Power Feeding Tarantulas


Or, how to learn to stop worrying and just feed your tarantula when it’s hungry.

Power feeding: The act of accelerating an animal’s growth by increasing temperatures and the amount and/or frequency it is fed.

If you’ve been in the hobby for any amount of time, you’ve likely been privy to a debate between hobbyists about the virtues or dangers of feeding tarantulas too much. Although a less incendiary topic than handling, this subject of “power feeding” still manages to elicit some strong views as folks are seemingly split over whether this is a harmless practice or a detriment to tarantulas’ health and longevity.

I’ve had many new hobbyists contact me over years needlessly worrying about whether or not they are going to overfeed their tarantulas or concerned with this horrible thing called “power feeding” that they’ve heard about and been told to avoid. When I tell folks to feed their slings as often as they want, I often get a response along the lines of, “But isn’t that power feeding? Won’t that shorten the life of my T?” I’ve even be trashed by a concerned hobbyist that told me that feeding my animals more than once a month constituted animal abuse.

Okay then…

In many ways, the term “power feeding” has become a bit of a dirty phrase to some in the hobby … which is ironic, as many informed and experienced hobbyist would argue that it doesn’t even apply to tarantulas. The term actually originated in the herp hobby, particularly when breeding color morphs of ball pythons. While snake breeders have used power feeding for decades in order to quickly get their specimens to breedable size, the practice has been recognized for having adverse effects on the animals’ health. Therefore, the assumption is that the same practice would also be harmful for arachnids.

Unfortunately, comparing snakes to tarantulas, two very different organisms, doesn’t work in this instance. 

The fact is, many expert keepers feel that feeding your tarantulas as much as they will eat has no negative impact on their health and longevity. Although much has been said about the negative impacts it could have on an animal, they point to lack of scientific proof (and point to mounds of keeper anecdotal data that seems to dispel this idea). They argue that the worst that can happen from feeding a spider all it will eat is a fat tarantula that will fast for a while.

Many inexperienced hobbyists will understandably err on the side of caution and avoid this practice for the sake of their animals’ well being. They will unfortunately read about “power feeding” on some website and immediately worry that they might overfeed their pet. Due to this misinformation, they feel strongly that, by allowing their animal to “overindulge”, they are putting its health and lifespan at risk.

However, are they really extending their tarantulas’ lifespans, or is the idea of “power feeding” tarantulas only a myth?

First off, how would one “power feed” tarantulas?

Before we get any further, it’s important to define what supposedly constitutes “power feeding.” Although most folks think power feeding is just increasing the amount of food you give to your tarantula, it’s not quite that simple. To truly power feed, you need to do two things:

  1. Increase the temperature: To get the quick growth “power feeding” is meant to promote, you also need to stimulate the T’s metabolism. This is done by increasing the temperatures to the low 80s for most species. Basically, the warmer the surroundings, the faster your tarantulas will grow. If the temperature in your home is dipping to 68° F (20° C), then your T will not have the fast metabolism required for quick growth. For true “power feeding”, it’s more about speeding up the metabolism than just pumping your T full of food.
  2. Feed the tarantula as much as it will eat:  With its metabolism sped up, it’s now time to increase the frequency food is offered. This can be every day or every couple days, depending on the size of the meal. If you give your .5″ sling a medium cricket to scavenge feed on, it might only be need to be fed a couple more times before it’s ready to molt. If you are feeding smaller, more manageable-sized prey, then it may eat every day to every other day.

It’s really that simple. Unfortunately, many folks will try to feed their Ts more without providing a warmer environment. Doing so will likely result in a fat T who takes its time molting (trust me … I’ve done it). It’s important to remember that higher temperatures have more to do with growth rate than how often you feed.

Now, some folks seem to consider it “power feeding” when you feed a slings multiple times a week. Personally, I think that’s a bit ridiculous. Many tarantulas are at their most voracious when they are slings, and this is a great time to make sure they get as much food as they can take. If the temperatures are high enough, and they are well-fed, this will lead to faster growth (and get your animal out of the delicate sling stage earlier).

Many hobbyists reason that tarantulas know what they are doing; if they want to eat, they’ll eat. If they’re not hungry, they won’t. In the wild, it behooves a sling to grow as fast as possible to outgrow this vulnerable stage. As slings, these animals are at particular risk from predators and the elements. During times when prey is plentiful, they would likely eat as much and as often as possible in order to foster faster growth.

So, why wouldn’t this hold true in captivity?

Even in captivity, tarantulas are most vulnerable during their sling stage. At this time, they are prone to dehydration and extra susceptible to environmental factors like humidity and temperature. Many, if not most, of the sudden deaths reported by keepers are spiderlings. Therefore, many keepers will feed their sling much more often

Personally, I tend to feed my slings as much as they’ll eat in the summer when the temps are around 80 or so for just this reason. Once the sling hits about 1.25-1.5″, I slow the feeding down to one or twice a week (depending on the size of the prey). This has worked very well for me.

Is feeding slings as much as they will eat really “power feeding”? Most experienced keepers would argue NO. Eating while food is available is a natural adaptation that allows for them to quickly grow in the wild.

But what about the adults? Again, many would argue that the “power feeding” really doesn’t apply, at least not in the way it does with snakes. Keepers have discovered that tarantulas will only eat until a certain point, then they stop and prepare to molt. Furthermore, feeding them more often doesn’t make them molt faster; instead they will usually spend quite a bit of time fasting as their bodies have told them they’ve had enough. Therefore, feeding your larger specimen more often isn’t likely to lead to a faster growth rate the way it would with slings.

For example, I have a young adult P. cancerides who I fed large dubia roaches to several times a week. After about a month of living the high life, it stopped eating…and didn’t molt for almost five months. Feeding her as much as she would eat definitely didn’t speed up her growth.

There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence from experienced keepers that seems to indicate that “power feeding” really doesn’t apply to these animals. If that’s the case, then, folks who are choosing to feed their spiders multiple times a week aren’t doing their animals any harm.

Why might a keeper decide to feed her spiders more often?

A new keeper may be thinking, why might someone feed their spiders more often when they can get away with once week? There are a few solid reasons a keeper might partake in this practice.

The keeper is trying to grow a female to maturity faster for breeding purposes. If you’re a breeder with a young female you are hoping to mate, you may not want to wait the several years it could take for her to mature on a normal once a week feeding schedule. Breeders will often jack up the temps and feed females as much as they’ll eat in an attempt to get a breedable specimen faster. This is especially true for folks who pay huge amounts of money to import new species with the hopes of producing some of the first captive bred slings. In this case, the goal is to get a viable sack (and big money for the sought-after spiderlings) as quickly as possible.

The keeper is trying to mature a male faster for breeding purposes. So, you have your female ready, and you’re having a difficult time locating a mature male. Just like in the instance above, the keeper may try to mature a sling or juvenile male more quickly through power feeding to get a mature male faster.

The keeper is trying to grow his/her spiders out of the delicate sling stage faster. Personally, this is something I do. Tarantulas are at their most vulnerable during the sling stage, where they are much more sensitive to environmental conditions and husbandry mistakes. Personally, I want my tiniest guys out of this stage as quickly as possible, so I usually give them as much as they will eat until they reach about 1.25-1.5″ in DLS. At this point, I switch them back to a more normal schedule of about twice a week.

The keeper wants his/her tarantula to grow to adulthood faster for aesthetic reasons.  The fact is, when you tell people that you have tarantulas, they are expecting to see giant hairy spiders. Unfortunately, even the largest of these awesome beasts start off as tiny, fairly unimpressive slings. Some hobbyists opt to power feed in order to get a large display spider faster.

But does feeding your tarantula often shorten its life?

It should be noted that nothing has been done in terms of scientific research as to how power feeding might negatively impact a spider. Most of what we think we know is postulation and guesswork. Until someone does some controlled experiments comparing sac mates that are power fed to those who aren’t, we’ll have to continue with our own observations and anecdotal evidence.

That said, there are keepers that have been in the hobby for decades who seem to find that the idea of overfeeding a tarantula is simply foolish. Their years of collective experience in keeping and breeding has taught them that these animals do not experience the same health issues snakes or mammals would when fed regularly.

So, now that we’ve heard the benefits of feeding spiders whenever they’ll eat, what are some of the perceived issues surrounding this practice. Below is a list of the supposed cons according to folks who are against it.

  • Shortens the lifespan of the tarantula
  • Can cause molting issues
  • Stretched abdominal skin can rupture more easily
  • Some believe it can cause fertility issues in males and females (although this one had been disproved repeatedly)

Now, it must be mentioned that many of these side-effects, like molting and fertility issues, have all been disproved. There are plenty of breeders out there who have fed their Ts often to get them to breeding age, and none have reported issues. As for molting issues, some have argued that in species like Theraphosa stirmi, it can cause bad molts. However, many keepers feed this species as much as it will eat and have no issues whatsoever. Again, this appears to be a myth.

Now, it IS absolutely true that fat spiders are more prone to abdominal ruptures, so this is a very real concern.That said, a properly set up enclosure with the correct amount of substrate and ceiling height would seriously limit the chance of this happening.

But doesn’t “power feeding” reduce lifespans?

The answer is: if it does, it’s usually not enough to worry about. For most species, the only time feeding them more will make a difference on growth rate is when they are slings. As established, they are designed to eat as much as they can during this period, and well fed slings will grow faster than slings fed less often. That said, their growth rates will usually slow down a bit once they put on some size, so the amount of time supposedly sheered off their lifespans would be very short indeed.

Take a look at the charts below. For the first one, I used a hypothetical female tarantula with an average lifespan of 15 years. Due to the longevity of this species, “power feeding” has a very nominal effect on the overall lifespan (the gray area designated by a “?”) In this instance, the amount of time potentially taken off of its life is a matter of months, not years. This is a very small amount of time in the grand scheme of things.

Now, this would be a female with a medium lifespan. Imagine if we were to use a Brachypelma, Aphonopelma, or Grammostola species female. Because they can live 25 years or more, the time power feeding one would take off of its lifespan would be negligible at best.

Personally, I think this is a worthwhile trade-off to ensure my spider better chances earlier in life.


For males, it can be a little bit different. Obviously, males have shorter lifespans as it is, and most will outgrow their female counterparts in the same time span. Therefore, the accelerated growth earlier in the male’s life-cycle may have a more profound effect on its overall lifespan.

In the chart below, we look at a male tarantula with a lifespan of three years. Here, the sped up growth cycle eats away a higher percent of its life. That being said, if you find out that the sling you raised is a male, you don’t have to starve your animal, but a lighter feeding schedule would prolong its life and make up for some of the time lost to power feeding.


(Note: The charts above are meant only as approximations, and many factors, including temperature, diet, and the genes of individual species could impact these estimates.)

Either way, these charts illustrate the fact that the sling stage is actually a very small part of a spider’s life cycle, and power feeding a sling at this point in its life really doesn’t impact the tarantula’s lifespan that much at all.

Also, lets not forget that we are still not sure how long some of these spiders can live. So, if the T above were to die in the span of that gray area at the end, we would have no way of knowing if its lifespan had been shortened by early power feeding, or if there were other factors involved.

Just something to think about.

The Verdict

Honestly, I don’t really believe that “power feeding” applies to Tarantulas, and that there is nothing wrong with feeding your pets as much as they will eat. Worst case scenario, you’ll get a fat T that will fast for a bit.

Could it shorten a T’s life? I suppose, but in most cases, if it did shorten the spiders’ lives, it would be by a nominal amount. Personally, I’d rather risk rushing my tarantula through the fragile sling stage than possibly “prolong” its life by withholding food. As long as proper husbandry is followed, and the animals are kept correctly, there really isn’t any harm to the T and its comfort level.

After all, in the wild they exist to eat, mature, and breed.

And, if a keeper wants to savor every minute with their beloved animal as it grows over the years, who’s to judge if she decides not to cut back on the feeding her. These animals are, for many of us, pets, and it would make sense that we would want them with us as long as possible. If this keeper has no interest in breeding, then it would behoove her to not rush its growth.

To each his or her own.

The Best (and Most Ridiculous!) Tarantula Myths


There is something just so fascinating about a giant, hairy spider.

Whether you love them or hate them, tarantulas have the uncanny ability to capture our imaginations, pique our curiosity, and illicit powerful emotions. For those who love and keep them, these furry bugs conjure feelings of wonderment and awe. Unfortunately, to those who suffer from arachnophobia, they can be the stuff of nightmares, creatures seemingly too frightening to exist. One way or another, these animals get a reaction.

Of course, it doesn’t help that these animals have traditionally been utilized in horror movies and television as cheap scares. In the 50s alone, the advent of the drive-in theater ushered in several tarantula and spider-centric horror flicks like Tarantula (1954), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), and Earth vs. the Spider (1958). Over the years, they have been featured in dozens of other movies and TV shows, including a memorable turn by an A. seemani in Home Alone (1990).  Media has taught us from day one that spiders are something to be feared … bloodthirsty monsters existing only to sink their venomous fangs into our flesh.

Therefore, it’s no wonder that these fearsome, but misunderstood predators are the subject of some pretty incredible, often entertaining myths. With more folks socializing via social media than ever, some of these decades-old rumors are finally getting dispelled. As more people gravitate toward arachnoculture and the tarantula-keeping hobby, they are becoming more informed about these marvelous animals. Little by little, the “good word” is being spread, and these nasty fallacies are being corrected.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good.

Many of these misconceptions have been afforded new life as one inaccurate post can now reach hundreds of folks as it is passed around and reblogged as fact. Since joining sites like Tumblr and Twitter, I’ve personally encountered many of these arachnid urban legends, and although I try to dispel them, the fantasy often proves more compelling and entertaining than the facts for some people.

Some of these misconceptions are spread by folks who are just uneducated about how these animals behave and what they are physically capable of. Others, unfortunately, are more hobby-centric, and spread to others by over-cautious or misinformed keepers. And, as with most myths or legends, some seem to act as some type of warning to those who might encounter or keep them.

So, in an effort to finally put many of these myths to rest and to have fun with some of the sillier ones, I present a list of the most common, and sometimes ridiculous, tarantula myths. Some of these are more general misconceptions, and others are more hobby-centric. but I think that they all merit a mention.

And now … the myths!

“Tarantulas are aggressive and will chase you when they attack.”

I hear this one all the time, and it’s obviously a rumor based on fear. Tarantulas are not vicious creatures that will chase you across a room in order to inflict harm. Are there species that are quicker to bite? Sure. Some Old World species, P. murinus and H. lividium come to mind, are very defensive and will charge short distances if they feel threatened. However, this is defensive behavior. They are not attacking because they want to kill you; they are scared. They see you as a large, potentially dangerous predator infringing on their territory, so they will use the weapons nature gave them to defend themselves.  For them, it’s nothing personal … it’s a matter of survival. Get you before you get them.

Honestly, the idea of a tarantula chasing someone across the room is just silly. First off, most will want to get back to the burrow they are defending. Chasing an enemy long distances would leave them dangerously exposed. Also, anyone who has worked with them knows that they generally move in shorter, potentially very fast, bursts. However, tarantulas  will usually pause to rest and recharge after a relatively short distance. As far as animals go, they are sprinters, not marathon runners. Generally, if they do take off running, it is going to be away from you.

“Tarantulas can jump up 5 … 6 … (fill in the blank) feet into the air!”

This is one of my favorites, and one I’ve been I’ve heard personally twice. Many folks believe that tarantulas are capable of amazing feats of arachnid athleticism, which they usually display in a frenzied attempt to attack an unsuspecting human. I was once told that I should be very careful with my tarantulas because they can jump up 10 feet in the air to attack. This, of course, is nonsense. Although arboreal species can jump for shorter distances from tree branch to tree branch (or from your hand to your chest), they don’t get anywhere near 5-10 feet. Also, they don’t pop into the air; these jumps are made vertically. And terrestrial Ts will “pounce” a couple inches onto prey, but a drop of over a few inches could kill them.  A jump of several feet would lead to a splattered T upon landing. Rest assured, they are definitely not fanged jack-in-the-boxes

“Tarantulas catch their prey with webs.”

Tarantulas make webs, but they do not used them in the way true spiders do. They can utilize their silk to line their burrows, provide a “prey detection system” at the mouths of their dens, or to create a safe, comfortable mat on which to molt. When they explore,they can also leave a thin “guide” thread to help them keep track of where they’ve been. I’ve even seen a G. porteri use webbing to roll up three crickets into a more convenient “burrito”. They do not, however, fashion webs to ensnare their prey.

“Tarantulas are ‘poisonous’.” 

Well, I’ve never eaten one, but if I did, I don’t think it would kill me. Animals that are poisonous, like the Poison dart frog, must be touched or ingested to do you harm. Venomous animals, like tarantulas and snakes, deliver their venom through bites. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. Next time someone tells you that your spider is poisonous, politely correct them.

“Bird-eaters eat birds.”

When early European explorers saw a large spider, likely one of the Avicularia genus, dining on a small bird, they returned to the western world with stories and lurid drawings depicting giant, bird-eating tarantulas. The moniker stuck and has been used in the common names of a lot of the larger terrestrial species. Unfortunately, this nickname is a bit misleading. Although these spiders are certainly large enough to eat birds, and it probably happens on occasion, birds do not make up a significant part of their diet. These large-bodied terrestrials spend their time on the jungle floor eating insects and small vertebrates. Ironically, its the arboreal tarantulas that likely feast on the occasional bird.

“This species reaches 10-12 inches.” 

Okay, it is true that the largest tarantula ever measured, a T. blondi, was 12″ in diagonal leg span, and it’s possible that there are other species that can reach this monstrous dimension. However, spiders this size are the exception and not the rule. You’ll often hear vendors talking about species genera like Theraphosa, Lasiodora, Phormictopus, and Pamphobeteus reaching lengths of 10-12″ dls like it’s commonplace. Likewise, keepers are notorious for talking about their 12″ stirmis and 10″ LPs, but never seem to produce photographic proof of the specimens next to a ruler. The truth is, although these genera can get large, max sizes of 8-9″ is more the norm. Those picking up one of these species expecting a “dinner plate-sized” tarantula are very likely to be disappointed.

“Tarantulas have to be held or they’ll get mean.”

I’m going to go ahead and add “tarantulas enjoy being handled” to this one as well. Here’s the deal: can tarantulas be held? Obviously, many keepers make the decision to handle their animals, and most do so without incident. And, there are indications that some species will seemingly become tolerant after repeated handling (although, they can switch dispositions without warning). However, do they enjoy handling? No.

As much as we would love for our furry little spiders to return our affection, it’s just not going to happen. It’s just not how they are biologically hardwired. As for “having to be handled” or else they get mean? Well, that’s just a bit ridiculous. Many keepers, especially ones that keep Old World species, never handle their animals. Handling is definitely not a requisite for the hobby. If you don’t handle your tarantulas, they aren’t going to suddenly turn into blood-crazed, vicious monsters.

“Tarantulas can’t bite.”

Ummmm … yes, they sure can. And it hurts, too.

I’m not sure how this one got started, but I’ve read it more than once. In one case, someone even tried to convince a friend that they had a certain species that couldn’t bite. I don’t like for Ts to get a bad rap, but all tarantulas have fangs, and many species aren’t shy about using them. Will all of them bite? No. Some are quite docile. However, the potential is always there.

“All tarantulas sold in pet stores legally have to be de-venomed.”

Unfortunately, this one pops up a lot. I’ve had folks ask me if my Ts are de-venomed, and I’ve actually had others tell me that they know someone with a de-venomed T. The sad fact is, some pet stores have really told customers this lie as part of a scheme to bilk unsuspecting folks out of money when they have to pay a “de-venomation” fee. Rest assured that this procedure does not exist, and if you hear of a store offering this nonsensical service, be sure to let other keepers know.

“Tarantulas can be “de-fanged with a surgical procedure.”

Again, another disturbing myth seemingly invented by disingenuous or misinformed pet store employees. In order to convince customers that their tarantulas pose no threat, they tell them that all of their spiders are de-fanged to prevent them from biting. In some instances, it’s merely a lie. In other more horrifying cases, the pet store actually performs the “surgery” themselves using nail clippers or scissors.

The fact is, a tarantula needs its fangs to hunt and eat. If it loses its these important tools, it could starve to death. The reason I say could is because tarantulas can regenerate their fangs with a molt, and it’s possible that an injury as potentially life-threatening as this would force an emergency shed. Removing a T’s fangs would leave you with either a dead or temporarily disabled spider.

“Tarantulas can drown in water bowls.” 

Another myth likely started by well-meaning but overly cautious keepers. When I first got into the hobby, I searched the web to try to find any instances of tarantulas drowning in their water bowls. I found one possible instance where the T was found in a death curl in its dish, but the keeper seemed to think that the spider died of natural causes during a molt. There just seems to be no evidence to support this claim. Is it possible? Sure. A weak specimen could find itself in an overlarge dish and not be able to climb out.

However, you have to figure that an animal that has been around million of years, with some species living in areas with huge amounts or rainfall, would figure out how to avoid or negotiate water hazards.

Furthermore, the “rule” that slings shouldn’t be offered water dishes until they are 1.5″ or more also appears to be based on a fallacy. Many folks provide slings as small as .5″ with small bottle caps for dishes, and the slings have no issues with them. There is even video of slings effortlessly floating on water before climbing off to safety. I would, in this instance, use a smaller dish just in case (no use putting a 3″ water bowl in with your 1″ sling). In this instance, the pros of offering your small, vulnerable sling a water dish far outweigh the imaginary cons.

“Tarantulas can’t use water bowls and and need sponges to suck water from.” 

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Tarantulas can drink perfectly fine from water dishes; I’ve seen mine do it plenty of times. I believe this idea stems from folks who think that tarantulas use their fangs like “straws” to suck up water. Nope. The fangs deliver venom; they use their mouths to eat and drink. Sponges become infested with bacteria and essentially turn your pet’s water bowl into a petri dish over time. If your local pet store tries to tell you that you need a sponge, kindly inform them that you prefer to give your animals fresh water.

“G. roseas have the strongest/most dangerous venom.”

This one is a bit misleading, as it is somewhat true … if you’re a mouse. You see, in 2004, some French scientists decided to test the potency of tarantula venom by injecting mice with a controlled amount of venom from several dozen different species. They then recorded the amount of time it took these poor rodents to die. The faster the venom killed the mouse, the more “potent” the venom was said to be. When all was said and done, the G. rosea showed up 6th on the list, ahead of species like P. murinus and P. fasciata (Escoubas, Pierre & Lachlan Rash. “Tarantulas: eight legged pharmacists and combinatorial chemists.”) Folks immediately buzzed about this “shocking” discovery, and some questioned whether or not the good ol’ “rosie” should be on beginner T lists.

The problem with this experiment is the effects of venom differ between organisms, which makes this experiment pretty irrelevant when talking about venom effects on humans. For many New World species, rodents, like mice, are a part of their diet. Therefore, they have evolved their venom to be particular effective against this type of prey, and it makes sense that it would kill a mouse quickly. On the other hand, Old World species like the P. murinus use their venom as protection against predators like primates, so the venom affects a human much more. A bite from this species can cause excruciating, sometime debilitating pain and cramping and is much more painful than that of a G. rosea (just check the bite reports!)

So, yes … mice should live in fear of G. rosea bites. However, read the bite reports for this species, and you’ll find that they hurt little more than a bad bee sting. Speaking of bee stings …

“Tarantula bites are about as painful as bee stings.” 

I honestly thought that this myth had finally been laid to rest, but I saw it pop up again on one of the social networking sites recently. For years, folks were told that tarantula bites were no worse than a bee sting. I’m sure this myth began back in the ’70s and ’80s when most folks were keeping only New World specimens whose bites are not that bad. As far as these species are concerned, the myth is somewhat true.

Unfortunately, it fails to account for Old World bites, which can cause symptoms like excruciating pain, full-body cramping, nausea, heart palpitations, and difficulty breathing. That’s a heck of a lot worse than a bee sting. And, let’s keep in mind that some Ts, especially the giant New Worlds, can have fangs up to 1″ long. I don’t care how mild the venom is, fangs that size will put a hurting on you.

“If you feed your tarantula vertebrate prey, the calcium in the bones will cause bad molts.”

I’m kind of amazed that this myth is still circulating, often being spread by folks who should know better. No, feeding tarantulas invertebrate prey like mice or lizards does not cause bad molts. If these keepers were feeding their tarantulas mice, they were likely keeping some of the larger species like T. blondi. Larger Ts can have molting problems, and the blondi in particular is notorious for bad molts, likely due to the high moisture requirements and difficult husbandry. It’s likely that keepers attributed the bad sheds to the rodent diet instead of the more likely husbandry and moisture issues. There has been no evidence to prove this theory, and considering that these spiders eat vertebrates all the time in the wild, there is much more evidence disproving it. If you feed your tarantulas mice or lizards, you will not be putting them at risk for a bad molt. You will, however, have one nasty bolus to deal with in the morning … one that if not removed quickly, could lead to other issues.

“If you feed a tarantula too much, its abdomen can burst.” 

This myth is usually mentioned when the subject of “power feeding” comes up. Although it’s believed that over-feeding a tarantula can lead to health issues, there are no documented cases of a tarantula eating until it bursts. In most cases, a tarantula knows when it’s time to stop eating and prepare for a molt.

What likely happens in these situations is that the overindulgent spider’s abdomen swells so much that it stretches the fragile flesh to dangerous levels. A slight bump or fall at this point could easily rupture the abdomen, leading to a catastrophic injury. When the keeper inevitably finds his portly pet dead, he assumes the abdomen burst on its own. So, no … your tarantula won’t explode from overeating. However, if your tarantula’s booty is so large that the poor animal is dragging it, it’s time to lay off the crickets for a bit.

“Tarantula bites can kill you.” 

This rumor is like the evil twin of “Tarantula bites are about as painful as bee stings.” Here’s the skinny; there has never been a report of a human being dying directly from a bite. Although Old World venom is able to cause tremendous amounts of pain and other scary symptoms, it is not able to kill.  There have been two cases of individuals dying as a result secondary complications attributed to the bites, one involving blood poisoning and the other gangrene. However, both of these incidences took place over 100 years ago, before modern medicine and even the use of antibiotics. Today, both of these folks would have survived with proper medical treatment.

Now, if you consider how many people live in areas where tarantulas are indigenous, and how many folks around the world now keep them as pets, you would think that someone would have died by now if their bites were deadly. Fact is, there are probably higher odds that you get struck by lightening than dying from a tarantula bite.

“G. rosea is the best beginner species.”

For decades, if you asked anyone what the best beginner tarantula was, the majority would point to the G. rosea, better known as the “rose hair tarantula” or “rosie”. This species was lauded for its ease of care and a calm temperament that made it ideal for handling. When I set out to acquire my first T back in the late 90s, I immediately set out to find this amazing species.

Although I still consider the G. rosea/porteri one of the better candidates for the best beginner tarantula, it is by no means the best species. The reason this species became the king of beginners came down to a few factors; they were cheap for pet shops to procure, readily available, and quite hardy in captivity. Wild caught specimens were easily harvested from Chili and sold in the pet market for a pittance . This meant they were a low-risk for pet stores who could keep one or two on hand to draw in customers by offering this fascinating giant spider. Even as more appropriate beginner species found their way into the market, the G. rosea continued its reign as the ultimate entry-level spider.

Although their hardiness and pet-rock lifestyle do make them good for a keeper who wants an almost indestructable spider that will always be visible, their unpredictable temperaments and penchant for long fasts have confounded many a new hobbyist. For every calm, tractable specimen, there seems to be a “psycho rosie” that will attack anything that enters its cage. And nothing causes more stress to a new keeper than a tarantula that wont eat for months at a time. Then there’s the fact that when you see an adult for sale, it has likely been wild-caught from a population that has been decimated by the pet trade.

And the list goes on…

Although this is a pretty lengthy list, I’m sure that there are many other myths out there. After all, it seems like the more popular tarantula keeping gets, the more odd and misinformed things people will say about them. Still, as fun as these are to read, it’s ultimately the keeper’s responsibility to dispel false information and to educate other keepers and the public at large when these fallacies appear. So, the next time someone tells you about a friend’s vicious tarantula that jumps ten feet and chases you across a room, kindly and calmly set them right.

Did I miss something? I would love to hear some of the myths and misconceptions others have heard…

Tarantulas – The Importance of Learning (and Using!) Scientific Names


What’s in a name?

For many years, I kept what I referred to as a “rosie” or “rose hair” tarantula, and I introduced it as such to any family members or friends who would show an interest in my unique pet. It wasn’t until years later that, while searching for the lifespan of rosies (mine was pushing 20 at this point), I stumbled upon its scientific name, Grammostola porteri.

Cool, I though, as I wondered why on earth anyone would ever want to use such a cumbersome name. After all, “rosie” had a warm and fuzzy feel to it, and it was certainly easier to say. As I continued my search, the scientific name was quickly off my lips and out of my mind.

It would be several more months (and many Ts later) that I began my quest to actively work to learn these scientific names. Part of this new-found drive came from the frustration I was facing when I searched for information on unfamiliar species. I was also starting to get many of the names mixed up, as some are quite similar (God, how many bird eaters are there?). Then, there came the hassle of trying to shop for Ts when they were all listed alphabetically by scientific name.

And, if I’m going to be honest, I was really falling in love with the hobby, and I wanted desperately to be able to converse with colleagues using the proper lexicon.

It wasn’t easy at first, and I found myself repeatedly mixing up my Brachypelmas, Grammostolas, and Avicularias. However, learning is always easier when you’re engrossed and motivated by the subject, and I was soon finding that the scientific names were rolling off my tongue with relative ease and confidence.

Try to find the common name for Pamphobeteus sp. Duran ... there currently is none.

Try to find the common name for Pamphobeteus sp. Duran … there currently is none.

Scientific names; not just for “elitists”!

I’ve seen folks bristle when they ask a question of the forums using a common name, and other keepers immediately remind them to use the scientific name. Nobody likes to feel stupid, and unfortunately hobbyist have a tendency to be a bit blunt when making suggestions. Although I certainly don’t condone elitist behavior (there is always a nice and constructive way to correct or remind someone), I do understand some of the frustration. The fact is, those seriously into the hobby don’t know the common names. Many of them would love to help out, but they aren’t sure which species are being referred to.

Our wonderful hobby has a language all to its own, and for keepers to have productive discourse, we all need to be speaking that language. Every hobby, be it sports, art, collecting, martial arts, herpetology, or even beer brewing, has its own terminology and jargon. Part of the fun of participating in a hobby is mastering not only the activities and techniques, but also the common language that goes along with it.

Much of the common language in the tarantula hobby just so happens to be a bit more … well … scientific. And that can be intimidating, especially for folks who don’t have a background in zoology or Latin.  But as someone who, not that long ago, had to consult Google for the common name for an “ornamental spider”, I can tell you that it feels great when you master these names.

Why are scientific names important?

Let’s take a moment to consider when and where these names become important to the budding or established hobbyist.

Most reputable dealers will list spiders alphabetically by scientific name first. Shopping was always a blast when I first got into the hobby, as I was only familiar with some of the common names. For example, I knew I really wanted one spider referred to by the common name of “Greenbottle Blue” and another called a “Salmon bird eater.” So, I put together a list of several dealers I might buy from and started price and size checking for these species. Unfortunately, all of the tarantulas on these sites were listed under their scientific names.

Chromata-what? Lasio-huh? What the heck were those?

After perusing the photos, looking for something that resembled the spider pics I had drooled over, I realized that it would be much easier if I just researched the scientific names for these two species and kept them nearby. I began keeping a journal of sorts in which I would list the scientific names first, then the common names in an effort to learn these more difficult monikers. When I searched an online store for a species I was interested in, I’d play a little game and try to remember the scientific name without looking. I would often have to cheat at first, but it got much easier as the months passed and my collection grew.

Experienced keepers use scientific names, and many are not familiar with the common names.  If you find yourself posting a question on a message board or approaching an experienced keeper for advice, it’s always much more efficient and helpful if you can use the scientific name. The fact is, many of these gals and guys have been using scientific names for so long that they no longer remember many of the common names. And if you’ve spent time on the boards, some folks have little tolerance or use for these informal labels. If you want to be taken seriously, it’s always best to use the scientific names when asking for help.

Personally, I know that many folks just entering the hobby have not familiarized themselves with the nomenclature for the tarantula hobby, so I’m not at all put off when folks ask questions using the common names. I have, however, had to take to Google a couple times to look up a common name to see what species they were talking about!

To properly search for quality information on a species, it’s important to use the scientific name. This is particularly important when searching for less common species. Whether you’re using Google or the search function of Arachnoboards, if you’re looking for quality care tips from some of the folks that actually keep the spiders, then you will find so much more by using the scientific name. This is especially true for forums, which can contain some of the most current and accurate information. Folks posting on the boards rarely use the common names to refer to their animals, therefore, a search for the common name might filter many important threads out.

Many species share common names, and others don’t have common names at all. Last year when I went to write my husbandry article on my Lasiodora itabunae, I hopped online to Google the common name. What did I find? Well, there really isn’t one. After going through several pages, I found someone who referred to it as a “Amazon Fire Hiney”, or something equally silly and unbelievable, but no real consistent name. The fact is, there are many tarantulas out there that have no common names, or multiple ones. Acanthoscurria geniculata, for example, is referred to as “The White Knee”, “The Brazilian White Knee”, “Brazilian White Banded Bird Eater”, “Black and White Bird Eater”, “Giant White Knee,” and several other names.

Plus, some common names are so similar, it’s easy to confuse them. I remember searching up information for a B. smithi by its common name, Mexican redknee. Unfortunately, I kept getting it confused with Mexican flame knee (B. auratum) and spent hours reading up on a similar, but ultimately the wrong, species.

In the case of scientific names, there is only one assigned per species, so you don’t have to worry about the overlap (or not finding one at all).

And, a little tip…

Those who use common names for care sheets or for listing tarantulas for sale are often not very knowledgeable. Incidentally, if you find a pet store or dealer who only lists the species using their common names, I would avoid buying from them. This is surefire indication that said retailer does NOT know much about tarantulas, and all bets are off as to if the species is even the correct one. Recently, Petco has been selling “rosies” that are actually not G. rosea or porteri, but Phormictopus cancerides. This would be a bit like buying a house cat and getting a tiger.

Likewise, I’ve seen many “keepers” offering up care sheets in which they refer only to a species common name (or, put the scientific name second). That’s a great indication that this person has not been in the hobby long, and I would be very skeptical taking any type of advice from this individual.

Bottom line, common names are fun when you first start out and are okay when used to introduce family and friends to the animals (although, I usually use the scientific names as well). As many contain the name of the area the spider is found, they can also be helpful for folks to understand and remember where they come from. However, as your collection swells and you make the move to becoming a true hobbyist, it’s time to make the switch to the hobby-accepted scientific names.

As always, there are some exceptions to the rule.

Are there some species where it’s acceptable to use common or nicknames. Absolutely. P. murinus is commonly referred to as the “OBT”, and folks immediately know what spider you’re talking about when you break out that acronym. The C. cyaneopubescens is commonly referred to as the GBB (for greenbottle blue), even by experienced hobbyists. The L. parahybana is often referred to as an LP; again, most everyone accepts this informal name.

Okay, I’ve learned the names … but how the heck do I pronounce them?

This is where it gets fun, as if we’re keeping it real, no one is quite sure of the correct pronunciation of many of these names. Most folks were not “fortunate” enough to take Latin in high school or college, and those that did often pronounce the names differently. Also, besides Latin, many of the scientific names also have Germanic, Greek, and other roots (as the species is often named for the person that discovered it or the geographical location it was found in). This means in some instances, a truly “correct” pronunciation might not exist, and we’re left with generally accepted ones.

Take T. stirmi for example. I have heard it pronounced stir-ME and stir-MY, and both seem to be acceptable. Same with the B. smithi, which I’ve heard pronounced as smith-EE and smith-EYE. Then there is the genus Poecilotheria, pronounced as Pea-see-luh-THEE-rea. However, due to its popular nickname “pokie” (POE-key), folks often pronounce it as Poke-ee-luh-THEE-rea. To complicate things even further, American pronunciations are often different than the British ones.

Have a headache yet?

Anyone who has spent time perusing the many clips posted on YouTube of keepers talking about their tarantulas have probably heard the names pronounced a variety of ways. The fact is, if you are in the ballpark, no one is going to give you a difficult time.

If you’re interested in learning how some pronounce these names, you can check out this page on The American Tarantula Society site. It’s a bit outdated and incomplete, but it makes for a fun starting point.

Or, you can click on the link below for a printable PDF version:


And if you read one of these and find that you were pronouncing it differently, don’t beat yourself up. This is just one person’s interpretation; who knows if it could even be called “correct”!

Help … My Tarantula Buried Itself!


It’s probably one of the most common, yet stressful, scenarios for a new tarantula keeper. After months of research and homework, you purchase your first tarantula sling. Your anxiety level is high as you are new to the hobby, and despite all the preparation, you are still worried that you will make a husbandry mistake. You set up what you think is the perfect enclosure, rehouse your new little guy without incident, and take a moment to admire your new pet. Satisfied that you’ve done everything right, you head off to bed.

However, when you awake the next morning and check on your T, you find the enclosure empty … or at least it first appears to be empty. Closer examination reveals that your little guy has been busy, and he has now burrowed deep beneath the substrate. Not finding any hole or passageway, no way for your spider to resurface again, you begin to freak out. You did your research, and you read that this species is terrestrial, not fossorial …  why has it buried itself? Fearing for your new acquisition’s safety, questions swirl through your brain.

Is he in danger?

Is he trapped?

Is he dead?

Should I dig him out?

In most instances, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO.

But what should I do?

And the short answer to this oft-asked question is: Do NOTHING.

Burrowing is normal behavior with many species of slings, including some arboreals.

Although this is a topic I’ve touched upon in a few different blogs, the question is asked often enough that I felt it deserved its own topic. After all, if you begin keeping tarantulas as a hobby, you are likely to experience this behavior at some point or another.

One of my P. sazimai slings sealed in its burrow. I'm expecting a molt from this one soon.

One of my P. sazimai slings sealed in its burrow. I’m expecting a molt from this one soon.

When I first got heavy into the hobby, I experienced this scenario with my L. parahybana sling. After a couple weeks of it sitting out in the open, greedily snatching prey and using a piece of cork bark for a hide, I awoke one morning to find that it had buried itself. Now, at first I didn’t panic because I could see the little webbed-over hole that marked the mouth of its den. However, when I discovered that this hole had been filled in a couple days later, panic set in. As weeks passed, I became thoroughly convinced that my little guy had buried himself alive. He wasn’t visible, he wasn’t eating, and the tunnel looked as if it might have collapsed. I was ready to dig him up to “save” him when I decided to first do a bit of research first.

It was a good thing I did, too.

I discovered that it is perfectly natural behavior for slings to bury themselves. Because we are keeping these animals as “pets”,  behaviors that are perfectly normal and essential for a wild spider’s survival can seem perplexing in captivity. Although a T burying itself seems like a dire sign to us, it is in fact very normal.

My little LP opened its burrow again after a few weeks, and although I never saw it out, the prey I dropped in soon disappeared. It lived like this, hidden in its hole, for another year before finally growing large enough to feel confident living outside of its burrow. It’s been out in the open ever since.

Let’s consider some very important facts:

1. Tarantulas bury themselves for security. Tarantula slings are especially vulnerable in the wild. As a result, it behooves them to stay out of sight where larger predators like birds can easily gobble them up, or where they could easily dehydrate beneath the sun’s heat. In the wild, a sling’s burrow protects it from predators and the elements and provides it a safe home-base from which to hunt when night comes.

Sure, we keep the temperatures optimal in their enclosures, and there are not threats from predators in the safety of our homes, but they don’t know that. Their evolutionary programming is telling them that they need to burrow for security.

This behavior isn’t limited to only terrestrial Ts, either. I keep several arboreals, including eight species of Poecilotheria and L. violoceopes, and all have burrowed as slings. I could see this causing a bit of stress for a keeper expecting these spiders to be up on a branch or piece of cork bark.

2. Many tarantulas will bury themselves during the molt process. Even larger specimens may disappear into burrows when it comes time for a shed. Again, it comes down to the tarantula feeling safe and secure. The molting process is incredibly taxing and leaves the spider exhausted and very vulnerable. Not only is the spider physically taxed, but its new fangs and exoskeleton are soft and need time to harden. Therefore, many Ts will secret themselves away in their burrows when premolt approaches to wait out the process.

In these instances, the tarantula might cover over the entrance to its burrow with dirt or webbing.  If your spider suddenly buries itself after previously being out in the open and eating well, chances are it’s just in premolt. It will emerge again eventually, a bit larger and sporting a brand new exoskeleton.

3. Tarantulas normally don’t die in burrow collapses. Many new keepers fear that if their tarantula buries itself, it could perish from a cave in. I have heard of exactly ONE instance where this happened, and it was because the spider managed to burrow under a heavy rock the keeper was using as a decoration. This instance was a freak accident and nothing more.

The fact is, tarantulas will line their burrows with webbing, and that helps hold the walls together. If you’ve ever had to dig a tarantula out for rehousing, you’ll understand how tough and put-together these web-lined tunnels can be. Also, tarantulas are quite strong and very good diggers. Even if a tunnel was to collapse, as long as there was nothing heavy above it, the T would just dig its way out.

4. Your tarantula will not suffocate beneath the ground. Another misconception is that if a T closes off its den, it can suffocate to death. Again, not true. Tarantulas need much less oxygen than other animals, and most would naturally spend their lives in tight burrows dug far into the earth. As long as there is proper ventilation in the enclosure, they won’t suffocate.

When in doubt, always remember the golden rule of tarantula keeping: the tarantula always knows best.

In our quests to be the best tarantula keepers possible, we often forget a very important detail: tarantulas have evolved over millions of years and know how to survive. Unlike their human keepers, they are not prone to “irrational” decision-making. In most situations, they know what they are doing and what’s good for them. If your T suddenly buries itself, it’s not arachnid suicide. It’s only doing what it’s been programmed to do. Although you may have to wait a while to see your favorite pet again, understand that it’s not in any danger.

On of my P. atrichomatus slings buried at the bottom of its enclosure. This one spent almost a month sealed in.

On of my P. atrichomatus slings buried at the bottom of its enclosure. This one spent almost a month sealed in.

So, to review, if your tarantula suddenly buries itself, there is only one thing to do…


Resist the urge to dig it up to “check on it.” If you succumb to the urge, you risk needlessly stressing it or, if it’s in the process of molting, KILLING it.

Also, do NOT try to open up the mouth of the burrow to “give it some air” or to allow for its escape. Again, just leave the animal be. It may be a week, it may be a couple months, but your spider will emerge eventually.

And finally, NEVER shove live prey down the hole if it’s not eating. Not only will this stress the animal out, but the prey item could kill the spider if it’s in the middle of a molt. Also, if the spider dispatches but doesn’t eat the intruder, you may now have a rotting bug corpse stuck in the burrow with your T.

At what point should I worry and dig up my specimen to check on it?

In 99% of the instances, it will be entirely unnecessary to dig up a tarantula. However, I’ve had folks ask how long they should wait before worrying. I would say if you have a small sling that has been buried for six to eight months without taking any food or making an appearance, it might be time to worry. The fact is, some slings will die; it’s an unfortunate part of nature that all specimens aren’t healthy enough to live.

If it’s a small specimen and more than a half-year has gone by, it might be time to do some investigating. After all, you don’t want to be keeping a dead T as a pet. Still, be sure to be very careful when digging the animal up, and keep in mind that you could harm it if it’s molting. Also, larger spiders can spend more time safely in their burrows as they are not fragile and prone to dehydration or starvation. For larger specimens, I would wait even longer.

That being said, I offer this anecdote for anyone considering digging up one of their tarantulas. I had a 3/8″ Maraca cabocla that burrowed deep in its enclosure last year and completely covered the entrance to its burrow. From late October until almost April, it did not eat and I saw no sign of it. At first, I thought it was just staying in its den for the winter. I’ve had many Ts do this, and it had never caused me any alarm. However, as more time passed, and I saw no movement within the vial, I assumed the worst.

Finally, I convinced myself that the small T had probably died over the winter, so I set to digging it out. I spent almost a half hour carefully removing the substrate and spreading it out on a white dinner plate so that I could hopefully find the tiny body. At one point my heart sank as I pulled out a masticated form I mistook as the spider’s corpse.

Nope … only a molt.

Finally, as I was removing the last bit of dirt, my little guy scurried out and stood upon the heaped contents of its enclosure as if to say, “dude…what the heck?” Needless to say, I felt silly (as well as a bit bad for the spider). Yup, I had jumped the gun; my tarantula was quite healthy and in no danger. By digging out its substrate, I had jeopardized its health and caused it needless stress.

I won’t make that mistake again.  

Your tarantula has buried itself? Just relax!

Like many aspects of this hobby, patience and experience are key. As you experience this situation more and more, it becomes much easier to recognize it as the normal behavior it is. The next time your precious little one decides to play hide-and-seek on you, don’t let it be cause of worry.

And if you find yourself getting impatient, do what many of us do … just buy more tarantulas!

For more on MOLTING and signs of a molt, check out the article below!