Back in the late 90s, when I bought my first tarantula, there were limited options for one in my state who wanted to procure one. Pet stores in Connecticut were prohibited from selling venomous animals, which meant you couldn’t just drive to the local Petco to pick one up. Therefore, you either had to drive across state lines in hope of finding one in an out-of-state pet store or reptile convention, or scour the local Bargain News and classifieds in hopes of finding someone locally who was selling them.
It was through one of these classified ads that I found my first T, a wild caught, sub-adult G. porteri. On a gorgeous Saturday in the summer of 1997, I took a drive to the sleepy, picturesque little town of Chester where I met a marine who collected exotic pets. After getting a tour of his amazing collection of venomous snakes, pedes, and spiders, I got my first look at the tarantula I would be taking home. $25 bucks later, I had my first T.
It wasn’t until recently that my wife and I were talking and I expressed interest in possibly acquiring a new tarantula. I still had my G. poteri, and although she was going strong, I dreaded the day she would no longer be with us. As I started to do some research, discovering the staggering variety of tarantulas available, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find these amazing species. After all, my state couldn’t sell them, and the out-of-state pet stores had a very limited selection.
While doing some research online, I stumbled onto Jamie’s Tarantulas. Not only did Jamie carry the three species I had been eyeing, but she would ship them to my door. That’s when I discovered that the tarantula trade had been thriving, not just at local pet shops and reptile/arachnid conventions, but through mail order vendors. I was shocked to learn that there were several reputable breeders who sold their stock through online stores, and that many collectors used the mail to trade Ts and to acquire new pets.
After reading reviews on several dealers (Arachnoboards has an amazing dealer review section), and researching their stock and shipping policies, I made my first online order with Jamie’s Tarantulas. It proved to be a wonderful experience, and many more orders were soon to follow.
Having made over a dozen purchases online from several dealers, I now feel like I have a better idea what to look for before ordering. Below are some things you want to consider before plunking down your hard-earned money at an online shop.
Stock: Before you order, make sure the animals are in stock. Some dealers get huge import shipments in, and they will prematurely list animals they are anticipating to receive, but don’t yet have in stock. This is not a good practice, and you should avoid these situations. Also, some dealers do enough business that their site may not accurately list what they have in stock. Trades are made, animals are sold at conventions, and sometimes the site hasn’t been updated. It doesn’t hurt to toss out a quick email to double-check that an animal you are interested in is still available.
Shipping: As you are dealing with live animals, Priority, 2-day, or next-day shipping is a must. Fedex Overnight is generally the most trusted and widely used, with US Post Priority being second. And, as you might have guessed, this costs money. $35-$45 is to be expected, with $50 not unheard of. Although some dealers will offer less expensive shipping options (Jamie’s has a $17 option), these usually do not come with a LAG (Live Animal Guarantee). Speaking of lag…
LAG: Reputable vendors offer a “Live Animal Guarantee” from 24 to 72 hours after your purchase. This means if you open your packaged to discover that one or more of your new acquisitions didn’t survive the trip (a rarity), the seller will either replace the animal or give you a store credit, usually minus the cost of shipping. Or, if your animal dies a couple days later, some will even replace those as well. Before ordering, be sure to read the dealer’s LAG policy and familiarize yourself with the the stipulations.
Weather: Tarantulas are animals and, as such, they do not do well in extreme temperatures. Below freezing? 90s and humid? These are not good conditions to ship in. Although dealers can use heat packs and cold packs in some situations, most will not ship if the weather is below 40 or above 80. Make sure if you’re ordering during the heat of summer or in the heart of winter, that you check the store’s policy on shipping in poor weather. And, be patient and think about the well-being of your animals when a shipment has to be held. Also keep in mind that your Ts may be shipping across the country. Just because it’s warm and sunny in Florida doesn’t mean that it’s not snowing in Connecticut.
Assistance: I wouldn’t call this mandatory, but it certainly something I look for. Good dealers are very knowledgeable people, and they should be able to assist you if you have a question. Now, I’m not insinuating that they should be your 24/7 help hotline for all of your questions. Please, do your research and know the species you are looking to procure. However, vendors should be willing to help you with any questions that come up during the process. In truth, many are more than willing to share their experiences and knowledge about the hobby they love.
Packing: I once received a package of five Ts sent during 20 degree weather that contained no heat pack. Talk about a depressing experience, as I pulled dead T after dead T out of the stone-cold box. Packing Ts is almost an art form, and the good dealers know how to do it well. Foam insulated packaging, animals well packed in plastic containers or cups, padding, and heat/cold packs when the weather dictates. When researching your dealer, be sure to pay attention to what the reviewers say about packaging.
Now that you know what to look for in a dealer, here are the dealers I’ve had positive experiences with, as well as two with fantastic reputations that I have yet to order from (but definitely will in the future).
Jamie’s Tarantulas was where I placed my first online order, and they have continued to be my go-to shop for Ts, enclosures, and feeder roaches. She offers a $17 shipping option with LAG, which might be the best in the business, and they confidently ship when the weather is too severe for others. She carries a good selection of animals with very fair prices. Her custom enclosures are great deals and very convenient for those ordering new slings. Jamie and Jon are always a pleasure to talk to, and they are very responsive to emails and queries. Packing is excellent, and I’ve yet to have a DOA. I’ve ordered from Jamie and Jon over a dozen times, and I’ve never had a single issue. Just a fantastic seller all around.
Tanya at Fear not tarantulas carries an excellent array of species at fantastic prices. Their website is well organized, with sections for slings, juveniles, adults, females, males, and package deals. Even cooler, there is a Species Description page where those looking for information can read about the folks at FNT’s personal experience with them. Shipping is done via FedEx overnight for $45, with orders $500 or over getting free shipping. Tanya’s communication is also amazing; she texted me the day my order went out make sure that it was a convenient day to ship and to ask if I wanted it held. My order came perfectly packed, and I was delighted to discover that the Ts’ vials were labeled with the names AND the dates of their last molt. Fear Not Tarantulas is an excellent vendor for established and beginner hobbyists a like.
Since first writing this article, I have ordered from Paul at Pet Center USA four times, and each time has been a total pleasure. Paul is very approachable and is happy to answer any questions you may have about his stock, care, or tarantulas in general. Speaking of stock, he has an amazing selection and his prices are always fantastic. He offers FedEx overnight shipping with lag for $39, which is quite reasonable, and he always ships out right on time. For those new to the hobby, Paul even sends out an email before your shipment arrives detailing how your new spiders should be rehoused and how to keep them.
Ken is one of the largest dealers of tarantulas and arachnids online, and he has a reputation that proceeds him. His selection is amazing, and he frequently gets shipments of new import, so his stock is always changing. You will want to shoot him an email to make sure that the animal you want is in stock, as he does a large volume of sales, and the website isn’t always up to date. Not a knock, just testament to how many Ts he sells. Ken is known to include freebies or to upgrade the sizes of purchases (a 1.5″ L. itabunae I ordered was actually 3″) Packing is good and both of my shipments from him arrived with my spiders in great shape.
Anastasia at Net-Bug has a fantastic selection of Ts, including some very rare and sought-after species. She is also one of the few dealers who always seems to have several sexed females in stock, which is fantastic. After months of window shopping on her site, I finally placed an order from her site in March. Her communication was excellent; she went out of her way to phone me to make sure that the Fedex facility my package would be sent to was the closest to me. As she is within driving distance, she also offered to meet up for next purchase to save me on shipping. Very cool. Her packaging was outstanding, and the Ts arrived healthy and active. I will definitely be ordering from her again.
Steven Stamps opened up his own web store within the past year, and since then he has become one of the bigger dealers on the web. He always carries a diverse, ever-changing selection of species from hobby stalwarts like GBBS and A. versicolors to rare Pamphobeteus and Phormictopus species. His prices are quite good, and his monthly subscriber discounts and sales make them even better. I’ve ordered from him four times, and each time I’ve been left completely happy and satisfied. I did have one hiccup in which I was sent the wrong tarantula, however, Steven went well above and beyond to make sure that I was happy with my purchase. The experience left me ecstatic and ensured that I would be ordering from him again in the future. Steven is a class act, and he has quickly become one of my favorite dealers.
NOTE: Although I haven’t personally ordered from the next dealer, Kelly Swift has a stellar reputation in the business. It will only be a matter of time before I order from him, and I will update this blog then.
A fantastic selection along with a great reputation.