How to Care for a Tarantula
Tarantulas, also known in the hobby as T's, are easy to take care of and can live for many years. They require very little maintenance compared to other exotic animals. Some may be handled regularly, while other species are just for looking at. For more about specific species, look for my Tarantulas by Experience Level article.
How to Care for Spiderlings
Baby tarantulas can't manage their moisture retention like they can when they're older. Their exoskeleton is too thin, so they need a more humid environment and regular feeding to keep hydrated. Humidity is easier for keepers to regulate in smaller enclosures, which is why you see spiderlings frequently kept in pill bottles and other tiny objects that can be ventilated in a way that doesn't allow them to dry out. I prefer 8 or 16 ounce deli containers with a minimal amount of pin-pricked holes for ventilation. Too many holes and they will dry out too quickly. Their substrate should be kept lightly moistened, not wet, not even damp. It's easiest to keep track of how wet coconut fiber is because there's a noticeable change in color as it dries.
Juveniles & Adults
Having a more developed exoskeleton makes a juvenile tarantula much easier to take care of. Once they reach about 2.5 to 3 inches, I will move them out of their baby container into something around a gallon in capacity.
The top openings on the containers above are almost always the same size as a deli cup, which makes transfers a little easier, and they are under $3 at Wal-Mart. I drill 6 to 10 holes on one side, then another set on the opposite side for good ventilation. If you find yourself buying up spiderlings left and right, get yourself a cheap Dremel tool if you don't already have one.
It may seem like your spider will outgrow this size enclosure quickly, but containers of a gallon or less have the advantage of being able to fit inside an adult enclosure, which means an easy final transfer into your tarantula's permanent home.
Obligate burrowers like Haplopelma lividum (Cobalt Blue) need tall enclosures so they can make a deep tunnel. While they do fine in something with the dimensions of a Kritter Keeper, they are less defensive if given the option of a longer tunnel.
Coconut fiber or bark, vermiculite, and potting soil (no chemicals) can all be used. I haven't found any real advantages of using one over the other in terms of care, so my advice is to use whichever looks most appealing to you. Vermiculite has the benefit of being the cheapest and lightest substrate, and can be bought in large amounts from a local nursery/gardening store. I think most T-keepers use coco-fiber and peat/soil for its more natural appearance.
How Do Care Requirements for T's Compare?
Easy, room temp okay
Moderate, all-rodent diet*
Demanding, require ambiant & basking spot*
Demanding, vitamin supplements required*
For the most part, I let enclosures dry out completely before re-dampening them every 1 to 2 weeks. I live in Denver and it's very dry here, so substrate doesn't stay moist for long. The exceptions to this routine are species of the genus Ephebopus andTheraphosa, both of which need consistent humidity levels - the same as you'd maintain with a spiderling of any species.
A water dish should always be available to juvie and adult spiders, and because arboreals are less likely to drink out of a dish, I mist the sides of their enclosure and around their hide about every other evening. Tarantulas are hardier than you think and it's difficult to make a mistake with your humidity levels, so long as you don't keep a wet substrate.
Transferring & Rehousing
Tools you will need:
- A long pair of tongs, bamboo or steel.
- Catch cups of different sizes.
- An enclosed space where you can do transfers, or large grassy area.
- A long artists' paintbrush.
When you are ready to upgrade a tarantula's enclosure, remember to get her new home ready before hand. I know it's silly, but you'd be surprised what you forget to do when you're working yourself up to move that scary S. calceatum!
The tongs are for removing and maneuvering cage décor, and coaxing your T into the catch cup. The paintbrush is also for coaxing, but you will need a tool that grabs in order to remove obstacles. You probably already have a catch cup or two from tarantula purchases, otherwise cheap food containers work.
Most species do okay without supplemental heating if kept in a central location in your home, but basements and attics will be too cold for them. Keep them away from drafty windows and direct sunlight. Under tank heat mats seem to be the go-to if you want extra reassurance your T will stay warm enough. Many keepers are afraid of overheating and opt for the smaller sized mats whenever possible. Of course, if you plan on breeding your T's, you will want to provide a warmer environment to promote better growth and development. Most tarantula keepers with larger collections have a T-room, which is kept warmer than others by use of a space heater. You will need to learn more about the native climate your specific tarantula comes from in order to determine optimal temperatures.
Décor & Aesthetics
Tarantulas don't need any more cage décor than an adequate hide and water source. However, I prefer my enclosures to be part of the room I keep them in. This means a professional looking enclosure such as an all-glass aquarium and screen, or one that's made specifically for tarantulas by a reputable source (like Jamie's Tarantulas), with a background, fake plants, stone-like water dish, and anything else to make it look more like a piece of furniture or artwork instead of just a box of dirt.
T-Rex's climbable background for hermit crabs is a wonderfully versatile tool in creating a natural-looking hide. It is easily cut into shapes to make logs of any size, and allows you to weave foliage into its fibers for a livelier look. I've stitched sides together with a tapestry needle and craft string/yarn to hold their shape, or left them as-is.
The climbable background is great for terrestrials and obligate burrowers. By shaping it into a tunnel, shallow or deep, I can tell my spiders exactly where they should hide. Cut into half-logs and buried in a coco-fiber substrate, you don't even know they are there. Prop it up to the side of the enclosure and you'll get a nice viewing spot.
You can find the background online, and it's readily available at any PetSmart or Petco. I've never seen it in any local pet shop other than the large chains, but I imagine there's not much demand for it in general.
Fake plants can either look really cheesy or gorgeous. I find that faux succulents have the most realistic look to them, although it can be a pain finding them for a decent price. Pet shops usually have some cacti and succulents in their reptile décor section, but you'll get a lot more variety and larger sizes for your money from non-pet online vendors. Craft stores are the go-to for foliage.