Spiders Terrify Me, but I Want One as a Pet
April 25, 2011 2:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering getting a spider as a pet. A tarantula of some sort. Can anybody provide some tips for me?

Spiders terrify me, but they also fascinate me (especially when they eat). I, like everybody, have a sordid history with spiders of all types. I kind of had a pet spider once (wolf spider of some sort, I think), and kept it in disposable tupperware for nearly a year before it died, feeding it things like flies and firebrands. Before it died, it laid an egg sac and had about 50 tiny baby spiders (they were not cute).


Anyways, what's it like having a pet spider? What variety or breed makes for better pets? What's the upkeep on these guys? Thanks.
posted by jabberjaw to Pets & Animals (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Get a female as they live longer. Don't keep more than one or they'll fight and eat each other. Don't handle it any more than you have to because the hairs are pretty nasty and the spider is more delicate than it looks. Make sure the tank is escape proof and keep it out of sunlight. Put pebbles and a ramp in its little water dish so it can climb out. Feed it crickets but don't feed it while it's moulting. Don't scare girls with it, they won't think its funny.
posted by joannemullen at 2:51 PM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Heloise, of all people, wrote a column on tarantulas in response to a reader's question. Among other factoids, I learned that the females can live to be 25 years -- that's a commitment!
posted by virago at 3:47 PM on April 25, 2011

Best answer: You need to research the different species and find one that you can deal with. Some are lightning fast, some arboreal (you have to have a tree-like set up), some are really aggressive. I have 33 tarantulas, and don't recommend that you handle them. They are not puppies and don't enjoy cuddling.

Setup and upkeep depends on the species. 10 gallon aquarium is usually standard. Some are heavy webbers, so you would clean out the tank more often. My favorites are my Orange Baboon (OBT), Venezuelan Suntiger, and my Aviculara versicolor. I think a nice beginner species is a Chaco Golden Knees. Rosehairs are often recommended, but they don't eat well and will often starve themselves to death. Read the care sheets you can find on google. Lots of good info.
posted by bolognius maximus at 3:55 PM on April 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Go to your local library or just buy this one flat out -- Tarantula Keeper's Guide. It's a great read and really informative.
posted by the dief at 4:37 PM on April 25, 2011

Best answer: joannemullen isn't kidding about their unpleasant little hairs. Think of tarantulas as ambulatory wads of horrifying little spears. Little spears that can end up IN YOUR EYES OMG.

I'm terrified of spiders (although I respect and appreciate their contributions to the field of bug eating) and couldn't live in a house with a tarantula. However even I have to admit they're really neat little critters (when they aren't shooting little spears all up in your EYES OMG) and are probably fascinating to watch.

I worked at a zoo for a while and when kids would ask the keepers about keeping tarantulas as pets I believe the Golden Knees bolognius maximus mentioned was the usual recommendation. Good luck!
posted by Neofelis at 5:05 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had a pet tarantula for a few years (and likely still would if it didn't die on the cross-country trip from Montreal to Vancouver - it was upside down in the terrarium when I hit a bump, and it fell and broke its cephalo-thorax - a weak point on their bodies). If you think of them as more akin to fish than lizards (i.e. only for watching, not for handling) they can be quite intriguing. I recommend getting only female crickets if that is what you will feed to it (they don't make chirping sounds). They are relatively low maintenance as far as pets go.
posted by birdsquared at 5:54 PM on April 25, 2011

Best answer: Check out arachnoboards.com. There are a few other tarantula-forums out there but I think that's the biggest one for the US.

Pet stores often (I am told) do not know what they've got. It's not unheard of for them to misidentify a tarantula and keep it in less-than-ideal conditions. Like keeping an arboreal spider that needs high humidity in a cage set up for a ground-dwelling spider with dry dirt. This leads to people buying unhealthy spiders and continuing to keep them in unhealthy conditions and their spider dying shortly after.

There are lots of specialist dealers and breeders (sorry, I'm not in the US so cannot recommend specific ones). I'd be surprised if there wasn't one in or near LA. If not, many will send spiders through the mail and this almost always works out fine. Many dealers will replace spiders that do not survive the trip. And you may find someone in LA in the arachnoboards classifieds section. Buying a tarantula either of these ways is likely to be safer (it will have been properly identified and kept in proper conditions) and cheaper than a big pet store.

Most recommended beginner's spiders are New World (from Mexico, Brazil, Chile, etc). Those from the Grammastola, Euathlus, and Brachypelma genera are popular as they are often reluctant to bite people, their venom isn't very potent, they rarely kick up itchy hairs, move relatively slowly and spend a lot of time out in the open where you can see them. They are usually quite hardy so you can put them in a box of dirt, keep them at room temperature, throw them a cricket once a week and not worry too much beyond that. Clean the cage and replace the dirt once or twice a year. Tarantulas from Asia and Africa are typically either vicious, have potent venom, hide a lot (incl underground), move very fast, require quite exact regulation of their temperature and humidity, or all of the above.

Buying a juvenile instead of a full-grown adult can be enjoyable, although sexing a juvenile can be a challenge even for an experienced person. If your juvenile turns out to be male, it may only live a year or two after reaching maturity.
posted by K.P. at 11:21 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

A good place to find knowledgeable breeders, in my experience, is at reptile shows. We get all the creepy-crawlies there. The herp society I work with had an expo in March, and there was a lovely couple there with all manner of tarantulas. Someone like them could definitely tell you anything you needed to know. They even handed me a large female tarantula to meet at one point (she was their 'display model', and they knew she was unlikely to get agitated).

California seems to have a lot of reptile shows (you lucky bastards!), so it should be fairly easy to find one. Good luck!
posted by Because at 1:20 PM on April 26, 2011

Best answer: One last thing I wish I'd known beforehand.

For dirt in a tarantula enclosure, a very popular choice is COIR. Coconut fibre dried out and compressed into a brick like this which one then submerges in water until it expands into usable dirt for substrate. I use this, though additive-free potting soil and other options are used.

It has its upsides, but nearly all my spiders hate its normal moisture level. If I prepare it according to the directions, they will climb the walls to get away from the soil as it is too wet. To make it usable for mine (all New World terrestrials) I need to mix it, then spread it thinly on baking sheets and bake it until it is bone-dry and powdery. This experience is not unique, but also not talked about too much.

Also, advertised sizes (whether from a professional online breeder-dealer or forum member) are almost always essentially embellished. When a dealer says the adult size of a given species is, say, 15cm that means 15cm measured diagonally from back toe to front toe with legs fully extended. But spiders are rarely stretched flat out on the ground (arboreals are, however, often splayed flat against a tree or wall). So a 15cm spider might normally only be 10-11cm toe to toe when standing. They are usually photographed with great lighting and a little photoshop polish, and do not look as brilliant under normal lighting.

Spiderlings (I have read and been told) often die before reaching juvenile stage, and the docile New World breeds mentioned above are often slow-growers anyway such that I wouldn't bother getting one as a first spider.
posted by K.P. at 4:06 PM on May 2, 2011

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