.
After leaning a bark or limb alongside the cage, the arboreal will spin a silk tube and make its own hide. A terrestrial need a hide such as a flower pot on its side or a bark for its retreat. The obligate burrower only needs enough substrate for it to burrow and a starter hole, but remember to make your starter hole in the corner of the enclosure, you have a better chance of viewing your burrower species along the side once it has burrowed.
HUMIDITY AND HEATING:
I live in Miami, Florida, in the tropics, where the humidity is usually 65% or greater. I keep the window opened most of the times where my tarantulas are kept. The room temperature is between 23.89C-30.0C (75F to 86F) year round. Even though the humidity is ideal for all of my tarantulas, I moist half of the substrate periodically (once a month) then allow it to dry completely out with most species. Some genera, I keep the substrate completely dry, but always have water in a dish available; this we will deal with more in the species care sheet section of the website. Allowing the substrate to dry out also help get rid of any mites that may be in the enclosure. My arboreal, I maintain by misting their tanks as needed. If there is a need to increase the humidity, tape three-fourth of the top of the terrarium.
In my experience in keeping tarantulas, I have found them to be very clean animals. They groom themself often. After a meal, your tarantula can be seen cleaning its mouth and fangs. I taught my German Shepherd Dog to poop in a certain area of the yard. Not so with my tarantula, but they also will dedicate a certain area in the terrarium to discard their bolus and poop. If you keep that area they use waste free, by removing food remains and poop they will continue to use that area. If you don't, they will make a new area for their refuse.
An arboreal species will poop on the side of their enclosure away from their nest. If it was in a tree, poop would be nowhere near them. The arboreal's bolus is always cast to the ground.
If the enclosure of a obligate burrower is large enough you should never have to change the substrate. Only remove the waste that is left on the surface. Obligate burrowers are excellent housekeepers. I have many burrowing species that I haven't changed the substrate in nearly ten years. If you destroy the habitat of your tarantula home for house cleaning purposes, it may never recover, especially an obligate burrowing species.
MITES (Tyroglyphid mite):
Crickets are the host carrier of mite that most captive born tarantulas are infected with when they are the introduced as prey. This is one reason, if you are able to raise your own feeder roaches, you can eliminate the mite problem, if you start with a few roaches and clean them up so they are mite free.
If you have a mite epidemic, remove the T and thoroughly clean the tank and wash the ornaments in hot water. Mites need moister to survive. One sure way of getting rid of a mite infestation is to let your tarantula enclosure dry out.
Here are two tips of removing mites without having to destroy their living quarters. The first two I have read, but haven’t proven.
1.) Place the T in the fridge for around 10/15 min then brush the mites off, if she permits.
2.) Take a Q-Tip and dab it in Vaseline, then proceed to take the mites off one by one.
3.) Get a small vial with a top and drill holes in the front half of the vial and the top using the smallest bit you have. Then smear Vaseline (petroleum jelly) on the inside of the back half of the vial using a Q-Tip. Place a crushed adult cricket in the vial at the back of the vial, then put the lid on it and place in your T's enclosure. Wait a few days and it will be infested with mites, stuck in the Vaseline. The mites are attracted to the dead crickets.
A warning to the wise, if you remove the garbage that is left out as you do in your living quarters, there is no need to change the substrate unless it is infested with mites, and there is a remedy for that, the predatory mite (Phytoseiulus persimilis).
Another usefull animal to help with housekeeping are Pill Bugs a.k.a. Roly Poly. The Armadillidium vulgare is a common species. They are scavengers.
The tools I use the most, is a water bottle sprayer, pair of 12" tongs, a deli cup, flash light, small paint brush. I also use a quart size deli cup that I place over the tarantula and slide a straight piece of cardboard for removing the spider from its tank. I coax the tarantula under the cup with a small paint brush. It's not sharp or ruff and will not harm the tarantula.
Once your collection reaches a certain size, it is paramount that you label your tarantula cages. I have neglected to label some of my spiderlings containers and had to wait until they reached almost adulthood before I was able to identify the species. I put on the label the scientific and common name, if I have more than one of the same species I number them. The sex and my personal name of each are also on the tarantula label. This also helps me keep a record of multiple tarantulas of the same species molts records.
You will know when you are addicted to the hobby when you allow crickets to wonder the “T” room to be consumed by the tarantulas that have escaped. I breed tarantulas for the market, so I have lost quite a few spiderlings through the opening of their enclosures.
Once we were sitting once in the family room watching TV, when someone noticed a spiderling crawling on the floor. It was a Brachypelma sabulosum that I had bred six months earlier. I have several species loose in my tarantula room including a spiderling King Baboon (Pelinobius muticus). I have found a spiderling that had grown from a one-eight inch (1/8") spiderling to a five inch tarantula. Unless you want a tarantula wondering in your home, make sure after feeding and maintenance, that you secure the lid to your spider’s home. Most tarantulas escape from the lid being left opened. Remember, even though you may not see them during the day, when you are asleep, and the room is dark, your tarantula, especially the terrestrials, start roaming their enclosure, so make sure after opening the cage that the lid is closed.
Some tarantulas (New World) have fine hairs which are barbed that they kick off if disturbed. These hairs can cause irritation to your skin, eyes, or nose. For this reason, I rarely handle my tarantulas.
SHOULD YOU HANDLE YOUR TARANTULA?
I don't recommend handling a tarantula. A tarantula can be injured and die from a fall. It should be treated as a display animal, much like fish in an aquarium.
I know, everyone at some point in time will be compelled to pick up their tarantula at least once, especially if it is a docile specie. That is just human nature. For this reason, if you do wish to hold your tarantula, do not pick it up; let it walk onto your hand. Coach it by rubbing it on the abdomen or rear legs gently with a small paint brush. This should be done close to the ground/floor, as a fall could be fatal to your tarantula. The abdomen is very fragile, and can easily rupture, causing the tarantula to bleed to death. I experience such a tragedy by one of my sons in 1988. He was about fourteen years old at the time and wanted to show his friend his dad’s tarantula; and when the tarantula moved in his hand, he panicked and dropped the spider on the floor and its abdomen burst. I was not home when this occurred. The tarantula later died.
From my research, no one has ever died from a tarantula bite. Tarantulas are not that blood thirsty, aggressive beast, stalking humans as Hollywood makes them out to be. Most tarantulas are reluctant to bite, and would rather bolt. The only tarantula I have that would not retreat to its hide or burrow, but turn and face me, is my King Baboon (Pelinobius muticus) This is the most defensive tarantula I have; and I have over one-hundred (100) species of tarantulas.
I haven’t been bitten by a tarantula in the thirty (30) years that I have been keeping them, but my wife has. It was a mistake on her part, by grabbing the tarantula (Brachypelma verdezi), a docile specie, by the leg. She thought it was about to fall on the floor. She said it felt like a bee sting, as reported. My wife is very much alive and wiser. This is another reason why I discourage handling tarantulas.
MEASURING A TARANTULA:
In the eighties and early nineties, tarantulas was measured from leg one to leg four on the same side of the body. There are debates now on how a tarantula should be measured. Some hobbyist measures their tarantulas diagonally. When I give a measurement of one of my tarantulas, it is the straight across, old school method. Televisions were once measured straight across but now diagonally. I wonder why? Some hobbyist only measures the body length. My largest Theraphosa sp. "spinipes " is diagonally 9.5", she is nine years old and was purchased as a 1-1/2" spiderling. The straight across measurement (10.5") is a Theraphosa blondi. She is eleven years old (2013), and was given to me as a spiderling freebie along with a purchased from John Hoke (E-Spiderworld).
CONVERTING MEASUREMENTS: (1” = 2.54 cm, 1 cm = .3937”)