Timeless Spirit Logo ARTICLE

A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. March's Theme: "Pets"
Volume 4 Issue 3 ISSN# 1708-3265
Index Meet Our Staff Free Subscription Donations Come Shopping Advertising Archived Issues


An Unusual Pet
by Laura Korska

Tarantula. The very word is enough to instil fear in some, disgust in others and a warm fuzzy feeling in a select few. I happen to be one of the latter, viewing tarantulas both as wonderful pets and as incredibly fascinating creatures.

I have to wonder if the general fear of tarantulas is warranted. Sure they are big, hairy and in possession of eight legs, but they pose little danger to humans. The fact that there has not been one recorded instance of death by tarantula bite doesn't seem to be enough to assuage the fears of the general population. I don't hope to try and do that with this article, but I can offer a different point of view.

Tarantulas are like potato chips, once you have one you just can't stop there! I bought my first tarantula, a Mexican Redknee spiderling, in December of 2004. Within days I had gone back and purchased another, this time it was a Goliath Birdeater with a leg span of seven inches. Now, two years later, I own 50! My want of a low maintenance, interesting pet has turned into my full-blown immersion into a brand new hobby.

Now I will admit many visitors to my home remain unaware of my creepy menagerie, as I know some people would be uncomfortable with the idea, while others seem eager to view the spiders. Once people actually get a chance to see them, to see the amazing variety there is among theraphosids, they quickly get over their disgust and become more interested. It is hard to feel terror when looking at a red, purple, green and blue fuzz ball with cute pink toes, or a metallic blue tarantula with striking white and black markings and yellow warning stripes. People come to realize they aren't scary, they don't rush the glass trying to eat you, they just sit there and look pretty.

There are over 800 species of tarantula spiders, all of them belonging to the Theriphosidae family. There are New World (North, South and Central America) and Old World (Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia) tarantulas. Almost all species from the New World possess urticating setae, (special barbed hairs on their abdomens) which they kick off towards attackers with their rear legs. These hairs can stick into a predator's skin and cause intense irritation. Old World tarantulas do not have this feature, but they generally possess stronger venom, perhaps to make up for the lack of a secondary defence mechanism.

Tarantulas are generally put into three groups, arboreal, terrestrial and obligate burrower. Arboreals are the tree dwelling tarantulas, terrestrials normally stay on the ground, sometimes taking over abandoned burrows and obligate burrowers dig very deep holes, sometimes several feet deep. Obligate burrowers can become extremely stressed and even die if they are not provided with sufficient substrate to allow them to burrow. Tarantulas range in size from one inch to twelve inches and come in all the colours of the rainbow. They differ from each other in more ways than their appearance; they also come in a very wide range of personalities. Yes that's right, tarantulas have individual personalities. Some are so docile you could literally pick them up and put them in your pocket or sit them on your lap to watch Arachnophobia together. Others are not so friendly, preferring to slap at any disturbance with their front legs, bare their fangs and hiss at whatever disturbed them until it goes away. I have some of each. While I often enjoy taking a docile spider out of its cage to let it go for a walk on my hand, I admit that there is something exciting about opening the cage of a known grumpy tarantula. You have to be on your toes and know where the spider is at all times. Letting your guard down and becoming over confident can sometimes result in a bite. But the same could be said for a grumpy bird or hamster.

Looking after a tarantula is very easy, and very rewarding. Purchasing a small, quarter inch spiderling and watching it grow is an amazing experience. While snakes and lizards shed their skin to grow, an invertebrate sheds their skeleton. Insects wear their skeleton on the outside, like a very tight suit of armour, and it is called the exoskeleton. When the spiderling is ready to grow, it will spin a web called a moulting mat, and then flip itself over onto its back. It can take quite a while for the spider to wriggle out of the old exoskeleton, but it is a very fascinating process to watch. Once done the spider will rest for a while, flexing its soft limbs, then it will flip itself back over. It can take days to weeks for the new exoskeleton to harden, so they are very fragile during that time. They can grow as much as an inch in one moult, often gaining new colours or fluffier hairs. It is very exciting to see your little pink baby all of a sudden moult into its adult colours.

Maintaining a tarantula or two does not take a lot of work. Once housed in a suitable container filled with peat moss, potting soil, coconut coir or something of the like, they need very little maintenance. Aside from a cricket or other prey item once or twice a week and fresh water, there is little else to do. Prey remains must be removed to keep things tidy and free of unwanted pests such as mites, but the dirt itself need not be fussed with. Owning 50 tarantulas is more work, there is always a spider who has outgrown its home and needs rehousing, and feeding time can take me two hours, but it is so much more fun than when I had only two. I love to open the closet door and check if any of my babies have grown. I check on them several times every day, when I wake in the morning, when I get home from work and before I go to bed. It lifts my heart to look at all of my adorable, fuzzy, colourful little ones. I rejoice when I am able to confirm a favourite spiders sex as female (females live much longer than males), I cry when one of them passes away, and I giggle when I spot them doing something silly.

I have learned an immense amount about these spiders and even about myself since getting into this hobby and I am happy to say I have even converted a few arachnophobics into people who no longer scream when they see a spider. It makes me very happy when a former spider squisher tells me proudly that they "rescued" a spider from drowning, or put a spider outside instead of stepping on it. The best part is helping somebody to get their very first tarantula. It never ends with one, they always want more! That is the power of the tarantula, they jump into our hearts with their eight fuzzy legs, and then they invite all their friends.

An avid reader since childhood, Laura spends much or her spare time with a book in her hands. She enjoys writing short stories and poetry, though not professionally. She lives with Michael, her husband of over 6 years, 2 cats Cleo and Dog Food, and many, many-legged critters including tarantulas, scorpions and cockroaches.

Copyright (c) 2007 by Timeless Spirit Magazine. All articles are the copyright of the particular writers and cannot be reprinted without their expressed permission. All rights reserved. International copyright laws prohibit reproduction of or distribution of this page by any means whatsoever, electronic or otherwise, without first obtaining the written permission of the copyright holder. We retain legal counsel to protect our copyrights.

Any advice given is for informational purposes only.