Feeding tarantulas is unlike caring for many other pets because they don’t need daily meals. Keepers new and old in the hobby often stress over the eating habits of their T’s, especially when certain specimens decide to fast or refuse food during premolt.
A tarantula that is hungry will often sit with its legs outside of its burrow or web waiting for a meal to come. Occasionally, they will start pacing the enclosure. They may also react more strongly to stimuli, like the refilling of their water dish because they are actively hunting. When a tarantula has gone a particularly long time between meals, the abdomen will start to look visibly smaller.
Is my tarantula hungry?
Most obligate burrowers will come to the mouth of their burrow and sit with their feet at the entrance when they’re ready for food. Arboreals will do the same thing at the mouth of their web tubes and hammocks.
Keep in mind that a tarantula sitting with its feet out in a hunting stance constantly isn’t necessarily a sign that the spider is starving. This is normal behavior for spiders to exhibit.
Tarantulas are opportunistic feeders and will often readily look for their next meal shortly after finishing their last one as long as they aren’t in premolt.
I typically offer my smallest slings food whenever I notice them acting like this (unless their abdomen is huge), but I don’t give my juveniles or adults food every time they adopt a hunting pose.
My feeding schedule for them is based on the size of their abdomen, which usually works out to be every week or week and a half.
Pacing can be another sign that a tarantula is hungry and actively looking for a meal (but it isn’t always). Sometimes arboreal T’s will sit on their cork bark with their legs fully stretched facing downward or hang out closer to the substrate than they usually do.
One very clear sign of hunger that I’ve picked up on over the years is that when a specimen starts lunging at their water dish getting refilled, then they are probably hungry and ready to eat. Tarantulas that react strongly to water falling tend to readily accept a feeder if it’s offered.
Can you overfeed your tarantula?
Overfeeding tarantulas is a topic that tends to get beaten into the ground by enthusiasts frequently on forums.
On one side of the debate, there are keepers who feel that a consistently overfed specimen kept in warmer temperatures will have a shorter lifespan than a tarantula that is fed more moderately.
A second commonly held viewpoint is that slings should be fed as much food as often as they will accept it so that they can get past such a delicate life stage. This is also done to hasten the development of their adult coloration.
There are also some keepers that think that tarantulas of all life stages should be offered food in abundance because spiders know how to be spiders best and they will know when to stop eating. People on this side of the debate assert that in the wild spiders are able to eat as much as they want because there is no limit on the amount of prey.
The opposing viewpoint to the abundance argument is that doing so may be setting up the spider for prolonged fasts where they refuse food entirely.
On this side, there are keepers who assert that feeding both fast growing and slow growing species as much as they want will only make them enter premolt sooner.
The result of this is a tarantula that stays in premolt for a frustratingly long time. Additionally, in the wild tarantulas would encounter periods of food abundance and scarcity.
In my opinion, slings can’t be overfed but sub-adults and adults definitely can. Adults of many species will continue to accept prey if you offer it to them.
This practice frequently leads to overly large abdomens that become a hindrance or even a risk to the spider. I have some specimens that will regulate their meals on their own and rarely look overfed, while other individuals in my collection will gorge themselves every time food is offered.
It may feel odd or neglectful to feed a pet so infrequently if you’re accustomed to caring for other animals. Keep in mind that wild adult specimens don’t eat very frequently. They often choose to fast for many months at a time, and often only eat once per month regularly.
In captivity, many tarantulas will readily gorge themselves whenever prey is offered because they don’t know when they will get another meal.
However, as keepers we know that they will have access to food regularly, so I feel it is our responsibility to keep this tendency in check as living in captivity is not comparable to a tarantula living in a hole out in nature.
Should I feed my tarantula daily?
A tarantula that is fed daily would be considered overfed by most keepers. Although many specimens may be willing to accept a frequent feeding regimen, tarantulas do not need to eat every day.
I base my feeding schedule for each specimen around the size of their abdomen, and there are even some weeks that I skip feeding altogether.
Keepers speculate that overly large abdomens present various risks to tarantulas, like a higher susceptibility of ruptured abdomens if they fall, as well as damage to the underside of the abdomen from it dragging constantly.
Even keepers that choose to feed their growing specimens more often don’t offer them food every day. Instead, they typically offer food two times a week and keep the spider in a warmer environment to hasten growth.
How many times should I feed my tarantula?
A good rule of thumb for feeding adult specimens is to offer them prey once every 7-14 days.
Feed slings and juveniles are more frequently because they are still growing. A good feeding schedule for slings is 1-2 times per week. Once a week is sufficient for juveniles.
When I’m deciding whether or not I’m going to offer a particular specimen food I always look at the size of their abdomen. This applies to both my adults and young spiders.
If a sling still looks like an engorged tick, then I wait a few more days until they slim down!
How many crickets should I give my tarantula?
The number of crickets or other feeder insects that you offer will depend on how large the spider is. Typically, I offer a single prey item to my slings or juveniles at feeding time, while I offer the adult specimens between four and six feeders at a time.
The amount an adult spider can take will depend on how large the feeders are, so your mileage may vary according to which insects you use for food. One large roach would take the place of multiple feeders.
Should I leave live feeders in with my tarantula?
Always remove uneaten prey items from your cages within 24 hours, especially if you are offering multiple feeder insects that the spider isn’t acting interested in.
Live feeders can harm a molting tarantula and should not be left to free roam the cage.
How big should the prey be that I offer to my tarantula?
If you’re unsure of what size feeder to use for your spider, then look at the length of the spider’s body.
A general rule of thumb that you can use is to select prey items that are slightly smaller than the body. However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule.
Many young tarantulas are willing to take prey that is nearly the same size that they are.
Feed multiple prey items if you are unable to source larger feeders for adult tarantulas. You can offer your tarantula multiple insects at one time and they will usually grab all of them in pretty quick succession.
When I feed my T’s crickets, I often give my adult female Caribena versicolor around six at a time. She will stalk the cage until she catches them all, then ball them up into a mass to eat all at one time.
Occasionally, she just sits on top of one lone cricket that she can’t fit into the ball until she has room to grab it.
Final Thoughts About Hungry Tarantulas
In general, it’s pretty easy to tell if your tarantula is hungry after you gain some experience. Aside from visibly having a slimmer abdomen, a tarantula that wants food will sit with its legs outside of it’s hide or burrow waiting for prey to walk by. Terrestrial tarantulas tend to sit in a hunting pose, where they will elevate their body above the ground. If you notice your tarantula doing any of those things, or acting more feisty than usual when you open the lid for maintenance, then try tossing in some food!