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What Do Tarantulas Eat in the Wild & as Pets?
Tarantulas are large, carnivorous spiders. They are skilled hunters, capable of taking down large prey, but their exact diet depends on where they live and whether they live in captivity or the wild.
They are similar to other species of spiders, in that they cannot eat solid foods, so they must liquefy their prey before they can digest them. Read on to discover what the tarantula usually eats in the wild and what captive tarantulas are typically fed, as well as more information on these fascinating arachnids.
Tarantulas live in dry areas abundant in soil. American species are ground spiders but some reside in trees, caves, and even in food crops like bananas. They are found around the world, including in southern states of the US, Mexico, Central, and South America.
Because of their popularity in the pet trade, some species of this impressive spider are considered endangered and are a protected species. Other species, however, are considered common which means that they are not protected and are considered abundant.
Captive and pet tarantulas are usually provided with an artificial habitat that closely mimics the features of their wild habitat. This means that they should be provided with the right temperature, humidity, and need to be given décor and decorations like trees and hides. Similarly, their diet should closely match that of their wild diet.
Spiders are unable to digest solid food within their body, so digestion is completed outside the body. Whereas most animals rely on acids in the stomach to break down food, spiders including the tarantula inject their prey with a digestive enzyme. This enzyme breaks down the tissues within the body so that the spider can then suck up the liquified prey.
The exact diet of a tarantula, in the wild, depends on the variety of tarantula and what food is available. However, these hunters will generally feed on insects including grasshoppers.
They may also eat other, smaller spiders, and will even consume animals like frogs, toads, and small lizards. Certain species are known for their ability to catch and eat birds.
The tarantula is capable of eating prey that is larger than itself, especially because it does not need to be able to fit the food in its mouth.
Unlike a lot of spiders, which spin webs and use these to trap their prey, the tarantula does not use webs. Instead, they hunt on the ground, in the same way larger animals do.
Similar to other species of spiders, though, they are very sensitive to vibrations. While other types of spider use this capability to determine when the prey has become stuck in their web, the tarantula can determine when prey is nearby and when it is running, by feeling vibrations in the ground. The spiders are nocturnal, which means that they do most of their hunting at night. This also means that, when kept as pets, they are more active at night and this is when they are more likely to eat.
Diet In Captivity
The tarantula is a very popular pet breed. It is a large spider that can be handled and is not considered dangerous to humans, although its urticating hairs can cause discomfort and its venom painful.
When kept as a pet, owners must attempt to replicate their life in the wild as closely as possible. This not only means meeting the temperature and humidity that they would have but also providing them with suitable food.
It is common for tarantula owners to feed their spiders insects like grasshoppers. They are easy to get hold of from pet shops or even online, and they can be dusted with supplements to ensure that the tarantula gets all of their dietary requirements.
Tarantulas are predated by birds, lizards, snakes, and even coyotes, and some foxes. As well as being fast and capable of hiding in bushes and trees, and behind rocks, the tarantula uses its sensitivity to vibrations to determine when danger is close. They also have urticating hairs. These hairs are fired at predators and they irritate the eyes and cause difficulty with breathing, giving the tarantula time to get away. They also have a venomous bite that is enough to take down some animals.
Common Tarantula Species
Although there are known to be several hundred species of tarantulas, some are better known and more popular than others:
- Mexican Red Knee – The Mexican Red Knee is the archetypal tarantula. It is black with orange bands and is considered one of the best tarantulas for beginners. The female lives up to 30 years and only needs a 10-gallon tank. This species is also considered easy to handle, which is a prerequisite for many owners.
- Chilean Fire Tarantula – Also known as the Chilean Rose, the Chilean Fire Tarantula is another popular beginner spider. The females live around 20 years, burrows to make a home, and are calm and easy to handle. However, you will have to pay extra care to ensure suitable temperature and humidity levels.
- Mexican Redleg – Like most tarantulas, the female of this species lives much longer than the male. In fact, the Mexican Redleg female will live 30 years while the male will only survive five years. This is a ground spider and makes a good first pet spider but take care not to startle the Redleg or you will experience the urticating hairs.
- Honduran Curly Hair – The wooly tarantula is tough. It grows to full size quickly and the female will live ten years, which is one of the shorter life expectancies for this type of spider. A ten-gallon vivarium should be adequate for this species.
- Pink Zebra Beauty – The Pink Zebra Beauty is a large tarantula that comes from South America. It is quite slow, which makes it suitable for handling even by inexperienced keepers, and the female will live around 25 years.
What Do Tarantulas Eat?
There are hundreds of different species of tarantula, but all are carnivores and most live on a diet of insects and some small animals. They inject their prey with a digestive enzyme that breaks the animal down into a liquid so that the spider can essentially drink them, negating the need to have to digest the animal after eating. Some species eat lizards, frogs, and even small birds, and those kept as pets in captivity should have as similar a diet to their wild diet to ensure that they get the vitamins and minerals they require.
Featured Image Credit: tatianaput, Shutterstock
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.