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The Beginners Guide to Tarantulas
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The Beginners Guide to Tarantulas

Jack, Critter Culture Staff
Updated Oct 6, 2020

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Despite the fear they instill in some people, tarantulas actually make great pets. Don't be turned off by their seemingly creepy appearance or bad reputation. Underneath their hairy exoskeleton and eight eyes is a shy, harmless, and fascinating little critter.

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Tarantulas are timid

Tarantula half-hidden in a clay pot. Mark Newman / Getty Images

Tarantulas are shy. They spend most of their time hiding in self-made burrows or perched on branches. As nocturnal animals, tarantulas won't move around much during the day. Apart from the occasional hiss when feeling threatened in some species, tarantulas are noiseless animals.

Tarantulas are also docile. Most species aren't known for being aggressive towards humans. Common pet tarantulas are so calm their owners can even let them crawl on their bodies without worrying about bites or stings.

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Bites and stings

Tarantula in an attack position. Moonstone Images / Getty Images

All tarantulas are venomous. However, the bite of most species is as dangerous to humans as a bee sting. They only bite when they feel under attack, although generally, they prefer to run away. You can tell when a tarantula feels threatened because they raise their two front legs and rear back.

Tarantulas also sting. They have small barbed hairs on their underbelly that they throw when scared. The sting may irritate your skin or cause itchiness, but nothing serious. Because of these hairs, you should wash your hands after handling a tarantula and avoid rubbing your eyes.

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Handling your tarantula

Tarantula on a persons hand. Mark Newman / Getty Images

Tarantulas are delicate and shouldn't be handled too much. Their skittish nature makes picking them up complicated, as they may jump from your hand. A fall from any height could lead to injury or death. It's generally better to enjoy watching your tarantula and avoid over-handling it. However, if you want or need to pick up a tarantula, then lay your hand down flat with your palm up. With your other hand, gently nudge the tarantula onto your palm. Keep the tarantula over a flat surface and not too elevated. Avoid making fast movements.

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The right home for a tarantula

Tarantula behind a glass tank. Mark Newman / Getty Images

A tarantula's enclosure should be three times its leg span in length, and twice it's leg span in width. A five-gallon glass tank with a lid is ideal. Too big a tank will make it difficult for them to catch prey. Put a layer of peat a couple of inches in their cage so they can burrow, and add a hollow log or other shelter for them to hide in.

In the wild, tarantulas live alone. They don't need another tarantula to keep them company. Having more than one tarantula in a cage can actually be a bad idea as they might try to eat each other.

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Feeding your tarantula

Cricket under tarantula legs. CathyKeifer / Getty Images

Tarantulas are carnivores; they mainly eat insects, but larger species can eat mice, birds, and other spiders. It's best to feed your tarantula cricket, but you can add other sources of protein as well, like worms or cockroaches. In general, tarantulas should be fed once a week. Tarantulas never overeat, but overfeeding could lead to a dirty cage. Also, they should always have access to a small dish of fresh water.

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Gender and type

Tree-dwelling tarantula coming out of tree hollow. Mark Kostich / Getty Images

Tarantulas come in two varieties: ground-dwelling and tree-dwelling. For first-time tarantula owners, the ground-dwelling species are a better choice. They're easier to handle, as they are slower and jump less. Tree-dwelling spiders will need something to climb on, like a tree branch. Ground dwelling spiders will need a think layer of dirt to burrow in.

Tarantulas also vary depending on their gender. Female tarantulas tend to live between 10 and 30 years, depending on the species, whereas males typically have a lifespan between 4 and 10 years. Female tarantulas are also bigger than males.

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Monitoring your tarantula's health

Birdseye close-up of a red tarantula. Kaan Sezer / Getty Images

Sudden changes in activity, color, spots, and refusal to eat could all be symptoms your tarantula is sick. Some of the most common health problems tarantulas can have include dehydration, mold, parasites, and injuries. Solving dehydration problems is easy. Make sure your tarantula has clean water at all times. Keeping their tanks clean will prevent mold and parasites. Unfortunately, once a tarantula has an infection from mold or parasites, it may be too late to do anything. Tarantulas can regrow body parts but can still die from the trauma of an injury. If you think your tarantula might be sick, take it to a veterinarian with experience in spider care.

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Tarantulas molt

Tarantula molting its skin. ConstantinCornel / Getty Images

Tarantulas molt about every 6 months. They'll be inactive, shed their skin, and then grow a new one. A few weeks before they molt, they may stop eating. It's a stressful process for them, and they may appear to be sick or dead. Don't worry, but avoid touching them. They usually lie on their back and shed their skin in between fifteen minutes and a few hours.

Tarantulas are sensitive after molting, so don't touch them for a week after they molt. Also, avoid feeding them for three days as even small insects can hurt them. Make sure they have plenty of water.

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Buying a tarantula

Tarantula in hands. Freder / Getty Images

Ask about the health, age, and gender of any tarantula you consider getting. Avoid purchasing a tarantula with their legs folded under or is overly sluggish; these two behaviors could be a sign of illness or pregnancy. Ask where your tarantula came from before purchasing. Breeders with a good reputation and rescue groups are more ethical options for obtaining pet tarantulas.

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Fun facts

Orange and black tarantula on forest floor. xtrekx / Getty Images

Tarantulas use silk, but they don't spin webs with it. They usually use their silk to strengthen their burrows, cover eggs, or to be alerted when prey is near their home. Tarantulas can also regenerate lost limbs during molting. Although new limbs usually are not as strong as old ones.

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