Tarantulas – Basic Care

Housing

A large enclosure isn’t necessary, but an arboreal species will need a tall cage and a burrowing type will need appropriate substrate or hiding places. Generally, spiders should be housed one to a cage as they are not social.

For burrowing or terrestrial spiders, a rule of thumb is that the cage should be approximately 3 times the leg span long, and 2 times the leg span wide. The height should not be much more than the length of the spider – these spiders are heavy and if they climb and fall it can be dangerous, even fatal. 2.5 or 5 gallon aquariums work well. A larger tank is not better in this case, as tarantulas do not need a lot of extra space and a large tank may make prey harder to find. They do need to have a very secure lid, as they can be escape artists, but the lid must also allow adequate ventilation. On the bottom, a substrate of vermiculite, or vermiculite mixed with varying ratios of potting soil and/or peat should be provided, at least 2-4 inches deep to provide burrowing room and to hold moisture. Wood chips, especially cedar, should be avoided.

A place to hide should also be provided – a piece of cork bark works well, or a half hollow log (as available from pet stores), or half a clay flower pot on it’s side.

The arboreal tarantulas need a cage that is taller to provide climbing room, with branches, twigs or some other structure on which the spider can construct it’s web. A 10 gallon aquarium set on one end can work well for this purpose.

Tarantulas do not need bright lights, and in fact should be kept in a darker area of a room, where direct sunlight will not fall on the cage. Incandescent lights should not be used for heating as they could potentially dry out the tarantula. Heating strips or pads (available at pet stores for reptiles) can placed under a small part of the cage for heating needs. Most species of tarantula do fine somewhere between 75-85 F.

A shallow water dish can be provided. It needs to be very shallow to prevent drowning, and if there is any doubt some pebbles can be placed in the dish to give the spider something to climb out if necessary.

Appropriate temperatures and humidity must be maintained, but this is where the various species have different requirements. For tarantulas that do not require high humidity levels, a water dish (shallow) in the cage and misting once a week should be sufficient. For those that require higher humidity, more frequent misting will be necessary. In any case, temperature and humidity gauges should be used to monitor conditions. At the higher temperatures extra care must be taken to ensure adequate humidity levels. At the same time, excess humidity can encourage mold growth and should be avoided.

The cage should not need cleaning frequently – for spiders kept at a relatively low humidity level once year is likely enough (earlier if mold, fungus or mites are noticed). For those kept in a more humid environment, this will need to be done more often.

 
Feeding

A diet of crickets, supplemented with other insects, is fine for tarantulas. An adult need to eat surprisingly little – certainly not daily, and once a week may be sufficient. Some owners may try to mimic how a spider would eat in the wild – e.g. completely randomly (maybe a couple of crickets, then one cricket several days later, then a few crickets a week after that, and so on). Adults may fast for extended periods (a month or two is not unusual), particularly before a molt. Growing spiders, however, should be fed several times a week.

The cricket should be gut loaded prior to feeding – that is they should be kept on a diet of nutritious food, and they can also be dusted with vitamins prior to feeding. Remember that what goes into the cricket is what you are ultimately feeding your spider. Meal worms, super worms, and roaches can be fed occasionally. Larger tarantulas can even be given pinkie mice and small lizards, if desired, although it is probably not necessary. The most important thing is to keep the food smaller than the tarantula (that is, smaller than it’s body) and make sure the tarantula isn’t harmed by its prey. This includes not feeding any wild caught insect unless absolutely certain there is no risk of pesticide exposure. When molting the spider is very vulnerable and even a cricket can kill the spider, so remove any uneaten prey within 24 hours at most.

As mentioned in the housing section, a shallow dish of water should also be provided. Pebbles can be placed in the dish to ensure that the spider cannot drown (and also to keep prey insects from drowning).

 
Molting

This is how the spider grows to a larger size – by shedding the old exoskeleton and producing a new one. This is a stressful time for a spider and this is also when humidity levels are most critical. The spider stop eating for some time, then will lay on it’s back to molt. The molting process may take several hours. Once the old exoskeleton is shed it will take several days for the new one to harden (this is when growth occurs) and the spider should not be fed during this time as it is vulnerable to injury and even death from something as small as a cricket. In addition, the spider should never be handled during the molting and hardening time. It may take up to two weeks for the spider to fully recover after molting.

 
What About Handling?

While most tarantulas are not very venomous many tarantula experts advise against it. For the handler, bites can be painful, and irritation can result from contact with the itching hairs on the tarantula, but the greater danger is to the tarantula itself. While a tarantula may become acclimated to being held on the hand, if it suddenly runs or jumps it may fall, and the injuries sustained could be fatal. Even a minor fall can kill a heavy bodied tarantula if the abdomen ruptures. Some tarantulas are very fast, and could escape as well. Children should not be allowed to handle them, due the risk of injury to both the child and the spider.

This article was taken from Exotic Pets


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