Aug 7, 2009
Food and Water
Tarantulas mainly attack live prey but will occasionally accept a piece of raw fat free beef if it is dangled from a piece of string to simulate movement. Tarantulas gain a lot of nourishment from beef and even the largest spider will spend 24 hours consuming a piece. Their main prey, however, is small invertebrates such as crickets, moths and flies etc.
CRICKETS: These are probably the most widely used source of live food by keepers as they are nutritious and fairly easy to rear. The cricket container must be well ventilated as they are extremely susceptible to damp conditions. In the bottom of the container there should be some screwed-up newspaper and old egg cartons for the crickets to hide in. Food consists of fish pellets, dry dog biscuits or cereal – the better the diet of the crickets, the better the diet of the tarantula. Water should be provided by either using a shallow container with damp tissue paper or freshly cut potato which must be replaced daily. A temperature range between 20 – 30oC is ideal for breeding your own supply of crickets but they will survive at lower temperatures. If a large number of adult crickets is kept, breeding is a simple affair. Shallow containers should be filled with damp compost and placed in the container allowing females to deposit their eggs. These containers should be removed on a regular basis and placed preferably in a heated area. After a few weeks, the tiny micro crickets will emerge and these can then be housed in a smaller container. Water is essential for micro crickets as they are prone to desiccation. Repeating this process for a few months will result in a constant supply of crickets of varying size to suit the size of your spiders. A well kept cricket culture will last for many weeks and provide a highly beneficial food source.
FLIES: These are eagerly accepted by arboreal species as in their natural environment, flying insects would form a large part of their diet. The fly larvae (maggots) are commercially available from fishing bait stores and are relatively inexpensive. The maggots should then be placed in a large jar with a tight fitting ventilated lid and fed on a mash of dog biscuits. Eventually the maggots will pupate and then can either be put into a fly cage until emerging or be placed into a well ventilated box in the refrigerator – this allows their development to be slowed and they can be used when required. Different species of fly should be provided depending on the size of the tarantula. For example: blow flies (blue bottles) for large juveniles to adults and house flies and fruit flies for spiderlings.
MEALWORMS & WAXWORMS: These make a good additional food source. Care must be taken as they can sometimes burrow into the substrate if the spider doesn’t accept them immediately and may cause problems when the spider is moulting. Adult beetles and moths of these worms can also be used. Mealworms have a long shelf life but as they don’t contain much nutrition, they should only be used as a supplement to the usual cricket diet.
OTHER FOOD SOURCES: Defrosted newborn mice (pinkies), rats (fuzzies) and raw, fat-free meat can also be used but be aware that it is illegal in the UK to feed live mammals to your spider. Although not necessary, they can be useful for times when the spider needs additional nutrition (in preparation for egg laying etc). Sometimes placing the defrosted pinkie or meat in front of the spider is all that is needed, but some need to be stimulated before accepting the prey. This is easily achieved by threading the mouse etc. with a long piece of thread and trailing it in front of the spider. Once the spider accepts the prey, the thread must be removed as it can cause the spider problems around the fangs. Be aware that this food source will attract mites and phorid flies so all remains must be cleaned up thoroughly afterwards.
You can collect other insects from outdoors such as moths but it is best to keep them for at least 24 hours before feeding them to the spider. This is because a food source collected from the wild may have been in contact with pesticides which could harm your spider. Obviously bees, wasps and anything that can fight back should be avoided.
This depends on the individual. I offer one or two crickets to my tarantulas once a week but bear in mind that a hungry tarantula will take four or five crickets in one feeding so the amount offered should be according. Tarantulas can sometimes go through periods of fasting (when approaching a moult, for example) and this is especially true in adult specimens. It is not uncommon for a spider to stop feeding for several months but if it is plump and active, there is little cause for concern. Fresh water must always be available however, especially when the spider is in pre-moult.
The tarantula must have access to clean drinking water at all times. This can be provided using any shallow container. Lids from small jars or screw tops from bottles are adequate but the container must be left open so that the spider can drink freely. Do not use items such as tissue or cotton wool in the dish as these can cause problems for the tarantula. Place some pebbles in the dish to prevent any prey items from drowning and regular cleaning of the dish is important, to remove substrate and food remains etc. Having an open water dish in the tank also helps with humidity and although they can survive long periods without food, without water they will soon die. The container should be shallow enough for the spider to immerse its entire ‘chest’ in order to drink. Arboreal species prefer to drink from the tank walls so a weekly spray of the surrounding container is necessary. Always ensure that the water dish is topped up regularly as tarantulas may drink a surprising amount in one sitting.
Before you actually buy your tarantula, its permanent accommodation has to be prepared. This means that the correct environment has to be constructed depending upon the type of spider you wish to own. Some form of heating and a suitable food source have to be arranged and if the tarantula is to be arboreal, then the tank must be of the correct dimensions, arboreal tarantulas rarely visit the ground so a taller tank is preferable but terrestrial species need more floor area. Fossorial species require custom-made tanks that allow them to construct their deep burrows but, as a guide, a good container size for most tarantulas is 12″x12″x12″ but this size can vary according to the dimensions of the spider. A large species such as the Goliath Theraphosa blondi will need a larger area, nearer 24″x15″x12″ to be comfortable. Although the aquarium is the most suitable form of housing for a tarantula, there are a lot of alternatives which will suffice. Different sizes of plastic boxes can be used as well as sweet jars provided they are stood in a heated area. Two or three tarantulas can be housed in a large tank by using dividers, but make sure these are very secure to prevent one spider climbing over, or breaking through to the other compartments. Spiderlings should be housed in smaller containers relative to their size. Too large a container and the spiderling will have trouble finding it’s food and too small, growth rates may be restricted. Juveniles and sub-adults should also be housed in appropriate containers (see photos below for a more detailed view of container options).
Peat free compost: This is probably the most widely used substrate by tarantula keepers as it is the ideal medium for burrow construction. It holds water well helping to maintain humidity and is pleasing from an aesthetic point of view. This substrate can harbour mites and mould may be a problem but with regular housekeeping, this is minimised.
Vermiculite: Again, very popular as it is sterile, inorganic and light weight. Its high water holding capacity makes it ideal for the hot and humid environment of the spiders tank. Being inorganic, mites aren’t a problem. Tarantulas find it almost impossible to burrow into so this substrate should only be used in arboreal set ups or mixed 50/50 with compost.
Bark chips or cedar chips: These should be avoided as they promote mould growth and some types even give off fumes that may harm your tarantula. Spiders also find this substrate difficult to walk on so although aesthetically pleasing to the eye, this substrate isn’t much use.
Sand: Again, this should be avoided as it can soon turn messy and once damp, can be excessively heavy.
Most terrestrial tarantulas will burrow into the substrate but there is no evidence to suggest that they cannot survive without them. A retreat should be provided however, to allow the spider a place to hide and this can be either a piece of curved cork bark placed in one corner of the tank or half a flower pot resting on its side. Providing a deep substrate provides the perfect opportunity to observe burrow construction but the tarantula will remain hidden for most of the time. Arboreal species will eventually conceal themselves in a sock-like web between suitable objects so a piece of cork bark should be provided and placed vertically against the tank wall to act as a retreat (black card should be placed against the back of the container to restrict light as all tarantulas abhor bright light. Live plants should generally be avoided as they can fail to thrive without the correct lighting (tarantulas don’t require any form of special lighting) and more often than not, the spider will uproot these with it’s digging habits. On the other hand, tank decoration can be as elaborate as you wish. Large enclosures featuring waterfalls, special lighting and plastic or real plants make interesting displays too but remember that your spider may spend long periods hidden from view and cage maintenance will be higher.
The tarantula tank doesn’t need to be cleaned out every day but there will come a time when this needs to be done. The old substrate should be replaced and any decorations thoroughly cleaned. On a daily basis food remains must be removed as these will attract mites and mould. The total elimination of mites is impossible so the keeper shouldn’t worry until they reach infestation proportions. Mites will always be present in the hot and humid environment of the tank but with regular cleaning and maintaining a clean cricket culture should keep them under control. Tarantulas are generally clean animals and they will deposit their food remains (sometimes called a food bolus) and defecate in the same corner. The water dish should be cleaned and topped up regularly (see chapter on food and water requirements).
Why Keep tarantula as a pet
.Well, the good points definitely out weight the bad. A tarantula requires little attention, doesn’t need to be taken for walks, doesn’t make any noise, doesn’t smell or carry any diseases communicable to man or domestic livestock. They are long lived so give many years of pleasure and fascination.
A few points have to be taken into consideration before you purchase your first tarantula -whether you want an adult, sub adult, juvenile or spiderling and is it to be an arboreal (tree dwelling) or terrestrial (ground dwelling) species ?
There are many different tarantula species to choose from for the beginner and this section gives a description of the easier species to maintain. Arboreal species tend to be more brightly coloured of the two but terrestrial tarantulas usually make up for their less attractive appearance with a formidable leg span. All tarantulas are cannibalistic and will definitely attack each other so they must be either housed separately or in a securely divided tank.
RECOMMENDED SPECIES FOR THE BEGINNER
Brachypelma smithi (red knee):
The abdomen is black with long reddish hairs as is the cephalothorax and tan hairs surround the carapace. The legs are also black with red and orange hairs on the “knees”. This species is the one everyone knows and wants and is now widely available as captive bred stock although its popularity may affect the price. A docile species which tolerates being handled.
Size: Up to 15 cms leg span and slow growing, maturing at around six years. Habitat: A terrestrial burrowing species from Mexico.
Brachypelma albopilosum (curly hair):
The basic overall colouration is brown/black with light brown hairs on the legs. These hairs have a definite curl, especially on the rear legs.
Size: Up to 15 cms leg span and quite docile. Habitat: A terrestrial burrowing species from the West Indies.
Brachypelma vagans (red rump):
The colour is uniform black with long red hairs covering the abdomen and the legs have pale lines running down their length. This species has been available as captive bred stock for many years and is one of the most attractive.
Size: Up to 15 cms leg span. Habitat: A terrestrial burrowing species from Mexico.
Grammostola rosea (Chile rose):
The basic colouration is rich brown with long reddish hairs on the legs. The carapace has a striking pink tinge. This species is very docile and considered the ideal beginners tarantula. Captive bred stock is readily available.
Size: Up to 15 cms leg span. Habitat: Terrestrial burrowing species from Chile.
Avicularia avicularia (pink toe):
This species is very attractive having a blue/green tinge to the carapace. All the legs are covered in dense black hairs and the “toes” have a distinct pink tip. Spiderlings and juveniles of this species are the complete opposite – having pink legs and black tipped toes.
Size: Up to 15 cms leg span. Habitat: An arboreal species from South America.
Psalmopoeus cambridgei (Trinidad chevron):
The adults are strikingly coloured with various shades of grey, olive green and brown. The legs are covered in dense hairs and there is a small rust-red patch on each toe. The abdomen has a dark median line with five bark bands projecting off. This is an ideal first arboreal tarantula – extremely fast growing (maturing in 12 months or so) and is very hardy, able to withstand some of the problems first encountered when beginning. Widely available as captive bred stock.
Size: Up to 15 cms leg span. Habitat: An arboreal species from Trinidad.
Whichever species you decide upon I recommend that it is purchased from a specialist breeder and supplier because this enables you of having a better chance of knowing more details about the spider (age, sex etc.) and captive bred stock should be bought to relieve the importation of wild specimens.