KEEPING INVERTEBRATES AS PETS

Keeping invertebrates as pets is not for everyone. Most people, when thinking of tarantulas, scorpions or other invertebrates, react in disgust or fear. This is mostly due to the fact that these animals are greatly misunderstood. Thanks to horror movies and stupid shows like FEAR FACTOR alot of these invertebrates have been given a bad reputation as being dangerous, even deadly. Though many invertebrates that are kept as pets are venemous (no, they don’t remove the venom before the animal is sold) keep in mind that their venom is not designed to kill people. It is designed to help them subdue their prey. There are species of scorpions that have venom so strong that it can kill a person but that is not what it is there for. Most of these animals would rather run away and hide from a person than actually try to bite them. They are actually very timid, and at times nervous. Keep in mind also that people are not supposed to die from bee stings or ant bites, but they do. It is not because of the bee or ant, but because of the person’s allergic reaction to the sting or bite. The same can be held true for all invertebrates that can bite or sting. The first rule to follow when having pets like this is to show them respect.

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I got my first tarantula when I was in the 6th grade, in 1979. It was a Mexican Red-Knee, aka Brachypelma smithi. At the time this species of tarantula was the most readily available type in petstores. In the years that followed this species was overcollected for the pet trade and it is now protected from export from Mexico. To this date though, this species is still one of the best tarantula species to have as a pet. They are long lived (the first one I got I received as an adult and I had her for 13 years) and very docile. They are also very attractive. I have been hooked ever since. My collection now is 50 strong, just in tarantulas (I also have many scorpions, millipedes, centipedes and mantids). Back in 1979 information on tarantulas was scarce and the few books on them available at the time are now laughable at their inaccuracies. Luckily things have changes substantially!

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If keeping invertebrates as a pet is for you the first thing to do is NOT go out and buy one right away. Do some research first…either online or through your local pet store. For the beginner check out what is recommended as far as calm species, long life and specifics as far as heat and humidity. Though most species will do well in a well-ventilated tank with temperatures in the mid 70’s and 65-75% humidity there are some species that require higher temperatures and humidity. Keeping a tarantula may not be as easy as buying it and putting it in a tank and feeding it whenever you remember to. You will also need to know how to tell when your pet is ready to moult (shed its skin) so that you can make sure that the humidity is a little higher to help in the moulting process. You will need to learn how to tell if your tarantula is a male or female and a bunch of other things. There is also a great book that I would recommend buying. It has everything you will need to get started in this fascinating hobby.

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After you do your research you then have to decide what kind of tarantula you want. Do you want a terrestrial species (lives in or on the ground) or arboreal (lives in trees or high up off of the ground). For now we will discuss terrestrial. In addition to the Brachypelma smithi that I recommended earlier of this section I would also recommend these two species for beginners, both for their calm personalities as well as long life.

DSCF0859 (2)The Rose-haired tarantula (Grammostola rosea).

2003_0513IMAGE0679 (2)The Chaco Golden Knee (Grammostola pulchripes).

After deciding on a species the next step is to set up an enclosure for it. Hopefully by now you know where you will be getting your new pet from and will have an idea of size. For beginners I would recommend starting with an adult. As you gain experience I would highly recommend buying them as spiderlings and raising them (it is cheaper and alot more interesting to see how they change and develop from moult to moult). The following set-up recommendations are perfect for the three species shown assuming that the spider will be an adult at the time of purchase.

2003_0529IMAGE0004The Indian Ornamental (Poecilotheria regalis), a more difficult species to keep.

The next thing you will have to purchase is something to house your new pet in. Glass aquarium tanks work fine but they are heavy and may be more difficult to work with once you add the substrate. Another suggestion is plastic tanks, usually called “Critter Keepers” (or something similar). These are relatively inexpensive, have secure snap-on lids and they have plenty of ventilation holes. They are also lightweight so if you have to move them around it will be alot easier than if you had a glass tank.

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Critter Keepers, though awesome for juvenile to adult tarantulas, are not recommended for spiderlings. Many spiderlings are small enough to escape through the airholes. Choose a Critter Keeper whose size is about 3 times larger than the tarantula in floor space. Next you have to choose a substrate, or bedding, for the bottom of the tank. Aquarium gravel is not recommended for many reasons. First and foremost, if your spider climbs to the top of the tank and falls the gravel will not be a good cushion to fall onto and the spider may risk hurting itself. Gravel is very heavy and will weigh down the tank substantially. Gravel will also scratch the sides of the plastic tank.

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Eco-Earth by Zoo Med is one of the most commonly used substrates, available at most petstores or online. Fill the Critter Keeper with a minimum of 2-3 inches of substrate. Pack it down with your hand a bit and then spray it with water to help with humidity. Then you will need a water dish (either a commercially bought dish or a bottle cap with no sharp edges – the caps that come on jars of spices are perfect). After that all you need to add is some kind of shelter and you are done. Shelters will provide the tarantula with a place to go where it feels safe. Eventually the spider will probably do some remodelling of the tank…things like webbing and digging are common. This activity is normal and when a spider does this, it means that it is comfortable in its new environment. Good luck with your new pet!

~David Albaugh

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