Basic Tarantula Care
- Stanley Shultz
Chilean rose hairs (also called Chilean rose, rose hairs, Chilean
pinks) are scientifically known as Grammostola rosea,
Grammostola spatulata, Phrixotrichus rosea, Phrixotrichus spatulata and other permutations and combinations of several other antiquated names.
They come from the borders of the Atacama desert in northern Chile and neighboring areas. Their normal habitat is desert through dry plains, to open scrub forest. They are suspected of being nomadic rather than digging a formal burrow and staying there for the rest of their lives. If they really are nomadic, they probably hide in whatever retreats they can find, digging a formal burrow only when nothing else is available.
The climate that they evolved in is dry. Keep it in a dry cage. Give it a water dish. Put a small chip of slate in the dish as an escape ramp for the crickets you feed the tarantula. A pebble that sticks above the water level will also work. Keep the dish full of clean water all the time. Don't bother misting the cage or the tarantula. The spider will not appreciate the spraying, and the humidity will disappear within a few hours, anyway. In the long haul, it's just a waste of your time and a nuisance to the spider. They most definitely are NOT rainforest species, and should not be kept in a moist environment.
In the winter in Chile (July and August), they are frequently subjected to frosts and the occasional snowfall, although there is no accumulation and (presumably) no really hard freezes. In your home, they'll do quite nicely at any temperature at which you are comfortable. If you like to keep your home cool in the winter (e.g., 18 C or 65 F), they will merely slow down and not eat as much. If you like your home nice and toastie (e.g., 24 C, 76 F), they'll eat more and be a lot more active. Either way, they'll do just fine.
Lots of people keep their tarantulas on vermiculite. We don't like it. For our purposes, it's too loose and fluffy. Usually, tarantulas that are placed on vermiculite will hang from the sides of their cages or stand on top of the ornaments until they can cover the substrate with a thin layer of silk, suggesting that they don't like the stuff either. Potting soil is the other most used substrate, and while most people will admit that it might be better in some ways, it's still not ideal. You might try a half-and-half mixture of sandbox sand and common top soil. Be sure to use soil that has NOT been treated with pesticides, even if it means going some distance outside the city to get it. Warning: Most farmland is a pesticide desert. Avoid agricultural soil like the plague!
Like most tarantulas, they will eat anything that moves and can be overpowered. In captivity, feed the rosie crickets as a staple. If you want to try feeding it a newborn mouse (pinky mouse), it's OK, but
don't be surprised if it refuses it. In that case, return the mouse to the pet shop. (But don't expect a refund. It's just a way of disposing of the mouse.) When you first get it, the tarantula may eat 6 or more crickets a week. Throw them all in with the tarantula at once. It'll eat them when it chooses. After it fattens up, it's appetite will diminish, and eventually it will do just fine on 6 crickets a month.
Rosies are notorious for going on extreme fasts. This may happen as a response to a change in seasons but other causes have been suggested as well. We assume that in winter in Chile, the tarantula stops eating and goes into a state of torpor (NOT hibernation!). When we take them into captivity, ship them to the opposite hemisphere, and keep them in heated homes their biological clocks become confused and they go on these extended fasts as a result. If they are well fed to begin with, they can go for months, rarely even years without food. All they need is a dish of water in case they need a drink.
Rosies that are newly imported from Chile will not shed until
October or November. This is another whole new can of worms. I think I'll not discuss it now because this posting is already getting far too long. Get back to us late next August.
Most rosies can be handled with little fear. Very rarely, one will
bite. The recorded effects of a bite are that the finger, hand or arm will swell and throb, tingle or ache for a few hours to a day or two. As far as I have heard, there are no lasting effects, except you can brag to your grandchildren about how you were bitten by a fearsome, man- (or women) eating tarantula and survived after terrible agony. Really, it's not that bad.
Rosies are almost never aggressive. Once in a while, if you catch her off guard, she may flick a few of the urticating bristles from her rear end, but that's nothing to be terribly concerned about, being an instinctive nervous response, not aggression.
A word about those bristles: Some people are extremely sensitive to them, others don't react at all. If you are even mildly sensitive, get a prescription for a tube of 2-1/2% hydrocortisone cream (or a similar product). Keep it in the medicine cabinet. If you begin to itch after working in the tarantula's cage or handling the tarantula, simply wash off the itchy place with soap and water and apply some of the cream. Almost always it goes away very quickly. Always wash your hands immediately after handling the tarantula or working in its cage.
Warning: Getting the bristles into your eyes can be a serious problem. Always wash your hands after working in the tarantula's cage or after handling the tarantula. When moving things around the cage, try not to stir up the dust any more than necessary, and do not move your face near to the cage. If you should get some of the bristles in your eye, and your eye begins to itch, burn, and tear a lot, you should go to an emergency room or to an
ophthalmologist on an emergency basis for treatment.
Normally, treatment involves irrigation with saline to remove any loose bristles, and application of an ophthalmic ointment containing hydrocortisone or its analogues. In rare, extreme instances, application of a fluorescing dye to highlight the implanted bristles and manually removing implanted bristles with the aid of a microscope or actually scraping off a thin layer of tissue with the bristles has been used.
Do not be terrified of the tarantula because of these last few paragraphs. You have a greater chance of being struck by a freight train than being bitten or suffering from the bristles in your eye.
All in all you have a great pet. Hardy, long lived, gentle, pretty. They're very nearly the perfect tarantula for the beginner.
The text above and the links provided should be more than enough to provide you with a basic understanding of tarantulas in captivity and their care. But to extend your knowledge beyond these basic concepts, I recommend you purchase a good book. The choice of author and the title is entirely up to you. But above all, don't forget to just have fun and enjoy the hobby