Before buying a spider, ensure that you have done your research and can be confident that you can raise a happy, healthy spider.
The most common pet spider is the tarantula, and they can live from between 10 to 15 years or more, which is a big commitment! They are relatively easy to look after, don't require much space, and can be a unique and fascinating pet to have.
Tarantulas are a group of large, hairy spiders (arachnids) which belong to the 'new world' Theraphosidae sub-family of spiders. There's approximately 900 species which belong to this family, and they are commonly referred to as tarantulas. The most common of this species are the Chilean Rose, Brazilian Black, Mexican Red Knee, Curly Hair, Chile Gold Burst, Mexican Blood Leg and Chaco Golden Knee — which all originate from North and South America. They are the most docile species, unlike those which originate from Africa and Asia (these aren't recommended as pets as their venom is more potent, they are aggressive and therefore more likely to attack if disturbed).
Tarantulas and wolf spiders often make excellent exotic pets, and can be very interesting to watch. They are readily available due to their willingness to breed in captivity. They don't make noise, they don't smell and are quite easy to look after!
The Chilean Rose is by far the most popular tarantula to have as a pet as they are calm, docile and ideal if you're looking for your first tarantula.
Tarantulas range in size, with their overall leg span growing as as large as 30cm, and their bodies can range between 2.5 to 10cm. Appearances can vary between species, for example: the Chilean Rose tarantula has tan brown and lighter pinky shades and looks very hairy, whereas the Brazilian Black is jet black and quite bulky. Females are usually bigger than males and are also more brightly coloured.
The tarantula's body consists of two parts — the cephalothorax and the abdomen. The legs, pedipalps (an extra pair of pincers) and fangs are attached to the cephalothorax, and spinnerets are found at the tip of the abdomen which produce silk for making webs.
Tarantulas normally live for around 10 to 15 years, and females have been known to live even longer than males. That's quite a big commitment and you'll need to be happy with caring for your spider for this amount of time.
Although tarantulas are venomous, the effect of their venom to us is no different to that of a bee sting and won't cause much harm. Tarantulas will naturally try to bite anything that they come into contact with if they see it as something they can eat, so they could potentially bite your hand! Their bites won't be pleasant, but again shouldn't cause any harm. Tarantulas are best not to be handled.
A tarantula's diet will mainly consist of live crickets, locusts, beetles, earthworms and grasshoppers. You will easily be able to get hold of these from most large pet shops, and three or four of these insects can be given to your spider in one go. Your spider will usually eat anything that is about half the length of his own body, and only needs to be fed once a week.
Tarantulas are good climbers and can squeeze through small gaps, so be sure to seal your spider's enclosure properly, leaving adequate airflow for him. You wouldn't want him running loose around the house or falling from his enclosure — which could be fatal.
Spiders have an exoskeleton which they will moult in order to continue growing. Younger spiders will moult far more often than adults, usually once a month as they grow. This process will take a few hours and you should leave your tarantula alone during this time. You may find your spider creates a wall of silk around him when he's ready to moult, and you may see him laying on his side or back when he starts to shed — try not to touch or move him as this can be a stressful time for spiders. Spiders can replace lost legs or internal organs during this time too, and their new skin will be very soft and vulnerable for a few days after. Don't feed your spider for at least a week after this, as any disturbance to his new skin (such as live prey touching him) could cause damage.
They may not require a large enclosure, but spiders do need very specific living conditions in their home in order to stay happy and healthy. A spider's enclosure needs to be at least 15cm high, and at least 1.5 times as long as the diameter of your spider's legs. Most species of tarantula like to burrow or hide, so they will need a thick layer of substrate and a few hiding places at the bottom of the enclosure to allow them to do this. If your tarantula is from a warm climate, his enclosure will need to be kept at temperatures of between 23 to 28 degrees Celsius, and at least 60 per cent humidity. Keep the substrate deep to allow him to burrow and don't let it dry out.