Tarantula Sling Husbandry – A Comprehensive Guide


I can remember getting my first two slings, a L. parahybana and a C. cyaneopubescens, several years ago. Although I had kept adult tarantulas before, these tiny little gals just seemed so tiny and fragile. I had spent hours researching the care, and had even spoken to a couple of keepers about them. I thought I had the correct setups, and my temperatures seemed okay, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something with my husbandry was amiss and that I would inevitably end up with two dead slings.

Even folks who have kept larger specimens for years tend to experience more than their fair share of anxiety when they keep their first slings. Part of the problem is that much of what you read about sling care can conflict with what you read about their adult counterparts. For example, good husbandry information will tell you that the Brachypelma smithi is an arid species that requires dry substrate to be content. However, look up the care of a B. smithi sling, and you may find folks keeping them on damp substrate. Or, let’s consider the husbandry requirements for some arboreal species. Look up how to set up a Poeciotheria regalis, and you’ll be told a tall enclosure with a couple of inches of substrate and piece of cork bark flat for climbing. Pokie slings, however, will often burrow and stay beneath the ground until the reach the “juvenile” stage, so more substrate and less height might be prudent.

This conflicting, sometimes confusing, information can prove stressful to those new to the hobby (or even those used to Ts but raising slings for the first time). In the past several years, I’ve been contacted by many hobbyists new to keeping slings about my thoughts on their care. More than a few said that they wished there was a “standard of care” guide for those interested in raising slings for the first time.

Well, I definitely wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to label this attempt at a guide as the “standard”, but I will say that I’ve used the techniques, tricks, and information presented here to successfully raise healthy slings for years. I would definitely recommend that anyone attempting to raise a sling first look up the specific husbandry for the species they will be getting, and to use this FAQ as a springboard for further research. With that out of the way, let’s begin our rather lengthy tutorial on tarantula spiderlings.

Selecting the size of your sling

We’ve all been there. While shopping around for the tarantula species you’ve been eyeing, you find someone who has it for an impossibly good price. You can barely contain your excitement as you click on the photo to read the product description more closely to determine if there is a catch. As your eyes move from word to word, you find the little detail that makes your heart sink.

It’s not just a sling, it’s a small one. Really small.

1/4″ of spider.

Still the price is so good, you’re tempted to add it to your cart and pull the trigger. After all, there isn’t much difference between a 1″ sling and a 1/4″ sling, right?

Well, yes and no.

Baby tarantulas come with their own unique set of challenges, and the tiniest ones can be more challenging still. I usually encourage folks who are buying their first sling to try to get one at least .75″ or so, with spiderlings around 1″ being ideal. Slings of this size are usually better established and a bit more hardy than smaller ones, and it won’t be long until they reach the much less risky juvenile stage. As there will always be some anxiety involved when it comes to raising one’s first sling, a large specimen will bring a bit more piece of mind.

Besides being more fragile and susceptible to husbandry mistakes, spiders 1/4″ or less can be very difficult to see, as they often blend too well with the grains of the substrate. Factor in that many slings burrow, and you will likely spend several months staring at what seems like a plastic container of dirt. This can lead to the keeper constantly worrying that the animal has escaped or died. Also, slings of this size often must scavenge feed, or eat off of larger, previously-killed prey because most prey items offered on the market will be too large for them to take down. However, due to their minuscule size, it’s often impossible to tell whether they are feeding or not as even prey items that were fed upon may appear untouched. Finally, their tiny stature can make recognizing premolt more difficult.

Again, more stress.

Another important aspect to consider is the growth rate of the species. Many of the popular Grammostola, Brachypelma, and Aphonopelma species are very slow growers, especially as small slings. Not only can they take several months between molts, but the growth between molts, especially early on, can be negligible at best. Some of these species are also notorious for fasting, This means that if you purchase that the 1/4″ B. smithi sling you’re eyeing, it will likely be many years before you have an animal that looks like a big, hairy spider. If you’re the impatient sort, the wait can can be more than a bit frustrating.

Does this mean that someone shouldn’t attempt to raise a smaller sling as their first? Absolutely not. An informed hobbyist who is aware of the challenges they may face with a tiny sling may have no problem at all.  Obviously, plenty of hobbyists have succeeded in raising the smallest of slings successfully. However, before you hit that buy button, you should be aware of some of the challenges you may face.

Tip: Occasionally, a dealer will indicate the “age” of the spider by using the term “instars”. An instar is the period between each of a tarantula’s molts, and it can be used to identify how far along a sling is in its life cycle. For example, a sling that has molted out of its “eggs with legs” stage (they essentially look like yellow spider eggs with legs when first “hatched”) would be considered “1st instar”. After its next molt, it would be “2nd instar” … and so on. Therefore, a “4th instar” specimen would be a fairly well-establish sling. 

Your sling is on its way…now, what to put it in?

When you hit your local pet store to buy a new animal, you likely don’t have any issues finding an appropriate enclosure for it. After all, many of the creatures offered in the pet trade have been staples for years, and several companies have jumped into the lucrative pet industry with specialized enclosures. Buy a hamster? Get a hamster cage. Want some fish? Grab up that aquarium. Picking up that bearded dragon you’ve always wanted? Shell out for that awesome beardie set up kit.

Buy a baby tarantula on the other hand? Good luck.

The fact is, tarantulas are just starting to gain some mainstream popularity in the pet industry, and no one in the mainstream pet trade has, to my knowledge, produced an enclosure specifically for tarantulas, never mind a spiderling. And, as most pet store employees are woefully uneducated on proper tarantulas husbandry, if you do buy a cage from a pet store, you’re likely to come home with something that is inappropriate.

Tip: The popular all-purpose Critter Keeper cages are not appropriate for smaller slings. Although they make them in mini sizes that offer good dimensions for a baby spider, the vent slats in the lids are wide enough to permit a spiderling to escape. 

So, what do you do?

The good news is, you may have the perfect sling enclosure in your home right now.

Most serious keepers agree that part of the fun of the hobby is finding new and interesting containers to use as cages. I’ve personally experimented with dozens of plastic bins, containers, and such as my collection has grown, and I can’t walk into the container section of Walmart without scouring the assortment of canisters for something that might work with my Ts.

The most commonly used and appropriate sling enclosure options are quite inexpensive and easily acquired at the local grocery store or online. Just a couple of dollars and ten minutes of time can yield you the perfect sling housing. Let’s take a look at the most widely used containers.

Plastic snap cap or “dram” bottles: Keepers have used these for years, and they are particularly handy for folks who find themselves with huge quantities of slings. They are transparent, secure, and come in an assortment of convenient sizes. To ventilate, use a thumb tack or needle to poke several small holes in the top (I usually put a couple dozen). The only downside is that they are very difficult to vent anywhere other than the top, which means no cross-ventilation. They are also not stackable, which can be a bit inconvenient for those with several slings who want to conserve space.

Plastic dram vials used to house small slings.

Plastic dram vials used to house small slings.

Plastic spice jars: These are becoming more popular due to their convenient sizing (small jars are great for the tiny slings) and availability. They come in the same general sizes as the dram bottles, but the softer plastic used makes them much easier to ventilate on the sides. Just heat up a needle on the stove top or use a thumb tack to make a few rings of holes around the top half-inch or so. Many folks have these already in their cabinets, so one can be emptied, cleaned thoroughly, and used in a pinch. They are also readily available online from places like Amazon. Even better, many have little hatches in the lids that make feeding very convenient; just pop the little tab, drop the feeder in, and close it back up. Done.

Tip: Spiders are escape artist and can slip through holes and crevices that seem impossibly small. When making your vent holes, always make sure that they are smaller than the carapace of the T. If you slip up and make a hole that you think might be too large, stick a piece of clear tape over it.

Plastic spice jars make wonderful sling enclosures.

Plastic spice jars make wonderful sling enclosures.

Deli cups: Deli cups are an especially popular enclosure used by hobbyists to house their young spiders. They are very readily available, cheap, stackable, usually quite clear, and easily ventilated. Many keepers get them for free or for less than $1, and I’ve heard of more than a few stories of folks hitting the local deli for some soup or potato salad mostly for the cup. For those with large collections, you can buy them in batches of 50 for about $20. For those looking to house terrestrial slings, the 16 oz size is perfect, offering plenty of substrate depth for burrowers. As for arboreal or fossorial slings, the 32 oz version offers the extra height for climbers and substrate depth for diggers respectively.

Venting these is simple, as they are quite thin and the plastic easily perforated. Just heat up a nail on the stove top, grip it with pliers, and use it to make two or three rings of ventilation holes around the top. I usually space mine about 3/4″ inch apart in a  3/4-1″ band.

A couple simple deli cups.

A couple of simple deli cups.

Tip: For tiny slings, try using the 2 oz plastic souffle cups. These are usually crystal clear, secure, and much smaller than their 16 oz counterparts. They can also be bought or procured from delis or restaurants.

Amac boxes: These have become very popular in the past couple years, especially for folks who are handy and have some tools. They are crystal clear, very secure, come in a number of sizes, and are easily found at stores like the Hobby Lobby or online at the Container Store. For slings the 2 5/16″ x 2 5/16″ x 4 3/16 size is perfect. The plastic is quite thick on these, so burning holes in can be a bit of an issue. Most folks choose to either drill a series of vent holes with a drill or use a dremel tool to cut a large round hole and add an aluminum mesh vent.

Amac boxes, if modified and vented, can make good sling enclosures.

Amac boxes, if modified and vented, can make good sling enclosures.

These boxes can be a bit pricier than the other options, and the ventilation is a bit more difficult to accomplish. That said, they look gorgeous on a shelf. For an excellent tutorial into how to turn Amac boxes into tarantula habitats, click this link. Hobbyist Casey Peter does a great job of walking folks through it with step-by-step instructions.

Tip: If you’re using a new Amac box, try opening and closing it several times before you set if up for the spider. The tops can fit on quite tightly until they are loosened up a bit. This will make it much easier to open when you have your tarantula in it. 

And for those who don’t feel handy enough to make their own, Jamie’s Tarantulas sells pre-made ones with all of the fixings. It cost a bit more, but they work great and are ready to use right out of the box.

Three sling enclosures from Jamie's tarantulas. I have a dozen of these, and I love them.

Three sling enclosures from Jamie’s tarantulas. I have a dozen of these, and I love them.

Setting up the enclosure

Now that you’ve got your enclosure ventilated and ready to go, how do you set it up? What other materials do you need? Personally, I find setting up enclosures to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the hobby. That said, it’s important to remember that when slings are involved, the correct setup is paramount to the aesthetic of it. Let’s look at what you’ll need.

Substrate – There are many types of materials you can use for substrate, including coco coir, peat, and plain top soil.  For a detailed description of the pros and cons of each, click the link to read “Choosing the Right Substrate for Your Tarantula“. Any of these, or a combination of them, work just fine, although the coco coir is quite popular with many hobbyists.

Water dish – For slings 1/2″ or larger, I strongly encourage the use of a water dish if one will fit (more on this in a bit). For deli cup enclosures, the small bottle caps from bottled water work great. If using a smaller enclosure, spraying or drizzling water on the substrate is always an option. Still some folks have gotten quite creative by using things like small single block Legos and golf Ts for water dishes. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Cork bark – Spiderlings are nervous and reclusive creatures. After all, you have to figure that in the wild, the more they are seen, the better the chance they are preyed upon and eaten. Therefore, it’s always good to give them a place to hide. A small piece of cork bark can provide them with much appreciated cover and security.

Sphagnum moss – Sphagnum moss not only looks pretty in an enclosure, but it serves a couple valuable purposes. First, it holds moisture, so a keeper using spraying or dribbling to keep his pet hydrated will soak down the sphagnum to give the T a drink. Second, if cork bark isn’t available, it can serve as a makeshift hide for the slings, as many will crawl under it for cover.

Plastic/silk plant leaf – Again, another accessory that has more purpose than just the aesthetic. A plastic leaf can provide security for the tarantula as well as moisture. If you want to water your T but don’t have a water dish, spraying the plastic foliage is a great way to give your sling the opportunity to drink. For smaller enclosures, you can just lay the leaf on the substrate. For larger enclosures, most folks like to use hot glue to affix the leaves to the cork bark.

A piece of cork bark with a leaf hot glued onto it.

A piece of cork bark with a leaf hot glued onto it.

Now, unfortunately, some of the components will have to be purchased in “bulk”, as sphagnum moss is sold in bags and plastic leaves are usually plucked off of much larger plastic plants and vines. That said, this hobby is incredibly addictive, so just think of that bag and that plastic vine as a future investment.

Now that you have all of the components, here’s what you’ll need to do:

  1. Make sure that you have enough ventilation in your enclosure. You can’t drill or burn holes once the tarantula is inside, so if you think you might need more, add them now. If possible, make sure you have good cross-ventilation by putting the vent holes on the sides and not the top.
  2.  Add the substrate. If housing a terrestrial sling, you’ll want to fill at least two-thirds of the enclosure with packed down substrate. Although slings are lighter and less prone to injury from falling, you want to makes sure the height from the substrate to the top of the enclosure isn’t too high. A fall from too high, especially onto something hard like cork bark or a dish, can be fatal to a T. Also, notice the key phrase “packed down”. There is no need to leave the soil loose and fluffy; they can easily dig through it if they want. For an arboreal species, you don’t have to use quite as much substrate, but you still want to include enough to allow for burrowing (an inch or so is usually sufficient).
  3. Add a starter burrow or cork bark hide.  Personally, I like to use a utility knife to trim the cork bark a bit so that it fits neatly into a corner. For terrestrials, I will also use the handle of a paint brush to create a starter burrow beneath it. Most slings will scramble beneath to hide once being housed. For arboreals, I lean piece against the side of the enclosure at an angle. Fossorial, or burrowing species, will usually only need a starter burrow down the side of the enclosure. I use a pencil or the back of a paintbrush to make the tunnel straight down, then I pack the substrate good and tight around it. When I slip the brush or pencil out, the hole that remains is perfect for a shy little sling.
  4. If the leaf is not attached to the cork bark, add it now. In smaller setups, I’ve seen the leaf just planted in the substrate. This is fine, although if your little guy/gal is a digger, the fake foliage won’t stay up for long.
  5. Place a few pinches of sphagnum moss around the den.  Again, if you’re not able to include a hide, this is a great way to provide some security for your sling. If you go this route, create a starter burrow down the side of the enclosure for the sling.
  6. Finally, add and fill the water dish.  Nothing to this step; just push it down into a corner and fill it up with water. Viola…you’re done!


Tip: If using coco coir, especially damp, be sure to pack it down as tightly as you can. When it dries. coco fiber loses a lot of its volume. An enclosure with four inches of moist substrate to start will likely have only a couple of inches or so by the time it dries and settles. 

Receiving and unpacking  your sling

When slings arrive, they are usually safely cocooned in moist paper towel or tissue inside a plastic vial or, for the tiny ones, inside a piece of straw with paper plugs in each end. Because slings are very fragile and tiny, and it can be very difficult getting the paper towel lining out, extreme caution is needed when attempting to get the sling out of its travel packing and into its new home.

To remove the slings from the straws, simply pull the plug from both ends and set the straw in the enclosure. You can either let the sling come out on its own, or gently blow in one end to get it to come out.

For removing slings from the travel vials, I recommend using tweezers or tongs. Startled slings will sometimes bolt out, and you want to keep your finger away from them. Next, it’s time to carefully extract the packing material with the spider inside.

  1. First, pull the paper plug covering the hole if there is one (sometimes folks just fold over the paper towel to cover the opening.
  2. Next, get a grip on the edge of the towel while being very careful not to catch the spider or its legs.
  3. Once you have a really good grip, you want to very carefully pull out the entire cylinder of lining material at the same time. If the towel doesn’t come out in one chunk but instead starts to form a cone-like shape as the layers stretch out STOP IMMEDIATELY. If you continue to pull the towel you can constrict the tarantula, crushing it. It’s best to stop trying to extract it and instead let it come out on its own at this point.
  4. Once the paper towel or toilet paper is out, place it on the substrate and find the edge of the towel (it’s usually a flat piece rolled into a cylinder). Now, slowly start rolling it open. The unrolled paper towel can become quite long and cumbersome, so I will sometimes use scissors to carefully snip away sections of it as I unroll.
  5. When the spider is exposed, use a paintbrush to carefully guide it off the towel, or leave the small piece of towel it’s standing on behind and remove it later when the sling is exploring. Either works.

The video below shows the process many times (skip to 4:15 for the actually rehousings). Again, the key is to take your time and work very carefully around the fragile T.

If it’s too difficult to safely remove the packing and the sling, and if the enclosure offers enough room, your best bet is to place the opened vial inside and to let the animal come out on its own. Most will venture out if left in over night. Some vendors actually recommend that you use this method to rehouse the sling.

Tip: If your sling’s legs are curled or if it looks lethargic when you receive it, try putting it in a small container with some moistened paper towel and setting it aside in a warm corner of your home. Travel can be very stressful for Ts, and if they were not properly hydrated before their trip and the weather is warm (or, if it was too close to a heat pack), they can become dehydrated. Sometimes a good drink is all they need to spruce back up. Also, after being shipped in very cold or very warm temps, I like to unpack mine and let them adjust to my home’s temps for an hour or so before rehousing.

How long should you wait to try feeding it?

A lot of vendors will ask that you wait to feed your new slings for a couple of days or so after receiving them to let them acclimate and settle in. That’s actually a very prudent practice. After spending hours being bounced around on planes and trucks, they are suddenly deposited into brand new and alien environments. One would think they might need some time to calm down and adjust.

I have to admit, however, that I try feeding most of mine the same night to get a small meal in them after their shipping ordeal. I’ve found that tarantulas are incredibly resilient, and most will eat that same night.

Keeping your slings hydrated

One of the reasons slings are more susceptible to dehydration is that they lack the waxy coating on their exoskeletons that their juvenile and adult counterparts have. This layer helps the tarantula retain moisture and protects it from drying out. Until this coating develops, usually after several molts, it is much easier for a sling to die from desiccation. Although the so-called arid species are much more resistant to dry conditions, the slings can still run the risk of drying out. This can be a particular danger in the winter time when furnaces and fireplaces are heating homes and severely drying out the air. It’s important that all slings, even those who supposedly thrive in dry conditions, stay hydrated.

But how to do it?

Start by using water dishes. I use water dishes in just about all of my sling enclosures that I can fit them in, and I strongly advocate that others use them as well. Unfortunately, there is a persistent rumor that says that tarantula slings can drown in water dishes. Well, long story short, that’s just not true (for a more in-depth explanation, please check out the article Tarantula Controversies – Should I Give My Tarantula a Water Dish). And the benefit they add by affording a source of drinking water and extra humidity make them invaluable, in my opinion. Many keepers will often overflow the water dishes to also give the spiders a moist spot of substrate as well.

As for what to use for water dishes, the lids for plastic water bottles work fantastically well. They are small, blend into the enclosure well, and can be recycled if they get soiled. For spiders less than .5″, I’ve heard of folks getting quite creative. Some examples are:

  • Golf tees –  Chop off the spike to length, plant them in the substrate, and fill the top with water.
  • Legos – Apparently, the tiny round single-peg pieces make for good dishes!
  • Plastic pill capsules – You know those little plastic blister cards that you have to pop your pills out of? Well, some hobbyists carefully trim each of those little recessed disks off and use them as dishes.

The fact is, for a keeper who wants to make sure her slings have water at all times, there are many options.

A 32 oz deli cup arboreal setup with a bottle cap water dish.

A 32 oz deli cup arboreal setup with a bottle cap water dish.

Tip: It’s often easier to toss than to clean tiny water bowls, so it’s good to have many on hand, even with smaller collections. A good way to get a bunch quickly is to buy 12 packs of bottled water, either for personal consumption or to use for watering your spiders. 

Another common way to provide moisture to slings is by spraying or misting.  This is an age-old method that has probably been around as long as the hobby. It’s also fairly simple to do.  Open the top, spray a few squirts on the side of the enclosure, the plastic foliage, and the corner of the substrate — done.  Those who put sphagnum moss in their enclosures will also want to spray that down as well, as the moss will retain moisture for longer.

A spray bottle with an adjustable nozzle is a handy tool for misting and filling water dishes.

A spray bottle with an adjustable nozzle is a handy tool for misting, soaking substrate, and filling water dishes.

It’s important for keepers that use this method to come up with a regular schedule, as sprayed water can evaporate quickly leaving a small window for raised humidity and the availability of drinking water.  In the warm summer months or during the winter when the furnace is running non stop, it may be necessary to spray more often. For those who choose this method, the trick is to add some water without saturating the entire enclosure. Enclosures that are too moist and stuffy can be a death trap for slings. It takes experimentation and practice, but it can be an effective water delivery system.

Tip: As an alternative to spraying and misting, some keepers will instead “make it rain”. Instead of just spritzing the inside of the enclosure, some will instead sprinkle water over all or part of the substrate to simulate a rain shower. The water is then allowed to soak into the substrate, keeping it moister and providing humidity for much longer. This can be done by poking holes in the top of a plastic water or juice bottle and using it as a watering jug.

Some keepers choose to keep all of their small slings on moist substrate. The theory here is that all slings, due to their lack of that waxy layer, can benefit from a moist environment. Whether it be a traditional moisture-loving species like H. gigas or an arid species like the G. rosea, keepers who favor this method make sure they all have a moist and warm home. Then, as the more arid species  molt toward maturity and develop that protective coating, they allow the cages for those spiders to dry out.

Keeping all or just part of the substrate moist for all species means a more humid environment with less spraying. For keepers who are concerned about their Ts drying out, this leaves a much larger margin for error. If a keeper forgets to spray for a bit, the moisture that is slowly evaporating from the substrate can keep the humidity up so that the spider doesn’t become dehydrated.

My own practices

First off, almost all of my slings get water dishes. I’ve personally seen many of them drink, and I like the extra defense against dehydration they afford me. With most species, I will also overflow the dish, giving them a moist spot of substrate. For the two that don’t currently have them, I keep a portion of the substrate moistened and dribble water on the sphagnum and fake leaves for drinking once a week or so. As soon as these two are rehoused into larger enclosures, they will get dishes.

For my moisture-dependent species like O. violaceopes, H. gigas, T. stirmi, and C. lividum, I provide deep moist substrate, keeping the bottom layers moist at all times. To do this, I start with moist substrate in the enclosure, then I use the “rain” method (using a water bottle modified with several holes in the top to periodically simulate a rain shower) to re-wet it when it starts to dry out. I generally only have to do this a few times during the summer months, and once a month or so during the winter.  Ideally, you want the water to filter down the sides and deep into the substrate to keep the bottom levels moist.

I’ve also found a way that works for me to keep the moisture in the enclosure up for arid species while avoiding overly moist enclosures. When I pack the substrate into a new sling enclosure, I start with an inch or two (depending on the depth of the container) of moist sub mixed with a bit of vermiculite. I pack this down well, then fill the cage up the rest of the way with dry sub. Next, I make a starter burrow down the side of the enclosure for the new occupant. This keeps the top level dry, and allows the sling to use its instinctual burrowing behavior to dig down and find the humidity level it needs.

I first tried this technique with an Aphonopelma anax sling that was not settling in well after a couple of months in my care. The poor sling cowered in the corner, did not dig, did not eat, and didn’t seem to be thriving like my other slings. Even when I moistened a corner, the sling didn’t show a preference for it.

One night, I made a little trench down the corner of its enclosure to the bottom and poured water in, allowing it to moisten just the lower 1/2″ of dirt or so. The next day, I was shocked to discover that the sling had dug all the way down to the bottom and constructed a burrow in just a few hours time. Encouraged by this development, I dropped a roach in to see if it would eat. Within five minutes time, it was enjoying the first meal it had eaten in my care.

I’ve used this technique with several slings now, and I’ve had Brachypelma, Grammostola, and Aphonopelma species burrow down to take advantage of a moister burrow. When I add water to the substrate, I use the back of a paint brush to create a series of furrows down the side of the enclosure, then I carefully pour water down the side and allow it to drain through to the bottom. In fact, this is the same technique I use to keep the substrate in my moisture dependent species’ enclosures damp.

Keepers should use their discretion to come up with a system that works for them. Many will employ all three methods — moist substrate, water dishes, and spraying — in various measures to ensure the best possible care. For example, one might give their sling a moist spot of substrate AND a water dish. Or, I’ve heard of folks that keep arboreal species giving them water dishes on the ground and an occasional spritz on the top of the enclosure to let them grab a drink up high. The trick is to make sure that your tarantula remains properly hydrated without creating dank and potentially dangerous conditions.

Tip: In the winter, the furnace and wood stoves can really take the moisture out of the air, leaving humidity levels in your home very low. One way to protect your slings’ enclosures from drying out too quickly is to make a “sling nursery”. To do this, take a large plastic container with a lid and vent it around the sides. Place folded paper towels on the bottom, and then a smaller open container of water inside it. Now, place your sling containers around this water container and put the lid on. The water in the center reservoir will evaporate out, keeping the humidity inside the nursery higher than the outside. This will keep the moisture from evaporating out of your sling cages too quickly, thus protecting your Ts. 

An example of a sling nursery.

An example of a sling nursery.


Many folks like to keep their slings at higher temperatures, whether it be to encourage growth or because they believe that they will suffer health issues if kept cooler. I’ve read many care sheets from hobbyists and dealers alike that indicate that tarantula spiderlings must be kept in the 80s due to their fragility and need for more heat than their adult counterparts.

There are a couple of issues with this. First, most species don’t come from regions where it is always 80° or higher all year round. They come from areas where the temperatures can fluctuate a great deal. Even many of the so-called tropical species experience weather in the 60s. Then, if you factor in their burrowing, which has them underground where temps can be much cooler, and you see how this sweet spot of 80° or higher is likely an arbitrary number.

It’s also important to consider that the higher the temperatures, the more likely the chances of the spiderling dehydrating. Hotter air can mean faster evaporation, which can lead to a desiccated tarantula. In this scenario, the warmer temps would warrant more spraying and more filling of the water bowls. Definitely something to keep in mind if you’re keeping slings at higher temps.

Many keepers new to slings will immediately panic if the temps drop into the 70s and resort to alternative heating methods, like heat mats, to jack up the “dangerously low” temps. Not only is this usually completely unnecessary, but it can be dangerous to the slings as well. It’s very difficult heating a tiny enclosure safely, as heat lamps and mats can quickly overheat and dry out an enclosure.

Here’s the deal; most slings will do just fine at room temperature. I’ve personally raised dozens of slings, and it rarely hits 80 in my tarantula room. Furthermore, in the winter, temperatures usually hover between 70-72° during the nights, with an occasional drop into the high 60s. I’ve had no issues with slings dying from the temps or with my growth rates. Most continue to molt and eat right through the winter, albeit at a slower rate than they do in the warm summer months.

Does this mean it’s wrong to keep them at higher temps? Absolutely not. If a keeper has a way to safely maintain higher and consistent temps with his slings, then he or she can certainly do so. Some folks actually have tarantula rooms that they can heat separately from the rest of their homes, often with a space heater regulated by a thermostat. This is a safe and effective way to elevate temperatures consistently, and these keepers then can enjoy faster spider growth.

However, it is not a necessity.

Plenty of folks keep their slings in a range between 68-75° with no issues or deaths. The majority of species do just fine. The nice thing about sling enclosures is that they are small, so if one room is a bit too chilly, it’s not too difficult to find a warm spot in the house and keep them there.

Although It’s also important to remember that keeping slings at room temperature will not cause adverse affects, it should be mentioned that sustained temperatures in the cooler range can lead to lower metabolisms. So tarantulas consistently kept in low temps may experience the following:

  • Slower growth rates
  • Decreased appetites
  • Seasonal fasting

Of course, all species of tarantulas experience seasonal shifts in the wild, so this would be quite natural for a good majority of them.

My animals are all kept 70-75° in the winter, and 75-80° in the summer months. On occasion, the temps may dip to 68 for a night or two in the winter, or rise to the mid 80s in the summer. However, these two extremes are quite rare. A nighttime drop in temperature is also quite natural and not an issue.

Tip: If the temps in your home are just too low and you need to use an extra heat source, do NOT try to heat sling enclosures individually. If possible, use a space heater to heat the entire room. They’re relatively inexpensive, reliable, and deliver even heat that can be controlled by built-in thermostats. If you can’t use a space heater, anther way to go is to use a heat mat with a rheostat to heat a larger enclosure, like a 10 gallon aquarium, to ensure even heat inside. Then you can just place the sling enclosures inside this larger heated one. Folks who use this method carefully monitor the temps inside and will use a rheostat with a thermometer attachment to make sure the interior temps stays consistent. Those who go this route will often include a large open bowl of water inside as well to keep the air from drying out. As the water in the bowl evaporates, it will keep the humidity inside this “incubator” up.  A plastic cover with vent holes, not the common wire mesh ones sold at pet stores, will be needed for the large tank to maintain this micro-climate. 

Feeding Tarantula Slings

Now that you have your enclosure all set up and your new little acquisition inside, it’s time for the next major cause of anxiety — feeding. Perhaps your sling is so small that you’re afraid that you can’t find prey small enough. Or, maybe you’re staring at your 1/2″ spider wondering if it can possibly subdue and eat the 1″ cricket you just purchased from the pet store. Or, you could be standing in the reptile aisle at the pet store trying to figure out which of the five varieties of prey insects for sale would be appropriate for your little ward. We’ll now tackle some of the common and stressful questions a new spiderling keeper may have.

What do I feed my sling? The answer to this may seem obvious at first, but there are a lot of feeders available and a lot of misinformation out there about which feeder insect is best for your tarantulas. The fact is, any and all of the commonly available feeder bugs can be an appropriate feeder for your new spider. Commonly used insects include crickets, mealworms, super worms, B. dubia roaches, and B. lateralis (“red runner”) roaches. All of these will make a great meal for your tarantula. (for a more in-depth examination of this topic, check out “Tarantula Feeding — What, When, and How Much to feed”). For those really tiny slings, flightless fruit flies is also an option.

I’ve heard folks argue that certain feeder bugs are more “nutritious” for spiders than others, but I honestly find this a bit silly. I have a hard time believing that scientists actually studied the ideal nutritional requirements of spiders — heck, they haven’t even properly identified most species yet. If you’re worried that your prey item might not be the healthiest alternative for your T, then feel free to mix it up with other bugs and give it a variety of feeders. I like to mix it up myself, using crickets, mealworms, dubias, red runners, and hissers at different times.

What size should I feed them? Let’s start by looking at the size of the sling you are trying to feed. Slings less than 1/3″ can be difficult to find suitable live prey for. One appropriate and readily available option is flightless fruit flies. They are about 1/16″ long and are usually sold in cultures that would feed a few of the tiniest slings for quite a while.

Flightless fruit fliesBut what if you can’t find flightless fruit flies? Well, in the wild, most slings will resort to scavenge feeding, meaning they will feed off of larger prey that something else killed.  The good new is, they will readily do this in captivity as well, meaning that feeding a tiny sling can be quite simple. Can’t find a small enough prey item? No problem! Just take a small cricket, roach, or meal worm, pre-kill it, and drop it in. If the items are overly large, you can use a knife to cut them up into smaller pieces. For example, a large cricket leg would be a great meal for a 1/3″ sling. Is it gross? Yes. But for smaller slings, it’s an easy and effective way to make sure that they feed (and, it’s a lot easier than dealing with the fruit flies!).

For larger slings, 1/2″ or larger, dubia or red runner nymphs or pinhead crickets work great. Personally, I use small red runners for my smallest slings, as they are quite small and run around, making for a tempting meal.

As how to gauge what size to feed, I’ve heard quite a few “rules of thumb” on how to select a prey item. For most tarantulas, it’s best to feed them items that are shorter than the total length of their bodies. The majority of species will have no problem subduing prey items this size, and you’ll run less of a risk of the animal getting spooked by the size of the prey. It also never hurts to start much smaller, then try increasing the size of the prey if need be. I will often start my slings on very tiny prey to make sure they get a couple of meals in them, then increase the size after a few feedings.

Tip: Are there species that buck this rule? Sure. I’ve noticed that Phormictopus, Pamphobeteus, Theraphosa, Hapalopus, and Poecilotheria species seem to have no difficulty hunting prey larger than their bodies. However, to start out, it’s always best to go smaller. Let the tarantulas get a few meals in them before experimenting with a larger size. Larger prey can spook some species and put them off feeding. 

FEEDING-CHARTIllustration © 2016 Tom Moran

How much and  how often should I feed? A huge debate currently wages on over what constitutes “power feeding” and whether or not it is harmful to the spider. I’m not going to wade into that here, but those interested in hearing my take on it can read the article “Power Feeding Tarantulas”.

In the wild, slings will eat whenever they can. After all, in this tiny stage, they are more vulnerable to weather and predation from other animals, so it behooves them to put on size as quickly as possible. In our homes, a similar situation applies because their fragility makes them more vulnerable to husbandry mistakes. As we’ve already determined that slings are a bit more delicate than their adult counterparts, many keepers choose to get them out of the “sling” stage as quickly as possible. If this is the route you want to take, then feeding them small meals 2 or even 3 times a week is a great way to go. With this schedule, some of the faster-growing species like Lasiodora parahybana, the GBB, Hapalopus sp. Colombia large, and Phormictopus cancerides will be safely in the juvenile stage in no time.

Just keep in mind that if you choose to practice a more ambitious feeding schedule, you’ll want to make sure you have warmer temps to support it. Temps in the low high 60s to low 70s will slow a tarantulas metabolism, often affecting appetite and growth rate. Ideally, you’d want temps in the mid 70s or more for such an aggressive feeding schedule. Also, some species, like those in the genera Grammostola and Brachypelma, might not take that many meals regardless.

Most keepers that feed this often only do so until the tarantula hits about 1.5-2″ or so. At that point, they will shift to a once a week or even a bi-weekly schedule. The idea is to get the spider out of the delicate sling stage quickly, not to rush it to maturity.

Do I have to feed my tarantula that often?  The fact is, Ts have evolved to go without food for long stretches without experiencing ill effects. In the wild, some species likely go weeks or even months without food. Now, does that mean you should withhold food from your animal for that duration? No. But it does mean that they do not need to be fed as often as other pets. Many hobbyists feed their slings once a week or bi-weekly, and their animals are quite healthy.  Also, if you’re feeding your specimen prey on the larger side, you might want to consider feeding less often. A keeper can use her discretion to come up with a feeding schedule that works for her.

What happens if it doesn’t eat? 

Now, on occasion a sling may not eat. Although this may be cause for alarm, it is often a normal behavior. Here are some reasons why a sling  might not eat.

It hasn’t settled in. Although most tarantulas will eat soon after a rehousing, some take time to adjust to their new homes. If your sling is cowering in a corner with its legs pulled up over its body, it might be too stressed to eat. Give it time to burrow or web and you’ll likely have better luck.

It’s fasting. Many species, including Aphonopelmas, Brachypelmas, and Grammostolas will fast when their instinct or internal clocks tell them the cooler winter months have begun. When this happens, there is nothing you can do but make sure they have fresh water and try offering them something once a week or so to gauge their appetite.

It’s in premolt. When tarantulas have eaten enough to trigger the beginning of the molting process, most will stop eating. If they’ve been eating great only to suddenly show no interest in food, especially if their abdomens are plump, dark, and/or shiny, then a molt is likely imminent. Make sure that they have water and keep a corner of the substrate moist and wait for the molt. After the molt, be sure to give them several days to a week to harden up before offering food again.

They are intimidated by the size of the prey. Occasionally, small slings can be spooked by the live prey you drop in. When this happens, the tarantula can throw up its first two pairs of walking legs in a threat pose or even run and hide from the prey. If you suspect this is the issue, it’s best to try feeding it something smaller. Or, offer it pre-killed prey to see if it will eat.

They don’t like the particular prey item being offered. Although most tarantulas seem to eat crickets no problem, I’ve had some specimens that wouldn’t touch other prey items like roaches or mealworms. If your T isn’t eating what you’re offering, try switching up the type of feeder you give it.

The conditions aren’t right. If your spiderling is still not eating and you’ve ruled out the other possibilities, then it’s possible that the setup conditions aren’t right for it. You should ask yourself the following:

  • Is it too hot? Too cold?
  • Does it have a hide?
  • Is the setup correct?
  • Is it too moist or dry?

If you’re still not sure what the issue is, try asking a more seasoned keeper for a second opinion. Sometimes it just takes a second set of “eyes” to figure out a possible issue.

Maintenance for Slings

Because they are so small, maintenance for slings is usually quite simple. Here’s the simple routine I practice and recommend. For each feeding, do a quick spot check that includes the following:

Check for boluses — These are the little white, jagged, crusty remnants of the tarantula’s last meal; the compacted, desiccated remains of its prey. For slings, boluses can be quite tiny and difficult to spot. However, many specimens will stack all of their boluses in a particular corner or in their water dishes. When you can find them, use a pair of tongs or plastic spoon to remove them. They are relatively harmless in most cases, but if they get wet, they can be a source of mold and can attract gnats.

Two boluses - look for the little white and crusty balls left behind after a T eats.

Two boluses – look for the little whitish and crusty balls left behind after a T eats.

Clean and fill the water dish — Tarantulas are notorious for sullying their water dishes, so although filling them with clean water might be easy, keeping them clean is another story. Some use them as toilets and some seem to think that they are dumpsters. Others just appear to enjoy heaping mounds of substrate in an on top of them. When dropping in a feeder, make sure that the bowl is full and, if need be, pluck it out to clean or replace it.

Remove any molts (only if possible) — If your spider has molted recently, and you have easy access to the molt, you can carefully pluck it out. Be careful removing it, however, as they are often caught up and webbing and can pull a lot of substrate and webbing out with them. DO NOT try to pull it out if the freshly-molted spider is still sitting on it; this will disturb and possibly injure the animal. Also, if the molt is in a burrow or stuck in the webbing, as might be the case with an Avicularia species, leave it for the time being. Contrary to popular belief, there is no rush in getting the shed out. In fact, some fossorial species work the pieces of their molts into the walls of their dens. In these instances, you may never see a molt. Don’t worry; they pose no danger to the spider, and they will not rot or mold.

Premolt and Molting

In order to grow, tarantulas must periodically shed their old exoskeletons. Once the molting process is triggered, the tarantula will enter premolt. During this time, the spider may display the following signs:

1. The tarantula stops eating — This is probably the most obvious and common sign. You’ve been feeding your specimen regularly for several weeks, and suddenly it stops eating. Most species will stop feeding during their premolt period (although there are exceptions) as they prepare their bodies for the arduous process.

2. The tarantula has a fat shiny abdomen — Most tarantulas ready for premolt will sport nice, plump abdomens up to 1.5 times the size of their carapace (or even larger for an over-stuffed specimen). If your tarantula has a nice, bulbous booty, and she has stopped eating, chances are she’s in premolt. As the flesh around the area stretches, the abdomen may also appear to be shiny.

The shininess is often more evident in slings than their older, much hairier counterparts. My little G. pulchripes, G. rosea, and L. parahybana slings all get “shiny hineys” whenever they are entering premolt. My P. cancerides slings and juveniles look like little grapes ready to pop when they are in premolt.

G. rosea sling in premolt. Notice the large, shiny, and dark abdomen.

G. rosea sling in premolt. Notice the large, shiny, and dark abdomen.

3. The tarantula’s abdomen and overall color darken — As the new exoskeleton forms under the old one, the spider will often darken up a bit. This is particularly evident on the abdomen where new hairs can be seen through the stretched skin here. Many of my slings will have a dark spot on their abdomens when in premolt, and it will continue to grow the closer they get to the actual molt.

4. The tarantula becomes slower and more lethargic — Not all of the indicators are physical; an observant keeper should notice some behavioral changes as well. Besides not eating, most of my tarantulas that are in premolt become less active and often more secretive. Keep an eye on your tarantula, and along with the physical signs listed above, look for a change in behavior. Some of my most hyper species become noticeably sluggish when they are in premolt. For example, my GBBs tend to be fast little buggers who are constantly moving around their enclosures. However, when in premolt, they often become much more sedentary, sitting in one spot and often tucking themselves away behind their cork bark. Speaking of secretive…

5. The tarantulas has buried itself in its den — Many tarantulas will retreat to their burrows and close of the entrances when entering a premolt period. My LP slings, M. balfouri slings, and G. pulchripes slings all bury themselves before a molt. Some things to consider if your T buries itself due to premolt.

They are not in danger.

They will not suffocate.

They have not been buried alive.

They do not need to be rescued.

The tarantula is just looking for some privacy and security during this vulnerable period. The tarantula will reopen its den once is has molted and hardened up. DO NOT freak out and try to dig the poor creature out; you only run the risk of distressing the animal and possibly interrupting its molt.

For a more detailed explanation of molting and its signs, check out the article How Do I Know My Tarantula is In Premolt?

6. The tarantula has constructed a hammock-like web “mat” in its enclosure — This web is referred to as a “molt mat”, and it is where the tarantula will flip over on its back when it molts. You may catch your premolt T laying layer after layer of web in a small area, and some of the new world species will actually kick hairs on the web as a form of protection. If you see this behavior, it means that your tarantula is about to molt very soon, usually within a day. For arboreal species, they will sometime build elevated “hammocks” off the ground for their molt mats or seal themselves in their funnel webs. This behavior serves the same purpose.

When you think that your tarantula is in premolt, make sure it has a full water dish, moisten a corner (if the substrate isn’t damp already), and wait it out. If your spider is refusing food, wait a week before trying again, and don’t leave the food in overnight as a cricket can actually attack and kill a molting T.

If you ever find your spider on its back, DO NOT touch it. It is molting and needs to be left alone to finish the process in peace. Never poke, prod, spray or blow on it, and NEVER try to flip it over. Interrupting the process can injure or kill the tarantula.

Once the tarantulas completes the molt, it will need several days to harden back up. During this time, the fangs are still soft, so it will be unable to hunt and eat. Do not offer food for at least four days to a week to make sure that it is fully ready to eat.

How often do they molt?

It honestly depends on a lot of factors, including:

  • The species — Some species are much faster growers than others.
  • The size of the specimen — The larger tarantulas get, the more time you can expect between molts.
  • The feeding schedule — Spiders fed more often will likely molt more often.
  • Temperatures — Higher temps speed up the spider’s metabolism, leading to a faster growth rate.

For many slings, expect a molt every six weeks to two months or so. Again, this is just a very rough estimate; some may molt faster and some might molt much more slowly.

How long will it take my tiny sling to look like an adult?

This question comes up quite a bit as it requires a fair measure of patience to raise a tarantula from a spiderling to an adult. It is also an incredibly rewarding experience to raise one of these animals to maturity. However, for those who want a big hairy spider to show off, the wait can be difficult. Unfortunately, the only truthful answer to that question is, “It depends.”

First off, different species grow at different rates. I have a Brachypelma albopilosum sling that has grown approximately 1/2″ in almost two years time. On the other hand, I have a Theraphosa stirmi that went from a 1.5″ sling to a 7.5″ adult in roughly the same amount of time. Truth is, some species can mature in just over a year, and others can take several years to reach maturity.

There are so many other factors that can contribute to a tarantulas growth rate like the specimen’s genetics, the temperatures it’s kept at, and the feeding schedule. In reality, there are just so many variables, that it’s difficult to make generalizations. If you’re truly curious as to how long it will take for your particular specimen to mature, speak to some keepers who have raised the species and ask about their experience with it.

Finally, some behaviors you may observe

Finally, I offer a brief FAQ featuring some of the common questions new sling keepers have asked me about.

Why is my tarantula climbing the walls? Tarantulas can take some time to acclimate to their new surroundings, and many will take to exploring their new environments upon being rehoused. This can often lead to climbing or hiding up in the top corner of an enclosure. If the tarantula is terrestrial or fossorial, it should eventually come down. If it doesn’t, then there is a possibility that the substrate is too moist or, in some cases, too fluffy.

My sling is burrowing … is there something wrong with it? Easiest question to answer ever. NO. Seriously, this one gets asked all the time, as burrowing slings can really cause those new to the hobby serious anxiety. Burrowing is a very natural behavior for most species of slings as, in the wild, it behooves them to stay out of sight. Burrows can also protect them from inclement weather conditions. Many slings will spend several molts underground, only to eventually emerge after they’ve put on some size.

Tip: If your tarantula burrows, don’t dig it up or shove prey down the den opening; drop the prey on the surface and let the spider find it. You don’t have to worry about the tarantula not knowing the cricket is up there; they are adept at sensing the slightest vibrations from above. If they are hungry, they will come up and eat. If you’re still concerned that your T might have missed the meal, leave a pre-killed item at the mouth of the den. 

My sling has covered up/webbed up its burrow … is it okay? When a tarantula webs up or buries the opening of its burrow, it is not in any danger. In fact, that is your spider’s way of basically saying “do not disturb.” For many species, this means they are entering the premolt stage and want security and privacy for their molt. For some, like Aphonopelma species, it may mean that they are secreting themselves away for the cold winter months. This is natural behavior and unless it has been a very extended period of time (I’m talking a month or more here for slings), keepers should never dig them up.

Why is my tarantula hanging out over the water dish? Most likely because it’s too dry. When a tarantula camps out over its water dish, it’s a sign that it’s craving moisture. Whether it be because the animal is in premolt or the humidity is dangerously low your home, action is needed. Your best bet is to moisten down a portion of the substrate with water to give your T more moisture and humidity.

What are these strange white dots on the walls and/or in the water dish?  If they are hard and smear when wet, then congrats…you’ve just seen your first spider poop! This is a common question, as most of us probably didn’t give much thought to what tarantulas turds would look like. When they deposit them into a water dish, they can look like tiny little white stones, which can really be disconcerting to some folks.

My sling isn’t webbing … is there something wrong with it? Some species will blanket their enclosures with thick white webbing. Others will produce barely any. If you have what is considered a heavy-webbing species (P. murinus, GBB, A. versicolor, etc.) that isn’t webbing, it just might not be settled in yet. Some species take longer than others to get started, and it can take a spider several weeks or more to lay down the thick webbing that you see in photos. And, there’s always the oddball who may never web. It usually doesn’t meant that there is anything wrong with the animal.


Tarantula Controversies – Should You Give Tarantulas Water Dishes?


Recently, I sat down to write an article about some of the divisive, hot-button topics that dog the tarantula hobby and often ensnare uninitiated keepers in heated debates. These are subjects that new hobbyists are often interested in learning about, but an internet search or an innocent forum query produces two equally heated and opposing answers. My hope with this feature is to present both sides of these gray-area arguments so that keepers can develop their own informed opinions and make equally informed decisions. For the third installment, I’ve decided to take on the topic of using water dishes with tarantulas.


Just recently, a popular YouTube enthusiast posted a video about a “sick” Poecilotheria that he had found in a semi-death curl. After plucking the poor creature out and putting it into a tarantula ICU with plenty of water, the animal quickly perked up. Whew…his quick thinking saved the day and miraculously cured the animal of its mystery malady! However, while the crux of this particular post was how he valiantly saved his pets life by using a tarantula ICU, there was a much more important and overlooked lesson to be gleaned from the experience. Many commenters were quick to point out that that his Pokie was kept on bone dry substrate and didn’t have a water dish. The poor animal was obviously suffering from dehydration. If the keeper had only taken the time to make sure his T had access to fresh water the entire time, he wouldn’t have found it in such a precarious state.

The root of the issue seemed so obvious to me, and to many.

But amazingly, none of this was really addressed by the keeper in the video, and he actually sounded dumbfounded at the end as to what could have caused the issue, even though he did mention dehydration as a possible cause. I’m not sure if this was an isolated issue and the keeper did normally supply water dishes (although I think that he might have mentioned that he mists). The fact that he didn’t immediately have an AH-HA! moment and publicly express regret or understanding over his husbandry mishap was a bit mind-boggling.

Even more confounding to me was some misinformed souls responding to the “pro water dish” crowd with comments like, “Most Ts don’t drink from dishes, get informed”, and “Tarantulas can drown in their water dishes”.  Even when others tried to explain why just misting wasn’t enough and how tarantulas absolutely will drink from dishes, one poster didn’t relent in his/her misguided attacks.

This recent event reminded me that the debate over tarantulas and water dishes still raged on.


And the debate rages on…


This question is a fairly simple one; should keepers give their tarantulas water dishes, or are they useless accessories?

Although the issue seems pretty cut and dry, discussions over it can still lead to some rather heated and nasty debates. Having raised and cared for animals for years — including goats, sheep, snakes, cats, dogs, among others — I always understood that there was at least one husbandry requirement for all of them…

…they all need water to live.

Therefore, when I first got heavy into the tarantula hobby, it seemed obvious that I would have to provide moisture for my spiders. And, when it came down to it, the easiest way to do it seemed to be by using a dish. But after doing some reading, I discovered that folks were split on how necessary they were.

Many argued that adults didn’t need dishes because they got all the moisture they needed from their prey or from light spraying. Others argued that using dishes with slings was dangerous as they could easily drown in them. A few even indicated that tarantulas wouldn’t use dishes, so it was a waste of time to supply them.

On the other side were the pro-dish folks who believed that good tarantula husbandry included water dishes, as conscientious keepers would ensure their pets always had access to water. They argued even the tiniest slings could benefit from them, as the idea that they could drown was preposterous. Furthermore, they point to that fact that water dishes can have benefits even if the spider doesn’t drink from them, including raising the humidity for moisture dependent species.

So, which side is correct? Do all tarantulas, including slings, benefit from having water dishes? Or is giving a T a water dish a waste of time? As always, the answer might be somewhere in the middle. Below are the arguments and counter arguments and how they usually break down. For clarity, stances supporting the use of water dishes will be in GREEN; stances against will be in RED.

Let’s start with the slings...

Slings should not be given water dishes as they are drowning hazards. Mention giving water dishes to slings, and you’re likely to have plenty of well-meaning keepers tell you that you are putting your pets at risk. They argue that giving a tarantula under 1.5-2″ a water dish is much like leaving a baby unattended in a bath tub (read: a recipe for disaster). I’ve had folks tell me stories about how friends’ tarantulas have drowned in their water dishes, or they stopped using them after repeatedly losing slings to them. In a couple stories, the ill-fated T attempted to molt in the water dish, and died as a result. Although many will concede that incidences of supposed sling drownings are hard to find, they question any keeper who would want to take the chance and risk it.

Folks in this crowd will advocate spraying  as a way to keep your T happy and hydrated without risking an accidental drowning. They believe that misting the sides of the enclosure a few times a week is sufficient and much safer. Folks in this camp often stick to a scheduled misting/spraying routine of two or three times a week to keep their wee ones hydrated.

Contrary to popular belief, healthy slings are not at serious risk of drowning.  Let’s get this out of the way; is it physiologically possible for a tarantula spiderling to drown or suffocate in water? Of course. However, is it likely? NO. Here’s the deal: slings float. Not only do they have little hairs that serve to repel water, but they are so light that they don’t break through the surface tension of the water and sink. Do enough research, and you’ll find many photos of baby tarantulas floating and skittering atop of large bodies of water. Couple that with the fact that they require very little oxygen to survive and can go without breathing for quite some time, and it becomes very apparent that you would basically have to hold one under water for hours to drown it (and, there are some species that will sit underwater for hours and still be fine when they emerge). Older specimens are even able to create air bubbles around their book lungs to protect them from suffocating in water. There have even been some keepers who have experimented with what happens when a sling is put in a larger body of water; the results show that the animal really isn’t in much immediate peril.

When the subject of water dishes comes up, the pro-dish crowd is quick to point out that having a constant available water source is even more important for slings. Small slings are much more fragile due to that fact that it takes them a few instars to develop the protective waxy coating that helps them retain moisture and prevents dehydration. Although misting supplies a water source for up to a couple hours after the act, it does not give the the slings a permanent water source. Therefore, a keeper who sprays twice weekly is only giving his/her sling access to water a small percentage of the time. Using water dishes, on the other hand, allows the T to drink whenever it needs to, eliminating the much more serious and realistic potential of it dying from dehydration.

Tarantulas don’t have water dishes in the wild, so they don’t need them in captivity.  This is an argument that comes up quite a bit. Some keepers will point out that, in their natural habitats, tarantulas don’t have the luxury of water dishes. And, as many come from harsh, hot, arid regions with little rainfall, their is no need for supplemental water sources. These are not mammals that require water daily to survive; most of these creatures are like little arachnid camels, with some able to survive indefinitely with no water source.

Those who don’t use dishes will also point out that many tarantulas have demonstrated the ability to subsist on the moisture they obtain through their prey items. Folks who insist on including dishes are just cluttering their enclosures and wasting their time. If a keeper is worried about the T getting a drink, a couple squirts from the mister will do the trick.

Sure, they don’t have dishes in nature…but they have rain, puddles, streams, etc.  It’s absolutely true that tarantulas do not have little plastic dishes or ceramic dishes of water in the wild. However, comparing captive life to life in the wild is like comparing apples and softballs. For example, in the wild they don’t live in glass or plastic cages with regulated temperatures and giant humans that consistently drop food in for them.

In their natural environments, many of these animals have access to plenty of water sources. Even some of the most arid regions get rain on occasion, and rain forest and tropical species get plenty of rainfall, leaving puddles and dripping foliage full of water behind. The fact is, they do have access to water at various times.

Also, although they may be able to subsist on getting moisture from their prey, it would be difficult to argue that this is ideal for many of them. And, of course, this begs an important question; namely, are we trying to provide them with their natural conditions or the closest to ideal conditions we can in captivity. In nature, these animals must deal with harsh temperatures, drought, flooding, and the threat of predation. In many instances, these animals have adapted to their harsh environments by being able to survive without water. Does this mean they they wouldn’t benefit from having water whenever they want it? No. Unless a keeper is going through unusual (and possibly, cruel) lengths to ensure his setup is 100% authentic, then it makes sense to give them the most comfortable setup possible. This means access to fresh water whenever they need it, and what better way to do that than a water dish.

Tarantulas won’t use water dishes. I’ve actually heard this one quite a bit lately. I spend a lot of time on YouTube watching videos by other keepers, and occasionally someone will point out that a keeper should think about giving his or her wards dishes. Responses from other commenters in defense of the keeper are often along the lines of, “Tarantulas can’t drink from bowls” or “Not all tarantulas will use them.” Some use the theory that they’ve never witnessed one of their spiders drink, therefore, they must not use the bowls. Others even insinuate that no tarantula can use an open water dish as they are just incapable.These folks feel that supplying these artificial water sources is ridiculous and pointless. 

Why, yes…YES they will. As they say, a picture is worth a 1,000 words (and I’m way past 1,000 words already), so allow me to retort on behalf of the pro dish crowd.

A very special thanks to Jesse Thibodeau for these amazing photos!

All joking aside, many tarantulas have no problem using dishes. Just because you don’t see them using dishes, doesn’t mean they are drinking from them. Although we keepers spend a lot of time observing our pets, we can’t be there 24/7. And, considering most tarantula species are nocturnal, only becoming active when the lights are off and we’re in bed, it’s safe to assume that many take some late night swigs. Are there some individual that just won’t drink from a bowl? I’m sure that it’s possible. However, how can you tell…and do you really want to take the chance? Besides, how do you know if your tarantula won’t drink from a bowl until you actually try it?

They just fill them with dirt and waste, so it’s too much of a bother. It’s definitely true that, when presented with a standing water source, many tarantulas seem to neglect using their dishes for their rightful purpose and instead use them as trash receptacles or toilets. Many folks report their pets immediately filling their bowls with dirt or, even worse, using them as a place to deposit boluses and feces. Others will immediately web over the dishes, which can quickly lead the moisture wicking out, resulting in a bone dry dish. It seems that some species of tarantulas see a water source as a means of waste removal, likely due to instincts they developed in the wild. It’s possible that, in nature, rainfall brings tiny streams that they use to perform a little spring cleaning? Who knows what goes on in those amazing little brains sometimes. Keepers who’ve spent time providing water dishes only to repeatedly find them horribly sullied the next day quickly come to the conclusion that they are not worth the effort. 

If an animal that has survived millions of years decides it doesn’t need a dish, who are we to argue?

See, the idea of providing a water dish is that, unlike spraying, it gives the tarantula access to a permanent source of clean water. However, if the tarantula fills it with dirt the first day, then what have you gained? Nothing. Fed up with the constant attention and time required to keep their dishes dirt and waste free, many keepers have sworn them off completely. 

Good husbandry for any pet takes time and involves cleaning.  For many of the pro dish folks, cleaning out the water dishes is simply part of good animal husbandry. Sure, it can be frustrating to have to clean out bowls, especially shortly after you filled them, but it’s little to ask for a creature that only needs to be fed once in a week and doesn’t need to be walked, groomed, or taken to the vet. Tarantulas are one of the most low-maintenance pets a person can have, so withholding a water dish because  you don’t want to clean it is just, well, lazy.

My $0.02

When I first came up with the idea for the Tarantula Controversies series, it was with the full intent of keeping these articles as unbiased as possible. I spent a lot of time reading through forum responses and hearing what other keepers had to say about the issues so that I could thoroughly present both sides of the arguments. Although I reserve this section at the end of each article to give my take on the topic, I tried to keep my final thoughts from being the decisive word on the subject.

The issue of whether or not tarantulas need water dishes was supposed to be the second topic in the series, however, I’ve repeatedly shied away from it due to my heavy leanings in one direction. How could I walk the line on an issue I have very strong feelings about? However, a couple recent events, as well as discussions with a different keepers, convinced me that I needed to visit this topic and try to my best to cover both sides.

Let’s get the obvious question out of the way. Do all tarantulas require water bowls in captivity to live? Well, if that were the case, then any T kept without a water dish would die, and there wouldn’t be need for this article. The fact is, most tarantulas species are incredibly hardy, and millions of years living in often changing and hostile environments has allowed them to evolve and adapt to weather and climate conditions that would kill other less rugged creatures. It’s also true that many species can subsist on prey for moisture and go long periods of time without needed an supplemental water source.

And that, in a nutshell, is why this question will forever remain a gray area.

The fact is, many seasoned hobbyists and breeders don’t give their tarantulas water dishes, resorting instead to spraying and sometimes just prey as a system for moisture delivery. These are not folks just getting into the hobby and doing it out of ignorance or laziness either; they are experienced keepers and breeders who are leaning on years of experience to tell them bowls are just not needed.

Perhaps then, it’s best not to deal in absolutes and instead look at the whether or not one side offers a clear benefit. Personally, I believe this is where the scales are tipped toward the pro dish side.

We can conclude that many folks successfully keep tarantulas without water dishes, so we can’t say that they are 100% necessary. Great.

However, do they provide other benefits, including a valuable backup if spraying fails? YES.

Let’s take the example from the YouTube keeper mentioned above. This man has been keeping tarantulas for at least three years and is looked up to by many in the hobby. He keeps a variety of specimens besides tarantulas, and it appears as if they are all healthy and thriving. If it’s true he doesn’t use dishes, then he’s seemingly had a great bit of success without them.

However, in the example given above, his P. vittata nearly died…of dehydration. The fact that it perked up so quickly after being given water makes that point pretty obvious. Although he mentioned that he sprays his enclosures “usually” every morning, and that might have worked in the past, it didn’t in this occasion. Although misting is great for offering a quick blast of moisture for drinking or raising humidity, it quickly evaporates. This means that a thirsty T might only have a window of an hour or two to drink before the water is gone. A shy or nocturnal spider might not venture out in time to reap the benefits of that misting. And what measures might have been taken to ensure that this spider would never have this issue?

That’s right; he could have included a water dish.

This is a prime example of why water dishes can be such an integral part of tarantula husbandry, even if they don’t “need” them. I currently keep 15 pokies, and they all have water dishes, even as slings. I’ve personally witnessed many of them drink, and that’s enough positive reinforcement for me to make sure that they will always have bowls.

Perhaps, we shouldn’t be asking if tarantulas NEED water dishes, but instead whether they can benefit from them.

And what of my arid species that supposedly don’t need water? Well, the tarantula I’ve caught drinking the most would be my Grammostola porteri, a species widely recognized as thriving in dry conditions. So, if she occasionally wants a sip of fresh H2O, wouldn’t it stand to reason that my other Ts might as well?

Can it be a pain in the posterior to keep them all clean and filled. Sure it can. I have several Phormictopus species that just love to fill their up to the top with dirt, and my H. pulchripes and M. balfouri both love to cover their with webbing. However, I’ve made it part of my feeding and maintenance routine to clean them out and fill them up once a week. And what about my pokies who just love to dump their boluses in theirs, fouling them up? In some cases, I’ve resorted to using two disposable cups, one inside the other, so that I can just pluck the top cup out and replace it with a fresh one. I can then either throw away all of the old ones, or clean them out all at once saving some time.

Another point to consider is how important dishes can be for moisture-dependent species. As mentioned earlier, misting only raises the humidity temporarily, as the water quickly evaporates. A large water dish, on the other hand, will allow water to constantly evaporate into the air, naturally raising the humidity inside the enclosure for much longer. I’ve actually heard accounts by folks who successfully keep moisture-dependent species on dry substrate with large or multiple water bowls. This avoids any potential mold and fungus issue in the substrate while ensuring the tarantula still has the optimal conditions to thrive and molt successfully.

A word about slings.

Although this would likely be impossible to prove, I have a feeling that many sling deaths can be attributed to dehydration. I know it’s happened to me, and I’ve been privy to many other instances where a lapse in husbandry lead to a desiccated spiderling. That’s why I now try to make sure that all of my slings get water dishes. Without that wax coating to protect them and keep them from drying out, slings are extra susceptible to dehydration, much more so than their older counterparts.

But sadly, this is where the water dish discussion often gets most intense, as people are still convinced that their slings will drown. Well, if it helps, I’ve now raised approximately 75 slings, some less than 1/2″, with water dishes. And how many have drowned?


Since I started giving my smallest slings dishes, I’ve personally witnessed many drink. Obviously, there isn’t just one way to do things in this hobby, and plenty of folks have had success using moist sub and spraying. Heck, I used this technique myself in the past. For me, however, the dishes provide me with extra security and peace of mind knowing that if I forget to spray or there is a particularly hot day, my slings are safe.

For a bit of a rant on water dishes, check out the video above!

Final thoughts.

It’s my belief that those new to the hobby should always start out by offering their animals water dishes. Most people who are just starting out have small collections anyway, so it shouldn’t require much extra effort to keep water dishes clean and filled. Although tarantula keeping can often appear to be rather simple on the surface, there are many nuances that can only be recognized and appreciated through practice and experience. Whether or not a tarantula needs water is definitely one of these areas. As a keeper gets a better handle on basic husbandry and, more importantly, the specific needs of his or her individual specimens, then I would concede that some experimentation could be in order.

Are there instances where providing a water dish just isn’t feasible? Certainly. For those keeping very tiny slings, the small enclosures necessary to raise them are often too small to make it practical to include a dish. I currently have 130 specimens, and all but three have water dishes. Two I got as tiny slings and therefore started them off in dram bottles that didn’t offer enough room to include one. Both will be rehoused now that I’m phasing the bottles out.

The other is my OBT, who has webbed up and buried a record FIVE water dishes. That said, I DO pour water onto her webbing for her to drink (and due to the water proof qualities of the webbing, the puddle usually remains for a day or two). She is also due for a rehousing soon, and when the time comes, she’ll get a larger enclosure and a heavier dish.

Do I get why an experienced keeper might tire of cleaning and refilling a Ts water dish every time the animal decides to bury it? Heck, yes. And do I fault that keeper for using his or her experience to make the decision that keeping the dish full is just a waste of time? No way. In this instance, the keeper is relying on his/her experience to make an informed decision about the husbandry needs of the animal. If I’m being honest, I have two G. pulchripes juveniles that flip or fill up their water dishes so much, I’ve stopped worrying about keeping them filled. Although I still clean out and fill the bowls on occasion, it’s must less regularly than I do with my other Ts. Would I fault a keeper for giving up entirely in a similar situation? As long as the tarantula was thriving, no.

Video of a young A. versicolor drinking from an open dish. Thanks again to Jesse Tibodeau!

When it comes down to it, I’m a “better safe than sorry” type of guy though, so I’ll continue to clean and refill mine. Although I recognize that it’s definitely possible to raise healthy tarantulas without water dishes, I also know that they’ll use them. Am I insinuating that those who don’t use dishes are wrong and should immediately repent and change their way? Absolutely not. Those folks have a system that works for them, and I have mine. I raised enough slings successfully in the past using misting, so I appreciate that it can work.

That said, I do think that folks who are just starting out need to do their research, talk to some experienced keepers, and consider the perks these terrarium “accessories” can offer. I also implore experienced keeper who choose not to use them to remember that impressionable newcomers likely lack the experience and skill to immediately follow their lead. Perhaps a little explanation of their experience level, observations, and technique would be in order.


Communal Project Part 4: Sling Buffets and Spider Piles

The Communal Project series will document my setup of a Moncentropus balfouri communal, starting with the planning and acquisition of both the enclosure and tarantulas and continuing through as they mature. You can read the other installments of this series by clicking the following links: “Communal Project Part 1: An Enclosure by Brooklyn Bugs.” ; “Communal Project Part 2: Nine M. Balfouri Slings” ; and “Communal Project Part 3: First Week’s Observations” .

As time has passed, I’m still finding myself completely captivated by the feedings.

At first, I watched my slings eat with equal measures of apprehension (I couldn’t help but to worry that one would attack another) and fascination (They WEREN’T attacking…they were getting along just fine!). Years of keeping tarantulas had me hardwired to think that any spider-to-spider contact would inevitably result in only one fat spider. And, having personally observed thousands of feedings, I had a great appreciation of just how powerful a tarantula’s feeding response could be. I’ve seen spiders launch themselves at the slightest vibration on their substrate.  How would they be able to override their hard-wired prey response in time to recognize the difference between prey and a hungry sibling?

However, now that we’re deep into month two, it appears that my fears are completely unfounded. I’ve now witnessed about a dozen feedings, and there hasn’t been any friction. The most “contentious” episode I witnessed involved two sling that were feeding on the same piece of roach. After a short tug-of-war over the carcass, they both broke pieces off, then calmly sat and ate their meals. Many times, I’ve caught up to five, legs intertwined, peaceably feasting on the same prey animal. It’s something I wouldn’t have believed if I didn’t see it myself.

These little guys are eating machines!

One thing that has truly impressed and surprised me is just how much these little guys and gals have been eating. I’ve been offering them three pre-killed red runner roaches or crickets three times a week. Although I’ve tried introducing live prey into the enclosure in the form of red runner roaches, they’ve shown no interest in them. If I drop a prekilled roach or crickets in front of the burrow entrances however, they are usually on it within the hour. I know that, in the wild, the mothers prekill prey and leave it for their spiderlings to eat, so I’m left to wonder if this is an instinctual behavior for them.

Although the three times a week feeding is obviously an ambitious schedule, I wanted to make sure that the slings were well fed to prevent any possible cannibalism. It was also a bit difficult to discern at first what size and portions to offer nine .75″ slings. I began by offering one large roach, which they decimated in less than an hour. I then started giving them two. Both were gone the next morning.  For the past couple weeks, I’ve been giving them three, and that seems like it will work for the time being. However, they’ve all just molted, so I’m assuming that I might have to increase the amount I give them soon.

It should be mentioned that it’s been a rather warm summer, and temps in the tarantula room have routinely been hitting 80° and slightly above, so this might have jacked up the little guys’ metabolisms. That said, the last three specimens I kept and that were in separate enclosures didn’t eat well even during the hot summer months, so I have to consider that the appetites might be partially due to the group dynamic. Unfortunately, all I can do is speculate.


My first scare…

As I’ve had the fear of cannibalism in the back of my mind, I’ve been pretty obsessive about counting the slings every time they are all out. Well, starting two weeks ago, I was only able to count eight at any given time. At first I just suspected that one was always hiding in a burrow, which made it appear that there were only eight. However, as more time passed and I failed to ever catch all nine out, I worried that the ninth had possibly died. I honestly didn’t suspect cannibalism, as I had never witnessed any friction between the slings. I did, however, worry that there might have just been a weak sling that wasn’t destined to make it.

Well, shortly after posting a YouTube update on the communal and mentioning that I was missing one, I caught all of the slings out and about again. This time, I there were clearly nine present. Apparently, they were all still doing just fine.

All nine balfouri slings out and about

All nine balfouri slings out and about

Introducing, the “spider pile”

Another unique behavior I’ve witnessed is something I’ve been referring to as the “spider pile”. Many times when the slings emerge to sit on the surface, they huddle together into one large tangle of bodies and limbs. It’s really something to see, and I was fortunate enough to catch one of these events in the video below (it’s after the footage showing all nine of the slings).

Now, they don’t always assemble into a spider pile when they are out; often, they all just sit next to each other along the wall on the top edge of the webbing. I’m not sure what purpose this behavior serves, but I’ll definitely look forward to seeing if it continues as they mature.


With some of these latest developments, I feel comfortable answering a couple of the questions on my list.

  • Will the slings all gravitate to one burrow? An enthusiastic YES for this.
  • Do they really eat together and without friction? Although I’ll continue to monitor the interactions as they mature, I’m comfortable in saying that YES, the slings do eat together without conflict or issues. I’ve personally witnessed a dozen feedings and I’ve seen no aggression between the slings. 
  • Is their any difference in behavior in M. balfouri slings kept communally as apposed to kept individually (I raised three from slings previously)
  • Will their ability to get along change as they mature?
  • Do M. balfouri slings kept communally eat more and grow fast than those kept alone?  Right now, the answer appears to be a YES. The new slings have already molted at least twice in my care, and they have been eating as much as I’ll give them. This is in sharp contrast to the first three I kept that were very finicky and sheepish eaters. 

As always, I will continue to make updates and post whenever something interesting occurs!

Tom’s Big Spiders – Logo Poll!

If you could spare a moment…

Okay, I have a quick favor to ask from my followers. I’ve long meant to design better logo/header design for Tom’s Big Spiders. The headers I use on my website and YouTube page were thrown together rather quickly and were only meant to be temporary. I’ve spent the last couple days working on some designs, and I was hoping to get some opinions. If you could take a moment and vote on which one you like the most, I’d be very appreciative. Or, if you like more than one, please feel free to leave a comment. I could easily use one for a header design and one for an avatar.

Thank you so much to whomever takes the time to vote!

~ Tom




Design One


Design Two


Design Three

Communal Project Part 3: First Week’s Observations

The Communal Project series will document my setup of a Moncentropus balfouri communal, starting with the planning and acquisition of both the enclosure and tarantulas and continuing through as they mature. This is the third installment in the series; the first part is “Communal Project Part 1: An Enclosure by Brooklyn Bugs.” and the second part is “Communal Project Part 2: Nine M. Balfouri Slings” .

How will they adapt to the communal setup?

Now that the nine M. balfouri slings were housed in their new enclosure, it was time to let them settle in and to observe their behaviors. Although I had read plenty of accounts that should have assured me the risk for casualties was minimal, I still worried that that the tiny little slings would somehow turn on each other as they staked out territory and fed. After hearing for years how cannibalistic tarantulas were, it was very difficult for me to subdue the nagging feeling that this wasn’t going to work out.

However, I would soon learn that my fears were completely unfounded.

Within 24 hours, I started to see signs that my new wards would indeed be able to live peaceably. The following details my observations over the first week, including any details I thought were important or interesting.

DAY ONE: The evening they arrived, I decided to offer food right away. For the first meal, I dropped in 10 tiny B. lateralis pinhead roaches. I won’t lie; when I woke up the next morning, I rushed down to check on the communal partially expecting to find signs of spiderling cannibalization. Instead, I discovered that the little ones had been busy the night before, and fine curtains of webbing now covered some of the den entrances and cork bark.

Even cooler, four of the slings were bustling in and out of one burrow opening. Despite having shot off in several directions upon being housed, it seemed that the slings really had started to gravitate to the same den.

I also watched nervously as two slings encountered each other in another corner of the enclosure. At first, I was convinced that the larger of the slings was going to attack and kill the smaller. As they met, he froze, then reached out carefully with his first set of walking legs, almost as spiders do when they sense a prey item nearby. However, the other sling quickly reciprocated by putting out his fist sets of the legs. The two entwined for a bit, much in the same way males and females do when mating, as they continued to feel each other out. Then, about a minute later, they both walked off in different directions.

No attacks.

No bites.

No devoured sling.

I was amazed by the encounter; it appeared that they could differentiate between one of their own species and a prey item. There was no friction whatsoever. After watching many spiders reflexively pounce on anything that moved in their enclosures, I couldn’t help but to feel a bit mind-blown by this development.

As for feeding, I wasn’t sure if any of the roaches were devoured, and there still appeared to be several of them running around the enclosure. The slings either didn’t notice or didn’t care as they continued working on their den. I decided to give it another day to see if I could catch one or more feeding.

DAY TWO: Having seen a few of the roaches I dropped in still roaming around without a care in the world. I worried that some of the slings might not be eating. Remembering that the M. balfouri mothers often kill prey for their young, I killed a large cricket, mashed it up a bit, and dropped it in front of the den entrances. My hope was that I could catch some of this group feeding I had read about.

I popped in to check on the little guys before bed, and was floored by what I saw. Several of the slings were feeding on the cricket at the same time. Even more interesting, there was no fighting or friction between the feasting tarantulas. They very calmly approached the cricket, tore off a chunk of meat, and simply ate their meals.

I also observed that at least FIVE of the slings now occupied the same burrow. They really were purposely gravitating to the same burrow despite having enough space to stake out their own homes. This was true communal behavior I was witnessing, not just a bunch of spiders sharing space because they were forced to.

DAY THREE:  I crept down late at night to see what my communal was up to (darned insomnia), and I discovered that all nine slings were apparently sharing the same den. For a full five minutes, I watched as they moved in, out, and around the single den entrance with at least four of the slings laying down webbing. They weren’t just living together; it appeared that they were cooperating with each other to build their home. AMAZING.

DAY FOUR: Failing to capture the group feeding on film the first time, I dropped another cricket in on the third night hoping that I might be able to get the next meal on video. I awoke early the next morning to discover several of them eating off of the same cricket. Like a buffoon, I sat their ogling this for bit before remembering to record it. By the time I grabbed my phone, a couple of the spiderlings had toddled off. Still, I managed to catch a few of them eating in the video below. Again, there were no spats or fighting to speak of, and the slings obviously recognized the difference between the prey and the other spiders.

DAY SEVEN: It’s official: all of the slings have adopted the center den as their home, and all are living communally in a single den. The amount of webbing in this area has increased with all lending a hand (or their webbing) to the construction. There are now several entrances including the main one, and the slings spend much of their day going in and out of them.

So, I can cross one of my questions off my list.

  • Will the slings all gravitate to one burrow?

Yes, they sure will…and cooperate to build it apparently.

Having raised three M. balfouri slings to adulthood that were kept alone, I do have a couple observations:

  1. I’ve noticed that these slings are out in the open MUCH more than my specimens kept separately ever were. Although I’d catch mine out and about every so often, they were very skittish and would spend the majority of their time hidden in their burrows. Perhaps my communal subjects will display more of that secretive behavior as they become more mature, but so far they seem to be much bolder than my last specimens. Could this be because they feel more secure when kept communally? I’m not sure.
  2. My first batch of slings were very finicky eaters, often going weeks without eating and often refusing prey one week only to indulge the next. They would also be intimidated by normal sized prey items, and I’d have to feed them crickets that were smaller than what I would usually feed slings that size. As a result, they grew slowly often taking several months between molts. These new slings, however, have been eating like machines. I drop a cricket in and they are on it in minutes. Now I’m wondering if these slings will eat more and grow faster in the communal setting.

With these latest developments, I would have to revise my list of question I wanted to answer.

  • Will the slings all gravitate to one burrow? An enthusiastic YES for this.
  • Do they really eat together and without friction? (I want to catch more feedings)
  • Is their any difference in behavior in M. balfouri slings kept communally as apposed to kept individually (I raised three from slings previously)
  • Will their ability to get along change as they mature?
  • Do M. balfouri slings kept communally eat more and grow fast than those kept alone?

As I move ahead, I’ll look to answer these questions and will post updates whenever I observe, photograph, or film something of interest!

Next up…M. Balfouri Communal Project Part 4: How Many M. Balfouri Slings Does It Take to Eat a Large Roach?


Communal Project Part 2: Nine M. balfouri Slings

The Communal Project series will document my setup of a Moncentropus balfouri communal, starting with the planning and acquisition of both the enclosure and tarantulas and continuing through as they mature. This is the second installment in the series; the first part is “Communal Project Part 1: An Enclosure by Brooklyn Bugs.”

After a couple of years of research and daydreaming, I will finally be setting up my first communal.

I’ve been fascinated by communals since I first saw photos of H. incei setup on a forum several years ago. I had always known tarantulas to be cannibalistic, so I was intrigued by the idea that a group could live together harmoniously without it turning into a survival of the fattest bloodbath. Since then, I’ve read articles and blogs, watched YouTube videos, and even spoken to a couple keepers who have tried it. I’ve researched the many species said to tolerate a communal living situation, including Poecilotheria species, Heterothele villosella, Neoholothele incei, Pterinochilus murinus, and of course, the Monocentropus balfouri.

Although all of these species have demonstrated the ability to co-habitate with other members of their species without immediately resorting to cannibalism, the level of true “communalism” can vary greatly. Every keeper would love to witness a true tarantula community where members actually benefit from living in close proximity to each other, possibly hunting and even eating together. But the fact is, many of these species are forced to live closely together in the wild due habitat constraints; they don’t naturally prefer it. Therefore, when they are forced to live together in an enclosure, the relationship between the inhabitants more closely resembles a fragile tolerance than a strong communal bond.

As a result, many keepers who have tried to keep communals have found the need to abort the projects upon discovering that their ten lithe specimens had suddenly become five portly ones. With many of the communal setups,  cannibalism is a constant threat, and the thought of needlessly loosing often expensive Ts is enough of a deterrent for many keepers. Personally speaking, I love my spiders and pride myself on not having many deaths in my collection. The possibility that by creating a communal I might putting a group at risk of unnecessary death was a tough concept for me to get by.

One species has always stood out for me in the communal list…

One of the species that seemed to demonstrate some legitimate communal tendencies was the Monocentropus balfouri. I had discovered early on that this beautiful tarantula had some of the strongest motherly instincts of any species, and a quick Google search of “M. balfouri mother with slings” brings up some amazing photos of this maternal spider seemingly nurturing its young. This is an animal that keepers have witnessed killing prey to feed its spiderlings, as well as standing guard over them like a protective parent. Hobbyists that have kept this species communally report slings huddling together in the same burrow, even when given space, and feeding on the same prey…together. I have read several accounts by folks who have set up more than one balfouri in an enclosure, and it seems that it doesn’t matter the size of the specimens that are introduced together, they all live quite harmoniously.

After reading several accounts by keepers who had tried communal setups, it seemed that the chance of casualties was low…ridiculously low. I only found one instance where one of a group of about a dozen disappeared, but there was nothing to indicate it didn’t just die a natural death (and not at the fangs of one of its cage mates). Even more promising were the many photos of juveniles and adults living and even feeding together peaceably.

It seemed like if I was going to attempt a communal setup, M. balfouri would be the species to do it with. However, although the prices on these gorgeous Ts have continued to drop over the years, they still run about $60 or so for slings. It would be quite an investment to get one of these going, especially if I wanted to start with more than just a handful. For a little while, it seemed like it would remain a bit of a pipe dream.

Enter Tanya from Fear Not Tarantulas

After my last fantastic experience buying from Fear Not Tarantulas, I got to chatting with Tanya about spiders, the blog, and her breeding projects. It’s been fantastic conversing with someone who is not only knowledgeable, but also thoroughly entrenched in this amazing hobby. During one of our conversations she made an amazing offer; she would hook me up with enough M. balfouri slings to finally start that communal I had been pondering for years. To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement.

The original plan was to start with five or six specimens, so I had to go ahead and set up an enclosure that wouldn’t be too large for the .75-1″ slings, but that would also allow for plenty of room for growth (for more on the enclosure, click here!). Once the enclosure was ready, I gave Tanya the go ahead to ship my tarantulas. I had shared my photos and ideas for the design of the enclosure with Tanya, and when it arrived I explained that it was a little larger than my first idea, but I thought that it would work out well. After texting me with updates on the packing (as well as a photo of the A. amazonica I was was also getting), Tanya informed me that she was actually sending nine M. balfouri. NINE. I was absolutely floored. The extra space would definitely go to good use.

She shipped them promptly and they arrived expertly packed, labelled, and in fantastic shape. As a picture is worth 1000 words, I’m guessing that a video is worth even more. Below is the video of the unpacking along with the rehousing of the nine M. balfouri slings into their new homes (the rehousings start at about 3:32). I will admit to feeling just a bit of apprehension as I started loosing the slings into their new enclosure together. A part of me really worried that they might turn on each other or I might capture friction on camera.

It soon became apparent that my fears were unwarranted as the rehousing went off without a hitch and the nine little slings scuttled to the pre-formed burrows without a single incident of aggression. Even better, when I checked on them later in the day, a few of the slings had actually taken residence in the same burrow.

I’m finding the communal setup utterly fascinating, and I’ve been checking on them constantly to see how they are getting along. So far, so good. As these little guys continue to make this new enclosure their home, I will continue with updates including my observations and video/notes on any behaviors of interest. A few questions I hope to answer are:

  • Will the slings all gravitate to one burrow?
  • Do they really eat together and without friction?
  • Is their any difference in behavior in M. balfouri slings kept communally as apposed to kept individually (I raised three from slings previously)
  • Will their ability to get along change as they mature.

Next up…M. Balfouri Communal Project Part 3: First Week’s Observations (and Video of Group Feeding!).

* A very special THANKS to Tanya at Fear Not Tarantulas who made this whole project possible! 


Communal Project Part 1 – An Enclosure by Brooklyn Bugs

The Communal Project series will document my setup of a Moncentropus balfouri communal, starting with the planning and acquisition of both the enclosure and tarantulas and continuing through as they mature.

After years of considering starting a communal, it was finally going to happen courtesy of Tanya and Fear Not Tarantulas . Tanya from FNT was graciously hooking me up with nine M. balfouri slings (much more on that in my next post!), so I was actually going to witness some of this species’ communal tendencies firsthand. Out of all of the species I had read up on that could supposedly be kept communally, this was the one I had always thought demonstrated the most legitimate communistic tendencies. The fact that they are also one of my favorite species didn’t hurt either.

So, now that I would actually have the spiders I would need to get this project going, another question arose…what would I keep them in?

Although most of my enclosures are quite utilitarian (Sterilite containers, deli cups, and Mainstay canisters make up the majority of my cages) I really wanted to use something a bit more extravagant for this set up. After all, this tank could very well become the centerpiece of my collection, so it made sense to spend a bit for something nice.

As I originally planned to receive 6 to 7 slings, size was an important consideration. I didn’t want it so large that the slings would be encouraged to become territorial and not interact much, yet I wanted to make sure that it was large enough to allow for some growth. After much reading and deliberation, I decided that it would make more sense to give them a much larger enclosure than I normally would for slings that size, thereby giving them more room to grow. This would allow them to spend more time in this enclosure before the inevitable rehousing was required, which would obviously disrupt them. At first, I was looking for something about 7″ x 7″ x 10″ or so to house the slings, although these dimensions were just a starting point.

Also, due to the fact that I would be closely observing the specimens as they settled in and grew, I really needed an enclosure that was as transparent as possible. My acrylic enclosures are all very clear, so I decided to go this route. I checked out several pre-made acrylic enclosures from a few different dealers and couldn’t find the size or design I thought I would need for this unique project. I also wanted to make sure that the vents were as close to the top as possible so that I could pack it full of substrate. M. balfouris are fossorial, so they need some depth. Plus, I wanted to make sure that if the slings climbed, a fall wouldn’t harm them. Finally, I wanted the enclosure to open from the top and not the front.

While doing a search for acrylic enclosures on the Tarantula Forum, I stumbled upon a post for standard and custom acrylic enclosures in the classifieds section. The sample photos posted were quite amazing and included cylindrical enclosures and even a lunchbox cage. The prices on the standard sized models were quite reasonable, and the fabricator was obviously very skilled, so I shot off an email to Jonathan and Bela of Brooklyn Bugs asking a question about one of their designs.

Communication was superb.

Jonathan, the craftsman, responded quickly via email then text, and was incredibly helpful in working out the details of my new enclosure with me.  I explained what I would be housing and indicated the model I was eyeing. After a quick conversation, Jonathan suggested that he could easily fabricate a custom cage for me that would better fit my purposes than the one I was looking at. So, instead of using one of his pre-existing designs, I instead sketched out a plan for the cage I would like to see. A short phone call later, the details were hammered out and Jonathan set to work building my cage. After much deliberation, we decided on 8″ x 8″ x 12″ with a hinged top and two vents on each side. Jonathan also suggested putting a lip around the top edge to eliminate any gap and to keep the small slings from escaping..

I initially worried that a custom cage would prove much pricier than comparably-sized standard designs; after all, Jonathan would have to build this cage from scratch. Instead, it was quite comparable to and, in some cases, less expensive than similar ones I had priced out on other sites. The cage itself, even with it being a custom design, was only $80. Considering I know that he had to do a lot of extra work to make my vision come to life, I think that was incredibly reasonable. I also assumed that I would have to show some patience as I waited for my enclosure to be fabricated. The last vendor I spoke to about creating a custom enclosure told me that the wait would be about two weeks

Nope. Amazingly, Brooklyn Bugs had it done in less than 24 hours.

Even better, he sent some work in progress photos as he worked so I could see my enclosure take shape. It was hard not to get excited after getting to watch it all come together.

Photos © Brooklyn Bugs

We nailed down the final design of the new habitat on Friday afternoon, and the enclosure was completed and ready to ship on Saturday. Jonathan shipped it promptly on Monday afternoon via FedEx, and the box showed up on my doorstep Tuesday afternoon. It took only about four days from when we started discussing the enclosure for him to build and ship it. The turnaround from start to finish was amazing.

For a video review and my reaction when opening the package, click below:

Needless to say, I was floored when I opened the package and got to examine the cage in person. Jonathan really did a gorgeous job on it; not only does it look beautiful, but it is probably the sturdiest acrylic enclosure I own. Even after being filled with soil, it doesn’t wiggle or flex at all. When discussing the design, he asked if I would like it with black tape on the edges, as he likes to add it for a stylistic touch. I’m glad I went with this option, as I adore the aesthetic of it. As a super cool bonus, the enclosure also came with a container of 100+ white dwarf isopods. I actually keep many moisture-dependent species and had been planning to pick some up for a quite a while.


My new 8 x 8 x 12″ enclosure from Brooklyn Bugs.


And the new enclosure all decked out and ready for several M. balfouri slings!

I’m absolutely elated with the end results. Amazingly, it actually came out better than I had expected (and I went in with high expectations!).  My new enclosure will definitely become the centerpiece of my collection. In fact, I’m so impressed that I’ve already sent Jonathan and Bela the plans for an arboreal enclosure I would like them to build.

For folks looking for quality acrylic enclosures, especially if you want to get creative and build something that suits your needs and tastes, you should definitely talk to the guys at Brooklyn Bugs. You can check out some of their designs by clicking the link, or send them an email at brooklynbugs14@yahoo.com.

NEXT UP … Nine Monocentropus balfouri from Fear Not Tarantulas!

Fear Not Tarantulas – A FANTASTIC Place to Buy Spiders


Between the blog, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and now my YouTube channel, I spend a lot of time talking to keepers new and established and answering inquiries into various aspects of the hobby. One of the most common questions I get is “where is a good place to buy tarantulas online?” Although I have a couple go-to dealers that I won’t hesitate to recommend, I’m always on the lookout for new dealers to buy from. I’ll be honest; I get a certain thrill from clicking on a new tarantula site for the first time and perusing the stock. And, when I find a dealer that I have a good experience with, I do my best to spread the word.

While watching some video on YouTube last week, I met theswimmingfox, or Melissa Fujimoto, a fellow tarantula enthusiast. I commented on a video she had posted showing off one of her gorgeous Phormictopus sp. purples grooming itself. During the ensuing conversation, Melissa mentioned that she had bought hers from Tanya at Fear Not Tarantulas.

Hold up…who?

I was honestly shocked, and a little embarrassed, that I had never heard of this dealer before, especially after hearing Melissa rave about their service. I hadn’t seen many folks carrying the sp. greens, so I had to assume that if Tanya had these in stock, she had a lot more goodies to offer. I immediately did a quick Google search and located the site…and quickly got excited.

A great site with dozens of amazing species to choose from.

The site is very well laid out, with the tarantulas for sale organized by slings, juveniles, males, females, and package deals (along with some other convenient choices). What’s more, there is even a “species descriptions” tab that brings you to husbandry notes for a plethora of species. These aren’t generic and often useless care sheets, but tips and observations  culled from the folks at FNT’s own experience and research. Personally, I think this is an amazing idea and something I wish more dealers would do.

Now, I do a LOT of window shopping on various dealers’ sites, and I’ve seen many that carry the “standard” avic, grammy, and brachy species but don’t offer some of the rarer or less common tarantulas that usually catch my eye. This is definitely NOT the case with Fear Not Tarantulas. Sure, Tanya carries many of the “hobby staple” species, but her stock is incredibly diverse, including rare species of Avicularia, H. pulchripes, Phormictopus sp. greens, and several Pamphobeteus species. Even better than the selection might be the prices with many species selling for less than what I was used to seeing. The prices on some of the females she was offering were particularly reasonable.

After a couple days of making lists of the spiders I was interested in, I finally placed my order for a female Psalmopoeus irminia, a juvenile Brachypelma vagans, an Avicularia juruensis sling, and a “probably female” Lasiodorides polycuspulatus. I should mention that FNT also offers several choices of freebies when you spend a certain amount, although I opted not to select one for this order. Shipping was $45 for FedEx overnight and LAG, which is quite reasonable, especially if you buy a few Ts in your order. Orders over $500 get free shipping, which is great for folks who have the coin and want to make a big tarantula purchase. My order placed, I was quite excited, not only about the tarantulas, but see how this transaction went.


My new female P. irminia from Fear Not Tarantulas


Probably the best communication I’ve ever had from a dealer.

The next day, I received a text from Tanya asking me if it would be okay to ship my order that day, or if I would prefer she waited. Having been shipped orders with no warning before, and having to frantically email dealers to try to get a shipment delayed so I could be there to receive it, I can’t even tell you how much I appreciated this gesture. She also double-checked to see if I wanted my package held (I did) which was very important to me as I have all of my FedEx shipments held for pickup. I’m always worried there will be a mix-up, so the fact that the dealer was actually thoughtful enough to reach out before she shipped was amazing.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, the L. polycuspulatus was labelled as “prob F” on the site, which I took to mean it might be female or might not. At $35 for a 1.5″ specimen, I honestly thought the price was good regardless of the sex. To me, “prob” means “maybe”, so it was a non issue. Well, during our text conversation, Tanya said that this specimen was actually unsexed, and the “prob f” was a personal note that erroneously made it onto the website. She was unsure of what the sex was, and offered an apology, a refund if I wanted it, or said she could substitute a female B. vagans for it. As luck would have it, I had been on the lookout for a female vagans, so this was an amazing upgrade. Although I offered to pay the difference, she simply substituted the sexed female for they unsexed specimen I had already ordered.

Even cooler? She actually texted a photo of the adorable female as she was packing her up! I honestly couldn’t get over the fact that she was actually texting me while my order was being assembled.

I’ve mentioned before that I often get a better idea of how a dealer’s customer service is when the order doesn’t go perfectly. Personally, I like to see how people react if there is a mix-up or hiccup. The fact that Tanya immediately mentioned what she saw as an issue and then upgraded my order to make up for it is the type of response that makes me trust a dealer completely. 


My new female B. vagan (being a bit coy) from Fear Not Tarantulas.

Tanya’s packing gets an A+

My box arrived as scheduled, and I rushed home to open it up. This was easily one of the best packing jobs I’ve seen. The box was lined with foam stuffed with newspaper for padding. Even better, the heat pack was tightly secured behind a piece of foam, keeping it from slipping and becoming loose in transit. There was no way this thing was moving. This is a detail most don’t consider, but if a heat pack bounces loose and settles next to the tarantula vials, it would likely fry the spiders. I definitely appreciate the attention to detail and the obvious understanding of great packing practices.

The Ts themselves were well secured in vials lined with moist toilet paper or paper towels, and these were carefully wrapped in moistened newspaper. When I unwrapped them, I was floored to discover that not only were the vials labeled with the species’ names (made with a label maker, no less) but three actually had the date of their last molts on the package. WOW. I’ve have ordered tarantulas dozens of times, and I’ve never seen this before. Not only is it incredibly great information to have for records, but it shows that the dealer really pays attention to her animals.

The tarantulas themselves were in great shape, and all have been housed and have eaten. You can tell these animals were well-cared for. My new female B. vagans is absolutely adorable, and the A. juruensis is so inquisitive that I just might have been tricked into a brief, impromptu handling session… This order proved to be an amazing experience all around, and I’m already making up a wishlist for my next order.

I would highly recommend Fear Not Tarantulas to beginner and established hobbyists alike.

I get a lot of new hobbyists who ask about good places to buy tarantulas, and I’m very careful about who I recommend. I look for places not only with a good selection of Ts and easy to navigate sites, but also great communication. Those new to the hobby often have many questions, and I feel they should be directed toward dealers who will take the time to consider and answer these questions. Tanya at Fear Not Tarantulas knows her stuff, and her communication during this transaction was the best I’ve ever received. I’m more than confident that this approachability would be much appreciated by someone new to the hobby and making their first purchase. And, of course, their great prices and diverse stock would make FNT a great shopping destination for established keepers looking for rarer Ts with great customer service. Fear Not Tarantulas gets my highest recommendation for great prices, diverse stock, and quality shipping and communication. 


An adorable A. juruensis sling from Fear Not Tarantulas

Site Update – Husbandry Notes by Species!

When I first started Tom’s Big Spiders, it was really only to share some of my cool experiences in the tarantula hobby. I honestly never expected anyone to discover or read what I was writing; instead, it was more to serve as a fun outlet (and to spare my family and friends from having to listen to prattle on about bugs). However, little by little, I actually developed an audience as the content evolved from fun molt and feeding posts to more informative husbandry and species notes. With folks actually reading what I was writing, I focused less on the fluff and more the informative and hopefully educational articles.

As a site that was basically created with no real audience in mind, I didn’t give a heck of a lot of thought on how to arrange it (or on the name, for that matter!). However, as I wrote more and more content, and saw what folks were reading and searching for, it quickly became apparent that I needed some way to organize information so it was easier to find. Therefore, some new pages evolved out of the mix: added were Resources, Vendor Reviews, and finally the most popular page, Beginner Guides. 

I also created the Topic Index page, which was supposed to act as a site map of sorts, but it quickly became outdated and was mostly ignored. Particularly, the species-specific husbandry articles were getting overlooked as there was no real clearly designated page for them.Folks were often asking if I could talk about species I had already covered because they couldn’t find the post.

Well, that’s finally been fixed…introducing the Species Husbandry Notes page.

Having done husbandry articles or videos on 40+ species , it was high time I created a page just for species care. I didn’t just want it to be a list of names though…it needed to have some visual flair and possibly a quick way for folks to identify the challenge level of each species. I spend a lot of time trying to get good photos of all my Ts, so I definitely had a lot of material to work with. After a few hours on Photoshop, I came up with what I hope will be a visually-appealing and useful system.

Each species’ name bar is color-coded to indicate the potential level of “challenge.” These designations are based on ease of husbandry, temperament, speed, and venom potency, and are only meant to serve as guidelines for those new to the hobby or species. Obviously, keeper experience and ability, as well as variations in individual specimens’ behavior can be hugely important as well (and can’t really be factored in). Bottom line, if the spider is labeled orange or red, spend a little more time researching its temperament and husbandry needs.


The colors work as follows:

  1. Green – Beginner
  2. Yellow– Intermediate
  3. Orange – Advanced
  4. Red – Expert

If I’ve done a husbandry blog on the species, just click on the photo to be sent to it. If there’s no article yet, you’ll be sent to the husbandry video on YouTube (my goal is to eventually get write-ups for all of the species).

Hopefully, this will make it easier for folks to find the info they need while affording them the opportunity to peruse all of the species husbandry notes if they feel so inclined. I have 33 of the spiders up as I write this, and my goal is to create guides for all of the 60+ species I keep. Also, I will continue to periodically update articles with the very latest observations, notes, and photos to ensure that all posts are current.

Again, thank you to all who currently use Tom’s Big Spiders as one of your sources for tarantula information!



Tarantula Controversies #2 – Handling Tarantulas


Recently, I sat down to write an article about some of the divisive, hot-button topics that dog the tarantula hobby and often ensnare uninitiated keepers in heated debates. These are subjects that new hobbyists are often interested in learning about, but an internet search or an innocent forum query produces two equally heated and opposing answers. My hope with this feature is to present both sides of these gray-area arguments so that keepers can develop their own informed opinions and make equally informed decisions. For the second installment, I’ve decided to tackle the “explosive” topic of tarantula handling. 


I’ve mentioned many times in various posts and videos that when I bought my first tarantula 20 years ago, it was partially to get over my fear of spiders. I had arachnophobia since I could remember, and I was hoping that by keeping, observing, and eventually handling my new G. porteri, I could overcome what I perceived to be an irrational and embarrassing fear. I thought that by holding this animal without freaking out, I would prove to myself that I had finally overcome my phobia.

However, my fear of these animals, however ridiculous, proved a bit more difficult to conquer. After keeping this tarantula for about six years, my first attempt at handling her almost resulted in a bite (and in me passing out) as she attacked the brush I was trying to prod her with. Although I had read for years that “rosies” were a gentle species that enjoyed being handled, my inexperience with testing temperament coupled with my specimen’s excellent feeding response nearly resulted in both of us getting injured. After all, my reflex would have been to pull my hand away, likely launching my pet into the air and to her death.

So, for years I endured ribbing from friends and family who couldn’t understand why I kept an animal that I was afraid to handle. After all, wasn’t the point of keeping tarantulas to hold them?

It wasn’t until years later that I learned that the answer to this question is an emphatic NO.

Please take a moment to participate in the poll above. Thanks!

When I got serious into the hobby, I was actually surprised to discover the topic of handling was such a hot-button issue. I just assumed everyone held their tarantulas and that it was a big part of the hobby. However, after reading several message board debates on this topic, I soon learned that many saw handling as an outdated remnant of the hobby’s beginnings when the market was filled with mostly docile New World species.  Many “serious” hobbyist were vehemently against this practice, labeling those who chose hands-on interactions with their pets as irresponsible and reckless.  There was talk about stressing the animals, putting the keeper and animal at risk, and even more frightening, possibly putting the very hobby at risk if a bad bite should make it to the news. They argued that tarantulas should be treated the same way one might approach keeping tropical fish; you can look, but don’t touch.

Instead of folks being ridiculed for not having the courage to handle a big, hairy spider, people were being  admonished for handling their animals.

Of course, not all agreed with this sentiment. There were those on the other side of the proverbial fence, seasoned keepers and newbies alike, who thought that this alarmist attitude was ridiculous. Many have reported years of handling experience without incident, and some ridicule the hobbyists who label the practice as potentially hobby-killing. These folks argue that, if done responsibly and intelligently, handling can harmless habit that only enhances a keeper’s enjoyment of his or her pets.

So, which side is correct? Should it be up to the keeper as to whether or not to engage in this seemingly harmless practice, or are those against it correct in labeling handling as a selfish, dangerous habit that puts the hobby at risk? As always, the answer is likely somewhere in the middle. Below are the arguments and counter arguments and how they usually break down. For clarity, stances supporting tarantula handling will be in GREEN; stances against will be in RED.

The Arguments

Handling is an archaic, outdated practice from a period when only docile New World’s were being kept. Those against handling are very quick to point out that when the hobby first began, the majority of the species available to the pet trade were docile New World’s like the G. rosea and the B. smithi. Although these species are able to bite, their venom is quite mild to humans, and the discomfort has been likened to a bee sting.  Those who received a bite would likely only suffer from an hour or so of localized pain and would be no worse for wear the next day. It’s also important to remember that these giant hairy spiders were a bit of an exotic novelty back then, and very little was known about their temperaments and behavior. Many people treated them in the same way they would a gerbil, hamster, or other small, furry mammal. In short, folks back then really didn’t know any better.

Today, the hobby has changed drastically. No longer are the only tarantulas available relatively docile Grammastola and Brachypelma species.  The hobby is now filled with larger, more aggressive New World tropical genera like Phormictopus and Pamphobeteus, as well as a plethora of Old World species. Many argue that the majority of the hundreds of species now available on the market are not appropriate for handling. Folks who are not aware of the temperament and venom potency differences between species could be setting themselves up for a world of hurt  if they try to get some hands-on time with a large tropical or an ornery Old World. The majority of species now kept in the hobby should probably not be handled due to temperament and/or venom potency, and the ones that are tractable get nothing from it. Handling has no purpose in the hobby and serves only to put the keeper and the animal in unnecessary danger.

Handling has been practiced for decades without major incident. Sometimes when debating an issue, it’s best to look at it in a historical context. Since the beginnings of the hobby in the 1970s, folks have handled their spiders, and not once has a bite made it to national news to threaten the hobby. Even when the hobby exploded in the ’90s, with many new species being offered at pet stores and exotic pet expos, you never heard stories of unsuspecting keepers being ravaged by their animals. The fact is, many of those who keep tarantulas consider them pets. As such, it is quite natural that they should want to interact with them as closely as possible and, in some ways, show them physical affection by handling them. Although the alarmists may want to paint handling as a reckless and dangerous habit, it’s a common and age-old practice that has yet to lead to any hobby-threatening tragedies.

Handling of a G. rosea. Thanks to my friend, C.J. Peter for permission to use his photo!

Handling of a G. rosea. Thanks to my friend, C.J. Peter for permission to use his photo!

In truth, tarantulas have been kept for decades, and in that time, many folks have handled without incident. Even as the number of species available in the hobby has swelled to hundreds and the number of people keeping these giant spiders has exploded, there’s yet to be a death or major incident reported. For those who keep and love these animals, handling can be a very natural an integral part of the hobby. To insinuate that someone who holds their T is being irresponsible is just silly.

Handling tarantulas causes them unnecessary stress and puts them at risk. In the wild, if a large animal suddenly grabs up a tarantula, that unfortunate spider is probably about to be made a meal. Tarantulas often live in hostile environments where they can be predated on by larger animals, including human beings. Anyone who has seen a startled T display the posture where it pulls all of its knees up over it body knows that they can, in the very least, experience stress. Although some spiders seem to cotton  to handling, it must be jarring for them to be on substrate one minute then prodded onto a giant human hand another. Some can respond by hunkering down, sprinting away, or kicking hairs in defense; all behaviors that point to an unhappy spider. This can lead to escapes, a bite, or an injured or dead tarantula if it should fall. Folks in this camp believe that part of the responsibility of keeping these giant arachnids is to provide them with a safe, comfortable, stress-free environment. Handling only causes them unnecessary stress and risks triggering their survival instincts. It also increases the risk of escapes or injury from a fall or mishap. 

If done correctly, handling causes no stress to the animal.  Those who handle will often concede that just sticking your hand in and scooping up your pet is not the best way to go about it. When handling, it’s important to check your spider’s mood and temperament before putting your hand in, often by touching the back leg with something like the soft tip of a paintbrush.  If the spider reacts favorable (or doesn’t react much at all) it is probably game for a bit of hands-on action. If it attacks the brush or kicks hair, you forgo handling, therefore sparing the tarantula unnecessary stress and yourself from a bite or a handful of hairs. It’s important to remember that these are animals that can be shipped cross-country in unfavorable climate conditions and emerge from their packages active and ready to eat. They have proven to be very capable of dealing with and bouncing back from stress. 

Some folks who engage in this practice also express the belief that many tarantulas can become more comfortable with, and even enjoy, a keeper’s touch with with regular and systematic handling. Others even believe that tarantulas can learn to “trust” their keepers as long as a regular handling regiment is followed. As evidence, they are happy to share videos of them handling and petting their eight-legged friends, who seem perfectly relaxed. To these hobbyists, the idea of not handling your pet spiders is ridiculous, and those who decry it as harmful or reckless are equally as ridiculous.

However, not so fast…the thought of tarantulas enjoying close human contact is just absurd.  Many who keep these amazing animals are certain that they are not hardwired to recognize and appreciate physical acts of affection, and they certainly can’t be trained or expected to learn new tricks. These are animals that don’t rely on intelligence or emotion, but instead operate on pure instinct. They definitely didn’t survive millions of years by cozying up to larger creatures for affection. This means that although you may enjoy holding your animal and stroking its abdomen or carapace, at the most your spider will be indifferent. It certainly isn’t going to enjoy the attention or reciprocate like your family dog might under the same circumstances. People on this side feel that if a spider allows you to handle it without incident, it doesn’t mean that it enjoys the interaction; no, it’s more likely that it is tolerating it. They are not a domestic animal like a dog or cat that has been evolved to adapt to close human interaction. They are wild animals that have existed and survived on hardwired primal instinct for millions of years. To these hobbyists, the mere suggestion that these arachnids could get any benefit from handling is simply ludicrous.

Some specimens are just really tame and tractable, so there’s no harm in handling them.  There are many species of tarantulas that are recognized for having very docile temperaments and being okay for handling. If a keeper has a spider that she’s kept for a long period of time, observed its behavior, tested its temperament and handled in the past, what is the harm in it? Many folks, especially ones who use some of their spiders for demonstrations, have particular specimens that they handle frequently and without incident. It’s all about knowing your animals and recognizing their personalities.

Casey Peter handling his G. porteri

C.J. Peter handling his G. porteri

These are wild animals and, as such, can be unpredictable.  Some would say that tarantulas can be tame … until suddenly, they aren’t. There are plenty of stories out there from keepers who used to hold a particular specimen until it bolted or attacked, seemingly without warning. Sure, a tarantula may allow its keeper to handle it for a period of time, but all that means is that in those instances, it was tolerating the behavior. Have you ever accidentally blown on a T and seen its reaction? It doesn’t take much—an errant breath, a draft from a window, a slight jostle—to send a calm specimen into a frantic state. This makes them VERY unpredictable. There are also many stories of once docile Ts molting into nasty little monsters (and sometimes molting back to docile again). Their temperaments are NOT always predictable or consistent, and many will change as they age. Ts that tolerate handling one day could easily freak out the next.

Even if one were to get bit, no one has ever died from a tarantula bite, so the risk is minimal. Well, at least from a tarantula’s venom. Although there have been two cases in which a person has died from complications from a tarantula bite, both due to secondary infection, their venom is not lethal. The fact is, these aren’t venomous snakes or an animal that could kill you. A bite from one of these animals, particularly an Old World species, will lead to quite a bit of pain and discomfort, but there is no antivenin or hospital visit needed. Just  a  cursory look at the bite reports on Arachnoboards makes it very apparent anyone bitten walks away from the unpleasant experience. Those in this camp often complain that folks who describe them as potentially dangerous animals are grossly exaggerating.

Although not lethal, a bite can be debilitating … and could lead to a hobby ban.  Now, obviously we’re talking about Old World bites here, and most people that choose to handle do so with more docile (and less potent) New World species. However, although most folks know better than to try to handle Old World tarantulas, a quick search on YouTube will reveal dozens of keepers who throw common sense to the wind to showoff their handling skills with these animal. These videos often have thousands of views and dozens of likes, and one can only assume that they could inspire copycats. Worse still, many new to the hobby don’t understand what differentiates New World and Old Word tarantulas and may emulate this type of handling without any idea of the danger they are putting themselves in.

Sure, a tarantula bite won’t kill you. That said, a bite from an Old World species can be much more than a simple inconvenience, and many bitten by these species end up in their local emergency rooms as they look for relief from the pain. And all it would take is one highly-publicized, sensationalized bite to make the press for folks to start asking why people are even allowed to keep venomous arachnids. It’s a fact that tarantula sales have already been banned in some countries and states for less. Tarantula keeping, although gaining popularity, is still a fringe hobby. If a legislator decides to push a ban on these “dangerous” bugs, there wouldn’t be much in the way of public opposition. Many feel that it’s hobbyist responsibility to maintain a hands-off relationship with their pets in order to minimize the chances that a bad bite could bring damaging publicity.

Handling for demonstrative purposes can be educational, help people get over their fear of these animals, and bring interest to the hobby.  Some who keep tarantulas will put on demonstrations at elementary schools and expos, and usually a big part of these presentations involves the keeper handling a T or allowing others to handle it. If done properly and safely, those in attendance are in no danger as they get to experience these often demonized animals up close. It’s no secret that many people are both repulsed and fascinated by the idea of a giant hairy spider, so getting to experience one up close harmlessly being handled is a good way to stimulate that interest while assuaging some of that fear. Plenty of current hobbyists will tell of the first time they saw a tarantula up close or handled one during a presentation; in many cases, this interaction served as a catalyst for their interest in the hobby.  The fact is, these types of presentations offer folks a chance to see these animals as the harmless, beautiful creatures they are and often lead to more of an appreciation and interest in the hobby.

The only purpose demonstration handling serves is to teach future hobbyists bad habits.  For those who are against handling, these types of presentations are animal-centered freak shows that paint an inaccurate picture of what the hobby is about.   If you were trying to generate an interest in the exotic fish hobby, for example, you certainly wouldn’t pass a poor fish around to be handled by dozens of gawkers. There are better ways to introduce folks to the hobby that don’t involve a practice that many hobbyists are vehemently against. Those against handling feel that people walk away from these demonstrations with the belief that handling is the norm and that all tarantulas will tolerate it.  Because these are essentially wild animals with bites and urticating hairs that can make for a very unpleasant day, those being introduced to the hobby should be introduced to these animals as fascinating but deserving of respect, not as toys to be touched and played with.

Handling can be useful and necessary for maintenance.   I include this one on the list as I’ve personally heard a few people explain that in order to perform maintenance in the most stress-free way, it is best for the keeper to remove the tarantula from its enclosure by hand. They argue that the use of tongs and plastic cups to poke, corral, and capture the spider only causes undue stress. If a keeper handles his/her spiders and gets them use to the process, it’s better to just pick them up and move them when doing cage transfers or cleaning. For these folks, years of experience has taught them to read subtle behavioral signs and to recognize when a tarantula might be tolerant of handling, and they feel comfortable using their hands and not a plastic cup to relocate their prized pets.

There is absolutely, positively NO need to pick up your tarantula for transfers and cleanings.  There are many methods hobbyists use to safely transfer their pets, whether it be cupping, the bag method, or the bottle technique. Physically picking up the Ts to move them usually doesn’t come into the discussion. The vast majority of keepers would never consider using their hands for transfers. Although this may work for some of the more docile species, many collections consist of the more fast and feisty Old World tarantulas, and the general consensus is that these species should never be handled. Are you really going to pick up your OBT or Poecilotheria species to rehouse it? Besides, the logic behind a gentle cupping being more stressful than being picked up by a giant hand is suspect at best. A cup can be quickly placed over most tarantulas without them panicking, allowing the keeper to safely move his or her T anytime with minimal stress and danger to the keeper and animal. Using your hands? Not so much.. If the tarantula should bite or bolt, you could end up with an escaped or missing spider.

My $0.02

Let me start by saying that I truly feel that this is not a black and white issue and that both sides have very valid points. Do I appreciate why both sides are so passionate about their opinions on the subject? I sure do. From a personal standpoint, I do not hold my tarantulas. Although I’ve engaged in the practice in the past, and am pleased that I can cross “handle large hairy spider” off of my bucket list, the concept of getting hands on time with my Ts quickly lost much its novelty. Although I love my spiders and think of them as pets, I also perceive them as wild animals that really get nothing from close human contact. If I want to cuddle or pet something, I have four attention-thirsty dogs ready to take one for the team.

For me, it really comes down to risk vs. reward, both for me and the spider I try to hold. If I do hold my T and it goes well, I really don’t get much out of it except I can tell folks that I’ve handled a giant bug (and, admittedly, many folks would find that quite cool). And what would the spider get out of it? Absolutely nothing. At best, it tolerates its big, creepy keeper passing it back and forth between his sweaty hands for a few moments. The biggest issue for me is the safety of my animals. I know that if I get bit, my knee jerk reaction is going to be to quickly pull my hand away. This would likely result in me sending my tarantula airborne and possibly killing it. It’s a reflex that I can’t control, so no amount of preparation could ever prevent this from occurring if I were to be bitten. And, as much as I feel like I’m good at reading my tarantulas’ body language and behavior to assess their moods, I recognize that I could never be 100% sure that one wouldn’t bite me.

Then there’s the fact that the majority of my collection consists of large skittish New World tropical species and Old Words, so many of my animals would be hands-off anyway. I’m always in the habit of being careful to keep my hands away from some of my defensive baboons, so it just doesn’t even cross my mind anymore to pick up any of my specimens. For me, they are there to be admired, and I feel that by not handling, I’m putting the safety of my pets first.

All this said, does this mean that I look down on those who do choose to handle their pets?

Absolutely not.

I’ve been around the hobby long enough and met enough folks to appreciate the draw of handling and to recognize when it’s being done responsibly. And, having been around animals my entire life, I definitely agree that, to some degree, an observant keeper who is familiar with his spider’s behavior and mood is likely at little risk of being bit. I know many folks, many who are friend from the hobby, who keep these animals and really get enjoyment out of taking them out and spending a little hands on time with them. Considering in some countries, these gorgeous creatures are hunted, cooked, and eaten, a little time spent watching TV with a careful keeper doesn’t seem all that bad in comparison.

And if I’m being completely honest, I have a couple specimens that I’ve found to be so docile and, quite frankly, adorable that I am very tempted to hold them. Furthermore, although I’ve never taken my Euathlus sp. red and female B. albopilosum out specifically for handling, I may have had each in my hand more than once. Although it’s not something I would shoot a video on or encourage others to do, I certainly understand the attraction. If I didn’t have my dogs or some other cuddly domestic pet, perhaps I would feel a little different about handling.

Like all things in this amazing hobby, I think that education and preparation are key. Those looking to handle their tarantulas should make sure they are aware of the risks and research the correct and safest way to go about this activity. There are plenty of videos on YouTube that demonstrate how to correctly and safely go about holding a tarantula. A keeper who makes the correct preparations and handles their spider in a responsible manner should be posing very little risk to herself, the spider, or the hobby. That said, I do think that tarantulas should be kept out of the hands of friends and family as a bite could lead to a bad situation (and likely result in a lifelong fear of Ts for the victim).

The hobby, although bigger than ever, has been around for a long time. And in that time, many people have handled their pets with no serious consequences. Whether hobbyist agree on handling or not, it’s going to to continue to happen regardless of the protests and admonishments of those who see it as risky to the animals and the hobby. Regardless of which side of the fence you land on, when the topic inevitably comes up, healthy debate and informed discussion is much more effective and productive than admonishment or brow-beating.

Final Thoughts

Although I can see both sides of the handling argument, I stand firm that I see absolutely no reason for anyone to chance holding Old World species. I understand that some keepers handle their baboon and Poecilotheria species without incident, but I’ve also seen folks put their heads in crocodiles’ mouths and kiss king cobras. Just succeeding in doing something reckless and dangerous does not make it right. Furthermore, I think that folks that post videos of this type of activity are being incredibly irresponsible, as young or ill-informed keepers may be inspired to replicate this daredevil behavior. Even if you do have the world’s most docile OBT, let’s not mistakenly convince folks that this behavior is the norm and not a huge exception.

I DO believe that there is some merit to the idea that a publicized bite could lead to legislation restricting their sale. I live in Connecticut where it is already illegal for pet shops and expos to sell venomous inverts including tarantulas. After a horrible chimp attack in my state in 2009, legislators put forth a bill that would have banned just about ALL exotic pets. Although this bill ultimately failed, the fact that it managed to gain any traction at all is a scary reminder that to most folks at large, exotic animals like tarantulas shouldn’t be kept as pets. Sure, we as hobbyist might recognize that these animals are harmless overall, but the general public at large is not nearly as informed as we are.

As keepers, it is our responsibility to respect our animals and protect the hobby by not taking unnecessary and careless risks with them. However, whether or not handling is an “irresponsible behavior” really depends on the circumstances and the keeper.

What are your thoughts on handling? Feel free to chime in through the comment section below!

Special thanks the C.J. Peters for the excellent handling photos!