by Carl Portman ©

You have been thinking for some time about keeping a tarantula but you need to know more about the subject. Don’t worry — help is at hand. My top ten tips for keeping tarantulas in captivity.

Avicularia metallica

TIP 1: Think before you buy

Why do you want a tarantula? Do you have the time and patience to look after it? If you are not fully committed you must not keep a tarantula.

TIP 2: Housing

There are very basically two kinds of tarantula. Tree dwelling and ground dwelling. Tree dwellers need to be kept in tall enclosures but ground dwellers must be kept in lower ones. Some ground dwellers stay on the surface, others require deep burrows. Spiders require some kind of hideaway away from the light. They should never be exposed to sunlight.

TIP 3: Temperature and humidity

Tarantulas originate from warm climates. As a general rule they should be kept at approximately 75—85F. Scrubland tarantulas should have a humidity level of between 60 and 75% and rainforest species should be 75-90%

Humidity can be raised in an enclosure by adding more water for example by lightly spraying.

If humidity is too high then cease introducing any water for a period of time (possibly days) until the level has come down. No enclosure should ever be 100% humidity.  This would be too wet, encourage mould and kill the spider.

TIP 4: Moulting

Tarantulas are invertebrates—they have no backbone. As a result they must continually shed their skin (moult) in order to grow. They will moult at least five or six times in the first two years then slow down to perhaps once every year. Prior to moulting (this could be days or weeks) your spider will behave differently. It will stop eating and will appear sluggish...


On some spiders, the abdomen will become dark—this is the new skin underneath.  Minutes  before the spider moults it will flip over onto its back or (rarely) moult standing up. To all purposes it looks dead but this is a critical time and THE TARANTULA MUST NOT BE DISTURBED AT ALL OR IT MAY DIE! The spider will shed the old skin within hours, then flip over again. It will not eat for a few days after so do not attempt to feed it. Simply leave it alone for a week. Do not keep shining torchlight at it because tarantulas generally hate the light. Remember to check the heat and humidity levels. If, after a day or two it is possible to remove the cast skin carefully then do so. A tarantula can be sexed by experts (see the BTS site for details) from its cast skin.

TIP 5: Feeding

The golden rule is that you must not over-feed your tarantula. It is sufficient to feed most tarantulas on crickets and/or locusts. Only the very large species (like the Goliath bird eater (theraphosa blondi) should be offered mice

although many spiders will take vertebrate prey. Note that in UK it is illegal to feed live mice to spiders.

The abdomen should not be more than twice the size of the carapace. If it is, the spider is overfed and this could affect it during a moult. Spiders can go without food for days, weeks and sometimes months. Feeding your spider once or twice a week should be sufficient.

TIP 6 : Handling

My top tip for handling is...don’t! Apart from the fact that the spider may bite, or flick urticating (itchy) hairs at you it is possible that you may drop the animal, and kill it. As with fish—they do not need to be handled but can be enjoyed just by being observed. Some people have a nasty allergic reaction to spider bites, so be smart!

TIP 7: Substrate

Substrate is what you put in an enclosure for the spider to stand on: in other words, its ground.  There is no exact answer to what is best but a general guide would be about three or four inches of Vermiculite and/or Irish moss peat available from garden centres.  Never use gravel or real plants such as cacti which could harm the spider.

TIP 8: Maintenance

The beauty of keeping tarantulas is they require very little maintenance. . Dead insect prey should be removed daily. Spiders excrete a liquid which evaporates over time but any marks on the tank can be cleaned off. Do not keep destroying the spiders web as this will only stress the animal. Tarantulas can harbour mites which are generally introduced by crickets. These are not harmful to humans but if there is an explosion in numbers the enclosure must be thoroughly cleaned out with warm water. Do not use chemicals of any kind.  I do not recommend live plants in the terrarium. It is possible they can also harbour fly and other insect eggs.

Tarantulas are loners and must never be housed together. They will fight and could kill each other.

TIP 9: Loss of limbs

People new to tarantulas become horrified if their prized pet loses a leg or two. Don’t panic! Tarantulas (and all spiders) have the ability to re-grow their lost appendages over a period of moults. They have an in built ability to stop blood flow so they don’t bleed to death if a leg comes off. Note this is not the same for the abdomen or carapace.

TIP 10: Purchasing tarantulas

Do you buy wild caught or captive bred tarantulas? I recommend only captive bred because they should be healthy and free of mites and parasites. Also it is illegal to collect certain species from the wild. An example is the Mexican Red Knee (Brachypelma smithi) Ask pet shops where they got their spiders from before you buy. Also be wary of tarantulas that are all curled up and don’t move much as they are probably ill and not worth buying.

Seek further information from:
The British tarantula Society
. Website address is

Join the BTS and enjoy the benefits. There is a quarterly journal, BTS website with special members only area, an annual tarantula exhibition where you can bring and buy specimens. Also there is an excellent opportunity to chat to like minded people about your hobby.

Write to head office for further information:

The British Tarantula Society Committee
Angela Hale, 3 Shepham Lane ,Polegate, East Sussex. BN26 6LZ. England

"In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught". Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist