Caring for your Tarantulas
Common name: Mexican Red Knee Tarantula
Scientific name: Brachypelma smithi
Size: Start out the size of a tiny pinkie nail and grow to be a bit smaller than my hand. Sexually mature in 5 years if fed properly and housing is correct.
LifeSpan: I have heard so many stories from all the experts and they are all different. My oldest female died in 2000 at 16 years. The males live about 4 years.
CageBabies need to be in a small cage or container since they may not be able to find food in a big house. I raised my little "Scooter" in a test tube for the first few months and moved up to a Margarine tub. Empty of course. This allowed him to find food and grow. Poke several small air holes and your ready to go. I have seen disposable Tupperware style tubs from Glad that are see through that should work fine. There cheep and easy to clean. I recommend the adults to be kept in a 10-gallon tank with ventilation but avoid a screen lid. As they climb they often seem to get there little feet caught in the screen and end up just dangling helpless. A ten gallon tank should be cleaned out every 3-4 months along with taking out leftover food bits as necessary to avoid bacteria. If it smells you know your not cleaning enough.
SubstrateI use potting soil over a layer of vermiculite. This allows for humidity. These guys need humidity to molt properly. This also creates a mold problem if not enough ventilation. Keep it clean.
SheddingThey do, but it's called molting. Their skeleton is on the exterior of their body and they molt it off frequently as spiderlings, then once a year as adults. First they won't eat for 2-3 weeks prior to molting. When you see your tarantula on his back, don't panic and don't touch him. This is normal at molting time. Moving him could kill him. Make sure there is no live food in the cage. He will return to normal in a few days and you will have an incredible looking duplicate of you pet tarantula to scare your friends with.
LightingThey are nocturnal so I don't recommend bright lights on these guys. I use a low watt red incandescent bulb sometimes, it also warms the cage just right in the winter.
It looks like a big fuzzy mess, but the next series of pictures on the left are my male and female mating. It's hard to see but the male uses two hooks that appeared after his last molt to hold the females fangs out of harms way. He then uses his pedipalps, the two short front legs, to stuff the sperm into pockets on the females underside.As soon as the male is done he books or he risks getting eaten by the female. I took my male out right away. He may as well live his last days in peace. At least he got some before he died.
BehaviorNot aggressive at all. They tend to kick their butt hairs as a defense before biting. These hairs can hurt if they get in your eyes so avoid rubbing your eyes while handling. Temperature: If you are comfortable in the same room with your shirt off they are fine. 75 to 80 degrees is good with an under tank heater in a spot they have no access to like under the water bowl but not to where it heats the water to an uncomfortable temp. If your guy burrows this will not be a good idea as a heat source. Also avoid drafts from blowing into the cage.
FeedingInsects. A few times a year I offer a pinkie mouse to my adults but one cricket a week for an adult is fine. Start babies on pinhead cricket or fly of an appropriate size. Smaller is better. Only one food item at a time. Do not leave insects in the cage if your spider is not eating. It can turn on the spider and eat it! Yes crickets are mean little monsters and will suck the moisture out of your spider's eyes or munch on him if it is hungry. There is a term called "gut loading". It means feed your crickets good diet of fresh mixed veggies and pulverized rodent chow prior to feeding it to your spider. Throw a slice of orange in for the cricket toget moisture if spider is not immediately going for it and remove if not eaten in an hour. Try again the next day. Yes this is a drag but pet ownership is a responsibility. Don't get lazy. I would hope you would never do this but never ever catch anything from outside your home to feed your tarantula. It could have pesticides on it and kill you pet in a day. Stick to only store bought crickets from a reputable pet shop that you know does not spray its shelves with poison. Think spider.
This and ThatThese spiders seem to be the best kept tarantulas. Graceful in movement and beautiful to watch. Handling on a regular basis does not seem to bother them but I limit my holding time to shows. I have never experienced an aggressive action at this pace. There are times I pick them up and they kick butt hairs like crazy. so it is best to leave them alone when they do this.
Keep in mind that they can break. Do not drop. Ever. Interesting to watch move but not much for relationships. Think of it more like a like a living decoration in your home.