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So, you want to keep a pet tarantula?

Discussion in 'GD Archive' started by Lopéz, 18 Oct 2002.

  1. Lopéz

    Man of Honour

    Joined: 17 Oct 2002

    Posts: 27,532

    Location: Leicestershire

    So you want to have a pet with a bit of a difference?
    In this thread I'll attempt to provide some basic information and dispel a few myths about the large, hairy Mygalomorphs we know as Tarantulas.

    Is a tarantula a spider?
    Actually, no it isn't! Well not scientifically and zoologically anyway - The True Tarantula was originally a large Wolf Spider found in Italy - people bitten by these spiders were forced (under duress from an old wives tale) to perform a wild dance called "The Tarantella" to burn up the poison in their blood! In actual fact the True Tarantula is not a highly venemous animal, though it may give a nasty bite.
    Today, the name Tarantula applies to almost any hairy Arachnid - think of it as calling all vacuum cleaners a "Hoover" and you're on the right track.

    Are tarantulas deadly?
    No! Tarantula venom is reasonably potent, but is produced in relatively small quantities. Tarantula fangs are thick and leave a large, painful wound though - these are liable to get infected, so if you get bitten, keep the wound clean.
    Normal symptoms of a tarantula bit usually include itching, numbness, sweeling and possible slight fever and/or aches. Very similar to the effects of a bee or wasp sting.
    Some people are allergic to bites (as with wasps) In this case, it's safer to not hold your tarantula and run the risk of being bitten.

    Can I hold it? Won't it bite me?
    Some species of tarantula are very docile and may be handled with care. If you are scared of holding your spider then please do not do so - leave him in his tank. If you become nervous and drop the spider there is a huge risk the spider will die - tarantula blood contains no clotting agents and your pet will rapidly bleed to death.
    Aggressive species apart, tarantulas will hardly ever bite unless seriously provoked. Avoid handling hungry tarantulas, as they are more likely to bite.
    Almost all tarantulas are covered in urticating hairs. Some people find these hairs give them a rash - if this is the case you can handle your pet with gloves. An angry spider will kick hairs at you - if these hairs get in your eyes they can cause itching and even temporary blindness. The moral of the story is not to annoy your spider. If it seems agitated then leave it alone.
    Handling is not essential - many owners keep their pets for years without ever touching them.
    Never try to scare people with your spider - at best they will panic and/or get bitten, at worst you may end up with a dead pet. Please respect people's wishesand fears, however "silly" you think they may be.

    What should I feed my spider?
    Never be tempted to feed a tarantula with wild caught insects - they may well be infected with mites or be diseased.
    Boxes of live crickets can be bought from pet shops for around £2.
    These will last a month or so before they die .
    Spiders are very easy to feed - pop the lid off the tank, sprinkle in a few crickets in and close the lid. Sometimes your spider will kill and eat several at once, sometimes he may totally ignore any food put in the tank. Don't worry about overfeeding a tarantula - they only eat what they need to, and will often refuse food for weeks on end.
    Make sure any dead crickets get removed from the tank or they will begin to smell and attract mould.
    Your spider should always have a supply of water - a shallow water dish will suffice, or even a piece of saturated sponge. Make sure the water is kept fresh and topped up daily, or the spider will rapidly become ill.

    What can I keep the spider in?
    NEVER PUT MORE THAN ONE SPIDER IN A TANK!
    Spiders are nearly all cannibalistic and will eat one another if kept together.
    Most fully grown tarantulas need a glass or plastic tank at least 30x30x30 cm.
    Make sure the tank has a strong, tight fitting lid, as most tarantulas are masters of escapology and will force off a loose lid and go walkabout. It is essential that the lid is well ventilated or the spider will suffocate. If your tarantula ever does escape, you'll most likely find it hiding behind or underneath a radiator, or somewhere else dark and warm.
    Vermiculite is an ideal substrate, and burrowing species will appreciate a few inches of peat. Don't use gravel or earth from the garden as it is not clean and may contain parasites.
    Give your spider a piece of sterile bark or similar to hide under - it will probably spend most of the day in there and only emerge at night.
    A heat mat is an ideal way of keeping a tarantula sufficiently warm. Place the mat (available from most pet shops) under one end of the tank so that the spider has a "cool area" where it can stay if it prefers.
    To maintain sufficient humidity, mist the tank lightly every few days with water. Spiders need humidity to breath properly.
    It is easier to keep the tank quite sparse as tarantulas are clumsy hunters and will have trouble finding food ina messy tank.
    You should remove dead clrickets regularly and change the soil maybe once every few months. Spiders do not make much mess or smell, but dead crickets do!
    Keep the tank out of direct sunlight - spiders do not like it one bit and prolonged exposure will kill them.

    Moulting. What happens when my spider needs to shed it's skin?
    A tarantula's skin is a hard exoskeleton (ie it's bones are on the "outside") and in order to grow it needs to remove the hard outer skin.
    Juvenile spiders may moult every couple of months, slowing as they reach maturity. A fully mature spider may moult less than once a year - my own spider hasn't moulted in 18 months.
    Before a moult, your spider may start acting very strangely. They will refuse food, and often spin a web on the floor of the tank. The colour of the spider may darken and it may appear to flex it's jaws regularly. Before moulting most spiders will lay on their backs and draw their legs in - if this happens then you should remove any crickets from the tank as the spider is soft and vulnerable at this time. Also ensure the spider is sufficiently humid or problems may occur.
    Moulting is hugely traumatic, and may take a day or more in some cases. At the end of a successful moult you will be left with one spider and one discarded skin. Remove the skin and straighten it out andyou will have a carbon copy of your spider.
    After a moult a spider may not be fully recovered for a week or more. Do not introduce any food into the tank until at least a few days after moulting. I always leave it a week to be sure.

    So what tarantula should I go for?
    It might sound boring but aim to get the most docile spider you can - there is nothing more upsetting and off-putting than being bitten by a new pet.
    Docile species tend to be more hardy and resilient, making them ideal for beginners and younger owners.

    Are there any species I should avoid?
    ANYTHING unidentified! Any tarantula stockist worth his salt will be able to tell you the spiders common name, latin name, and age. Sex is not so easy to tell, especially in immature spiders.
    If your petstore can't give you a latin name for the spider then find another stockist. I've seen far too many spiders for sale with the label "Bird-Eating Spider" - which is just a label given to large and generally tree-dwelling South American spiders. Buy from someone who knows their stuff and it'll save you headaches in the future.

    Shown in the link below are several aggressive species which the beginner should avoid. Please don't think it's "cool" to go out and get an aggressive spider - an inexperienced owner will most likely end up with an escaped spider, or a nasty painful bite.
    http://www.arachnophiliac.com/burrow/worsttenspids.htm

    Suggested Species to own

    Mexican Red Knee (Euathlus smithi or Brachypelma smithi)

    This is what everyone thinks of when you say "tarantula"
    Hailing from Mexico, so many of these spiders were wild-caught that they are now a protected species - this means that the ones you buy from a pet shop will have been bred in captivity.
    They are colourful, hairy, and a good size. Normally very docile and agreeable spiders, but they are quite fond of kicking hairs when annoyed.
    Juveniles can be a dull brown shade but should mature into fully coloured adults
    The Red-Knee is a ground dwelling spider (sometimes they burrow too) and enjoys temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees, with humidity levels between 60 and 70%.
    They reach maturity in about 5 years, and females will normally live a further 10 or more years.
    http://www.donsroom.co.uk/~lopez/Euathlussmithi

    Honduran Curly Hair (Euathlus albopilosa)

    These spiders are native to Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
    They are hardy when kept in captivity, have a good appetite, and are generally very docile. Whilst they are not as visually striking as some spiders, they tend to make up for it by being easy to keep and cheap to buy.
    Whilst they are native to rainforests, these are burrowing spiders so make sure they have plenty of substrate to dig about in. Aim to keep the temperature at around 29 degrees, and a humidity of around 80%. Females should live around 15 years.
    http://www.donsroom.co.uk/~lopez/Euathlusalbopilosa

    Chilean Rose (Grammostola rosea)

    These are the most common pet tarantula and with good reason. Easy to keep, docile in nature, cheap and long lived (over 15 years)
    The base colour is a dark brown with pale pink tinged hairs, and a wonderful purple sheen on the carapace.
    These spiders live in the dry but humid Chilean rainforests - keep the substrate dry with temps of about 26 degrees, and aim for a humidity of 70%.
    http://www.donsroom.co.uk/~lopez/Grammostolarosea

    Remember that juvenile spiders will be unsexed. Male tarantulas tend to only live a year or so after reaching maturity, whereas females may well survive over 25 years in captivity!

    This guide is by no means exhaustive, and I suggest you read as much as you can about tarantulas before purchasing one.
    I've had mine 10 years now and if I can successfully keep one then anyone can.

    http://hem.spray.se/minax/index/welcome_e.html
    http://jrscience.wcp.muohio.edu/html/tarantulas.html
    http://www.bighairyspiders.com/
    http://www.bugsdirectuk.com/tar.html
     
  2. Manlove is my forte

    Sgarrista

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 9,637

    Location: Xbox Live

    very interesting

    but where did it go the first time?
     
  3. Lopéz

    Man of Honour

    Joined: 17 Oct 2002

    Posts: 27,532

    Location: Leicestershire

    IE ate half of it :(
    So I had to do a re-write.
     
  4. Ex-RoNiN

    Capodecina

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 12,354

    They look kinda cute, I'm wondering if I shouldn't get one and take them for a walk to the Leeds meet up, I know that someone there might be less appreciative of said tarantulas though :D :D


    Informative post, thanks for that Lopez :) You have one yourself, eh? Why isn't a Tarantula a spider then, you seemed to have lost that bit :confused:
     
  5. IndyModeOCHW

    PermaBanned

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 1,346

    Location: The Zoo, Michigan, USA

    Great info Lopéz! I wish every petowner was as informed as you - we get tons on all kinds of pet spiders dropped off to us at work because the stupid owners didn't do any research before they decided to get one. Spiders arn't my cup of tea but they are definitly interesting.

    Ever thought of making a Tarantula info webpage? The more info out there for people to make responsible pet ownership decsions the better IMO :D
     
  6. HEADRAT

    Capodecina

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 20,005

    Location: Cambridge, UK

    I *REALLY* hate spider, I can see that they are kinda cool but I'm just not keen :eek:

    Good info though :)

    HEADRAT
     
  7. Davey_Pitch

    Man of Honour

    Joined: 17 Oct 2002

    Posts: 17,925

    Location: Liverpool, UK

    Most informative thread. 5 * :)
     
  8. roboffer

    Sgarrista

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 9,599

    Location: Sunderland

    Was wondering that myself, though Lopez had been naughty or something :)
     
  9. Lopéz

    Man of Honour

    Joined: 17 Oct 2002

    Posts: 27,532

    Location: Leicestershire

    It's all down to Zoological groupings.

    Arthropods are animals with jointed legs like lobsters, insects, scorpions, spiders etc.
    Arachnids are a sub-order of arthropods - they differ from insects in that they have 8 rather than 6 legs. Common Arachnids are spiders and scorpions.
    Aranea is the sub order of Arachnids covering spiders.
    Aranea has 3 suborders - tarantulas belong in the group called Orthognatha, and are collectively referred to as Mygalomorphs.
    Theraphosids are a further sub-group where we find what are referred to as tarantulas. With 30,000 species of spider in the World, categorising is a necessity. Tarantulas (Theraphosids) are Mygalomorphs and are very primitive, often referred to as the dinosaurs of the spider world.
    The main difference between true spiders and tarantulas is the fangs. In true spiders, the fangs have evolved so that they move around upon an axis giving them the ability to snare prey at various angles, whilst the tarantula has fangs which fold underneath and have to be used in a striking motion, up and down, thereby limiting it's hunting abilities.
    So there you have it - they are arachnids in the aranea order (making them spiders) but they do not belong to the group of "true spiders" that contains your common house and garden spiders.

    Complicated eh? That's why I didn't really go into depth about it. :D
     
  10. did anyone else get a shiver down their spine when those pics appeared? :eek:
     
  11. Ex-RoNiN

    Capodecina

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 12,354

    LOL :D I know why I hate Biology :D

    Played though, v. interesting :)


    You earned yourself 5 stars ;)
     
  12. HEADRAT

    Capodecina

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 20,005

    Location: Cambridge, UK

    Yes ;)

    HEADRAT
     
  13. At The Gates

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 1,397

    My mate had a Mexican Red Knee that his uncle gave him (he kept insects in an, erm, insectariam). It was pretty cool, very quiet and i think it ate crickets and things like that. He had some form of lizard/gecko type creature too.

    Personally i think they should be left in their natural habitat but hey.. :)
     
  14. roboffer

    Sgarrista

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 9,599

    Location: Sunderland

    Doesnt that make the Tarantula a spider then? :rolleyes: :confused:
     
  15. Lopéz

    Man of Honour

    Joined: 17 Oct 2002

    Posts: 27,532

    Location: Leicestershire

    Re: Re: So, you want to keep a pet tarantula?

    See this is why it's confusing.
    The name "Tarantula" was given to a true spider, a Wolf Spider infact from Italy.

    Somehow, over time, the name tarantula got applied to these big hairy things too and the name just stuck.

    They're still all "spiders" as we know them though. :)

    There are lots of things like this in science - there are several principals we still use in physics which have been since proven wrong....
     
  16. exedanni

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 17 Oct 2002

    Posts: 2,423

    There is an interesting 3 page article on people who hunt and eat Tarantulas in the February 2003 issue of Maxim.

    Anyway it's worth picking up for the Christina Aguilera photoshoot alone :D
     
  17. iam

    PermaBanned

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 3,472

    Location: Wirral, Cheshire

    Very good post Mr Lopez s'ah :)

    Fancy posting a few piccies of your own setup/tarantula?

    Keep up the good work :D
     
  18. Pho

    Sgarrista

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 9,077

    Location: Derbyshire

    Kill it, their evil things. And i'm scared of them. ;) :(
     
  19. Élynduil

    Soldato

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 5,565

    Location: London

    Hell no! I'm shivering from just reading this. Why anyone would want to own one of those horrible things is beyond me. It's a damn big hairy, scary thing!
     
  20. AlienSlof

    Gangster

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 292

    Location: Slof's Hive

    Excellent! A spider thread for those of us who love them! Many years ago I had several of them, mostly Red-knees and curly-hairs, had a big female red-knee for several years and a smaller male (in a separate tank!) also a very black curly-hair. I've always loved spiders, I sign all my art with a little spider.

    I used to handle my female red-knee a lot - she seemed quite happy to be touched - I used to let her walk up and down on my bare skin!

    Spiders ROCK!