So You Want A Tarantula

So you’ve decided that you want a tarantula.  Usually this is done as an impulse buy because you’ve seen pictures and/or video, or have witnessed someone holding a tarantula, or maybe you’ve held one yourself at a pet shop or exotic animal show and were captivated.  That’s how it starts for most of us.  As many of us know, impulse buying is the worst way to get into anything.  Many times we don’t know what we’re getting into, at least not completely, or we’re not aware of everything that keeping such an animal involves.  With all of the information that one can find on the Web the best thing that you can do is wait.  The pet shop will have more tarantulas or the one you’re interested in may still be there.  There will be more exotic animal shows.  There are many vendors online with many species for you to choose from and various price ranges as well.  The best advice is to do your homework and learn about what species you may want and what all it involves.  Most definitely watch videos on YouTube since they can give you a very good example of what a particular species involves.  I’ve compiled a list of questions to ask yourself before making your decision to purchase a tarantula.

New World or Old World?

One of the first questions you should ask yourself is do you want a “New World” tarantula or an “Old World” tarantula?  If you don’t know what this means then you should really pay attention.

New World
Mexican Fireleg (Brachypelma boehmei)
Mexican Fireleg (Brachypelma boehmei)

New World refers to any species that comes from the Americas (North America, Central America, and South America.)  New world tarantulas are the types most commonly found in pet shops.  New World species include many that are considered to be docile in nature and possess venom that is of little threat to humans (localized pain and swelling that lasts anywhere from minutes to a few hours.)  Some of the terrestrial species’ primary means of defense are urticating hairs on their abdomen that they flick behind them when they feel threatened.  These hairs are tiny and barbed and hook to skin making you itch.  They can be potentially dangerous if they get into the nasal passages or the eyes.  Some urticating hairs can be mildly irritating while others may cause major itching and rashes, depending on the species.  Many people can be very susceptible to these urticating hairs and would want to avoid these species.  Several beginner species fall under this category such as the Mexican Red Knee (Brachypelma “smithi” hamorii), Chilean Rose Hair (Grammostola Rosea), Curly Hair Tarantula (Grammostola Albopilosum), Desert Blonde (Aphonopelma chalcodes) to name a few.

Trinidad Chevron (Psalmopoeus cambridgei)
Trinidad Chevron (Psalmopoeus cambridgei)

Not all New World tarantulas are terrestrial.  There are quite a few arboreal species to be considered as well.  Most arboreals do not possess urticating hairs, but many can be quite defensive and can readily bite if they feel threatened.  There are many “New World” arboreal species that are considered docile.  All arboreal species tend to be faster than their ground-dwelling counterparts and can jump very quickly from one place to another.  Great care has to be taken when selecting a New World arboreal tarantula.  Some can be quite defensive and, because they lack urticating hairs, will readily bite as a means of defense.  Some possess venom that is much more potent than terrestrial tarantulas.  If you are interested in a particular species I would suggest googling a bite report.  Many tarantula keepers go their entire lives without being bitten, but it’s always a good idea to know what may happen if you are bitten.  New World arboreal tarantulas include Guyana Pink Toe (Avicularia avicularia), Antilles Pink Toe (Caribena versicolor), Trinidad Chevron (Psalmopoeus cambridgei) and Venezuelan Sun Tiger (Psalmopoeus irminia).

Old World
Indian Ornamental (Poecilotheria regalis)
Indian Ornamental (Poecilotheria regalis)

Old World refers to species that come from anywhere else other than the Americas, namely Africa and Asia.  Most of the Old World species tend to be very defensive to the point that some people consider them to be “aggressive.”  These tarantulas possess potent venom (some considered medically significant) and lack the urticating hairs of the New World species.  Their main line of defense is to bite.  Many will immediately go into a threat pose with the slightest provocation.  These tarantulas are for the more experienced hobbyist but many keep them without incident if dealt with carefully and treated with respect.  Some of the more popular Old World species include Orange Baboon (Pterinochilus murinus), King Baboon (Pelinobius muticus), Indian Ornamental (Poecilotheria regalis), Gooty Sapphire Ornamental (Poecilotheria metallica), and Singapore Blue (Lampropelma violaceopes).

There are many terrestrial Old World species as well as arboreal to choose from.  Some people feel that terrestrial species are easier to deal with than arboreal because the arboreal tend to very fast and can jump very quickly.

Terrestrial or Arboreal and what is Fossorial?

The next question you should ask yourself is do you want a terrestrial tarantula or an arboreal tarantula?  I’ll discuss fossorial under terrestrial.

Skeleton Tarantula (Ephebopus murinus)
My “pet hole” Skeleton Tarantula (Ephebopus murinus)

Terrestrial tarantulas are those that live on the ground.  The reason you have to consider this is because they require a certain amount of space to live and because they live on ground they need a wider/longer enclosure rather than taller.  The larger the tarantula gets the bigger the enclosure it needs.  Also, if you want a tarantula that makes a great display animal you have to consider whether it is fossorial or not.  Fossorial means that the tarantula prefers to create a burrow and live underground.  While all ground dwelling tarantulas tend to be fossorial, many are happy to live above the ground and sit out waiting for prey.  These tarantulas can easily be seen throughout the day.  However there are several species who tend to be fossorial and will readily burrow and rarely be seen.  They require a good amount of substrate in their enclosure for them to create their burrows.  An example is the Skeleton tarantula (Ephebopus murinus) who loves to make burrows and generally will only come out at night or in the early morning.  This is what is known in the hobby as a “pet hole.”  There are many beautiful tarantulas that are fossorial, but you may not want to buy one if you will rarely see it.  If you want a display pet that you can see all the time or show off to your friends, a “pet hole” is not for you.


Arboreal tarantulas live in trees or at least higher elevations than the ground.  If you are interested in an arboreal, know that you would need a taller enclosure rather than wider.  If you are looking to save some space, this may be the species for you.  Arboreal species will need a hide, usually a tube of cork bark, and things to climb on.  As with terrestrial species, “pet holes” exist within the arboreals as well.  There are tarantulas that will choose a hide and create a funnel within that hide and prefer to stay in there nice and snug and will rarely venture out.  But if you want a nice display arboreal tarantula make sure you research the species and its behavior before you commit to it.

Indian Violet spiderling webs up its entire enclosure despite its size.

Another thing to consider on both terrestrial and arboreal species is their webbing.  All tarantulas create webs.  Some terrestrial species will create a mat along the substrate bottom in order to detect prey.  Some arboreals will create a funnel for their hide and not really much anywhere else.  Then there’s the great webbers.  These are species that love to web up their enclosures as much as possible.  You go through all the trouble of decorating their enclosure all nice and neat with everything in its place, then wake up to have the whole enclosure covered in thick white silk hiding everything inside.  There is literally nothing you can do because this is how they feel most comfortable.  If you tear it all down and clean the enclosure they will only web it up again immediately.  There are some great webbers who make pretty good display pets because they choose to sit on top of their funnel of web and wait for prey.  However,  there are some that will sit in the center of all the webbing and avoid as much contact with the outside world as possible.

Spiderling, Subadult, or Adult?

For many of us our first tarantula is usually an adult because it’s usually an impulse buy and we just had to have it.  There are some drawbacks and some positives to purchasing an adult tarantula.  Below are some things to think about when purchasing any age tarantula.

  1. Adult tarantulas are more expensive than younger tarantulas.  Depending on your budget, a sub-adult or even a spiderling may be easier to obtain than buying an adult.
  2. The dealer may not know how old the tarantula is.  Female tarantulas can live anywhere from 10-30 years in captivity depending on the species.  Many times, especially when buying from a pet shop, they don’t know how old the tarantula is or any history behind it.  There’s nothing worse than buying a tarantula already late in its life only to have it die on you a couple of years later or soon after you buy it.
  3. On the positive side, the dealer may know the age of the tarantula and can tell you its sex.  Young tarantulas are more difficult to determine sex and you may not know what you’re getting.
  4. Disreputable dealers may knowingly sell you a mature or immature male tarantula relying on your ignorance to purchase a dying animal.  When a male tarantula reaches maturity it is in the final stage of its life.  It will spend its time pacing around the enclosure looking for a mate and will often refuse food until it eventually dies.  Ignorant dealers will often not know or care about sexing the tarantula and it’s pretty much up to you to get what you get.
  5. Sub-Adult tarantulas are young tarantulas who have yet to reach maturity.  Depending on the size of the tarantula the sex may not be known, but you will know that you are not getting an old tarantula.
  6. Green Bottle Blue (Chromatopelma cyanopubescens)
    Green Bottle Blue (Chromatopelma cyanopubescens)

    Spiderlings-These are my personal preference when buying tarantulas.  You can usually find them relatively cheap, but of course, you have no idea whether you’re getting a male or female.  However because they are cheap, I usually buy multiples of the same species (2-4) to increase my chances of getting a female.  It’s kind of a crapshoot buying them in hopes of getting females, but that’s how it is in the hobby.  People say tarantulas are like potato chips; you can’t have just one.  But you could end up with many tarantulas using this method.  What do you do with extra tarantulas?  Due to social networking and the Web, the hobby has grown considerably, and people are able to communicate much easier than before.  If you end up with males that you can’t use, you can make deals with people in the hobby.  Nobody wants males until they want to breed their females.  Some people are willing to buy them from you or even trade for other species they may no longer want.  Others are willing to make 50/50 deals with you.  If you loan them your male to breed they will give you half of the spiderlings they produce.  If you end up with more females than you want to take on, you can always sell your females for a higher price than what you paid for them.  Spiderlings are readily available on dealer web sites and exotic animal shows.  Another positive thing I’ve encountered when purchasing spiderlings is that many dealers are willing to throw in freebies to reduce their stock.  I once purchased two $30 Indian Violets (Chilobrachys fimbriatus), at a reptile show, and the vendor threw in two $10 Brazilian Red and White’s (Nhandu chromatus).  Recently I purchased 3 Gooty Sapphire Ornamentals (Poecilotheria metallica) and 4 Brazilian Blues (Pterinopelma sazimai), from a dealer online, and he threw in 3 more Gooty Sapphire Ornamentals.  I’m still reeling about that one.  Best deal ever!  Just personal preference but to me there is a certain sense of accomplishment when you bring up a tiny spidering into a full-grown tarantula.

Antilles Pink Toe spiderling (Caribena versicolor)
Antilles Pink Toe spiderling (Caribena versicolor)

Handling tarantulas is highly discouraged, but let’s face it, you’re gonna want to handle your tarantula.  There’s something mesmerizing about handling a creature that is wild and venomous yet can walk around on your hand without harming you.  If you handle, you do so at your own risk.  Do I handle my tarantulas?  The answer is yes but only my New World tarantulas and usually only my spiderlings if they try to escape or if I’m rehousing.  I sometimes handle my adult New World tarantulas and only if they are displaying docile behavior.  I choose not to handle my Old World tarantulas because frankly at my age (I am 49 at the time of this writing) I don’t want to have to go through excruciating pain, muscle cramps, headache, nausea, fever, shortness of breath, or heart palpitations, some of which can last for weeks.  All tarantulas are capable of biting you from the most docile Pink Toe tarantula (Avicularia avicularia) to the nastiest Featherleg baboon (Stromatopelma calceatum).  The thing to consider is that tarantulas have personalities and they can even have moods.  I have seen supposedly docile Chilean Rose Hair tarantulas become unapproachable and vile (I own one like this) and I have seen Indian Ornamentals and Gooty Sapphire Ornamentals behave completely docile and let their owners handle them frequently.  If you do a search on YouTube for people handling tarantulas you will find videos of someone handling every type of tarantula imaginable.  The bottom line is, if you want a tarantula so that you can handle it, make sure you get something docile.  Or based on your experience, get something that you are capable of dealing with.  Ultimately you are risking a bite when you handle any tarantula.