Exotic Bugs: Care and Feeding
Care and keeping of Exotic Arthropods
Some exotic arthropods, like tarantulas and hissing cockroaches, make great pets when given proper care. This guide can help you choose which types of arthropods to keep as a pet. It also provides details on housing, feeding, and other care details for several popular species.
IMPORTANT Keeping and caring for insects, spiders, and their relatives is great way to observe these fascinating creatures. It is also a big responsibility. Never keep an animal in captivity unless you are prepared to provide the proper living conditions.
Also be aware that, although most spider and insect species that are sold in pet stores are not considered dangerous, any animal can be dangerous under the right circumstances. In fact, other than giant cockroaches, it is best NEVER to handle any of the arthropods mentioned here, especially tarantulas and scorpions, both of which are capable of delivering venom.
Giant Madagascar "hissing" cockroaches are the best arthropods to keep in captivity. They are inexpensive (less than $2 per roach when ordered in bulk), safe to handle, and easy to care for. They will also readily breed in captivity--but if they happen to escape, they cannot breed in the wild in Kentucky.
Container: These roaches should be kept in a 2.5-10 gallon aquarium or similar container. About a dozen adult roaches (plus many immature roaches) can be kept in a 2.5 gallon tank; more can be held in larger tanks. The roaches will not harm one another if enough food is present. These roaches (especially the babies) are expert escape artists, so make sure to use a lid that is escape proof but that is also well-ventilated (to reduce mold).
Housing Features: Line the cage with 1-2 inches of organic (fertilizer and pesticide-free) potting soil, or coconut based "reptile bedding," kept slightly moist. Replace with fresh bedding material about once a month. You should also provide a place for the roaches to hide, like a dried coconut half, egg crates, rolls from paper-towel tubes, or a chunk of wood for the roaches to burrow beneath.
Food: green lettuce, apples, carrots, bananas, other fruits and vegetables. Small amounts of dry dog- or cat food should also be available to the roaches at all times.
Humidity and Water: These roaches need relatively high humidity (apx 50%+). Keep the humidity high by heating the cage from underneath (as with an aquarium heater) and by keeping a dish of water in the cage. The dish of water will provide humidity and drinking water.
Temperature: room temperature or warmer, up to about 90 degrees F.
Life span: 2-3 years
Breeding: For breeding to occur, make sure to maintain the temperature in the high range (80-90 degrees) and keep the humidity high. When the babies are born, they are very small and can escape through small holes, so make sure that your container is escape proof (a 1" swath of petroleum jelly wiped around the inside of the container near the top will help keep the babies from escaping).
Many species of tarantulas are sold as pets, but some species are aggressive and dangerous. Others are difficult to care for. We suggest sticking to the following widely available species, all three of which are relatively non-aggressive and easy to care for:
Chilean Rose-Hair Tarantula, Grammostola rosea: The common rose-hair is the most popular pet tarantula species and has a well-deserved reputation for non-aggression. Adults are commonly available on-line and at pet stores for less than $20. These spiders grow to 4-5 inches and females can live for 15 or more years (males will only live for 4-5 years at most).
Mexican Red-Knee Tarantula, Brachypelma smithi: Probably the second-most popular tarantula, the red-knee is known for its attractive brown and orange pattern and its docile temperament. This spider is usually more expensive than the rose-hair; typically $100 or more for adults. Red-knee females can live for 20 years (males will only live for 4-5 years) when cared for properly and can grow to about 5-6 inches.
Brazilian Black Tarantula, Grammostola pulchra: This black tarantula species is known for its calm nature, but it tends to be more expensive than red-knees and rose-hairs. Like the red-knee, females can can live for up to 20 years and can grow to 5-6 inches.
WARNING! Tarantulas are spiders, and all spider have venomous fangs! Although the tarantulas recommended here tend to be non-aggressive, all species ARE able to bite. Also, many tarantula species have "urticating hairs" on their abdomens. These hairs are like tiny pieces of glass and can cause severe eye and skin reactions. For these reasons, we recommend that people do not pick up, pet, or hold tarantulas. They are best observed within their containers.
ADULTS vs. BABIES
Both adult and immature tarantulas are typically available for sale. Immatures are generally cheaper, but can be more difficult to care for. Also, it may take them many years to reach full size. For this reason, we often recommend for a beginner to buy an adult tarantula instead of an immature. If you buy an adult, females are usually more expensive, but it is a good investment: females can live for decades; males do not live as long.
The Chilean Rose Hair, the Mexican Red-Knee, and the Brazilian Black can all be cared for in the same way, using the guidelines below.
Container: A tarantula should be kept in a 5-10 gallon glass aquarium. Only one tarantula should be kept in a single aquarium. The lid should be escape proof and should retain some humidity, but there should be holes present to allow for air exchange (important for reducing mold).
Housing Features: The bottom of a tarantula cage should be lined with 3-5 inches of organic potting soil or peat moss. "Reptile bedding" made from coconuts is also a good choice. Make sure to use soil or bedding that is free of added pesticides or fertilizers. Do not use soil from the yard or outside garden: it is likely contaminated with pesticides and microbes that can kill the spider. Replace with fresh soil every few months. You should also provide a place for the tarantula to hide (like dried coconut halves).
Humidity and Water: Although many tarantula species require high humidity, the species that we have listed require only moderate humidity levels: humidity levels that are a little higher than that of a typical indoor environment are usually sufficient for rose hairs, red knees, and Brazilian Blacks. The presence of a water dish is usually enough to maintain this humidity. Use a shallow dish, always keep it filled with fresh water, and clean the dish at least once every few days. Allow a little water to spill from the water dish into the soil, but try to keep most of the soil in the cage dry.
Food: Pet tarantulas will feed on crickets purchased at a pet store. If you buy a baby tarantula, make sure to ask for tiny "pinhead crickets." As a general rule, always give your spider crickets that are no larger than one-half the body length. Offer the spider a few crickets (3-5) at a time, but only 1-2 times per week. If the spider doesn't eat the crickets in an hour or so, remove the crickets and offer them again in a few days.
Temperature: room temperature or warmer, up to about 85 degrees F
For additional details about tarantula care, visit Care and Husbandry of the Chilean Rose-Hair Tarantula. The information on this site can be also be applied to the Mexican Red-Knee and Brazilian Black Tarantula.