This page offers a basic overall of tarantula husbandry for the newcomer to tarantula keeping. Ideally you’ll have found this page before buying your first T, but even if you’ve been keeping tarantulas for a while there may well be something of interest here.This page should be regarded as a starting point only. It will give you an overview of what is involved in setting up a suitable enclosure for a “beginner” tarantula, how to care for it, feed it, and keep it healthy and happy. However, there is always more to learn and I urge you to do as much research as you can before getting your first T, and even then keep reading and talking to other keepers – I’m still learning new stuff every single day!
Quick disclaimer: I don’t claim to be the World’s foremost authority on tarantulas. In fact, there are many, many people with far more experience than myself. What I can say is that I’ve been keeping inverts and reptiles for quite some time (25+ years!) and I’m semi-obsessed with researching the subject, so I hope that most of the information you’ll find here is up to date and accurate. However, there is no one definitive way to do most things in this hobby, and certain subjects (such as what substrate is best, or whether you should handle your tarantula) can divide keepers who often have entirely opposing views – and neither is entirely right or wrong! I don’t claim that I always know the absolute BEST way to do something, and I’m always keen to learn new techniques or hear new ideas so please do contact me if you have suggestions, but I do know from experience that the advice here does work, and if you follow it you can keep and raise healthy tarantulas!
How do you care for a tarantula?
To keep your tarantula happy and healthy you’ll need to provide everything it needs to survive and thrive – a suitable enclosure, properly furnished, the correct environmental variables (temperature, humidity, ventilation) and a suitable water and food supply. There isn’t a “one size fits all” solution for keeping Ts, since different species have different requirements (for example the commonly kept Chilean Rose is a terrestrial tarantula, which needs more floor space than height and a suitable substrate for burrowing. On the other hand, Pink Toe tarantulas are arboreal and so require more height to climb, and floor space is less important)
The good news for the newcomer to the hobby however, is that virtually all of the most suitable beginner species are terrestrial, new world tarantulas that thrive under similar conditions. For that reason, this page will deal with the care requirements for one of these commonly kept species (typically that includes species from the genera Aphonopelma, Brachypelma and Grammostola such as tarantulas like the Chilean Rose, Texas Brown, or Honduran Curly Hair)
To supplement this page with specific information for the species you’re interested in keeping, or for information for keeping tarantulas of other genera, see the care sheets and species pages on this site (which are coming soon!)
A suitable tarantula enclosure needs to fulfill several requirements. It should be of a suitable size, large enough to allow your spider room to hunt, molt, burrow and exhibit normal behavior, but not so large that it will get “lost” and you’ll never see it. It needs to be secure, so that your T can’t escape (and to prevent prey items such as crickets and roaches from escaping!) and that pets and children can’t easily get in, while allowing you easy access for feeding and cage maintenance. And it needs to be capable of maintaining adequate ventilation, temperature and humidity.
Size – The first consideration is size, and rather surprisingly the most common mistake in this regard is for beginners to try and use an enclosure that is too big. Tarantulas tend to be ambush predators, spending much of their time in a burrow, or crevice, waiting for an unsuspecting meal to walk by. They build a burrow, or seek out a suitable hiding place so they are protected from predators and tend to feel insecure out in the open. Therefore, if they are placed into an enclosure that is much too large, they will tend not to use 90% of the space, and instead will find a hiding place, or build a burrow in one corner and stay there.
I made this exact mistake with my first tarantula. We bought a Mexican Red Knee juvenile and placed her into a lovely custom built acrylic tank for her to “grow into”, and she ignored the hides we had provided and promptly dug a burrow in the far corner and we never saw her! After a while we moved her into a much smaller enclosure, and she happily took up residence in a hide we had placed in there, and is often seen out on display… lesson learned! A smaller cage is also easier to maintain. You can easily see whether prey items have been eaten, and you’ll find that maintaining the correct humidity is probably easier.
So choose an enclosure of a suitable size. As a general guide, something roughly three times the leg span of your T will be about right. For terrestrial tarantulas, you also don’t want the cage to be too high. While Ts can and do climb, they also can and do fall, and a fall of even a fairly short distance can be fatal for a tarantula. So for terrestrial (ground dwelling) species such as the ones we are discussing here, you don’t want much more than a leg span of height between the substrate and the top of the cage. If you want to use a taller cage, add deeper substrate to effectively make the cage shorter.
You have a number of options for the actual cage. In my opinion, the best looking enclosures are glass or acrylic. In recent years, custom made all-acrylic enclosures with secure hinged lids have become available from a number of suppliers. These are not cheap, but they look fantastic, are secure and well ventilated, and built to last (I currently house a Mexican Golden Red Rump – Brachypelma Albiceps in one and it looks fantastic!)
Glass aquariums can be used, but can be a little more problematic. For a start, you’ll need to buy or make a secure lid since most normal aquarium lid are not at all secure for keeping a tarantula in (they could rival Houdini at escapology, so don’t think they won’t find a way out if the cage isn’t properly secured!) Secondly, there is an issue of ventilation. Aquariums are of course water-tight and so don;t have any air holes. While it’s technically possible to drill ventilation holes in glass, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have experience and suitable tools for drilling glass. If you do use a glass aquarium, make sure that your lid has LOTs of ventilation!
Much cheaper than acrylic enclosures, and one of the best solutions in my opinion are the plastic “faunarium” style tanks (I believe Faunarium is a trademark of Exo-Terra, but similar cages are available under various brand names from other manufacturers) These simple plastic enclosures are inexpensive, come in a wide range of sizes, and have a well ventilated secure plastic lid, often with an easy access hatch for feeding etc. You’ll find them in just about any pet store, and there are special “low profile” ones available now which are perfect for tarantulas. We have a number of these, of different sizes, and from different manufacturers and all are excellent. There is a difference in quality between the more expensive Exo-Terra Faunariums, and the cheaper brands but to be honest even the cheap brands work just fine! We have a number of them, and they have all performed well with no complaints, and they are also what we use for housing crickets, locusts and roaches.
Plastic storage boxes, such as RUBS (Really Useful Boxes), Rubbermaids and Sterilite containers don’t make particularly attractive tarantula enclosures, but are cheap and effective. Particularly if you are housing a large number of tarantulas (for breeding etc.), these can be made into very cost effective and suitable enclosures but drilling a suitable number of air holes for ventilation.
Substrate is what you use as the floor for your tarantula’s enclosure, and few other topics are so likely to cause arguments amongst tarantula keepers! Spend time talking with other tarantula enthusiasts and you’ll soon discover that everyone has their own preferences when it comes to substrate, and some people love to argue that their solution is best!
In reality, there are a number of suitable substrates, and they all have pros and cons. Potting soil, peat, shredded coconut fibre, top soil, vermiculite, sand, gravel, perlite, moss, and wood shavings are among the options I’ve heard but some of these are clearly more suitable than others.
Some of these (such as sand and gravel) are not really suitable at all and should be avoided. For our “beginner tarantulas” which tend to be ground dwelling, burrowing, and don’t like high humidity, my personal preference is shredded coconut fiber, known as coir. We currently use coir in all of our T enclosures, and have found it to be excellent. It’s available in most pet stores that stock tarantula/reptile supplies, and comes under several brand names including Eco-Earth, and Forest Bedding among others. It comes in a compressed block which you add water to. It will then expand, and you should squeeze the water out and then use it. You want it to be quite dry before use, so you’ll want to set your enclosure up a good few days before bringing your new tarantula home.
For most terrestrial species, you’ll want to give them at least 5 – 8cm (2 – 3 inches) of substrate which will give them enough depth to borrow if they choose to. One block of coir will be enough for several enclosures, and it should be replaced every few months.
If you can’t get coir, or chose not to use it, they by all means go with an alternative such as top soil, or peat, or a mixture. Just be sure that it’s sterile and free from pesticides and fungicides. Keep an eye on your tarantula, and if you find it’s always climbing the walls it could be a sign that it doesn’t like the substrate (it could be too damp, or a texture your spider doesn’t like) so try changing it until you and your tarantula are both happy with the set up.
Furnishings and decoration
First and foremost, you’ll need to add some sort of hide for your tarantula to retreat to. As they are primarily nocturnal, most Ts will spend most of the day in a dark, secure place where they feel safe. There are a number of commercially available hides, made to look like small caves and they work just fine. A cheaper alternative however, is half a flower pot on its side, and half buried in the substrate. You can also use half a coconut shell if it’s large enough, or a suitable piece of cork bark. Don’t use other types of wood though, and they have a tendency to go moldy.
You may well find that your tarantula ignores any hide you offer and instead prefers to dig a borrow in which case just let them (our Curly Hair – Brachypelma Albiposum is currently residing in a borrow she has dug right behind the hide we provided, and seems quite happy there!)
Secondly you’ll want to add a water bowl. Tarantulas get most of their moisture from their food, and while they could certainly survive without one, you should still provide a water source. Some, if not all, tarantulas will drink from a water dish from time to time (a couple of ours do quite regularly) but also, the water dish is used to regulate humidity in the enclosure. Like hides, commercially available “fake rock” bowls are readily available, but any small dish will do. For juveniles old plastic milk lids works just fine, with plastic flower-pot bases for larger Ts. You’ll want to check this regularly though, as some tarantulas have a habit of “gardening” quite a lot and will quickly fill their water dish with dirt!
Whatever you use, make sure it’s not too deep and place a pebble in it as an escape route for prey items. Crickets in particular are quite prone to drowning in even the shallowest of water dishes!
The surface area of the water (i.e. the diameter of the dish) will have an effect on the enclosure’s humidity. If you find the humidity is higher or lower than ideal, change the water bowl for a smaller or larger one respectively. If you find that you need to increase humidity (unlikely for most of the “beginner species” which tend to like relatively dry conditions, you can slightly overfill the water dish to allow a small area of the substrate to get damp. This will naturally evaporate and increase the relative humidity in the tank. You can also spray an area of substrate, or the walls with a plant mister but never spray your T directly, and don’t allow the substrate to get too damp – it’s easy to add more moisture, much harder to take it back out!
A note about gels and sponges: There are a number of products on the market including “cricket gel” and sponges which are supposed to allow you to provide water to your T without the risk of crickets drowning. In my experience, these are of little no no value. They tend to get dirty and/or moldy very quickly and don’t really allow the T access to proper water anyway. My advise would be to just provide water with some sort of “escape route!, and just keep an eye and remove any cricket that does still manage to drown!
Other than a hide and a water bowl, your tarantula doesn’t really need any other cage furnishings. By all means add a little decoration for yourself though. Artificial plants, moss, and cork bark for example can make an enclosure more “naturalistic” and appealing to the eye, but always keep your Ts health and safety in mind. Don’t add any sharp rocks, or plants such as cactus which could harm your spider, and don’t have anything heavy which could fall and cause damage (especially if your T decides to burrow under it!)
There are 3 climate variables you’ll want to be aware of – temperature, humidity, and ventilation and all three are closely related in so much that adjusting one will often affect the others (for example, increasing temperature will cause water to evaporate more quickly and so increase humidity) Even so, it’s best to look at each in turn…
Temperature – Along with choice of substrate, temperature is one of the topics that tends to cause the most heated discussions with tarantula keepers.
Coming from many years of keeping reptiles, when I started keeping tarantulas over thought temperature a lot. I was used to using thermostats and timers and ceramic heaters, mats and more to ensure that my vivarium temperatures were just right so so I expected to do the same with my first T. This was supported by much of the literature I found, where books and online care sheets would specify exact temperature ranges for different species.
The more research I did though, the more I began to realise that most tarantulas would do just fine at the ambient room temperatures in my house. I found lots of keepers on various online forums talking about success in keeping, and breeding, lots of tarantula species without supplemental heating. However, it wasn’t until I read The Tarantula Keeper’s Handbook (now my “go to” book for general T knowledge) that I was comfortable in keeping my tarantulas at ambient temperature. In fact, that book states the author’s “First rule of temperature for tarantulas” as:
Any temperature at which you are comfortable will suit the tarantula just fine…
I can’t recommend that book strongly enough – if you intend to keep any number of tarantulas, please buy a copy and read it, it’s pure gold! The authors are extremely knowledgeable and experienced, which is why I trust their guidance on this subject. Their second “law” also states that invariably, a slightly lower temperature is always better than a slightly higher temperature, so I don’t offer any additional heating to any of my Ts.
Now please bear in mind, I happen to live in a centrally heated house in a mild country, and the room my spiders are in also has several heated reptile vivariums so that room never gets cold. If the room your tarantulas are in does get cold (drops much lower than around 60°F (15°C) for extended periods) then you might want to consider some sort of heating, such as a small reptile heat mat placed at one end of the back wall of the enclosure, and controlled by a thermostat. Don’t use a heat lamp, as you might do with some reptiles, and tarantulas tend to prefer the dark and won’t like the bright light. A strong heat source such as a lamp will also tend to dry out the enclosure too much.
Whether you use a heat source or not, you’ll want to know what the temperature is inside your enclosures so invest in a thermometer. The small, round self adhesive variety are cheap and just about do the job. You’ll get a more accurate reading from a digital thermometer with a prove though, and some of them come with a built in hygrometer too!
I won’t go into more detail about heating here as for most people, keeping most of the “beginner” tarantula species, it won’t be necessary. I will certainly consider talking about it more in a future article.
As should be obvious from the previous paragraphs, since tarantulas are largely nocturnal no special lighting is required. However, they still benefit from a normal day/night light cycle so try and keep your tarantulas in a room with a window, not not in a position where direct sunlight will shine on the enclosure, and not too close to an opening window to prevent drafts.
Humidity and Ventilation
Like temperature, there is no need to maintain a very exact humidity in your T cages. Also like temperature, a slightly lower humidity seems to be better than slightly higher. For the species being discussed here, a relative humidity somewhere around 55 – 70% is about right. It’s fine (and perfectly normal) for this to fluctuate and deviate beyond that range, but you don’t want it to deviate vastly from that range for a long period of time.
For most species suitable for beginners, too low humidity probably won’t cause any harm, so long as your T has access to a water supply, and is regularly fed. Too high though and you will likely start getting mold and fungus problems in the enclosure. You may also find that if the substrate is too damp, your tarantula won’t want to walk on it.
So my advice is not to worry too much about getting the humidity “just right”. Just keep it fairly low, don’t allow the substrate to get wet over the whole cage, and keep the water dish fairly small. What is more important in my opinion is ventilation, so make sure whatever type of enclosure you’re using has plenty of air holes.
Later on you might decide to keep some of the more “advanced” species which do require a higher humidity (The Goliath Birdeater – Theraphosa blondi for example likes quite a damp cage) but for now, so long as you’re keeping one of the “beginner” species as mentioned above, just don’t let the cage get too damp.
Note – spiderlings do require a little extra moisture, since at their young age their exoskeleton hasn’t yet built up enough thickness to prevent moisture loss. This page is assuming we’re dealing with juvenile – adult tarantulas. If you’re keeping slings or very young Ts, you want to maintain a higher humidity (sling specific care page coming soon!)
Before discussed what to feed your T and how often, let me first say that feeding a tarantula is not like feeding a cat or a dog. Ts don’t need to be fed every day, and go weeks or even months between meals when necessary without coming to harm, so if your first instinct when you get your new tarantula home is to feed it, don’t! Any newly acquired tarantula should be left alone for a good few days to acclimatise, get over the (probably quite stressful) journey, and settle in to their new home. If you do try and feed it, they probably won’t eat anyway, and will just be stressed even more by prey items running and jumping around their new home.
So what to feed your tarantula when it is feeding time? Well all spiders are carnivores, and in general will only take live prey (some will occasionally scavenge, particularly when very young, but in general they only want freshly killed prey!) In the wild they will generally take anything small enough for them to overpower, insects and other invertebrates, small mammals and lizards, small birds, and even other tarantulas!
In captivity, you’ll be feeding your tarantula primarily on crickets, cockroaches, locusts, and mealworms. Crickets are the main staple. They are cheap and easy to obtain (any local pet store which sells tarantula and.or reptile supplies will sell them) and available in various sizes. If you can’t find them locally, you can easily get them by mail order from any spider or reptile supply websites. There are even sellers on ebay who supply them! They will come in a small plastic tub, but they won’t survive long if kept there. Invest in a medium sized plastic faunarium style cage (as mentioned in the housing section above) or a special “Cricket Keeper” (a faunarium with built in plastic tubes for easy cricket removal!) and empty your tub of crickets into that. Add some bran, or oats or other cereal to the bottom as food, and add some moisture in the form of fresh fruit or vegetable. You’ll need to change the fruit or veg fairly regularly to prevent mold, but kept like this your crickets will last a long time, and grow nicely! Also add a couple of cardboard “toilet roll” tubes which the crickets will hide in.
Now for feeding – you want to feed prey items no larger than your tarantulas opisthosoma (the abdomen) as prey much larger could be troublesome for your T to overpower, and it could end up getting injured. The amount to feed isn’t an exact science, and most authorities suggest that the majority of keepers tend to overfeed their tarantulas.
As a rough guideline, young tarantulas should be fed once per week with a couple of suitably sized crickets, while adults require less. Most adult Ts will thrive on just a few crickets a month, so offering 2 – 3 suitably sized crickets every 10 – 14 days is fine. Remove any which haven’t been eaten within 24 hours.
While you could just feed crickets, a mixture of different prey items is obviously better, and there is certainly evidence that some cockroaches are better nutritionally than crickets. Dubai roaches are readily available, and supposedly very nutritious for tarantulas. Many suppliers will offer a tub of mixed sizes, ranging from small nymphs to adults, and I always keep some in another faunarium. If you are keeping multiple tarantulas, or you already keep insectiverous reptiles as I do then it makes sense to keep a supply of roaches as well as crickets. However, if you only have a single T, you won’t be able to use all the crickets and roaches fast enough so consider just sticking with crickets for now.
I also keep a supply of locusts, mealworms and waxworms all of which are readily taken by my tarantulas, but I only offer these on occasssion. Waxworms in particular are quite high in fat (my gecko LOVES them though!) so I only feed these in moderation. If you’re in a position to mix up your tarantula’s diet please do so, but if you can’t don’t worry too much. Instead, invest in a tub of “cricket food” from your reptile suppliers and add this to your cricket’s feed. This will “gut load” your crickets with extra nutrition, which will be passed on to your tarantula.
Wild food – it might be tempting to throw in wild caught insects, but my advise is not to. Wild populations of invertebrates will have come into contact with pesticides, and built up a tolerance to them. Your tarantula won’t have a tolerance, and so wild caught food could be potentially lethal. Stick to safely farmed crickets and other prey items from a trusted source!
Vertebrates – in the wild, large tarantulas will sometimes take vertebrate prey, such as small mammals, lizards, or birds. Some keepers so offer an occasional small mouse to a large tarantula specimen, but it’s certainly not necessary. If you do chose to offer the odd mouse, please only do so on very rare occasions. There is There is some evidence that the extra calcium from eating too many vertebrates can cause problems with moulting. I’m unable to verify that, but since your tarantulas will thrive without offering mice, my advice is simply to stick with invertebrate prey.
As has already been mentioned, tarantulas are capable of going for an extended period of time without eating. While this may be of little or no concern to the tarantula, it can sometimes be stressful for the beginner keeper who believes they are doing something wrong and endangering the health of their pet.
“Help, my tarantula hasn’t eaten for… days/weeks” is a common post on many tarantula forums, so I wanted to address the issue here. First of all, if your T isn’t eating don’t panic! As has already been stated, it can for a long time without eating without any concern. There are several reasons why it might not be eating, so let’s take a look at each of them in turn:
- Newly acquired – you should let a new tarantula settle in for at least a few days before offering food. If your T isn’t eating and it’s only been a couple of weeks since you got it, just give it some more time and try offering food once per week.
- About to moult – Is your tarantula due to could soon? Tarantulas will tend not to eat for several weeks before moulting, and shouldn’t be offered food for a week after moultig (see below for more details)
- Cold temperature – Is it winter? A tarantula’s appetite will tend to be reduced during the cooler months so refusing to eat over the winter is nothing to be concerned about. Just offer a cricket once every 2 – 3 weeks until it starts eating again.
- Doesn’t like your offerings – Some tarantulas are just a little fussy, and don’t like certain foods. If you’ve been trying a certain type of prey for a while with no luck, try something else which might just tempt it to bite!
No matter what you try, some tarantulas will just plain decide to fast for an extended period of time. The Chilean Rose (Grammostola rosea) has a real reputation for doing this, which is a regular source of concern for beginner keepers. As a general rule, so long as your T doesn’t seem to be losing much weight there’s nothing to worry about. Just keep offering a prey item every few weeks (and removing uneaten prey after 24 – 28 hours) until it starts to eat again.
Compared to most other pets, tarantulas are incredibly low maintenance, and this also applies to cleaning your tarantula’s home. On a day to day basis, you’ll simply want to remove any obvious dirt and debris – dead crickets, discarded food remains, bits of old dirty webbing etc. when you check and top up the water as necessary.
A more thorough cleaning, and substrate change should be done as little as possible, as such an upheaval is very stressful for your tarantula. Unless there is a specific reason (such as fungal or mould growth in the cage, if any parasites are found or suspected, or a bad odor develops) then a full clean should be done once per year. Ideally this should be done in early spring, and helps prevent against a mite infestation. It’s also a good idea to have a clean shortly after a tarantula moults.
Fully cleaning a cage, and changing the substrate are fairly in depth topics and will be the subject for a future article. If you’re in need of information in the meantime, refer to The Tarantula Keeper’s Handbook by Schultz and Schultz, which has an excellent step by step guide.
Since tarantulas, like all arthropods, have an exoskeleton they need to shed that (called moulting) as they grow. What happens is the spider grows a new exoskeleton inside the old one, and when ready it sheds the old one and the new one stretches out. This happens about once per year with adult tarantulas, but much more often when they are younger and growing fast, sometimes as often as once per month depending on age and species.
For a while before moulting a tarantula is in “premoult” when it is growing its new exoskeleton. Signs of premoult can be a loss of appetite, and sometimes a darkening of the abdomen. When it’s ready to moult it will often seal itself in it’s hide, and will then spin a flat web on the floor, flip itself onto its back, and over the course of several hours will climb out of the old skin and then flip itself over again.
It’s very important not to disturb your tarantula at this time. Sometimes beginner tarantula keepers think there is a problem, or that their pet has died, but this is not the case (tarantulas don’t typically die face up!) so just ensure there are no live prey items in the cage, and leave your tarantula to moult in peace.
After shedding is complete, carefully remove the old exoskeleton from the cage, and leave your tarantula alone for a week or so. Don’t handle it, and don’t feed it. It will take a few days for the new skin to harden, which includes the fangs – until they harden up it will be unable to eat. If you want to, keep the shed skin in a safe place. They can be valuable in determining the sex of your tarantula (a topic for another article) but be aware that in species with urticating bristles, they will still be present on the she skin so handle with care!
Take a look at at a series of photographs of a tarantula going through the entire moulting process.
Choice of substrate and temperature are 2 topics which often cause heated debate between tarantula keepers, but neither is as hotly debated as handling. I’m not going into any detail on whether or not handling is a good idea, or on methods of handling in the article. All I will say here is this – there will be times when you need to handle/manipulate your tarantula, even if it’s only to rehome it. The safest way to do this, for both your tarantula and yourself, is to very gently nudge it into some soft of container with a chopstick or a paintbrush, cover the container and then place that inside the new or temporary enclosure.
Doing so offers by far the least chance of hurting your tarantula, or getting bitten. Even so, I would suggest (at least for the first couple of times you do this) that you only do so when you are calm and have time (mistakes are normally made when you’re in a hurry, and least they are with me!) and that all distrations (such as other people, children, and pets) are removed from the room and all doors are closed. It’s also worth doing this on the floor if possible, so if your T does manage to wander and fall it won’t fall far.
No doubt as this site grows there will come a time when I write a detailed article about my view on handling, but for now this is all I’ll say on the subject.
OK so you’re interested in learning more and maybe getting your first tarantula, so what should you do next? Well first I’d suggest reading as much as you can on the subject – you can never learn too much! A great place to start would be reading about suitable beginner tarantula species, and then learning how to buy a tarantula.
I hope you found this guide useful, but bear in mind that this is nothing more than a starting point. If you’re considering getting your first T then you’d be well advised to do as much research as you can, and in my opinion on of the best places to start would be the Schultz and Schultz book The Tarantula Keeper’s Guide which I found invaluable when I started.
Also bear in mind that this guide is a work in progress, I’m sure I’ll be coming back to made additions and edits over time, and I welcome and comments or suggestions. If you think I’ve missed something or made a mistake, please do get in contact, I’m always pleased to hear from other tarantula enthusiasts!