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Terrestrial Tarantula

Terrestrial Tarantula Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

This care sheet covers a variety of tarantula species, including:

  • Mexican red knee: Brachypelma smithi
  • Chilean rose hair: Grammostola rosea
  • Mexican flame knee: Brachypelma auratum
  • Mexican red rump: Tliltocatl vagans
  • Costa Rican striped knee/zebra: Aphonopelma seemanni
  • Greenbottle blue: Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens
  • Curly hair: Tliltocatl albopilosus
  • Goliath bird eater: Theraphosa blondi
Terrestrial Tarantula

Overview

Terrestrial tarantulas are a group of several species of tarantulas that come from subtropical to desert climates in North America, Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia. Unlike arboreal tarantulas, who live in trees, terrestrial tarantulas live in or on the ground. Some burrow under the surface and live underground, while others hide under leaves or bark. In general, terrestrial tarantulas are less aggressive and more easily handled than arboreal tarantulas; therefore, they are recommended for new tarantula pet parents.

Table of contents

Typical tarantula appearance and behavior

  • As they grow, tarantulas shed or molt their outer skin or exoskeleton, which looks like a replication of their body (minus the head) once they have shed; they typically lay on their back and twitch, kick and stretch until they cast off their entire exoskeleton
  • Molting can take a few minutes to a few hours and occurs more frequently in young, growing spiders.
  • During molting, they may become less active, eat less and look dull colored
  • While terrestrial tarantulas are generally easier to handle than arboreal tarantulas, most tarantula species are nervous and are better kept as pets that you observe rather than handle
  • If feeling threatened, they may bite or run
  • They are generally calmer when housed in habitats with numerous hiding places to provide security
  • In general, terrestrial tarantulas are slower moving than arboreal species but also may be more defensive · As part of their mechanism of defense, some tarantula species “flick” or eject urticating hairs, which irritate predators’ skin and may cause an allergic reaction in humans
  • Their bite releases a venom that is equivalent to a bee sting, and some people may be especially sensitive; if bitten, seek immediate medical attention
  • Females live longer than males; once males become mature, they live to find a mate, sometimes refusing to eat or drink as they walk back and forth searching for a female
  • Mexican red-knee tarantulas can have brown, black or red bodies, but all have bright red markings on the midsection of their legs, making them look like they have red knees
  • Chilean rose hair tarantulas have dark brown to black bodies with rose-colored hairs on their upper bodies
  • Mexican flame-knee tarantulas look similar to red-knee tarantulas but have darker bodies with more discrete red stripes on their knees
  • Mexican red rump tarantulas have bright red hairs on their legs and abdomens, making it look like they have red rumps
  • Costa Rican striped knee/zebra tarantulas have black bodies with white striped legs covered in fuzzy red hairs
  • South American greenbottle blue tarantulas have blue-green bodies and bright metallic blue legs
  • Central American curly hair tarantulas have dark brown to black bodies with thick, bronze colored long, bristly hairs that curl at their ends covering their bodies and legs
  • South American Goliath bird eater tarantulas are the largest spiders in the world by weight and body length, weighing up to 6 ounces and having a leg span up to 12 inches wide (just slightly less than the leg span of the largest spider, the Huntsman spider). They are golden to dark brown with fuzzy-looking bodies and legs.

Characteristics

Care difficulty Moderate
Average Life Span Depending on the species and with proper care, up to 30 years for females and up to 7 years for males
Average adult size 2–10 inches, depending on species
Diet Carnivorous/insectivorous
Minimum habitat size 5 gallons for one adult

Habitat

Habitat size

Provide an appropriately sized and shaped habitat at least three times as long as the tarantula’s leg-span and two times as wide as their leg-span to accommodate normal behavior and exercise. Terrestrial tarantulas require a horizontally oriented habitat that is wider and longer than it is tall. The minimum habitat height for a terrestrial tarantula is the length of the animal. Habitats should have a tight-fitting, solid top to prevent escape with multiple ventilation holes that are small enough to prevent escape but large enough to prevent claw entrapment. Screen-meshed tops are not recommended for adult tarantulas, as they can easily get their claws caught in them and become badly injured. Commercially available habitats that open with doors on the side also are available for housing spiders.

Building your habitat

  • Décor: Provide multiple places to hide, such as half-logs, cork bark, branches, driftwood, and live or artificial plants to hide under, climb on and build their webs
  • Substrate: Mulch-type substrate, such as coconut fiber bedding, reptile bark, vermiculite or dampened sphagnum moss can be used to provide a soft surface in case the tarantula falls while climbing. Substrate should be several inches to allow tarantulas to burrow. Avoid gravel and artificial turf, which is too abrasive for the tarantulas’ delicate skin
  • Temperature: Most terrestrial tarantulas come from subtropical to desert climates and require a habitat temperature between 68 and 74°F, depending on species. An under-tank heater with a thermostat can help maintain appropriate habitat temperature, if necessary
  • Lighting: Tarantulas are nocturnal (more active at night), so they do not need supplemental lighting. They should be kept in a darker part of the room away from sunlight. Avoid incandescent lights, which can provide heat that will dry out a tarantula. Use a low-wattage nocturnal or infrared light to watch your tarantula after dark
  • Humidity: Terrestrial tarantulas typically come from subtropical to desert climates with lower humidity than arboreal species. Maintain 50–70% humidity, depending on species, by misting as needed every day. Avoid misting the spider and oversaturating the substrate. Instead, mist plants or the sides of the habitat to allow droplets to form, which spiders can drink. Provide an open bowl of shallow water to help increase humidity through evaporation and to allow spiders to drink

Cleaning your habitat

Spot-clean the habitat daily to remove droppings and discarded food.

Thoroughly clean and disinfect the habitat at least once a month, or more often if needed:

  • Place tarantula in a secure habitat
  • Scrub the tank and furnishings with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution
  • Rinse thoroughly with water, removing all traces of habitat cleaner or bleach smell
  • Dry the tank and furnishings and add clean substrate before placing the tarantula back in the habitat

Feeding

A well-balanced tarantula diet consists of: · Appropriately sized live insects, such as gut-loaded (recently fed) crickets, mealworms, superworms, hornworms and roaches. Some larger species may eat thawed frozen pinkie mice.

Things to remember when feeding your tarantula:

  • Fresh, clean, water should be available all the time in a shallow, open bowl; your tarantula might not drink from a bowl but will drink water droplets on plants
  • Feed juveniles every other day and adults once a week, because tarantulas are nocturnal, feeding should occur at night
  • Be sure food is smaller than the tarantula, and remove any uneaten live food as it may cause injury to a resting tarantula
  • Do not feed a newly molted spider, as they need time to regenerate their newly molted fangs; instead, wait 7–10 days post-molt to feed
  • Replace water daily
  • Do not overfeed a tarantula, as they commonly become overweight from overfeeding

Care

Handling tarantulas is not recommended. They are nervous and become stressed easily. If feeling threatened, they may flick urticating hairs, bite or even run and fall. A short fall can cause a serious or even fatal injury.

When tarantulas molt, they lie on their back with their feet up in the air. Juveniles molt about four times a year and adults once a year. They may stop eating up to two weeks before a molt; do not disturb them during this time. Be sure to remove all live food from enclosure, as even a cricket could harm them during this period.

Where to buy

Tarantulas are available for purchase at your local Petco location. Please call ahead to check availability.

Tank mates

Because terrestrial tarantulas are generally territorial, they are best housed individually. Do not house different invertebrate species together.

Health

Signs of a healthy tarantula

  • Eats and passes stool regularly
  • Molts regularly and in one piece
  • Is active and alert
  • Has a rounded abdomen, indicating it’s well hydrated
  • Skin is free of bumps, blemishes, bald spots and parasites
  • Is a healthy weight
  • Has a clean mouth and fangs, free of debris and parasites

Red flags (if you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian)

  • Shriveled abdomen, indicating dehydration
  • Bleeding from injury to leg or abdomen
  • Very slow or uncoordinated movements
  • Getting stuck in a molt
  • Loss of appetite that is not associated with molt
  • Debris or parasites around the mouth or fangs
  • Excessive roaming and hair flicking, indicating stress
  • Bald spots, bumps, blemishes or parasites on skin
  • Obesity

Common tarantula health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Dehydration Slow moving, shriveled appearance Consult your veterinarian and ensure proper humidity by misting the habitat more frequently and by providing well-hydrated prey
Falls, injuries Bleeding Consult your veterinarian immediately
Bumps, blemishes, bald spots or other obvious skin abnormalities May be caused by trauma, parasites, tumors or excessive hair flicking from stress Consult your veterinarian immediately

FAQs

Yes, tarantulas are spiders and members of the family Theraphosidae; however, they are hairy bodied and usually larger than most other spiders.

Tarantulas eat a variety of insects such as roaches, crickets, mealworms, superworms and hornworms. Larger tarantulas can eat thawed frozen rodents.

The life span of a tarantula will vary by species and gender and is typically 7–30 years.

Some live in the desert, and others are found in the tropics, depending on the species. They can be found in burrows, under logs, under vegetation and in small crevices in rocks. Arboreal species will be found on trees within the foliage.

Like other spiders, tarantulas have eight eyes—two larger eyes in the middle of their head are surrounded by three smaller eyes on each side. Despite all these eyes, they have poor vision and depend on sensitive hairs on their legs to orient themselves.

Tarantulas have eight legs and two pedipalps (the pair of appendages that tarantulas use to sense things in their environments and in reproduction).

Yes, tarantulas can swim; however, they are not excellent swimmers, and placing your tarantula in water is not recommended. Use shallow water bowls to prevent them from drowning.

Additional Care Sheets

Notes and sources

Ask a Pet Care Center employee about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because invertebrates such as tarantulas can cause skin irritation by flicking their urticating hairs and by transmitting irritating venom through bites, minimize handling your tarantula, and always wash your hands before and after handling your invertebrate or their habitat contents.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for invertebrates and should consider having a pet other than an invertebrate. Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about invertebrates and disease.

The information on this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If your pet is sick, or you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.