Arachnids (spiders, tarantulas, and scorpions) have long tended to evoke feelings of fear and loathing in people. The educational and recreational benefits of maintaining arachnids as pets, however, far outweighs the negative stereotype these lovely eight-legged creatures have had thrust upon them! Caring for them is a lot less work than one might first believe, and the things that can be learned by children and adults alike makes it well worth the effort. Let’s examine several aspects of arachnids, as well as their care and feeding.
CARE AND FEEDING
Tarantulas and Scorpions are somewhat shy, despite their fierce appearance, and in order for them to thrive they require the ability to seclude themselves when desired. Therefore, their environment should always include some form of shelter in which they can hide. Also, since life in a small plastic cube can become monotonous, always try and incorporate items to keep their lives ‘interesting’; rocks, wood, and other natural items for them to explore and manipulate.
Never allow direct sunlight to shine into their cages, as the temperature will rise to the point of threatening their lives. Myself, I have always kept them near a window that gets indirect sunlight, but have never used a heat lamp or let the sun hit them directly.
One can’t help but be intrigued by these creatures, and rightly so; but in order to learn the most from the time spent observing, it is imperative that they not be disturbed when doing so (no forcing them out of their shelters, making them move around, etc.). The goal should be for them to not be aware of your presence when they are being observed.
Tarantulas and scorpions have eyes, but their sight is not very good at all. Therefore they connect to the world mostly via the sense of touch. They are extremely sensitive to even the smallest vibrations (sound is a vibration), and that is how they hunt and find their prey. Therefore, it is very important that when observing these animals that their cages (and the table or shelf they sit on) are not touched, bumped, or disturbed. An excellent rule of thumb to incorporate is “For Your Eyes Only”.
Observation is also greatly benefited by the use of a hand held magnifying glass. Many of the more intriguing features can be better seen when magnified, such as their eyes, their spinnerets, the pads on their feet, and their fangs!
Tarantulas and Scorpions eat only live food. They’re not very discriminatory and will probably eat “anything that moves”, but for the maintenance of their health it is best to only feed them live crickets purchased from a pet store.
Like us, each individual has their own appetite. One of them will eat once every two weeks while others will eat as often and as much as given to them. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that they have fresh, living food in their cage at least twice a week. If feeding day rolls around and the tarantula or scorpion still has food, do not add more.
As I mentioned, some tarantulas are gluttons and will literally cram their fangs as full as possible, while others will take one cricket and be completely satisfied. I recommend putting no more than two crickets into the cage at a time. For those gluttonous, it will limit their gluttony; for those who are picky eaters, it will improve their odds of finding and catching at least one.
Tarantulas and scorpions require constant access to fresh water, so do check this daily. Due to the nature of the tarantula’s “mouth”, they require that a sponge be placed in their water dish so that they can suck water out of it as needed. The scorpion’s mouth on the other hand is such that it does not require a sponge but only a shallow dish of water present. It will dip its head into the water to drink when it is thirsty.
Crickets: The Other White Meat
Crickets are people too (even if they are food)! Since the arachnid may not eat all of the food given it in one sitting, it is important to ensure that the crickets in the cage with the tarantulas, and those extras in their own cage, are provided with the basic necessities so that they can survive until they are eaten. Make sure that they have access to water (in the arachnid’s cage they can use the water dish there, in their own cage put a shallow dish with water and a sponge) and food (I put in a few pieces of dry cat food that they can nibble on).
FUN FACTS AND RESEARCH ITEMS
My family and I have learned a LOT about tarantulas and scorpions, and I wanted to pass along some of the more interesting items. You may want to research some of these items in more depth.
Tarantulas are not true spiders!
There are several differences between true, modern spiders and tarantulas…things that make them interesting and unique among arachnids. What are those differences? The way they breathe, the number of eyes they have…what else?
How do tarantulas eat? How do scorpions eat?
We tend to think that tarantulas “suck the blood” from their prey through their fangs; not so! And scorpions…the process is something you have to see to appreciate. The scorpion doesn’t tend to eat all that often, and prefers to do so hidden away, but careful and frequent observation may result in an opportunity to observe the process! Oh, and pay particular attention to the tarantulas right after they catch a cricket. I like to call it “the happy dance”, for they will turn in circles while dipping their spinnerets to the ground, forming a “blanket” on which they will lay the digesting cricket. They will then place more web over the cricket and pick it up again to finish eating it. Very interesting!
Shedding of Skin
Tarantulas shed their skin in order to grow. Older more mature tarantulas will probably only shed once or twice a year, at most. When they get ready to shed, however, they do an odd thing that at first glance will cause you to think that they have died! So, if you come in one morning and find the tarantula lying flat on his back with his legs in the air, do not disturb it; it is in the very delicate process of taking off its old skin. Once it is finished, it will lie in that position until its new skin is dry and hard, then very often it will take the time to move its old skin to another part of the cage. You may use tongs or some other instrument to gently and slowly remove the old skin from the cage for closer observation.
The scorpion doesn’t shed its skin as an adult. It has a body that is more elastic and expandable.
Some tarantulas protect themselves with urticating hairs. You should have your children research this to find out more about it. When provoked or frightened, this tarantula will turn itself around and, using its back legs, kick or throw the hairs from its abdomen at its attacker. So, if you see a tarantula that appears to be going bald on its abdomen, it probably just threw some hairs.
Tarantulas and Scorpions are very mysterious in this regard, and even being able to discern a male from a female takes a trained eye. The only way to truly tell is to examine their shed skin under a magnifying glass. Also, male tarantulas when mature will develop a special set of hooks at the knee of their front legs which they use during mating to pin the female’s fangs with so she can’t bite him.
Other than the very brief time when they mate, tarantulas must be kept separated because otherwise they simply see each other as a potential meal. Scorpions, on the other hand, are very much at ease with one another and can be kept in groups.
Observe the tarantulas under different kinds of light and at different angles. One will glow a beautiful purple in certain light and angles; the other appears a nice shade of pink and grey. Scorpions, under a black light, glow.
The wonders of nature are all around us, and it behooves us one and all to take the time to observe and appreciate the differences and similarities between ourselves and the creatures with whom we share this world. Arachnids are a great way to involve young children in this habit. They are relatively inexpensive to procure and maintain, and they’re interesting enough to engage the minds and evoke appreciation from young and old alike.