Giant spiders in captivity:

Sunday, March 12, 2000 1:21 AM

Acquiring specimens

Tarantulas and other large spiders are readily available in the retail pet market. The majority of these spiders however tend to come from large wholesalers specializing in importing cheap basic pet stock, of a wild caught nature. This sort of practice tends to flood the market with a few basic tarantulas such as the Chilean rosed hair tarantula ( Grammostola gala), the curly haired tarantula (Euthalus albopilosa), and many untagged simply named giant bird eater spiders (Pamphobeteus xxxx ). For a basic start this is fine for most novices wanting to achieve immediate giant spider status. Unfortunately there are some drawbacks as well, working with many all in one wholesale importers and jobbers I have witnessed boxes of poorly caught and maintained stock come in with a mortality rate of 50% or more. The main cause is usually poor shipping methods or acclimation difficulties. In extreme cases I would open a box to discover a shipment of misc. bird eaters (Pamphobeteus xxxx) come in with severe mite infestations or respiratory problems assumed at least due to cold shipping without proper heat packaging. The ones that do trickle out into the market place obviously achieving almost Darwinian status by making it through when others have not are not necessarily optimal choices yet. Most are already adults maybe close to natural deaths themselves, some refuse to feed ever especially particularly flighty species like the Asian tree spiders ( Poecilotheria xxxx) they rarely acclimate to captive conditions and may take months before wasting away.

Many of the most unusual and rare spiders that a collector may want to acquire are never available as wild caught adults such is the case of the Mexican red leg (Euathalus smithi) this species is listed as CITES appendix II and cannot be legally imported into the country at all. So the choice is obvious anyone desiring a stellar collection of healthy, guilt free spiders should consider buying captive raised juveniles or subadults. This is the best choice for overall health and longevity of your specimens. The captive raised spiders are also properly named and identified even if there is a popular difference in opinion of the taxonomy of a spider; You will have general knowledge of at least the adult pair to draw conclusions, due to the fact that most of the captive raised spiders are breed in house and networked within a very close knit community of arachnoculturists. The prices also are substantially lower than wild caught adults in many cases. There are also drawbacks to this method of acquiring spiders, depending on the species adulthood may take several months to years to reach sexual maturity. The juvenile spiderlings are a little more of a challenge to maintain as they require more frequent feedings, maintenance and may escape more readily.

Housing requirements:

determining the home for your recently purchased spider may seem challenging while browsing a popular pet store or website selling reptile or other exotic terrarium supplies. Most spiders due very well in basic terraria such as an all glass aquarium or snap top lid enclosure. The size of the container really depends on the species chosen but ten gallon aquarium sized enclosures should be spacious for most spiders. My personal choice due to the size of the collection is easily available sweater boxes, with several 1/4 inch holes drilled for air circulation they work great. They are clean, stackable and easily moved. care should be taken when choosing a top for the enclosure it should snug fitting and allow for plenty of air circulation, under no circumstances should duct tape be considered as an attachment method > I have probably seen 15 or more reptiles and spiders stuck and injured by the adhesive of this product, some to the point of death.


Substrate for the cage is usually what makes or breaks a good design, optimally you want good humidity 55%-70% or higher, drainage, and the ability to be cleaned or changed frequently. If you desire a sterile easy maintenance situation for large collections or just simplicity, Vermiculite is hard to beat due to its relative sterility and moisture retention quality, it is literally a super heated mineral that is light, airry and excellent for burrowing species. Vermiculite is available at most large home improvement stores it comes in two grades fine like sand or a larger almost #3 aquarium gravel size. Be careful when choosing vermiculite I have noticed some brands adding fertilizers or other gardening ingredients that could cause harm to the spiders. Another choice especially for spiderlings is moist papertowels they are easily changed and very sterile the downside tends to be quick dry out time so danger of spider dehydration should be considered. For the arachnoculturists wanting a display type of setup, a full blown terrarium is an excellent option. There is nothing more impressive than a large well planted terrarium that actually grows and functions as a small bio sphere with a giant spider as the center piece. However the terrarium provides many challenges of its own, in order for there to be proper growth of plants full spectrum lighting is necessary, good quality fluorescent lighting such as the vita-lite series is the best. Drainage so root rot doesn't occur is also important, I recommend at least two or more inches of gravel at the bottom of the soil mix to allow the water an area to drain independent of the substrate. A sandwich of soils is the best method the bottom layer being the gravel bed, followed by a good soil mixture (absent of any fertilizing agents) finally topped off by a orchid bark mixture or fine mulch like cypress or eucalyptus. If done in that order it should be acceptable to the plants and animals living in the terrarium. The mulch layer on top actually provides two things a dry ground barrier to seperate the spiders from the moist soil and it is attractive to the overall look.

Plant life and landscaping:

Plants that do well in terrarium situations are as follows: Creeping fig (ficus pumila), ivy plants and many of the dracaena family. When considering plants keep in mind that arboreal spiders may constantly be scaling the leaves and terrestrial spiders especially the heavy ones will be trampling the foliage daily. When a burrowing spider is kept making a nice terrarium design may actually make the spider so comfortable it will be rarely seen, so make sure there is alternate viewing methods available. Artificial plants are another potential candidate for a terrarium look with the advantage of ease of maintenance and durability. Some spiders may also require hiding places or retreats. This can be achieved with cork bark pieces leaning against aquarium walls or various driftwood configurations, be sure to study your spiders native environment so it can be emulated properly.

Safety in the enclosure:

Some advanced setups may feature rocks with cascading plants or large pieces of driftwood, these items must be properly secured or else there may be a danger of crushing your spider with heavy terrarium items. Sometimes preplanning the design is the best option you may actually be able to use household silicone adhesive to glue together rocks or branches to make a secure attractive environment, just allow 24 hours or more for proper curing. Once again at no time should duct tape or similar adhesive agents be considered due to the danger of harming the inhabitants.

Spiderling enclosure principles:

most of the available spiderlings are tiny, not appearing to be much larger than a house spider so housing requirements are completley different than an adult. The smallest spiderlings should be kept in small deli cups with a few holes for air circulation, and a substrate of a paper towel or handful of vermiculite. When adding water to small deli cups care should be taken not to flood the cup or a small spiderling could drown. The solution to this seems to be to add a small drain hole or two to prevent a potential tragedy. Juveniles and up to subadults will grow quickly so the deli cup stage will not last long, other enclosures for smaller spiders that aren't quite adults are comercially available shoe boxes, and the snap top small animal carriers work well and are efficient at ventilation.

Spider roomates?

keeping spiders together is not recommended due to the high rate of cannabalism amongst many spiders. Breeders usually only introduce males to females at specified times and very cautiously. However there is one exception spiders of the genus avicularia, especially the common pink toed tarantula actually thrive in small colonies of five or more they also readily breed in this manner.


Tarantulas feed on insects and sometimes small vertbrates of various sizes usually in relation to their own body size. In general they rarely accept prey items much larger than them. Spiderlings and young juveniles will readily eat pinhead crickets or fruit fly culture. For faster growth of younger spiders a daily feeding is recommended they will maintain proper weight and molt frequently under this regimen.


continued in a few days!