A Guide to Tarantulas for Beginners

Tarantula in a hand
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They may not be ideal for everyone but for spider lovers, tarantulas can make great pets. If you're interested in getting a pet tarantula but are a beginner when it comes to caring for a spider, there are some things you should know before you purchase one. Learning what tarantulas make the best pets, how to set up a tarantula's habitat, how to handle a tarantula, what safety precautions you should take can help you provide the best possible care to your new tarantula. Check out this beginner's guide to tarantula care!

Things to Consider About Tarantulas

If you are considering getting a tarantula, there are a few things to consider. Tarantulas are quiet and don't take up much space but they do eat live prey. Live crickets are the most popular type of food for pet tarantulas so if the idea of watching your spider consume a live cricket bothers you, you may want to reconsider your choice of pet. Tarantulas are also not cuddly pets. While they may look like they are furry and soft, handling should be kept to a minimum plus they do not develop bonds with their owners so human interaction is not something they seek. Finally, many tarantulas can live into their teens or even twenties so some species are a long-term commitment.

Best Tarantula Species for Beginners

There are two basic types of tarantulas, ground-dwellers or burrowers and tree-dwellers. As their names suggest, ground-dwellers stay on the ground while tree-dwellers climb into trees. Ground-dwellers are sometimes considered to be better options for beginner tarantula owners but there are some good tree-dwelling species options, too. Some of the best tarantula species for beginners are Brazilian black, Chilean rose, Mexican red-knee, and curly-hair tarantulas. These spiders are known to be fairly hardy and docile as well as tolerant to some handling.

Handling Tarantulas for Beginners

While the desire to simply pick up your pet spider whenever you want can be hard to resist, it's very important to remember that this can be frightening as well as painful to a tarantula. Because tarantulas typically like being left alone, you should avoid handling your spider unless it is necessary, but if you get the urge to hold it, make sure you do so carefully. You never want to grab your spider, but you should instead allow it to walk onto your open, flat hand. Frightening your spider by attempting to pick it up can result in it throwing urticating hairs at you or could even cause it to bite. Additionally, make sure you do not startle your spider when it is sleeping but if you need something to coax it, a soft bristle toothbrush can be used to gently nudge your spider onto your palm. Once your spider is on your hand, be sure to keep it low to the ground or a surface. If your spider falls, it could become injured.

Safety and Health Precautions

While the tarantula species that are good for beginners are not typically known to be aggressive, any tarantula can bite. Tarantulas have fangs and are venomous but their venom is not designed to hurt people. Despite this, some poeple may have an allergic reaction to the venom if they are bit and therfore be negatively affected more than others. This should be considered when handling a tarantula, especially if you don't know if you, or the person handling it, are allergic to it.

Tarantulas also have urticating hairs that can be thrown and cause irritation to skin and cause serious problems if they get in your eyes. Tarantulas usually only do this if they are threatened but if you are grabbing or attempting to pet a tarantula, the hairs may become lodged in your skin as well.

Tarantula Habitats for Beginners

Setting up your first tarantula habitat is a simple process. Since tarantulas do not require a lot of space, a five gallon aquarium or small plastic enclosure typically works well. Larger enclosures are not necessary and may even make it easier for crickets to hide in and therefore more difficult for your spider to eat. Ensure whatever habitat you choose has a tight fitting lid to prevent escapes as well as substrate on the bottom that is two to four inches deep. The substrate depth will allow your tarantula to burrow as well as help maintain humidity levels. Potting soil or peat are popular substrate options. A hide made from a small half log, half a clay pot on its side, or another creative option should be placed in the enclosure but otherwise only a shallow dish of water is needed in the habitat.

Tarantula Health Concerns to Watch For

Tarantulas don't typically require medical attention. This is good news because it can be difficult to find a veterinarian that is knowledgeable in spider medical care. Despite the rarity of health concerns though, you should still monitor your tarantula's health. The two main things you should monitor your spider for are parasites and injuries.

Parasites are not very common in pet tarantulas but it is still possible for them to get oral nematodes. These tiny parasites can negatively affect your spider's appetite and are initially seen as white material around the mouth. If your spider isn't interested in eating and is losing weight, make sure there isn't any white debris developing in or around the mouth parts.

Injuries can occur at any time but are especially common when your spider is molting. If your tarantula's exoskeleton has not yet hardened, it is prone to injuries from cricket bites so ensure there is no live prey in your tarantula's habitat during a molt. Additionally, be careful if you need to handle your spider to avoid dropping it or letting it jump from a high place. Tarantulas don't have red blood so be aware that if they are bleeding, you may see a pale blue color instead of red. Their blood is clear or colorless inside their body but when it comes into contact with oxygen, it turns blue.

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  1. Battisti, A, Fagrell B, Holm G, Larsson, S, et. al. Urticating Hairs in Anthropods: Their Nature and Medical Significance. DOI:10.1146/annurev-ento-120709-144844