Everything you need to know to raise Tarantula Spiders
Almost as famous - at least in spider-world (and second only to Spiderman in the popularity ratings) - is the Tarantula spider, mostly due to its size and its sinister reputation. Now if there were ever a case of bad publicity, this has got to be it.
Tarantulas, while venomous like all spiders, are shy, delicate creatures and their bite is only (usually) as poisonous as a bee sting, although you might have an unpleasant reaction if you're allergic to their venom. As pets, they're not meant to be handled too much, and can be fun to observe.
The most common one among all the 800 species found worldwide is the Chilean Rose tarantula. Females can live as long as 20 years, and no, their hairy legs don't turn grey when they get old (although they do go bald in some spots)!
All spiders belong to the class Arachnida (er-ak-nid-aa), as do scorpions, ticks, mites and a few other kinds of creepy crawlies. There is an interesting story behind how the word Arachnida came about. Arachnida comes from 'Arachne' (er-ak-nee), who in Greek Mythology was a young woman from Lydia who boasted that she could weave better than the patron goddess of weaving herself, Athena. A contest was held and, angered by Arachne's challenge, Athena turned Arachne into a spider.
Stories apart, spiders - and tarantulas in particular - make some of the most fascinating pets, and if you can look past their undeserved reputation for being dangerous and 'evil', you'll have an eight-legged, palm-sized friend for many years to come.
Here are some names for boy tarantulas:
Some interesting names for girl tarantulas:
In any case, pet shops usually sell the ones that are considered 'safe', but don't skip the educational bit, and read up as much as you can about your new friend before you invite him or her home. There are lots of websites that tell you about choosing and caring for tarantulas, and as a responsible pet owner, you ought to check them out.
Also, make a firm decision that if you do want to handle your pet, you won't do it too much. Think of how you'd feel if King Kong kept picking you up and prodding you every time!
Set up a small 5-10 gallon tank that is about two to three times wider than the leg span of the spider, two-and-a-half times as long, and only as tall as its leg span. 2-3 inches of vermiculite can be used as a 'substrate' (the bedding your spider will walk on), covered by a thin layer of chipped bark, which should be available at the pet store. This must be kept damp to maintain the humidity levels. Wood, cork bark, or half of a small clay flower pot can be used as a Hairy's hideaway. Use a locking screen to cover the tank, because tarantulas can climb glass and can easily escape if you leave the tank open. That would make him Hairy Houdini now, wouldn't it!
Remember, the two most important factors in keeping tarantulas healthy are the humidity level and a constant temperature above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Some even require temperatures at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Under-tank heating pads are the safest way to warm Spidey up, and these can be found at stores that keep reptiles. Light bulbs or hot rocks aren't a very good idea because they can burn or dry tarantulas out. A humidity gauge will tell you how humid it is inside the tank, and this level should not drop below 60%.
Avoid tarantulas that are hunched with their legs curled underneath, or the ones that are housed without a dish of water. Ask the store attendant to tell you what the scientific name for the tarantula is, so that you can read up in more detail about this type of spider.
Your best bets are the Chilean Rose, Costa Rican Zebra, Mexican Redknee (my favorite) and the Curly Hair Tarantula.
A very shallow container half-filled with water will provide drinking water and help keep the humidity up.
Be careful, as mentioned earlier, to handle your tarantula only very occasionally. If you drop this spider even from a very low height, it could hurt its delicate abdomen and even die. In fact, this is the reason why you should have a tank that is only as high as the spider's leg span.
Your spider will shed its skin through a process called 'moulting' about two or three times a year. During this time, it will eat less frequently, and you may even find it lying on its back, but don't be too worried. This is perfectly natural, and let Spidey do what he has to. You can learn more about moulting in the book you buy, or online on various websites dedicated to this beautiful spider.