First published in Herpetoculture House Digital Magazine vol. 3 issue 1
Tarantulas are quickly becoming popular pets around the US. They can now be found in pet stores, at reptile shows, and sold online. The novice tarantula keeper may be overwhelmed with the myriad species available for sale and some of the most impressively sized and brilliantly colored specimens may not be suitable for the beginner. Here we will discuss some of the species that are touted by many tarantula breeders and enthusiasts as beginner tarantulas. These New World tarantulas while still capable of delivering a mildly venomous bite and flicking urticating hairs are not as dangerous as Old World tarantulas. The specific species named herein are easy to care for and generally considered to be more evenly tempered and tolerant of handling than others.
Tarantulas can be incredibly simple to care for with very basic needs to be met in order for the keeper to be successful. All tarantulas can be kept at a room temperature that is comfortable for humans, usually around 70 degrees to 80 degrees. They can be kept individually (it is not recommended to keep tarantulas in groups due to the dangers of cannibalism) in appropriately sized plastic containers such as Kritter Keepers or even modified plastic storage containers with secure lids measuring around 8 inch by 12 inches for a tarantula averaging around 5 to 6 inches in diagonal leg span. They should be provided with some type of soil substrate (I prefer Eco Earth which is made from coconut fibers), a shelter or hide box made of cork bark, clay flower pots, or other artificial materials such as pieces of PVC pipe cut in half lengthwise, and a small water dish. They will thrive on a variety of invertebrate prey items and even an occasional appropriately sized small rodent, if desired, however vertebrate prey is not necessary.
Chaco golden knee (Grammostola pulchripes formerly Grammostola aureostriata)
Golden knees have gold stripes on their knees leading them to also be called Chaco gold stripes. They reach an impressive size of about 8 inches in leg span. They are slow growers and slow movers with docile temperaments. They require an enclosure of about 12 inches by 24 inches with at least 4 inches of relatively dry substrate and a large shelter. To maintain adequate humidity levels, dampen substrate on one side of the enclosure approximately once a week and allow to dry. They are not nervous and flighty when presented with an unknown situation such as handling by humans and will instead move with slow hesitant steps. Their slow steady movements make them the perfect ambassador species to present to the public for educational purposes.
Brazilian Black (Grammostola pulchra)
Even though G. pulchra is not a brightly colored specimen, it has a very handsome velvety black appearance. It is a large (on average 5 to 6 inch leg span), docile species that comes from the moist forests of Brazil therefore it should be kept on damp but not wet substrates. This is another species that is an excellent introduction to tarantula keeping for the novice due to it's calm and slow moving nature.
Chilean rose (Grammostola rosea)
The Chilean rose tarantula often commonly and incorrectly called the “rose hair” is one of the most popular and recognizable species that has been a classic in the tarantula keeping hobby for years. G. rosea come in three color forms – the normal color form which is a uniform grey with only a few pinkish hairs, the pink color form, and the red color form which is also known as copper or flame.
While generally a docile species, there are some specimens that may be more aggressive, so it is wise to choose a more docile individual when looking to purchase a rose. They tend to be slow moving and slow growing with an average size of about 4 to 5 inches in leg span. Natives of the Atacama Desert in Chile, they prefer drier conditions and are tolerant of a wide range of temperatures. In captivity they will thrive when kept on 3 to 4 inches of a dry substrate with a water dish provided.. Coming from a harsh natural environment, they have the ability to fast for long periods of time without any ill effects but keepers should beware to not overfeed them and remove any uneaten food from their enclosures.
Honduran curly-hair (Brachypelma albopilosum)
This is a slow moving, slow growing (up to 6 inches in leg span), and docile species that is not apt to using urticating hairs unless highly annoyed. While not a brightly colored specimen being a dark brown spider with tan hairs, people are often attracted to the unique look of the curly hairs giving them a frizzy appearance. In the wild, they can be found in burrows in moist forest areas and in captivity should be kept on 3 to 4 inches of damp substrate.
Mexican red-knee (Brachypelma smithi)
B. smithi is another established classic in the hobby and one of the species most commonly portrayed in movies and on television due to it's unique and instantly recognizable coloration with bright orange knees. They are docile, slow moving, slow growing (up to 6 inches) but may be prone to flicking hairs. Captive care for B. smithi, B. vagans, and B. emilia, and B. auratum are all similar as they are burrowers that come from drier environments. They should be kept on a dry substrate that is 3 to 4 inches deep and provided with a water dish to drink from.
Mexican red-rump (Brachypelma vagans)
As the name suggests B. vagans is a black or dark brown colored tarantula with red abdominal hairs. It has a moderate growth rate and reaches a size of about 6 inches in leg span. It is a slightly more skittish species and more likely to flick urticating hairs.
Mexican red-leg (Brachypelma emilia)
Red-legs also known as painted legs or painted red legs have bright yellow to orange tibias on their legs with a beige to orange carapace and a dark V shape that starts around the area of the eyes. They have also been reported to be slightly more aggressive than other beginner species and not as tolerant of handling.
Mexican flame-knee (Brachypelma auratum)
While flame-knees are less colorful than red-knees, they are very attractive due to having red almost heart shaped patches on their knees, white knee joints, and reddish-brown hairs on the abdomen. They are very similar in size and temperament to red-knees but require a slightly higher humidity which can be achieved by keeping the substrate just slightly damp on one side of the enclosure. They are a very active species and can be commonly observed rearranging their cage furnishings and even filling the water dish with substrate.
I highly recommend purchasing captive bred specimens rather than wild caught ones since captive breeding not only yields healthy individuals but also does not effect the conservation of wild populations. Captive bred spiderlings, juveniles, and even adults of the above mentioned species are readily available for sale.
Tarantulas come in every color of the rainbow and more species are being brought into the hobby every day. Hopefully, these beginner species open the doors to more exotic species to be discovered as the keeper moves forward from novice to expert.