5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting a Pet Tarantula

Caring for one is more complicated than you'd think.

Redknee tarantula.
Tarantulas can make good pets, but only with the proper care. Getty Images/Martin Harvey

A tarantula can make a great pet, but it's not the pet for everyone. Please don't make an impulsive tarantula purchase at a pet store unless you understand your responsibilities as a tarantula owner. A tarantula is an animal, not a toy. Here are 5 questions you should ask yourself before you get a pet tarantula.

1. Are you willing to commit to a long-term relationship with your pet tarantula?

Tarantulas are notoriously long-lived. A healthy female tarantula can live well over 20 years in captivity. During that time, it will need regular food and water, an environment with appropriate heat and humidity, and an occasional cleaning of its terrarium. Should you tire of caring for your pet tarantula, you can't just take it outside and let it go. Be sure you're committed to keeping the tarantula for the long haul.

2. Do you want a pet you can touch and cuddle?

If you answered yes to this question, you might do better with a hamster or a gerbil. Though common pet tarantula species are docile, they can easily spook if you are trying to handle them, and squirm from your hand. Falls are nearly always fatal for tarantulas, as their abdomens rupture easily. In addition, tarantulas can and will bite you if they feel threatened. Even worse, they've got a nasty habit of flicking urticating hairs at the faces of potential predators, and that could include you and your loved ones.

3. Do you want an active pet, one that does cool tricks and can be let loose in your home?

Except when capturing and eating live prey, tarantulas spend a great deal of time doing absolutely nothing. They are masters of repose. Though it appears sluggish in its terrarium, once your pet tarantula escapes it can run with lightning quickness to find a hiding place. Tarantula owners even recommend cleaning the tarantula's habitat within the confines of the bathtub, so the resident spider can't make a speedy retreat to some dark corner of the house.

4. Do you enjoy feeding live prey to your pets?

For some pet owners, this might not be a concern, but for others, it's not a pleasant thought. Tarantulas eat live prey, which you will need to provide. For smaller tarantulas, a diet of crickets, grasshoppers, and roaches might suffice. For larger spiders, you might need to feed an occasional pinky mouse, or even a gray mouse. You'll need a reliable supplier of crickets or other live prey in your area to make feeding easier. It's not a good idea to feed wild caught crickets, as these can be infected with pathogens that may harm your pet tarantula.

5. Do you have a responsible, ethical source from which to purchase your pet tarantula?

When pet tarantulas first became popular with spider enthusiasts, most of the tarantulas on the market came from the wild. As with any exotic animal in demand, over collecting can soon put the species at risk in its native habitat. Such was the case with a few popular pet tarantula species, including the Mexican redknee tarantula, a vibrant species featured in several horror movies. A few tarantula species are now protected under the CITES agreement, which limits or prohibits the commercial trade of listed species, and their export from their native range. You can still obtain these protected species, but you must purchase a captive bred tarantula from a reputable source. Don't put the beautiful spiders at risk; do the right thing.