Tarantulas are not dirty pets. On the contrary, they make it pretty easy to keep up after them with regular spot cleaning.
Tarantulas are actually very clean pets to care for, despite living in a container of dirt. They regularly groom themselves and clean their burrows or webbing by removing old molts and boluses. In fact, they even tend to poop in one corner (or wall) of their enclosure – whichever is closer to the opening of their house.
Do tarantulas smell bad?
A properly kept pet tarantula will not stink. As long as the container is not full of mold, and the spider is alive and healthy, their cage will just smell earthy, like a bucket of dirt. If you leave a dead feeder insect in the cage, then that will start to give off an odor.
Although tarantulas definitely do defecate and urinate, they don’t excrete waste as we do. Their urine and feces are not separated as they exit the body.
According to Matt Persons of Susquehanna University, spiders excrete a combined waste in the form of uric acid and solids leftover from digestion. Combining their waste products like this helps the spider preserve internal moisture, which is critical for many aspects of their life.
Tarantula feces do not smell like the waste from a dog or a cat does. You can identify it as little white dots, pill shapes, or smears on the side of the enclosure, substrate, and sometimes the water dish.
The worst thing about tarantula poop is it can be a pain to wipe off acrylic without scratching the plastic. That and Avicularia species have a tendency to shoot poop like cannons, even at their keepers.
Do tarantulas clean themselves?
My tarantulas remind me of tiny cats…just with eight legs. They don’t like to be bothered, they only come out on their own terms, and they are constantly grooming themselves. They even spit out hairballs in the form of cricket boluses!
All of my terrestrial specimens will sit for what seems like hours after moving dirt to clean themselves – probably because the substrate gets stuck on their setae while they’re digging and rolling balls of dirt. You will also notice them cleaning their legs and fangs meticulously after every single meal.
In fact, many worried new owners will post on forums asking about their “excessive” cleaning habits, wanting to know if there is something wrong with their tarantula because it always seems to be cleaning itself.
One thing to be aware of is that tarantulas that are grooming can often look as though they are in a death curl to a new hobbyist. They will adopt awkward poses, sometimes standing with their legs oddly positioned underneath the body almost as though they are curled, to better position themselves for the task.
The difference here is that if you look closely at what they are doing, there will always be movement happening when the spider is cleaning itself. In a death curl, the legs are held underneath the body and the spider doesn’t appear to be moving at all.
Why do spiders put their feet in their mouth?
The first time that you watch a spider groom themselves, it may look strange and uncomfortable, or as though something is wrong. However, the behavior is completely normal for them, and putting their feet in their mouth is just part of the process.
What they are actually doing is pulling the entire leg through their fangs. Don’t be alarmed, despite what it looks like they aren’t eating their leg! Pulling the leg through the fangs like this removes bits of stuff caught on their fangs, while at the same time removing debris from the important sensory hairs on their legs.
In addition to pulling the leg through the fangs, you will also notice that the tarantula will rub the leg across their abdomen.
What do tarantulas do with old molts?
Immediately after molting, tarantulas will often shred their old exoskeleton in an attempt to remove any moisture on it because molting is a very moisture-taxing process for them.
Eventually, the spider will clear their burrow or webbing of old exuviae and leftover food boluses. Their “trash” usually gets deposited in the same general area of the enclosure, which makes it very easy to pick out with some long tongs.
There is no need to destroy their burrow or web to remove either of these things because the spider will do it for you, albeit on their own time table.
Do you need to clean dirt from a tarantula’s webbing?
Whether you accidentally spilled dirt into their web while cleaning or the spider decorated their web on their own, dirt never needs to be removed from a tarantula’s web.
Attempting to keep the webbing looking pristine will only stress the spider because it has to rebuild its web again, and potentially put you at more risk for a bite or at the very least an escape.
In fact, many arboreal species will regularly incorporate dirt into their webbing as a normal part of their behavior. This is where the term “dirt curtain” comes from in the hobby.
Final Thoughts on the Matter of Tarantula Cleanliness
In terms of pets that you can keep, tarantulas are probably one of the cleanest, least stinky options that you can choose. I can almost always catch one of mine meticulously cleaning their legs if I look over at my tarantula cabinet. Not only do they routinely make sure their setae are clean, but they also tend to defecate and drop molts in the same spot every time making cage maintenance super easy.
The only tarantulas that I have that I might possibly consider “dirty” are my arboreals, but that’s only every once in a while, when they decide to drop a disgusting bolus or an old molt into their water dish that I’m left to clean up – and even this is pretty infrequent. There’s nothing dirty about the spider itself, only it’s poor water dish habits.