Learn Why Tarantulas make Great Pets, and What to Avoid
Tarantulas have become especially popular as pets in recent years. In general, certain types of spiders are fun to have as pets – especially those with bright colors, interesting behavior patterns and very low maintenance.
In this article, we will examine why the tarantula occupies pride of place among pet spiders, and how one to go about choosing one that works for you.
- Why Tarantulas? Because They Can Be Fun without Too Much Trouble
Tarantulas can be enjoyed by their owners at a very low cost of ownership, and without a whole lot of maintenance and upkeep.
They come in all shapes, sizes and dispositions – ranging from quick and agile to slow and docile.
There are those that perch off the ground and those that like to burrow. Let’s see why they have become popular as pets.
- Low cost
Many commonly available tarantulas are very low cost compared to other pets. Getting ones for $20-$30 is par for the course, even the more exotic species are normally affordable, with prices topping out around $100.
The tarantula species that are popular as pets tend to sport attractive colors and a number of them have additional attributes that appeal to their owners. But the fact they do not cost an arm and a leg is definitely an added bonus.
- Small size
An adult spider typically spans between 5-8 inches. In other words, its small and doesn’t take up a lot of space. Thus, they are easier to keep as pets than larger animals.
- Small container, Easily Planned Habitat
Due to the small sizes and their normal habits, a 5- or 10-gallon tank (terrarium) is usually sufficient to house a tarantula or many other spider species. Planning the tarantula habitat is not complex.
The tank or aquarium that the tarantula lives in should be placed away from direct sunlight, since they prefer living in the dark a majority of the time, and do not like brightness.
Depending on whether they tend to live off the ground or burrow under the soil, some subsoil may need to be laid down. Objects that the spider can rest on, build webs and hide behind – such as tree barks, branches, logs and rocks – complete the picture.
Tarantulas do need some moisture and heat in their environment, but it is easy to position heating pads at the corners of the tank, and provide some means of introducing moisture as explained below.
Overall, nothing too strenuous is called for, and the habitat needs minimal upgradation if properly set up.
Tarantula Terrarium with Subsoil and Water Dish
- Feed once a week
Tarantulas usually feed on insects such as crickets, or mice, on a weekly basis. There are some species that feed only once in one or two months.
The frequency of feeding may need to be higher during high growth phases and/or when the spider is molting, which happens within the first (five to seven) years of its life till the spider reaches maturity.
- Fill the Water Bowl Once a Month
The tarantula’s water bowl usually needs to be filled only once a month, except when it doubles as a source of moisture or humidity for the terrarium – in which case it may need to remain full.
- No Smells and No Mess
Tarantulas are not like cats, puppies, birds or any such pets. They do not emit any bad odors – either from their own selves or as a result of hunting or feeding.
The terrarium does not need to be cleaned out very often, and the spider certainly does not cause a mess in any other part of the house.
They do not cause “accidents” – so there is no requirement for cleaning up after them. Nor do they need to be trained in order to prevent a mess in your living area.
- Not looking for Attention, Do Not Need to be taken out
Not only do spiders not need to be exercised or trained to evacuate outside – they are completely self-sufficient. Tarantulas are solitary, private creatures – they do not get bored and cause mischief if left alone, as a puppy might. This means that one does not need to spend much time on them between the myriad demands on your time.
If you are thinking long term, you can get female tarantulas that can easily live for 25-30 years (or even more) depending on how young they are when you procure them.
- Feels like Velvet
Some pet owners like to hold or stroke their tarantulas. This may not be a good idea, unless it’s the right species (that is, has the right temperament) and you exercise abundant care while holding or stroking them.
However, if you have the right tarantula, they will feel like velvet, as many pet owners will attest. We discuss some pros and cons later in this article.
- Some Tarantulas could be Dexterous or Intelligent
Pet owners often look for signs of dexterity or intelligence in their pets. As we will discuss further, the attribution of human-like qualities to tarantulas may not be justified.
But most tarantulas, even if they are docile and slow moving, can move and strike with great dexterity if the situation calls for it – they have been genetically programmed to do so.
Also, they often perform intricate tasks, such as web-building, that will leave you awestruck.
- However, There Are Reasons for Caution
Tarantulas are wild animals, and they need to be treated as such. While some tarantulas can be exceptionally docile, even they may react to sudden changes in their environment or a hint of danger.
Also, as we will see below, even the more popular species may produce individual spiders that display unpredictable behavior. Pet owners need to pay heed to this factor, and acknowledge the fact that tarantulas have to be treated with caution.
Being skilled predators, spiders can bite, and their venom could prove painful (or worse). They are not like a dog, cat, parrot or gecko that can be frequently petted with abandon.
- Delicate Creatures
Tarantulas, despite what the popular myths about their ferocity may be, tend to be extremely delicate creatures where physical contact with humans is concerned.
In general, all spiders are vulnerable to the carapace on their back being pierced. They utilize a hydraulic system to move about, so the exoskeleton (where all their legs are connected) is vital – loss of fluid due to a piercing will render the spider immobile or worse.
The other danger to tarantulas is that they can be badly hurt from a fall – their soft underbelly can burst open and kill them.
If your pet tarantula prefers to stay off the ground, do not provide perches that are too high unless you want to lose them to an accident.
- Handle with Care
The delicacy of tarantulas is a major reason that tarantulas, if they are handled (that is, petted), need to be treated with extreme care.
Let the spider move about or perch on your limbs or palm, and avoid actions that could damage limbs, or perforate the exoskeleton or the underside.
Also, do not get carried away with images of leaping spiders. As mentioned above, dropping a tarantula from a height could cause serious injury or death.
Besides damage to the spider, handling also poses a danger to humans, as explained below.
- Venom and Kicking their Abdominal Hair
Tarantulas are skilled hunters that possess venom. While most species popular as pets will likely not possess fangs that can pierce human skin and/or possess potentially lethal doses of venom, a bite can nonetheless cause acute discomfort, pain, fever or nausea.
Additionally, many tarantulas possess urtricating hair – when they feel threatened, members of these species will rub their legs against their hairy abdomens, loosening the hair and flicking them at you.
Tarantula hair causes skin itch and rashes, sometimes worse. Rubbing your eyes after handling your pet spider is a bad idea for this reason.
- Do Not Let Dehydration Creep In
One of the things that tarantulas can get adversely affected by excessive aridity – death or disability from dehydration can occur in such cases.
While it would be sufficient to put water inside the enclosure once a month for the spider to drink, other tactics may be necessary.
For example, keeping the water bowl full at all times, sometimes wetting part of the subsoil and/or using some type of misting spray if you live in a dry climate and keep your room heater or dehumidifier running.
- Not socially acceptable
Besides being cautious, pet owners have to be aware that tarantulas and other spiders are often deemed socially unacceptable. If any of your family members feel that way, the presence of your pet may cause problems.
Along the same vein, be careful not to startle visitors to your house with your pet spider. Not only can you gross them out, its possible that someone might overreact and hurt them.
- A Wild Animal which can be Unpredictable in Captivity
We mentioned this before, but it bears repetition. For example, we describe below how the Chilean Rose Tarantula, a very popular pet spider, is also known for “bipolar” behavior.
- Should You Assign Anthropomorphic Qualities to Your Pet Tarantula?
It is common to hear stories or assertions about spiders having certain anthropomorphic (i.e. human-like) qualities.
Before you get too carried away – and therefore attached to your pet spider for the wrong reason – please read below.
Ultimately, spiders are simple creatures. Certain feats they perform can fill us with awe, and they often evoke interest due to how different they may be to us.
However, it is not wise to treat them as your equals or even as intelligent and/or emotionally sentient as your pet poodle.
- Do Tarantulas feel Love or Affection?
Spiders in general do not form complex emotional bonds due to love or affection. Their primary instincts fluctuate between fear and contentment.
In between lies the predatory instinct, which of course is the road to contentment. They are more likely than not to appreciate just being left alone in the sanctuary provided for them, as long as someone else (you!) are taking care of their basic needs.
They do not need to be petted or pampered as a demonstration of your attraction towards them. Their primary instinct is to eat, procreate and hide from danger.
- Do They Remember Their Keepers?
You may hear stories about tarantulas recognize their owners through their scent, even if they do not otherwise feel affectionate. Unfortunately, such stories have no basis in reality.
Tarantulas do not have a sense of smell or taste in the conventional sense. Like many other animals, they learn about their surroundings through visual, tactile and chemical stimuli – detecting those stimuli through the specialized hairs on their bodies and appendages.
So, remembering you through your smell is a non-starter.
In general, there are not other ways that the tarantula can remember you as their keeper.
- Can They be Handled Regularly?
Some tarantulas are docile, but that does not mean they can, or should, be petted frequently. They are not used to it.
When they leave their enclosures, they are in hunting mode – nothing in their evolutionary history has prepared them for being picked up and stroked by someone.
They tend to be uber sensitive to sudden movements or perceived dangers from larger creatures. They will tend to scurry back towards their “cave” or be in attack mode. This could be manifested by them kicking their hairs, or even biting you.
There is also the prospect that the spider may attempt to scurry away, and in the process hurt itself, or that you could potentially be too rough in handling it.
If you must handle your tarantula, be sure that it has a docile temperament and be careful.
- If They do not Like being Handled, why do Many Tarantulas Crawl on Your Hand?
So, if your pet tarantula does not feel particularly affectionate towards you, does not recognize you in any specific fashion and don’t really like being handled, even if they can tolerate it, how can we explain their propensity to crawl onto your palm or up your hands and arms?
There’s a prosaic explanation – as far as your pet is concerned, your limbs are akin to branches of a tree.
- Are Tarantulas Intelligent?
The above discussion leads up to the central question posed above. In general, even though they possess more centralized brains than other arthropods, tarantulas are not considered to be particularly intelligent.
They do not really possess a “personality”, as many pet owners and naturalists seem to attribute to them. They cannot recognize you, and do not alter their behavior based on who is holding them.
Be aware that to your pet, you come across as a large predator – so be cautious and give them the distance they deserve.
- Conclusion: Enjoy Responsibly – You are Dealing with a Live Creature
Keeping a pet tarantula can be a lot of fun. Watching these creatures in their glory is entertaining so long as you exercise restraint and follow sensible guidelines, as you should with any live pets.
In Part II of this article, we will build on our knowledge of tarantulas to review some popular pet choices.
Check out part 2 here.
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