Caring for Your Tarantula
KEEPING YOUR PET TARANTULA
Tarantulas have fascinated people all over the world. Despite their reputation in movies, the majority of species are quite docile and are easy to keep and transport. All tarantulas are venomous, but the toxicity of the venom can be equated to a bee sting for most species. Still, caution should be maintained when handling them in case of an allergic reaction to the venom. Watching the tarantula move and climb can be engrossing and fascinating. Some species can construct the most intricate webs. Beginners should opt for a more docile and easy to care for species.
One, Two or More?
It is not wise to keep two tarantulas together as they may interpret one another as a threat or competition for food. The Pinktoe tarantula can be kept in communities, providing they are approximately the same sizes.
Determining a Tarantula’s Sex
Sexing can be generally determined by the relative size of mature tarantulas, with the females generally being larger with a thicker build than the males. In many species, the males will have a small shiny bulb, called a palpal bulb, near the end and undersides of his pedipalps (the small grasping arms at the front of the body). Another difference found in males of most species is the presence of tibial spurs (small hook-like structures on the ends of his first legs).
The life expectancy of tarantulas really depends on the species you choose. A male Rose Hair Tarantula could live 8-10 years, while a female lives 15 years or more. Male Pink Toe Tarantulas live 2-3 years, while females live 10 years or more. Goliath Birdeater tarantula can live to 20 or more years.
As a general rule, large tarantulas from deserts or scrubland areas tend to live longer than tarantulas from a tropical environment. Your pet counsellor can inform you about the approximate life expectancy of the species that you are interested in.
Like insects, tarantulas have exoskeletons, which provide protection and support, but do not allow for growth. Moulting is the process by which your tarantula sheds his outgrown skin, replaces missing or damaged appendages, and replenishes his hair. Adults will only moult once or twice a year, but growing spiderlings will do so quite regularly.
If you should notice the tarantula on his back, don’t fret. It is not dead, as this is their normal behaviour and position to moult. The moulting process may take several hours to complete. When entering a moult, your spider may refuse food ranging from a week to several months. Other symptoms include decreased activity, a development of a bald spot on their abdomen, dull colouration, and increased use of webbing. It will often develop a black shiny cast to the skin of the abdomen as his new skin begins separating from the old one. It is a good idea to ensure proper humidity levels at this time to help the moult go smoothly. Food should not be offered for 2 weeks after the moult to allow the new exoskeleton to harden. A good indicator of hardening is when the fangs turn from white to black.
There are approximately 800 species of tarantulas found in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Chile, Mexico and North America. With such a wide range, your tarantula’s habitat will depend on the species you keep. For example, the Pinktoe tarantula is native to tropical rainforest and lives in the trees. As such, an enclosure with climbing areas such as branches or limbs provides a place for him to construct a web. By contrast, the King Baboon tarantula is a fast-moving terrestrial species with a need to burrow. A habitat with good floor space and light substrate to encourage burrowing is recommended. Research your tarantula’s natural habitat with your pet counsellor.
To provide a happy healthy atmosphere for your pet, Petland recommends the following necessary accessories. We have listed them as your new pet’s four basic needs: Nutritional, Environmental, Maintenance and Behavioural. When these needs are met, along with a loving environment provided by you, your tarantula can live a long and happy life.
Housing – As a general rule, the enclosure should be more vertically oriented for arboreal species and more horizontally oriented for terrestrial species. Most species will do well in a 10 to 20 gallon aquarium with a secure screen lid to provide for proper air exchange. Larger tarantulas, such as the Goliath Birdeater and King Baboon will require a slightly larger enclosure for their long-term well-being.
Decorations/Plants – A tarantula’s enclosure should mimic the environment that it came from. Small trees, real or artificial plants, hiding areas, burrows and basking areas such as rocks, driftwood, and/or aquarium ornaments, will provide your tarantula with some of the environmental elements it will need.
Real plants provide many benefits for your tarantula. A plant aerates the enclosure, allows for refuge, provides shade from basking areas, and provide natural drinking areas from the leaves.
Relative Humidity – Certain species of tarantulas like moderate to high humidity, while others like low humidity. It is imperative for your tarantula’s health that you find out what his humidity requirements are. A humidity gauge is helpful in monitoring what the relative humidity is at any given time. For tarantulas who prefer higher humidity, a misting bottle or drip system all assist in providing a higher humidity.
Temperature/Heating – As a general rule, most species of tarantulas will do well if maintained between 26°C-28°C (78°F – 82°F). Every tarantula is different in his needs and you should research the specific temperature requirements for the tarantula you have. Tarantulas seem to do well if there is a drop in temperature in the evening.
An under-tank heater with a thermostat is recommended for all tarantula species to provide appropriate ground temperature. You should ensure that it is positioned on one side of the aquarium to allow your tarantula the choice of a warmer area and cooler area in the enclosure. Do not use a heat bulb as this type of heat can be harmful to your tarantula.
Thermometer – The use of a thermometer is the only way to know if the enclosure is being maintained at the correct temperature. Stick-on thermometers are useful, although for accuracy a digital electronic thermometer is better. Place one thermometer towards the warmer end, and one at the cooler end, to monitor the temperature gradient.
Lighting – The use of a full spectrum fluorescent bulb in a light fixture will highlight the natural colouration of your tarantula. It will also aid the terrarium environment if you have chosen to use live plants. While the tarantula is an invertebrate, and thus does not need to synthesize vitamin D3 as much as some other reptiles, it is still beneficial to your tarantula. Diffused indirect sunlight is sufficient. The enclosure should never be submitted to direct sunlight, as this can overheat and dehydrate your tarantula in a short period of time.
Food Sources – A varied diet of crickets, mealworms, waxworms, cockroaches and pinkie mice is essential for your tarantula. Feeding should occur 1-3 times per week depending on age and species. If the offered food is not consumed within a couple of hours, it should be removed from the enclosure to prevent spoilage and prevent the tarantula from becoming stressed if the food source is live. Remember that your tarantula is not likely to eat food leading up to a moult, and should not be offered food for 2 weeks following a moult to allow the exoskeleton to harden.
Fresh Water – A shallow water dish should be provided daily. To prevent accidental drowning, place a sanitized rock or sponge in the middle of the dish.
Vitamin Supplements – Adding vitamins to a tarantula’s food will ensure a balanced diet. Gut loading your tarantula’s food by feeding it a high quality, vitamin-rich supplement 24 hours before feeding to the tarantula is one method. An alternative is to dust the food source with a vitamin supplement.
Substrate – To help maintain higher humidity levels, proper substrate should retain moisture. Ideal options include jungle mix and plantation soil. Moss can be mixed in with the substrate for additional humidity control. Spot clean the enclosure daily.
Litter Scoop – A litter scoop will make it easier to remove droppings in the enclosure. Spot clean often to keep his home clean and free from fungus, mould or parasites.
Cleaning the Cage/Substrate – Wearing a light glove can prevent tarantula hairs from irritating the skin.
Please ask your pet counsellor what other items pertain to your particular pet’s needs.
Cleanliness and Safety
All pets can potentially carry diseases that may be contagious to people. Young children, infants, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems and the elderly are at greater risk of infections and should use caution when in contact with pets or their environments. Regular cleaning of your pet's environment with a pet safe cleaner may help avoid the spread of contaminants.
Hygiene procedures such as washing your hands before and after handling your pet and/or after having any contact with their habitat, are necessary routines. Children should be assisted with hand washing and always have adult supervision when interacting with pets.
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