Many of us grew up with cats, dogs, and maybe the occasional hamster or other small furry animals.
We got used to feeding them canned or bagged food every day, sometimes a few times per day. When you own an exotic pet such as a tarantula, all that information flies out the proverbial window.
Pet stores don’t sell “arachnid chow” or “spider food,” and tarantulas won’t eat cubed chunks of dried, processed insects, so what do you feed pet tarantulas? I hope you’re not squeamish because pet spiders eat mostly live insects and worms.
You can’t be too squeamish, right? You either have or are thinking of adopting a large, hairy, eight-legged, fanged, arachnid as a beloved pet. Alright, now let’s get into what tarantulas eat.
Table of Contents
Tarantulas In The Mist
“Gimme meat!” These oversized spiders are full-on carnivores and apex predators. In the wild when a tarantula is hungry, it will attack anything it thinks it could subdue.
This includes nearly any insect, such as grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, beetles, and the list goes on. They will also eat worms, caterpillars, centipedes, and other spiders. There are some tarantulas that take on bigger prey such as frogs, lizards, bats, and birds.
If tarantulas could talk, they would probably say, “If it looks good, just eat it.” They don’t have a problem taking on prey bigger than themselves. They bite the potential food with sharp fangs and inject a paralyzing venom to make the food more docile.
Once the struggle is over, the spider begins to eat. While most of us grew up learning and hearing that spiders inject a digestive fluid and then suck the “juices” out, that’s actually a myth.
Yet another childhood mystery debunked. Spiders actually chew their food with tiny jaws. They do kind of “vomit” digestive fluids onto their food then chew and slurp up the slurry though, so it’s close to the myth.
There may be some hard bits of exoskeleton that the spider can’t eat. These bits are balled up and discarded like the first draft of my first novel.
You’re left with the cleanup, sorry, spiders aren’t the greatest housekeepers.
What Do I Feed My Tarantula?
Tarantulas can eat most insects, including silkworms, mealworms, waxworms, hornworms, roaches, crickets, and even pinkies. It all depends on the life stage of the spider.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go insect hunting in your backyard to feed your new pet. You can purchase insects from pet stores.
Unfortunately, most pet supply stores don’t keep a large selection of feeder insects. You may find crickets, the occasional hornworm, and maybe a small container of mealworms.
All of these are excellent choices for your pet, but if you’re looking for more variety, you’ll have to search a little deeper.
Tarantulas have different feeding needs depending on their age and size. Some species of tarantulas will eat more often than others as well. You don’t want to just throw a heaping handful of crickets into the enclosure with your tarantula and let it eat what it wants when it wants.
While a large spider can easily overpower crickets with no problem, several of these insects with your spider could cause a lot of stress and even injury. An adult tarantula may only eat a few crickets per week, leaving the remainder to wander around searching for food.
If the crickets don’t have anything they can eat, they may turn to the spider in desperation. While the crickets won’t eat a full-grown tarantula, they can bite it and cause injury or infection, especially if there are a lot of crickets in the same enclosure.
Only feed your spider what it can and will eat in about a 30-minute session, and then remove any uneaten insects, or pieces of insects after 24 hours. As I said, this isn’t the pet for the squeamish.
Feeding The Slings
If you’re new to tarantula care you may be wondering what I mean about feeding slings. Slings are just the shortened slang word for spiderlings.
You may start out getting a little sling as a pet, or after some time you may decide you want to breed your tarantulas. It could be that you end up with a ton of spiderlings and now need to know what to feed them. Either way, I got your back.
When slings are born they will feed off the remainder of their egg sacs for a time, but once it’s gone, they go on the prowl. If food isn’t available for them, or they are too crowded, they will resort to cannibalism. This isn’t unnatural, it happens in the real world all the time, baby spiders resort to their own hunger games.
Slings are quite vulnerable to a host of predators, even their own brothers, and sisters, so they will try to eat as much as possible. The more they can eat, the faster they will become that apex predator. So you’ll want to feed your slings several times per week.
You just have to be careful what you feed them. You don’t want to drop in a large cricket or fat dubia roach that’s ten times bigger than the spiderling.
Here’s a quick list of what you can feed your slings:
- Pinhead crickets
- Flightless fruit flies
- Soldier fly larvae
- Newly hatched roaches
- Rear cricket legs
- Insect or worm pieces
Use Tiny Insects For Slings
Depending on the size of your sling, you’ll need insects that are much smaller than they are. You can find pinhead crickets, or maybe even flightless fruit flies for the tiniest of slings.
One good thing about spiderlings as they forage. They don’t have to hunt live prey as you can leave pieces of insects or even earthworms in the enclosure for your baby to find. Yes, that can be gross, but it’s a safe way to feed these fragile slings.
Often, spiderlings will flee from live prey, even if they are bigger than the insects. If your sling is hesitant to take on living prey, leave some cricket drumsticks (the large hind legs of the crickets) or crush the heads of the prey insects.
When feeding lives prey to your spiderling, make sure to remove any insects or pieces it doesn’t eat in a timely manner. During these early growth periods, the slings are very fragile and they molt often. When a spider starts to molt, it shouldn’t be moved, and it won’t move either.
During periods of molt, crickets especially can bother, and even injure your sling. Crickets may seem innocuous, but they will eat nearly anything that doesn’t move, this could include your sling.
How Often To Feed Your Slings
Spiderlings are very fragile. Many don’t make it due to injuries such as a fall, or some unknown that takes them out. A lot of spider owners try to feed slings as much as they will eat to help them grow into stronger adults.
Adults can go a week between feedings. In the wild, some spiders may not eat for a month yet they still survive without a problem. Slings on the other hand should be fed more often.
You can try to feed them every other day while they are going through their growth spurts. Just don’t offer any food when they are in the process of molting, they need peace and quiet during this time.
What Can You Feed Juvenile Tarantulas?
Tiny slings start going through that awkward teenage phase when they are about one and a half to 2 inches wide.
They are less fragile now, and better able to take care of themselves. They also need fewer feedings—they want to keep that nice hourglass figure.
You can scale back the feedings to about once or twice a week depending on the size of the prey. Just be sure to remove any leftover live prey or insect chunks your spider didn’t finish. Just like leaving leftovers on your kitchen counter, spider leftovers can mold in the enclosure when left too long.
Now is also the time you can start introducing larger prey to your tarantula. Larger crickets, hornworms, mealworms, and earthworms are all good choices now. Especially if you were feeding bug pieces or incapacitated insects to your sling before.
For safety, just make sure not to drop in any prey item that’s bigger than your juvenile tarantula, especially insects that can bite back like grasshoppers, beetles, or crickets. Here’s a list of foods you can feed your juveniles:
- Small to medium-sized crickets
- Dubia roaches
What Should You Feed Adult Tarantulas?
Adult tarantulas have little to fear in the wild. Some very large toads, centipedes, and large scorpions can take down tarantulas, but they don’t come across these beasts very often. Most of the time, it’s the tarantula that does the tackling and eating.
You can feed full-grown tarantulas nearly any insect you can purchase. This even includes the large hissing cockroaches that can get up to 2 or 3 inches long. Just be aware of where your insects come from.
You want to find a quality insect breeder, or you can breed them yourself if you have the supplies and the time to do so. Wild insects can be risky as they may contain parasites that can make your pet sick.
A good rule of thumb to consider when feeding your tarantulas is to feed them insects or bugs that are no larger than their abdomens. This assures that the spider can easily take the prey down, and you won’t have to clean up too many leftover pieces.
Here’s a list of insects and bugs you can feed your adult tarantulas:
- Everything listed in the above lists
- Red wigglers
- B. Lateralis roaches (aka red racers, or rusty reds)
How Often Should An Adult Tarantula Eat?
This really depends on the tarantula species, how much food is offered, and the individual spider.
Let’s say you offer a single, full-sized cricket per day to your tarantula. You could feed your spider a single cricket every day and it could be fine.
I get it. When you drop in four or five at a time, you have to remove the ones it doesn’t eat afterward which can be frustrating chasing them around the enclosure. To forgo the chase you only drop one in at a time.
Your tarantula isn’t likely to overeat, and you don’t have to worry about it being too big to molt. Spiders will enter a fast period when they are getting ready to molt, during this time don’t offer any food until they have shed their outer shell.
If you want to feed your tarantula bigger meals, depending on the spider, you can feed them a few times per week, or maybe once per week. Once they have eaten their fill, they will stop. That’s why it’s important to remove any insects that have not been eaten after 24 hours.
Eventually, you will learn the routine and how much your spider is willing and able to eat. Just keep an eye on the abdomen. It should be plump. But not as swollen as a tick.
They can store a lot of food in their abdomen, but when it’s extra full, it can become damaged easier.
Feed Your Tarantula A Varied Diet
To ensure your pet gets all the nutrition it needs for a balanced and healthy diet, don’t always feed them the same thing. Gut-loaded crickets are great, but sometimes roaches, mealworms, or other bugs provide nutrition crickets are lacking.
You don’t have to worry about supplements though. You may find some forums telling you to dust the insects with calcium powder before feeding your tarantulas, but spiders don’t need this mineral. They don’t have any bones that require calcium.
By offering different types of insects on occasion, your tarantula will get all the nutrients it needs.
While spiders often get enough moisture from the food they eat, you should still offer clean, fresh, water every day.
Some spiders do drink water. How often have you pulled back the shower curtain to find an unexpected 8-legger hanging out in the tub? It was looking for moisture.
Just make sure you put the water in a shallow dish so your tarantula can’t drown. Though most insects are light enough to float on top of the water because of the surface tension, tarantulas are too big and heavy to rely on that neat trick.
Best Foods For Your Tarantula
These are widely available in most pet stores, they are inexpensive, and they are noninvasive if they escape. You can get them in a range of sizes from pinhead for your slings, to large adult crickets for larger tarantulas.
Some cons of crickets are that they smell bad. They just have a musty smell that makes it hard to keep a lot of them around. They can be noisy too.
They chirp, and inside your house, one tiny cricket can sound like it has a megaphone stuck to its mouth…legs…wherever they make the annoying sound.
Crickets when left in a tarantulas tank can harm a molting spider. You’ll have to remove any that have not been eaten.
Great feeders for smaller tarantulas and readily available in most pet supply stores. They come in small containers that are easy to keep, and they won’t run away like crickets and roaches can.
You can also keep them in the refrigerator for easy storage. These are easy to breed if you want to keep them around.
The negatives include their ability to burrow. They can quickly get into the ground and grow into adult black beetles.
While that sounds like a ready-made meal, tarantulas don’t seem too fond of these beetles and usually won’t eat them.
These worms are the same creatures that create silk material in fancy blouses, shirts, or other clothing.
They are really caterpillars and not true worms. The good thing about silkworms is they don’t move fast, they don’t burrow, and won’t harm your tarantula.
The negatives include the price and the lack of nutrition. Silkworms can be expensive for an insect that’s only going to get eaten by your spider. They can be anywhere from 30 to 85 cents per worm.
Silkworms also don’t have much in the way of nutrition. They don’t have a lot of protein or fat. They have other nutrients, but they are basically low in caloric intake.
The flightless variety is available occasionally in pet stores in small containers.
These can be good choices for small slings because of their tiny size and inability to fly. Once your spiderlings have molted a few times though, these insects will be too small.
These are soft-bodied caterpillars that can reach lengths of 3 to 4 inches. They are a great supplement for tarantulas, but they have too much fat in them for consistent feeding.
Hornworms can occasionally be available at your local pet store but beware. They are often packaged in boxes where you can’t see the size of them.
I’ve made the mistake of purchasing these boxes before only to find a worm barely the size of a fingernail shaving. When hornworms are nearly full grown, they can make a big meal for your adult tarantula, but they can be expensive, sometimes costing $1 a piece or more.
Another choice for feeding slings, and juveniles, but not so great for full-grown tarantulas.
These grubs are an excellent nutritional choice for your young pets. They don’t move very fast, but they can burrow, so keep an eye on them or smash their heads when you put them in the enclosure.
Nightcrawlers, red wigglers, or other worms can be fed to your spiders regardless of the current life stage. Red wigglers are good for slings, but you’ll have to cut them into small pieces. They can be lively and thrash about frantically.
Nightcrawlers are much bigger and fatter, but they are a bit more docile than the wigglers. You can again cut these into pieces for smaller spiders, but they can become very messy.
Earthworms are also a supplemental “treat.” They have a lot of fat in them so don’t rely on these as a staple.
Be sure never to purchase “fishing” worms to feed your tarantula. These worms often have tons of chemicals on and in them and are not good to feed your pets.
These insects are nutritionally balanced and one of the best insects you can feed to your spiders. They can reach up to 2 inches in length so they are great for even larger tarantulas.
They are pretty inexpensive and easy to raise if you choose that route. Males may develop wings but you don’t have to worry about them flying away. The most they can do is flutter a bit if they fall.
Some problems with dubia roaches are some tarantulas may not eat them, and they will often play dead when approached by a large predator. For spiders that need that movement to entice feeding, this can be problematic.
Dubia roaches also can burrow pretty fast. You may think your arachnid has eaten it, only to find it crawling around days later.
To prevent any burrowing and “playing possum,” crush their heads before dropping them in. Like true roaches, they will still crawl around for a while like that and won’t burrow.
Similar to dubia roaches, the Madagascar hissing cockroach gets larger—up to 3 inches long and an inch wide. They also do hiss, nearly as loud as some snakes, but they are completely harmless.
These roaches are slow-moving tarantula meals that can’t fly, but they can climb up glass surfaces. They are best for full-grown tarantulas because they can get so large.
The hissing cockroaches can live up to 5 years and are easy to keep. They have a slight smell but not as bad as crickets.
The biggest problem with these insects is they are very expensive. If you plan on breeding them yourself you can save money, but you’ll need more equipment.
Also called red runners, B. lateralis, or rusty reds, these roaches resemble German cockroaches (which are not good food for your tarantula). They only reach about 1.5 to 2 inches in length so they are best for juvenile spiders.
Turkestan roaches are great nutritionally for your spiders, but they are fast and can escape quickly. Males have wings and can fly.
If they escape, they can become a pest in your house, so you’ll have to be diligent in keeping them under wraps.
Similar to mealworms except they get much bigger.
These are better suited for larger tarantulas because of their size. They’re great nutritionally and can be bred without too much trouble, though they may be a little more involved compared to mealworms.
You have to be careful with superworms around your pet tarantula because they can and will bite. During molt, when your tarantula is motionless, if there are several superworms in the enclosure, they can eat your tarantula.
You’ll want to use some tongs and pinch their heads to prevent any possible damage to your pet.
These soft-bodied worms only get about an inch long. They are great for smaller tarantulas and juveniles but may be too small for large adults to really pay much attention.
If your adult tarantula enjoys eating them, then don’t hesitate to feed them. Just be sure to feed something a little less fatty on occasion such as crickets or mealworms.
Can You Overfeed Your Tarantula?
There seems to be a lot of conflicting information on this topic out there, but the overwhelming consensus is that you cannot overfeed your spider.
It will eat until it’s had enough and then quit. I wish I had that level of constraint…
A spider’s abdomen will stretch to hold more food, but it will not eat until they pop. A stretched-to-the-limit abdomen is more subject to rupture if it falls or gets hit by something, but it won’t happen because it was overfed.
You want to see a healthy, full abdomen, but scale back on the food if your tarantula starts to resemble an engorged tick.
What About Pinkies And Mice?
Pinkies are baby mice. They are small, usually hairless and pink, hence the name. You can find them in most pet supply stores in the frozen feeding section.
Pinkies are often fed to small snakes, carnivorous lizards, frogs, and even some large fish such as the Oscars. Many large tarantula owners, scorpions, and centipede owners will feed their pets pinkies.
You too can certainly feed your full-grown tarantula pinky mice. The problem comes in thawing them out. This can be messy as you need to soak them in hot water to thaw them or leave them out to thaw like you would frozen meat.
A word of caution, never EVER thaw them in the microwave. I have heard horror stories of people trying this to quickly thaw them out. Usually, the tail ends up frying and creating a horrid stench, and I’ve even heard of them exploding in the microwave.
I’m not sure if that’s true, but I’m certainly not going to experiment with my microwave.
In the wild, some tarantulas will eat full-grown mice. We don’t recommend this for your pets for several reasons.
For one, a full-grown mouse can injure or kill your tarantula. Secondly, an adult mouse is usually too big of a meal for a tarantula, so whatever it doesn’t finish, you’re left cleaning it up.
Another is that mice can carry diseases that may make your tarantula sick. Pinkies are processed in a way that they are clean, and when they’re frozen, bacteria are unable to flourish.
And That’s All Folks
Depending on the size of your tarantula you may need to adjust what and how you feed your pets.
Most importantly you want to look out for the safety and health of your pet. With all these options available you should be able to find something for your pet.
Keep in mind that some tarantulas will like certain foods better than others. If your tarantula doesn’t like crickets, try out superworms, or hornworms.
If you don’t like the idea of roaches in your house (basically who does? Although most of these aren’t likely to become pests) you have other options you can choose from.
We hope this guide has helped you decide what to feed your tarantula. As always, we love to hear from you. So drop us a line.
Is there something we didn’t list that you like to feed your tarantulas? Share it here.