I have had a variety of pets in my lifetime — cats, dogs, ferrets, birds and rabbits. When I got to college I decided to add tarantulas to the mix. Tarantulas have become my favorite pet by far, mostly because of how unique, yet low-maintenance they are.
But, I’m no stranger to the fact tarantulas are scary. In terms of scary pets that people can have, snakes and tarantulas are probably the first two that come to mind. Personally, I think the only scary thing about tarantulas is the prospect of learning all about them and what they need to survive — and even that isn’t completely unmanageable.
I grew up in a house with the woods right at the end of my backyard, so it’s safe to say that spiders have never really bothered me. I sympathize with the people that they do bother, though, yet I still think everyone could benefit from having a tarantula to take care of. There is truly no other pet comparable to a tarantula. In some aspects, I even think having a tarantula could be beneficial to someone with arachnophobia if they are able to keep an open mind to the idea.
If you decide to get a tarantula, you actually never really have to hold it. Sometimes at zoos or nature education centers you will see this as a common practice, but it really isn’t all that common. Tarantulas don’t need, or want, to be held, so you can keep your pet in its enclosure until it’s time to rehouse it when it gets too big. Even then, you still don’t have to hold your tarantula. Holding them stresses them out, and if it stresses you out that’s even more reason not to do so. It is possible to be a tarantula owner that is scared of holding their pet — it’s perfectly okay.
To some extent, owning a tarantula affords you “Scary Dog Privilege” because people are scared of them more often than not. You’re probably not going to walk your tarantula out in public, so it can really only serve as a private scary pet in your own home. Nevertheless, having a tarantula can keep unwanted guests out of your home — or at least make them go away earlier.
Ironically though, tarantulas aren’t very dangerous. As long as you aren’t allergic, tarantula bites will go away on their own — without a trip to the hospital. There are two types of tarantulas, Old World and New World, with the Old World bite hurting the most. However, the New World bite is like a bee sting. Most United States’ pet stores have a majority of New World tarantulas and a minority of Old World tarantulas. Most tarantulas aren’t going to bite you, though, as they’d much rather spend the energy biting on some food that will actually give them sustenance. They also throw up a threat posture before they go to actually bite you, giving you enough time to get away.
One thing that you do have to worry about with tarantulas though is urticating hairs. Tarantulas will kick hairs off their legs or abdomen when they feel threatened or scared. These hairs have microscopic barbs and will leave you with itchy bumps if they make contact with your skin. This can be avoided for the most part by making your tarantula feel comfortable and giving them a lot of room to dig and make a burrow. Many other bugs have urticating hairs, and every tarantula hobbyist gets hairs on them from time to time — they don’t really hurt, they’re just extremely annoying.
Tarantulas are also a relatively inexpensive pet to keep. Up front, tarantulas can cost anywhere from $20 to $100, with older spiders and females being more expensive. Certain breeds can also be more expensive than others, but for the most part they tend to be cheaper than owning a dog or a turtle.
These pets also eat very infrequently — about every other week. When they do, you can give them about a dozen crickets, which you can get at any local pet store for less than $5. If you feel like treating your tarantula, there are other food options available, like hornworms and dubia roaches, which cost more money. Either way, feeding your tarantula is effortless and cost-friendly.
In some ways, tarantulas are more like plants than pets. When they create a burrow they will spend most of their time in it, only really coming out for food about twice a month. They only need a healthy misting in their tank to keep them hydrated — no heat lamp, since tarantulas have adapted to the extremes of different climates. So all you really have to worry about when you get a tarantula is feeding them twice a month, making sure their enclosure is always a little bit humid and maybe getting a new enclosure for them about once or twice a year.
If you get a female tarantula, they live significantly longer than their male counterparts. Females can live for up to 30 years, while males only ever survive for about a third of that time. Sometimes, the females will even eat their male partner. Overall, if you want a pet that’s unique and could potentially live a long time, a female tarantula is the way to go.
The only tragic part about tarantulas is that taking them to the vet is often pointless. At the end of the day they are a bug, and vets can’t do surgery on them or even give them oral or topical medicine. And injuries are often fatal for them. You can rarely ever tell how old they are, and sometimes just one bad molt or a little bit of stress is enough to cause your beloved pet tarantula to die.
When you’re in college, it might seem like you have no time to take care of a pet. While some pets definitely require a lot more care than others, tarantulas require the lowest amount of effort without a doubt. Their upkeep is also inexpensive, allowing college students to save their money for other things.
Tarantulas aren’t something to be afraid of. They are a low-cost, low-maintenance pet that lives for a decent amount of time and is perfect for a busy college student’s schedule!
Jessica Snyder primarily writes about controversy in art and politics. Write to her at [email protected].