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Breed Spotlight: Tarantulas!

Updated: Feb 9

Few creatures are as universally hated as much as spiders, and the hatred for them seems to increase along with their size. The reality behind these ancient and fascinating creatures is extremely interesting and can even be surprisingly endearing. They aren't monsters, they're just bugs. Fascinating bugs! In addition to being fascinating, they're also generally very easy to keep and even breed in captivity. Before getting into specific species, lets cover some basics.


A fossorial setup

Tarantulas can be divided into several different categories, the first of which being arboreal (living in trees) and fossorial (burrowing). If you select a burrowing species, you'll need a substrate they can dig in. If you select an arboreal species, the substrate may not be nearly as important. The selection of arboreal and fossorial also impacts the type of enclosure you will need, with fossorial tarantulas requiring more floor space and arboreal tarantulas requiring taller enclosures to facilitate climbing.



An arboreal setup

The next way in which you can divide tarantulas is geographically. This puts them into two general groups knowns as Old World (Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe) and New World (North, Central, and South America). There are easy tarantulas to care for from both. In fact, most of them are easy to care for if you provide their basic needs. The biggest difference between Old World and New World tarantulas tends to be defensiveness. New World Tarantulas are generally laid back, and even specimens in the wild can be picked up and handled, and bites are quite uncommon. Old World tarantulas tend to range from slightly defensive to horrifyingly defensive. But a bite from even the most defensive Old World Tarantula is not considered medically significant. While potentially painful, there is no confirmed record of a human ever dying from a tarantula bite.


A tarantula sling

You'll also want to consider whether you'll want to acquire your tarantula as a baby (colloquially known as "slings" which is short for spiderlings), a juvenile, or adult. There are pros and cons to each, but generally speaking slings can be challenging for newcomers. Juveniles tend to be easier to care for, but you may end up with a male (something often not apparent until adulthood) and males are short-lived. If you want to ensure you end up with a long-lived pet, an adult female is what you'll be looking for. I'll be covering adults in the post for that reason. But if you opt for a juvenile, they should be fed tiny insects (such as fruit flies and pinhead crickets) and they should be housed in tiny containers such as pill bottles so they can efficiently find their food items and feel secure.


A brief word about feeding

If you opt to feed crickets, never leave uneaten crickets inside the enclosure with your tarantula. Crickets can attack and even kill tarantulas if a tarantula begins to molt. If you would like to leave prey items in the enclosure with little to no risk of your tarantula being harmed, roaches are the way to go. Commercially available roaches (Dubia, Red Runner, Madagascar) prefer to eat vegetable matter and are extremely unlikely to harm a molting tarantula.


My Top Tarantula Picks for New Keepers

Aphonopelma chalcodes (Arizona Blonde Tarantula)

  • New World (Southwestern United States)

  • Calm, gentle, very unlikely to bite

  • Female lifespan approximately 30 years

  • Male lifespan approximately 3 years (rarely up to 10 years if matured slowly)


One of my personal favorites, the Arizona Blonde is generally gentle and confident. They, like the Brazilian Black, have a wonderful reputation in the hobby for both ease of care and having a wonderful disposition. They are fossorial, but not all specimens dig. I have kept this species on deep substrate that they never dug into. But until you determine if yours likes to dig or not, a deeper substrate should be provided. These are desert-dwelling tarantulas, and as such they will often ignore a water bowl. This is fine, since almost all the water they need can come from their prey. They should be offered roaches or crickets weekly to biweekly. They are known for fasting occasionally, and I have known for these fasting periods to last months at a time sometimes. But eventually they resume feeding. Again, I prefer roaches as a food source over crickets.



Grammastola pulchra (Brazilian Black Tarantula)

  • New World (South America)

  • Calm, gentle, unlikely to bite

  • Enjoys higher humidity

  • Female lifespan up to 30 years

  • Male lifespan approximately 2-5


Known as the Black Lab of the tarantula world, this species matures into a beautiful velvety black, and has a very accepting temperament. They are known for being very docile and gentle, and very easy to care for. Undemanding, they enjoy moderate humidity, a bowl of clean water, and a hiding place and/or substrate deep enough to burrow in. As slings these tend to be nervous and flighty, because in the wild they would be on the menu for most animals they might encounter. But as a full-grown adult measuring up to 8 inches, they are usually confident and even curious. Feeding this species is straightforward, as with most tarantulas. Adults should be offered food weekly to biweekly, depending on the individual. Staple food items can be live Dubia Roaches, live Madagascar Roaches, or live crickets. I prefer roaches, as they have a better nutritional profile and require far fewer individuals per feeding (I also dislike crickets in general). If you opt for crickets, purchase your crickets from reputable sources who produce crickets for use as pet food. Do not purchase insects from bait shops as these are produced differently and can introduce unwanted chemicals and parasites. Also, do not feed captured insects as these often have parasites and may have been exposed to pesticides.



Pterinochilus murinus (Orange Baboon Tarantula)

  • Old World (Central and Southern Africa)

  • Defensive/aggressive, proceed with caution

  • Instead of a water dish, spray the webbing


This tarantula also has a reputation in the hobby. They are beloved by millions of people, and every single one is terrified of them. They are commonly known as the Orange Baboon Tarantula, but many in the hobby lovingly refer to them as “Orange Bitey Things.” These are extremely defensive to the point of being outwardly aggressive. Fanciers will tell you they are just scared of you and then overreact in self-defense, which is often the case, but many individuals who grow accustomed to their keepers lose the fear they once had and become rather bold. I own one of these and it has chased me across the room before, after I unintentionally allowed it to escape while putting food in its enclosure. These tarantulas are no joke, and they are not for the faint of heart. They are, however, very easy to keep and a lot of fun to feed (not considering my aforementioned mistake). And not only are they exciting, but they are stunning. Give them a deep substrate for burrowing and they’ll excavate tunnels and reinforce them with massive amounts of beautiful white webbing. Their web-building skills are quite fantastic! Offer them roaches or crickets (again, I prefer roaches) and water them by lightly spraying their webbing with dechlorinated water once a week to once every other week. If you are unfortunate enough to get bitten, it isn’t fun and it will hurt but it is not considered medically significant. If you are allergic to other insect venoms (bee stings) go to the ER out of an abundance of caution. They average 2-4 inches (body length) with a 6-inch leg span. This is a good introduction to Old World tarantulas in my opinion. Once you have kept New World Ts, give this one a shot! If you can keep this, you can keep any Old World.


Tliltocatl albopilosus [prev. Brachypelma albopilosum] (Curly Hair Tarantula)

  • New World (Nicaragua, Costa Rica)

  • Calm but often a bit shy


Another beloved member of the docile group, the adorably cute Curly Hair is always a winner. They are simple tarantulas, content with substrate to dig through, a hide, and a water bowl. They only attain a size up to 6 inches, which is moderate in the tarantula world. They are accepting of handling but can be a bit shyer than the Brazilian Black and Arizona Blonde in my experience. They don’t tend to heavily web their enclosures, so if you prefer less webbing this can be a great option for you. Offer them crickets or roaches once a week to once every other week. Always keep these with fresh drinking water.



Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens (Greenbottle Blue Tarantula)

  • New World (Venezuela, specifically the Paraguaná Peninsula)

  • Bold, not recommended for handling


The next one on the list is for the eyes, not the hands, not especially known for being accepting of handling. They are still far less likely to bite than an Old World tarantula, instead preferring to run away from perceived threats. But what these tarantulas lack in handleability they more than make up for in beauty and boldness. They weave astoundingly big webs of white silk over every surface they can reach, and then spend much of their time sitting out in the open on said web patiently waiting for food. Feed them once a week and lightly spray their webs weekly, being careful not to spray the spider itself. These particular spiders are not usually a good candidate for an enclosure featuring live plants because they will cover the plants so densely with webbing that the plants will be unable to photosynthesize, and they will die.



Poecilotheria regalis (Indian Ornamental Tree Spider)

  • Old World (India)

  • Defensive and flighty, do not touch

  • Large arboreal

  • Best in higher humidity

  • Female lifespan up to 15 years

  • Male lifespan 2-4 years


My favorite of the Old World tarantulas, this species is stunning and large. They reach an impressive 7 inches, which is big for an arboreal species! Their striking monochromatic colors are remarkably good at keeping them camouflaged against tree bark as they wait to ambush large insects. They are very defensive, and they are known for having strong venom. If you have an allergy to stings, I urge you to avoid this species altogether. If you do get bitten, symptoms are reported to include increased heartrate, the loss of bowel and bladder control, intense burning sensations in the eyes, and muscle spasms. Certainly unpleasant, but not deadly and nobody has ever been confirmed to have passed away from a bite. I own one of these as well and I can say from experience that they aren’t as scary as they sound. Mine hides when she sees me coming, and when I put food in the enclosure, she waits for me to be gone before coming out to eat. The secret is to give this species a hiding spot where they feel safe. Then they will always go there rather than staying to have an unpleasant interaction with you. Offer these large roaches (such as Madagascar Roaches) every other week, or a few large crickets weekly. This species appreciates humidity, and it’s a good idea to spray their enclosure on a regular basis. I keep mine at 80% humidity. They also like it warm but can handle normal room temperatures just fine.



Avicularia avicularia (Pinktoe tarantula)

  • New World (Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil)

  • Arboreal

  • Extremely popular

  • Calm when handled respectfully, but may jump

Possibly the most popular arboreal tarantula in the hobby, this is most keepers first arboreal and many keepers first tarantula in general. They are a wonderful smaller species, usually not getting over 4 inches. They can be easily held and are unlikely to bite but do have a habit of jumping from your hand (just as they would from a tree branch to get to another tree branch). Provide them with a tall enclosure. They will find a spot at the top and build a nest from webbing that they’ll hide in periodically, emerging when they want to be fed. Offer them small-medium roaches or crickets weekly. They benefit from higher humidity and their enclosure should be regularly sprayed.



Neoholothele incei (Incei Tarantula, Incei Gold Tarantula)

  • New World (Trinidad and Venezuela)

  • Delicate only because of diminutive size (2 inches)

  • Very easy to breed


This tarantula comes in a naturally occurring olive color (sometimes referend to as Incei Olive) and a yellow color variant (Incei Gold, pictured above). The Incei can be handled with care but is shy and likely to retreat into its burrow if you try to handle it. It is a fascinating and small tarantula to keep, digging deep into substrate and building caves against the transparent sides of the enclosure through which you can observe its natural unground behavior. They are also small, maxing out around 2 inches! Because of their small size, they can be kept in smaller enclosures and can be fed small crickets. Feed weekly. Due to their extensive webbing, it may not be possible to keep a filled water bowl in the enclosure. Simply spray the webbing once a week.




Hapalopus Formosus (Pumpkin Patch Tarantula)

  • New World (Colombia, South America)

  • Dwarf species (2.5 inches)

  • Very unlikely to bite when handled, but tends to be shy


This last species is the second dwarf Tarantula on this list. These are fossorial tarantulas and can be happily kept in small containers with substrate to dig through, but they also seem to enjoy leaf litter they can rummage through. They are adorable, and beautifully patterned! These are likely to overturn any water dish left in the enclosure, so I just mist mine once a week and they drink from the droplets if they are thirsty. Offer small prey weekly but remove any uneaten crickets.



Breeding

Aphonopelma hentzi with an egg sac

If you try your hand at keeping tarantulas and you become obsessed like so many of us already in the hobby to the point of having a collection, the natural next step is to try breeding! Its a simple endeavor, albeit a tad stressful for the keeper. You'll need two sexually mature individuals of opposite sex. You'll get both the male and female very well-fed leading up to the attempted breeding to minimize the chance of cannibalism. Then briefly add the male to the female's enclosure. Starting with an easy-to-breed species like the Incei Gold is ideal. Mating usually takes place immediately and then the male can be gently coaxed out of the female's enclosure and safely back into his. If he's unlucky and you aren't quick enough, he may be eaten by the female.

Depending on the species you breed the female will seclude herself in her burrow or hide and you'll have an egg sac between 3-12 months. I recommend inexperienced breeders let the female tend to the egg sac. Tarantulas (like most spiders) are generally fantastic mothers. She will protect the egg sac, rotate it periodically, massage the sides, and some tarantulas have even been seen vibrating against their egg sac to warm it up if the room temperature gets too cool. Once they begin to hatch she may even feed them by killing an insect and sitting it down for them to eat from. Shortly after hatching the tiny spiderlings can be gently placed into separate containers (I like to use 13 dram pill bottles which can be cheaply ordered online). You'll house one sling per pill bottle. Offer pre-killed pinhead (tiny) crickets once a week, and remove anything uneaten after a few days. I offer them water by dripping a single drop from a dropper once a week.


Here at Windsor Animal Hospital, we don't treat tarantulas, but we do have one! Her name is Tumbleweed and she's a friendly Arizona Blonde! We love her very much (despite the look on Teri's face), and she has done wonders to educate staff and clients on tarantulas. She has even gotten people over their fear of spiders! Tarantulas really are incredible creatures and rewarding to keep, but we know they aren't for everyone. If you happen to stop by our office and see Tumbleweed relaxing in her enclosure, take a moment to marvel at these fantastic critters rather than giving into the fear. Trust us, she's lovable! In their own ways, they all are.


Honorable Mentions

This isn't a tarantula, of course, but it can be a wonderful introduction into pet spiders. The Regal Jumping Spider (Phidippus regius), and jumping spiders in general, are very easy to keep pets and aren't intimidating in the slightest. They start out eating fruit flies as babies and graduate up to small crickets and small meal worms as adults. They are relatively short lived, so they are not a long commitment, but they melt even the most stubborn arachnophobe's heart. Click here for more details on caring for the Regal Jumping Spider!



Spider Fun Facts:


  1. Spiders use hydrostatic pressure to extend their legs. They are able to control their heart rate and thereby control the hydrostatic pressure in their cephalothorax (their main body segment) which sending blood flowing to its extremities, causing their legs to stretch outwards. To pull their legs inwards they use tiny thin muscles inside the legs while also decreasing the hydrostatic pressure in their bodies. This is why a dying spider typically pulls their legs in under their bodies; they are no longer increasing their hydrostatic pressure because they have a decreasing heartbeat.

  2. Despite having eight eyes, tarantulas have very poor vision. They rely mostly on touch (this is why they are covered in hairs, which work similarly to a cat's whiskers), and they can mainly just see shapes and shadows.

  3. When a tarantula molts (sheds it's exoskeleton) it is completely defenseless. It takes time for the freshly unveiled exoskeleton to harden, and until it does they can barely move, and their fangs are even soft and bendy!

  4. A tarantula's blood is not true blood, but rather a liquid called hemolymph. It is not only used to transport oxygen throughout the body, but also in locomotion via hydrostatic pressure as previously mentioned!

  5. Tarantulas have hair tufts that surround two nails on each foot, forming a paw-like appearance. And we think they're adorable! Check them out below to see that they might even be cuter than a cat's.


If you look up the word "adorable" in the dictionary it has a picture of tarantula paws next to it

To read our other Breed Spotlight posts, click here!


Resources:

  1. Tarantula Marketplace - tarantulas from various breeders around the country

  2. Jamie's Tarantulas - high quality tarantulas and the best tarantula supplies

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