Keeping a tarantula can be very rewarding. They are beautiful, elegant creatures, individual and utterly charming.
The ground species of tarantula are generally the most docile (although there are notable exceptions). The most popular of the ground dwellers is undoubtedly the Mexican red knee (Brachypelma smithi) which is becoming somewhat harder to obtain. Two good alternatives are the Zebra tarantula (Aphonopelma seemanni) or the Chilean Beauty (Grammostola cala). These are both readily available from dealers and both are fairly docile species although the former can be skittish. They are both very attractive.
Among the many arboreal spiders the Avicularia avicularia (the South American pink toe) is one of the more popular. These are extremely pretty and very docile although they are fast moving at times and can jump quite high when surprised.
Whichever you choose you will enjoy owning a tarantula.
Housing Ground Dwellersa fish tank 12 x 12 x 12-inch with a lid is adequateI stress WITH A LID since tarantulas are great escapologists! Cover the bottom with VERMICULITE well wetted this is the best medium for tarantulas since it is completely germ and mite free and holds humidity. A heating pad placed under the tank and controlled by thermostat will keep the tank to the correct temperature (around 75°F for most ground dwellersslightly warmer for some species and more humid). A spray ofthe tank daily will keep the humidity at the correct level.
Housing Arboreal Spidersthe tank and stratum need to be the same as for ground dwellers but remember that these spiders do climb so a tank which is higher would be preferable. The spider will need twigs or the like to suspend its arboreal nest.
Feedingyou cannot overfeed a tarantula since it will only eat what it needs. Feeding consists of crickets, locusts, cockroaches etc. It will also eat giant mealworms sometimes and most tarantulas will take a piece of raw fat-free beef occasionally. Fresh water should ALWAYS be available. A small low dish either filled with soaked cotton wool or purely open water will suffice for most spiders. Arboreal spiders prefer to drink from the tank walls or the twigs so that a spray of their tank every day is most essential.
Lonersspiders should ALWAYS be housed alone as they will fight and even kill one another. If you have a large enough tank you can insert a divider thereby enabling you to keep two in one tank. They do not need a great deal of space. Most spiders do not travel more than four feet in a lifetime.
Moultinga web is spun to make a mat upon which to lay to shed the skin so that is a first sign. The spider will usually not have eaten for some few weeks, even months, before the moult and the bald patch on the abdomen will turn blue-black. The spider will flip over onto its backDO NOT TOUCH ITbut make sure there is no live food in the tank which can disturb and even nibble at the moulting spider. The moult itself can take several hours and once complete the spider will flip back over onto its feet. It will be very tired for several days and you should not touch the spider dyring this time or, indeed, until it starts feeding again. Offer food after three or four days but do not worry if it does not immediately snare its prey.
If you treat your tarantula correctly and with tender care, it will be with you for many years, the females living the longest. Another important thing to remember is that tarantulas neither like nor do they need bright lights. The spider's home should be in a darkish corner making sure that the sun does not pass over the tank. ALWAYS keep the tank out of reach of toddlers and young children.
Smith, A.M. The Tarantula Identification and Classification Guide, Fitzgerald Publishing.
Smith, A.M. How to Keep Tarantulas, Fitzgerald Publishing.
Murphy-Frances Keeping Spiders, Insects and Other Land Invertebrates in Captivity, Bartholomew.
Schultz-Stanley, A . The Tarantula Keepers Guide, Sterling Press, New York.
Preston-Mafham Spiders of the World, Blandford Press .
Jones-Dick Spider, Orbis Books.
Published by The Bntish Tarantula Society. (c) Ann Webb
After the spiderlings hatch from the egg sac, there is a possibility you will have more spiders than you wanted! One hundred or more baby tarantulas will need separate cages, provision with food and water and heat.
A usable cage for the first six-months can be made from a baby food jar or any other small glass container. To prepare this cage, first drill or punch one-sixteenth air holes in the jar lid for ventilation. Inside the jar, cover the bottom with l/2-inch of Vermiculite. This will prevent the spiderlings and the live food from drowning in the bottom of the cage if there is excess of moisture. A wet 1-inch sponge or cotton wool ball for the spiderling to drink from and for humidity is placed on top ofthe substrate.
If the cage is too cold the spiderling will not &ed and if the cage is too hot the spiderling will dehydrate. The cage temperature is best keptbetween 70-80oF. Avoid direct sunlight. Clean the cage every month and the drinking sponge every day.
A spiderling, for the first few months, will require only one small cricket a week; mealworms, moths, termites, grubs and fruit flies all may be used as food.
As the spiderling moults and grows it will require more food. a well-fed spiderling will have an abdomen which is full and rounded. A spiderling will not eat for several days prior to a moult and will wait a day or two afterwards before feeding. Before a moult the spiderling will darken in colour and have a dull appearance. The first moult takes place inside the egg sac when a nymph turns into a spiderling about two months after the eggs are laid, this is referred to as a hatching.
A nymph resembles a sphere with two hands and is pearl-white in colour darkening just before hatching.
After the spiderling leaves the egg sac the next moult will take place about 30 days later and, as a rule, the time between moults will increase as it reaches maturity. A mature tarantula will moult about once a year, and a spiderling may moult five or more times in the first year.
If the spiderling will not eat, place a live cricket or other insect on the end of a needle and hold it in front of the spiderling. To help entice the spiderling to snare a meal, brush the insect lightly over the babv tarantula's pedipalpi.
Published by The Bntish Tarantula Society. (c) AL'S TARANTUJLA RANCH
When I first started breeding tarantulas in captivity, I observed a female Texas Brown (Dugesiella hentzi) spinning her orbicular silk egg-laying chamber. Prior to laying the eggs, she experienced great difficulties with the attachment of silk onto the glass cage walls and when closing the top of the sphere. During the egg-laying process the web silk sphere started coilapsing as the attachments pulled from the glass. The female tarantula made an instinctive but futile attempt to save the egg sac. The result was a disastrous mess, the eggs were strewn about and she had just lost the entire clutch of eggs. After hours of mating sessions and cage preparation for incubation, all hope for a successful hatch was lost due to one problemthe silk egg-laying chamber.
In the wild habitat, the egg-laying chamber would be a small spherical room located towards the bottom of the burrow, with slightly damp earthen walls. This would be almost an impossibility to duplicate within a ten gallon aquarium, but trial and error supplied a very satisfactory substitute for an egg-laying chamberthe shell of a coconut!
I will not mention how the discovery took place in this short piece, but will mention the coconut shell is the best egg-laying chamber yet tried and also is an excellent burrow for a pet tarantula to hide and feel safe.
To prepare a coconut shell for an egg-laying chamber, first pick a shell with a diameter as close to the tarantula's leg span as possible. Then cut off the stem end of the shell (the end with three dimples) with a fine tooth saw, about 1-inch from the end of the shell. Repeat the cut if necessary until a 2-inch opening is obtained, a large female will require a slightly larger opening.
Split all the nut meat with a knife, by slitting into strips with a narrow cut. Then remove the sections of nut meat with a butter knife using the knife to pry loose the meat from the shell. Sandpaper the opening and remove any sharp edges, and then sterilize the coconut shell in a microwave oven for five minutes, along with all other material to be placed in the cage and does not contain any metal.
Place l/2-inch of Vermiculite in the bottom of the aquarium and then set the shell in one corner with the opening facing the centre and inclined about 25 degrees upwards. Cover the shell with Vermiculite and fill inside the shell half full so that the tarantula can excavate and feel she has dug the chamber to her needs.
Published by The British Tarantula Society. (c) AL'S TARANTIJLA RANCH
Choosing a scorpionif at all possible, choose a scorpion which is known not to be harmful, never forget that all arachnids have venom or poison to kill or paralyse prey. It CANNOT and MUST NOT be removed. Check carefully before you purchase your pet; check the sting, legs, pincers, and the two feelers underneath which they use to feel vibration. ALSO check for any injuries and that the scorpion is active when touched but not necessarily aggressive. SOME SCORPIONS ARE DANGEROUS. Beginners should avoid Buthus, Leiurus, Centruroides.
Good for beginners: Pandinus imperators, Palamneus, African Bicolour Euscorpius.
Handlingscorpions do not like being handled, so don't SHOW OFF. If handling is necessary, grip with thumb and forefinger behind the sting. However the scorpion can double over and nip forcing you to release the sting. A better method is to use long forceps, aiternatively coax into a container and lift out.
Housing a Scorpionalways bear in mind that you should try to imitate or re-create the animal's natural environment if possible, i.e. ground cover, humidity, temperature and especially provide some sort of cover. A good cage is an aquarium with a toD or cover. Alternatives can be used, i.e. propagators. Light bulbs are an easy way to supply heat but these MUST BE BLUE OR RED, experiment with different wattages to get the right temperature for the time of year and size of cage. Cleaning: remove any food debris and clean out once a year.
Feedinga scorpion feeds on invertebrates, insects or spiders. A good food for scolpions is crickets and a good idea is to sprinkle with Vionite although this is not essential. CAUTION never overfeed. Some scorpions will eat until they have a pregnant app-earance! A good guide is two crickets for a small scorpion, 3 or 4 for a large scorpion per week. Constant WATER supply must be available by way of an open water dish. This should not be deep enough to drown small scorpions.
Murphy, F. Keeping Spiders, Insects and Other Land Invertebrates In Captivitypublished by Bartholomew.
Hull -Williarns, V. How To Keep Scorpionspublished by Fitzgerald.
(c) Ann Webb.
Published by The Bntish Tarantula Socity.
© Copyright 'The British Tarantula Society', 1996,1997