Basic Care

Below is a generic overview of the care for tarantulas. However, before you situate your new pet with its new home, find out what species it is, as every species has little querks that aren't covered in the "generic" care tips.

Terrarium Size





First, you must find the correct sized terrarium your tarantula needs. It is a good idea to keep your cage well ventilated; too much stuffiness is an invitation for molds and bacterias, and can even cause death in some species. Avoid classic screen mesh used with aquariums; there have been reports about wandering tarantulas getting their claws stuck in the screening and suffering lost limbs. I have even heard a story about one tarantula owner coming home to a dead tarantula hanging from the mesh. I have never had any personal experiences, but its best to stay safe. I find that "pet pals" or "critter keepers" are the best terrariums for tarantulas. You can find these at pet stores.

There are basically three types of lifestyles among tarantulas: arboreals (tree-climbers), burrowers, and oppertunistic burrowers (Marshal 14-15). Each type needs a different set up.

Arboreals are usually longer-legged, less bulky, and more agile than other tarantulas. As they are tree-climbers, they need taller cages, maybe 25-35cm. Place a long, rounded piece of cork bark in one corner of the cage (or two corners). The idea hear is to create some kind of retreat for the tarantula, and this can also be done in other creative ways. The space between the bark and the cage should be roomy enough to allow the tarantula easy access, and plenty of room.

Burrowers (my favorite!) MUST be kept in a deep cage with deep substrate. Denying your pet this will definately stress the animal, maybe to death. Use a cage similar to the arboreals, but a deeper cage should be used (at least 25cm, but the more the better). Keep a rounded broken pot, or a peice of bark to provide the tarantula with the initial retreat; the spider will use this to create its own furnishings. Do not allow the tarantula too much room to climb, as they can fall and hurt themselves. The space between the surface of the substrate and the top of the cage should not exceed the total legspan of the tarantula too much.

Opportunistic burrowers usually adopt a retreat, such as an over-hanging tree root, or a broken plant pot. Give these a little substrate to work with, 10cm should be enough. The important thing here is providing a retreat. Opportunistic burrowers are usually better pets if you like to always have your pet in plain view. Again, be carefull as to the ammount of climbing space the tarantula has. In my experience, opportunistic burrowers tend to suffer most from falls due to this problem.


Next you need a substrate for your cage. The top two substrates commonly used by tarantula onwers are vermiculite and pete moss.

Vermiculite is a great substrate that absorbs moisture really well. The suff is pretty much harmless to your pets on a biological level, but tarantula owners have two complaints about vermiculite: it is unnatural appearence, and its tendancy to stick to the claws on the tarsus (Baxter 12-13). The latter usually happens on aboreals, or those who do not web down the bulk of the serface of the vermiculite. Despite these drawbacks, I recommend vermiculite to pete moss.

Pete moss is the other leading substrate. It is a natural substrate, coming from decomposing pete bogs (Marshall 26-27). Pete moss is a much more "natural" in appearence, and tarantulas seem to like it. I have two problems with pete moss (both of which I have solved): pete moss is not very good at retaining moisture, and it colapses easily. If you are going to use straight pete moss, be sure to pack the substrate into the cage, especially for burrowers (I recomend packing the substrate regardless). You can also add bark chips to give it a little structure, and help prevent collapsing; however, there is some speculation as to whether or not bark chips contribute to mite problems.

Personally, I use a vermiculite/pete moss mix (in about a 1:1 ratio). The vermiculite and packing gives the substrate enough sturdiness to prevent collapsing. The vermiculite also helps retain moisture. The pete moss adds the "natural" effect, as it just looks nicer.

You can find vermiculite and pete moss in plant nursuries for pretty cheap. I buy 13 liters of vermiculite for around $6 (U.S.) and 28 liters of pete moss for about $10.


Temperature is also an issue for tarantulas. Temperatures for most species needs to be between 75-85 Fahrenheit. Temperature can be maintained in a few different ways.

Light bulbs and heat pads are good to use for one or two tarantulas (if you have a bit more, these can be an impracticle ways to accomplish this). If you are going to use light bulbs, use a red light, as these are impercievable by tarantulas. Don't use too strong of a bulb; you'll need to watch the temperature levels (with a thermometer) if this is your first time using this method. I don't recommend using light bulbs for arboreals, as they can make their retreats too close to them, and this can cause problems.

If you only have one or two tarantulas to care for, I recomend heating pads. Again, be sure not to let the temperatures get too hot. It is a good idea to only heat one side of the terrarium. This allows the tarantula to move up and down the cage in preference to what temperature feals better.

I find that both of these methods are impracticle and possibly uncomfortable to tarantulas. I prefere to solve the problem of heating my numerous tarantulas with a portable heater. This allows me to provide the proper temperatures year-round. You can provide tarantulas that need higher temperatures by placing its cage closer to the heater, whereas lower temperatures can be obtained by placing the cage further away from the heater. This method is also less "artificial". Rather than having fluctuating temperature levels, or a big, bright light bulb, a portable heater heats the entire surrounding environment.


Humidity at its lowest should be 50-60%, but many require higher humdity; T. blondi needs a good 75% plus an open water dish and daily sprays of water from a spray-bottle. Here are my recommendations.

ALWAYS keep an open water dish for all of your tarantulas, especially the ones that require dryier conditions. This is a must for your pets, as desiccation is a main killer for species like Avicularia (Webb 56-58).

Keep a constant room humidity similar to temperature set-ups. A constant room humidity is much more practical both to you and your pet. I use a humidifier purchased from Tar-get or Wal-mart for about $15 like the ones you used to use as a kid when you got sick. If you are going to use this humidifier, use distilled water; evaporated tap water will cause a white film to form all over everything! You can also find bigger, fancier ones with filters and buttons, but these run a little more (any where from $50-150). You can get some ideas from your local cigar shop, as they use these machines for their humiditors for cigars. Whe nusing this set-up, be sure to keep some sort of air flow. I have a fan that is constantly on and the crack under the door; it doesn't sound like much, but it is just enough to keep mold and bacteria from forming. I keep the room humdity at 60%.

Some of your tarantulas may need more humidity than that which is provided with just a room humidity, such as Avicularia and Theraphosa blondi. This is provided by wetting the substrate a little bit. Initially, before filling the cage with the substrate (unless you don't use vermiculite), poor a little water into the bottom of the tank. The vermiculite soaks up the water quickly. This set-up is best for obligate burrowers. Another method is to wet the substrate before you fill teh terrarium. The substrate when squeezed, should hold its form, but not drip too much. To keep the substrate moist, spray it daily or every other day with a spray bottle. I don't recommend using tap water, unless yours is uniquely soft. I use bottled water, but distilled water can work too. Boiling water, then letting it cool down back to room temp, is a good way to distill it. If you are only keeping one or two tarantulas, check out this article by Dr. Bustard on humidity


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