Rupert Malone has experience caring for tarantulas and enjoys sharing advice with others.
Keeping Spiders as Pets
When you are thinking of buying a pet, what comes to mind first? Cats? Dogs? A cute little hamster maybe? Probably not a spider. However, as unconventional as they may be, spiders make ideal pets for the right person.
Some people who choose to keep spiders might do so just because they like the idea of having an unusual pet. It is not unheard of either for someone that is frightened of spiders to buy one in the hopes that by facing their fears they may learn to overcome them. It is probably not the best of reasons to buy a pet, but it does happen. I know because that is one of the reasons that I became interested in keeping spiders.
Other kinds of spiders are kept as pets, but tarantulas are by far the most popular choice and there are many varieties. In some ways, a tarantula might seem to be a pretty boring choice for a pet. You cannot take them out for a walk and they won’t fetch a stick for you, but they can be fascinating to watch and, if you choose a breed that lends itself to easy handling, they can also be rather fun.
How to Choose the Right Tarantula
There are many different species of tarantula spider available to buy as pets, but for the purpose of this article, I will stick to just three: the pink-toed tarantula, the curly-haired tarantula, and the Chilean rose tarantula. These three, in my opinion, present the best choice for a beginner, because they all share a rather placid nature and are, therefore, less likely to bite—if you choose to handle them that is. And not all spider keepers do.
The 3 Best Tarantula Species for Beginners
- Pink-Toed Tarantula
- Curly-Haired Tarantula
- Chile Rose Tarantula
1. The Pink-Toed Tarantula
Pink-toed tarantulas are an arboreal species, so in their natural habitat they would make their homes somewhere high up; perhaps in a tree or on the side of a building, they would never choose to make their homes on the ground though. Pink-toes can be quite industrious and build themselves quite complex silk hides to live in. These hides are surprisingly strong and feel a little like cloth to the touch. It is rather amazing to watch the spiders building them.
In my experience, though, the main problem with pink-toes is that once they have built their hide, they tend to stay hidden away inside it and I often do not see mine for weeks at a time, except for perhaps the tips of its legs sticking out from the top of its home. Pink-toes are also very good at jumping and my wife once got quite a scare when mine jumped out of my hand and ran up the bedroom wall.
On the few occasions that I have handled my pink-toe, it has walked from one of my hands to the other a few times and then just settled down in the middle of my palm and appeared to almost go to sleep. It has a nice enough nature and it is quite pretty for a spider, but it is the most boring of my pets (except when it is running up the bedroom wall, that is).
2. The Curly-Haired Tarantula
Curly-haired tarantulas tend to be quite active, so you do see more of them. They are a terrestrial species and in the wild, they live on the ground (or, more precisely, underneath the ground because they are a burrowing spider). I have seen mine spend hours and hours walking around the wall of its home and I get dizzy just watching it.
I do not know if this is the same with all members of the species, but my curly-haired tarantula never seems keen to come out, and when I do manage to coax it onto my hand it usually just sits there and looks at me. It is very hard to encourage it to walk from one hand to the other. Would you believe it, though? Putting it back into its home is just as hard because it clings to my hand. The awkward little so and so. Well not so little, it is actually quite a handful, in fact if it spreads its legs a little it can fill two hands quite easily.
3. The Chilean Rose Tarantula
Chilean rose tarantulas are, in my opinion, the best choice for a first pet spider. Like their curly-haired cousins they are terrestrial, but they tend not to burrow, preferring instead to hide underneath a piece of propped wood or something similar.
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Mine is visible quite a lot and feels like part of the family. We sit on the couch and it sits on its log. It is usually quite happy to come out as well. I just put one hand in front of it and tap its behind with one of my fingers and it jumps straight onto my palm. It may sit there for a second or two, but never for long. It loves to walk from hand to hand and up and down my arm and rarely gets bored of it. It is a great spider and is a lovely cocoa color.
Chilean roses come in a few different colors and I have seen one or two that are a lovely, delicate shade of pink.
Caring for Your Tarantula
Tarantula spiders are a very low-maintenance pet. That cat mentioned at the beginning of this article will not only need feeding once or twice a day, but will also need plenty of love and attention. A dog may need more attention still. A spider, on the other hand, can be left to its own devices and will not fare any worse for it.
Housing Your Tarantula
People use a variety of different things to house tarantulas.
- A plastic fish tank with a tight fitting lid is probably the cheapest option. Here in the UK you can buy one for about £5. The very best option, in my opinion anyway, is probably a purpose-built glass vivarium and your local dealer should probably be able to offer you advice about what will be the best for each breed of spider.
- Arboreal spiders like the pink-toe prefer something taller, whereas the traditional cube shape would be a better bet for terrestrial species like Chilean roses and curlies.
- Some spider keepers choose to use verticulite for the bottom of their vivariums, but I prefer to use a kind of peat substance that you can buy as a dried block from your local dealer (just add water and watch it expand). I actually buy mine from our local pound shop because it is cheaper. They sell it for use as potting compost, but it is just the same stuff as the pet shop sells.
- You will also need a heat mat. You stand this underneath the vivarium, but make sure that only half of your viv is heated. That way your spider can choose to move if it gets too hot or too cold.
- A spray bottle full of tap water is also a necessity. Pink toes prefer their homes to be quite humid so you will need to spray inside the viv once or twice a day, making sure that the peat is nice and damp. But not wet! Chileans are a different matter and their homes need only a light spraying maybe once a day or perhaps only every other day. If their home is too dry, a good indication will be the fact that they will tend to spend a lot of time standing over their water bowl. Curly haired tarantulas prefer their homes just a little more humid than a Chilean does, but not nearly as damp as a pink toe would like.
Feeding Your Tarantula
Tarantulas are not big eaters and generally only need feeding two or three times a week. Live insects are the preferred dish of the day and crickets tend to be the staple for my tarantulas. My local dealer stocks both brown and black crickets and I tend to alternate between the two.
Occasionally I buy locusts for a change, but I never feed my spiders with either wax worms or mealworms, not because they cannot eat them, but because if the spiders don’t get them straight away the worms tend to hide in the viv. Mealworms are particularly good at burrowing.
When it comes to their eating habits spiders are a law unto themselves and it is not unheard of for tarantulas to go for several months without food.
As far as water goes, Water Bites is the most popular choice. It is a kind of gel that comes dry packed in a plastic sachet and expands by an almost magical amount when added to water.
Spiders are not the only exotic pet I keep and so I need to always have a stock of crickets in my home. If I only kept spiders, I would probably catch insects from the garden because spiders don’t eat much or often, so it would be pointless me keep buying crickets that might die before I used them.
Handling Your Tarantula
Every spider keeper will have his or her own opinions about what makes the best pet. I have already told you mine. You cannot handle all species of spider, however. Some species, like Thai blacks, for instance, are incredibly aggressive and if you put your hands or fingers anywhere near them they will bite. I have never been bitten myself but have been told that it feels similar to a bee or wasp sting and although tarantulas are a poisonous spider, the venom is usually harmless to humans.
The greatest danger presented by being bitten by a tarantula spider is that you might have an allergic reaction to the venom. So, all in all, it is best to try to not get bitten in the first place. Species like Chilies etc are usually pretty placid and even if they were having real bad hairy legs day, they would tend to warn you of their mood rather than just biting you. All of the species that I have recommended as a good choice for a first pet spider have utricating hairs, which they can flick when they are annoyed. It is a natural defensive mechanism and if you should get one in your skin it is rather painful. So if your spider is flicking hairs at you, think twice about picking it up at that point in time. Curlies are the worst for this and sometimes rather than flick they just fire them at you.
The second warning your spider will give you, if it is getting really peed off at you, is that it will rear up and expose its fangs. When it does this it is saying back off, dude, or I will bite you, so you had better back off or it will.
None of my spiders have ever reared up like this, but I am aware of what it means if they do. If you are considering keeping a pet spider you need to be aware of it too. If your spider is happy to come onto your hand, as is often the case–especially with chilies–then just put your hand in front of it and use your other hand to encourage it to step into your palm.
A Word of Caution
A spider’s body is very fragile. Even a little fall of a few feet can kill it, so try to keep your hand above a table or the floor, anything at all, just make sure that if you do drop your spider, you do not drop it far. Nobody likes to watch a pet die.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Unknown on May 26, 2020:
My pet spider died so my mom and dad want toget me a new one
Alicia on May 24, 2020:
Am scary of sipder but dont kill them becusr they are cute and lovely a want one for £ 5
Kaz on May 18, 2019:
Thank you for a helpful article. I am considering getting a spider and this has been very useful.
Calace B. Pilgrem on October 15, 2018:
Hello, I am interested for a reason completely opposite to most. I have a Neoscona crucifera that has been making a web just in front of my front door for 2 months now. (Yes, I had to put up a "Beware of Spider" sign!) At one point she had a relative who had taken up just to the right, between 2 adjacent wind chimes, one out in the front yard, and one over on the side, so there were FOUR, and the second one on the porch was huge!
But the other 3 did not stay long, while the first one is still there, living inside one of the tubes of a wind chime during the day, making (or fixing) a beautiful orb web at night. I really felt bad for her during the recent hurricane; can you imagine living inside a wind chime during a hurricane!?
The insect activity really started to fall of during September, even before it started to get cooler and while she was still maintaining a large web, so I started to feed her ants if I could find any, but mostly little bits of canned cat food. (Fish & Shrimp Feast) Yes. I would get a tiny piece on a toothpick and try to get it into the web without wrecking it. She would run out and wrap it up in the ribbon-like silk just like a real bug, and then do her thing. I was quite surprised myself that she would eat something that wasn't alive.
But now it has gotten much cooler (50s at night) and there are hardly any bugs left around and she is not making a big orb web any more. She is still hanging out in the wind chime. I feel so bad; after all this time we have grown quite attached to each other.
So I am thinking about putting her in a 10-gallon fish tank and bringing her in for the winter.
I was disappointed that your article talked about tarantulas and stopped at that.
Has anybody ever kept a different type of spider over the winter?
Gordon on October 03, 2015:
This was a brilliant article. And I will surely follow your opinion! Thanks again!
Kris Weber from Saint Cloud, Minnesota on April 30, 2015:
This is a good read for a newbie like myself. I'm trying to figure out what species of tarantula spider is going to be best for me.. I am leaning towards one that needs a smaller tank. I really like the idea of acrylic too. Here is another great site http://pet-tarantula.com/ I have been into fish aquariums for years and just getting into pet bugs now :)
Robbie on July 13, 2012:
I am terrified of all spiders, I can't even look at a pic of a common house spider but I want to buy a spider but I also don't, I am trying to overcome my fear of spiders but it is really bad. It isn't like everything is trying to come after just me. But I read this article but skipped the pictures ): I wish I could look.... I tried one glimpse but those spiders are SO BIG. I think by reading this article I got a little less scared THANKS!
flagdust on May 16, 2012:
i also have T's... actually 13 of them 1" chaco golden knee 2.5" p. regalis 4" L.p 1.5" fire leg 1" c.darlingi (1) 1.5 b.albo(curly) (2) 2" b.albo (5)1" b.albo... and im new to this hobby for about 8 months now. very helpful info... any tips on how to clean up a p. regalis enclosure without being tagged... LOL
nick stevevnson on January 22, 2012:
very helpful i own serval i love the hobby hope others will too
Shaddie from Washington state on January 20, 2012:
Great article! I own three tarantulas currently and they are among my favorite pets :)
Amanda on December 29, 2011:
I had a paralyzing fear of even the smallest of house spider (bearing in mind I live in the uk and house spiders, even the hairy black ones don't really get much bigger than a £2 coin)but when I got my Chile Rose my fear vanished! I think of him as a little hamster or gerbil. He doesn't set off alarm bells that spiders used to for me. We also have two snakes aswell but I really want a Mexican Red-Knee tarantula now. They are bigger than chile's but just as docile and very beautiful!
purpleangel47 from Baltimore, Maryland on February 02, 2011:
Very useful article. I look at the tarantulas and wonder if I could ever be free of my arachnophia, which is powerful enough that even looking at them chills me to the bone - and twice, while reading this article, thought something was crawling on me. I admire how you've worked through your fear. For now and probably for a long while, I'll chronicle my fears as I did in the hub I wrote: Come inside my spider phobia. Thank you for this hub!
Renier on June 18, 2010:
People thought that tarantulas are deadly and just difficult to raise. But they're not! Hollywood has painted a grim picture of these gentle, amazing creatures. It's unfair for the tarants...
Kris Z from New York on May 24, 2010:
That was very helpful, I think I will pick the Chile rose for my son.
chris parthemore on October 28, 2009:
the best but i want a red leg one
strkngfang on September 24, 2009:
Excellent article. I've kept tarantulas for many years. I currently have an 8 yr old curly hair that I've had since 4 weeks old.
moonlake from America on January 18, 2009:
Lots of good information for anyone that wants to keep spiders. In California tarantula use to come out of the orange grove and hang on the side of our building. They usually did that about the time the sun was going down.