g. porteri

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Wow, what a gorgeous take on tarantulas. Very soothing, surprisingly.

So, you want to buy a tarantula.

When I went searching for my first tarantula back in the late ’90s, the only information I could find on them was in exotic pet magazines and outdated books. Although there was plenty of information to be found on common species like G. rosea and B. smithi, many of the species I encountered at shows, some labeled with nonsensical common names, were enigmas. Back then, if you saw something that looked “cool”, you bought it with little concern to whether or not the species might be a bit too much for someone new to the hobby to handle. I’m sure several folks went home with animals that they they were ill-equipped to  care for (or that they became terrified of).

Today with internet, any information you need is just a mouse click away. With hundreds of websites, blogs, and forums devoted to tarantula keeping, it is much easier for the novice keeper to interact with other enthusiasts and access current information on the hobby. Nowadays, there is no excuse for ignorance, and it is the responsibility of the newbie to do his or her homework BEFORE acquiring a new animal.

Perhaps the first question one new to tarantulas should be asking is, “What is a good beginner tarantula species for me to start with?” There are a staggering number of species currently available in the hobby, and many of them have dispositions or husbandry requirements that render them unsuitable to advanced keepers. Conversely, there are several species that make for excellent “gateway” pets into this addictive hobby.

To create the following list, I first drew from my own experience and observations. I then reviewed several forum threads on good beginner Ts from three different message boards and recorded the species that came up the most. Species have been selected on temperament, ease of husbandry and care, and cost and availability. I also currently keep all of the species on the list, so I can support other keepers’ reports with my own observations. There are certainly other species that would make good pets for the first-timer. If you feel that I missed your favorite, feel free to comment.

Now…onto the list.

1. Brachypelma albopilosum

Whenever one asks on the boards what the best beginner T is, the B. albopilosum is mentioned early and often. A gentle terrestrial with a medium growth rate, the “Honduran Curly Hair” is renowned for its calm disposition and ease of care. Reports of hair-kicking or threat postures are almost non-existent, and many report handling this T frequently and without incident. This species is very readily available in the hobby, with slings often given as freebies, so this is not an expensive species to acquire. Plus, their little curly hairs just make them so darned cute (they are always having a bad hair day).

I keep my little guy with mostly dry substrate and moisten one corner. It is kept at room temps (70º to 84º) and it has been growing at a medium pace. Slings like to dig, so be sure to give them a few inches of substrate when they are smaller. Adults will normally remain out in the open, but a hide should be provided.

2. Euathlus sp. red

This dwarf species is the only one I can confidently refer to as “adorable”. Maxing out at about 3.5-3.75″, the Euathlus sp red is a calm, gentle, inquisitive species and a wonderful beginner T. Although I don’t normally handle my animals, this is a species I find myself making an exception for. Whenever I open their enclosures for maintenance, these curious little guys will calmly climb out of their cages and into my hand. Many times, they will curl up next to my thumb and just sit there. For one looking to ease into the hobby, there is no better ambassador. This is the tarantula I introduce to folks who have a fear of the animal.

So cute.

Husbandry for these little guys is easy. Dry substrate with a water bowl is sufficient; I overflow the bowl a bit, and I’ve observed that they will sometimes stand over the moist patch. They do fine at room temperature (my temps range from 70º to 84º throughout the year). I supply hides, but my girls rarely use them.

Things to consider: If there is a downside to this species, it can be its propensity to fast during the cooler months. For someone new to the hobby, this could be cause for stress. Also, as slings they are VERY small. They can also be a bit more difficult to come by in the hobby.

3. Grammostola pulchra

Sometimes referred to as “The Black Lab of Tarantulas”, the G. pulchra is a jet black gentle giant. Reaching sizes of 8″, this heavy-bodied T is recognized for its very calm nature and is usually a species that is reluctant to flick hair and tolerates handling well. A very slow growing species, females can live for decades while even the males can make it to 8 years. This means that if you purchase one as a sling, you will enjoy many years with this animal regardless of the sex.

Like the previous species mentioned, this species does well on dry substrate with a water dish. I like to keep one corner of the enclosure a bit damp. Slings will dig, so provide them with several inches of sub to allow for burrowing. Older specimens should be provided with a hide. I keep this species between 68º and 80º.

Things to consider: Slings of this species can be a little more on the expensive side, with $40-$50 being common. It is also a very slow grower, so if you buy a sling, it will be quite a few years before this T hits its adult size. Adult specimens are also very expensive, with large females fetching $200 or more.

4. Brachypelma Smithi

One of the most gorgeous and long-lived species (at least in my opinion) is also one of the best starter tarantulas. With it’s fiery red/yellow/orange leg markings set against the dark brown/black base color, this is one awesome showcase animal. The B. smithi is also known to mature into a calm, even-tempered adult, which makes it a wonderful starter tarantula. With an estimated life-expectancy of 40-plus years for females, you will also have decades with your new pet.

Again, there are no special care requirements with this species. An enclosure with more floor space than height, dry substrate, a water dish, and a hide will suffice. Slings will want to burrow, so provide them with a few inches of sub to tunnel in. I keep mine at temps between 68º and 84º, and there are no humidity requirements.

Things to consider: Younger B. smithi can be skittish, kicking hair or even threatening to bite when disturbed. Most will outgrow this behavior. As this is a long-living species, adult females can be quite pricey.

5. Grammostola pulchripes

The G. pulchripes or “Chaco Golden Knee” is a beautiful terrestrial species that can reach an impressive size of 8″. Like other Grammostolas, this one is a slow grower, taking many years to reach maturity. However, the G. pulchripes is generally recognized as having a very calm disposition, which makes it a wonderful candidate as a first tarantula. Many point to this species as one of the ones most tolerable of handling. And, for those looking for a display T, this golden-striped beauty loves to sit out in the open, meaning you’ll always see your new pet. Even better, the G. pulchripes is readily available, and slings can be procured for as little as $10.

As slings, these guys are little bulldozers, constantly digging an rearranging their substrate. Be sure to give slings plenty of mostly dry substrate in which to play. I keep mine in containers allowing for about 4″ of sub, and I moisten down one corner. Adults should be kept in an enclosure allowing for more floor space than height with a water dish and hide provided. These guys can be kept at room temps (I keep mine between 70º and 84º) and there are no specific humidity requirements.

Things to consider: Although this T has a reputation for tolerating handling, individuals may vary in temperament. This is also a large T, so a bite could be quite painful and could cause mechanical damage. Always exercise caution if handling and make the safety of your animal your first priority.

6. Grammostola rosea/porteri

For years, the G. rosea (or “Rosie”, as it’s often referred to) was the most recommended beginner species. This readily available, inexpensive tarantula is recognized for its extreme hardiness and a supposedly tractable disposition. Although other species have emerged over the years that have proven to be better first Ts, the G. rosea shouldn’t be overlooked. For someone looking to get their first T, this slow-growing, long-living species can be a great choice. With the porteri reaching a max size of about 6″, it is a fairly good sized display T as well. G. rosea/porteri slings can usually be purchased for under $10, and adult females can be acquired for around $30, making this species VERY affordable.

The G. rosea/porteri are very simple to care for. Supply them with dry substrate, a hide, and a water dish. I do NOT moisten overflow the dish as this species abhors wet sub. This species will tolerate temps in the mid-60s, so for folks with cooler home temps, this species could be ideal.

Things to consider: Despite its rep for being a “handling friendly” spider, this species can be quite unpredictable in temperament. Many keepers admit to having “Psycho Rosies” that can be quite defensive and bitey. The G. porteri is also known to fast for long periods of time, which can be quite disconcerting for new keepers. Finally, this species is the quintessential “Pet Rock”, spending the majority of its time sitting in one spot.

7. Euathlus Parvulus

A new addition to the list, the E. parvulus (formally P. parvulus) should not be overlooked by anyone searching for a good beginner T. The E. parvulus is a medium-sized tarantula, reaching only about 5″ in max size. This hardy and attractive species (light exposes a gorgeous palette of red, metallic greens, and golds) is another “pet rock”, always remaining visible. Temperament-wise, this is a relatively calm species that would rather scurry away when spooked. In the two years I’ve had mine, she has never flicked a hair or thrown up a threat pose. 

Care for this species is very easy. Adults will need about 5 gallons of space, dry substrate, a water dish, and a hide. Mine has proven to be an excellent eater, refusing a meal only when in premolt. Like other species on this list, the E. parvulus does well at room temperature (mine is kept between 68 and 84 degrees, depending on the season).

Things to consider: Although young females are relatively easy to come by and inexpensive (most sell for around $60), slings can be a bit more difficult to locate. 

*Note: The following species are still beginner level due to cost and ease of husbandry, but their behaviors can make them a just a little trickier than the those of the tarantulas named earlier. Also, I would not endorse attempting to hold any of these next two.

8. Chromatapelma cyaneopubescens

Many first time keepers are immediately enticed by some of the more colorful species available on the market. Unfortunately, if they do their research, they will soon discover that the P. metallica, M. balfouri, and H. lividum are advanced Ts that would normally prove overwhelming for the new keeper. Enter C. cyaneopubescens, or the GBB. This stunning species sports amazing colors, and its easy husbandry makes it a wonderful entry-level tarantula. GBBs are voracious eaters, only refusing food when they are in premolt, and they have a reasonably fast growth rate, which is great for the impatient keeper. They are also prolific webbers, making for a beautiful display animal.

This is a species that likes it dry. For slings, I keep one corner a little damp and use and eye dropper to put a little drinking water on the webbing. If supplied with a little extra height and something to anchor to, this species will produce copious amounts of webbing. I keep this species between 70º to 84º; it has no specific humidity requirements. They eat like machines, often snatching prey before it hits the ground, so keep them well fed.

Things to consider: I have seen this species described as an “intermediate” level tarantula due to its speed and skittishness. That said, this was one of the first tarantulas I acquired, and I had no problems with it. As long as the keeper is respectful of its speed, there should be little issue. This might be one you get as a sling so that you can get used to the animal and its personality as it grows.

9. Lasiodora parahybana

Bigger is always better…that can often be the mantra of someone new to the hobby. Many keepers become fascinated with large tarantulas after learning some of these beasts get to 9″ + in size. Unfortunately, some of the larger genera like Pamphobeteus and Theraphosa have husbandry requirements and temperaments that can make them too advanced for many keepers. However, for those new to the hobby who are looking for something BIG, the L. parahybana is the perfect choice. This large terrestrial has been said to reach sizes of 10″, although 8″ is probably more common. Although slings and juveniles can be a bit skittish, flicking hair when disturbed, most adults are calmer and make great display Ts.

Husbandry is simple: provide this species with more floor space than height, and keep the substrate on the dry side. I do moisten approximately 1/3 of the sub and allow it to dry out in between. A water bowl with fresh water should be provided at all times, as should a hide (although my larger specimen never uses hers). They are tolerant of lower temps, but this is a species that will grow like a weed if kept a little warmer. Mine are kept between 70º to 84º. Although there are no stringent humidity requirements, mine seem to appreciate a moist area. Smaller slings like to burrow, so give them an enclosure that allows for a few inches of substrate.

Things to consider: This is a large species, and should be treated with care. A bite from this animal could do serious mechanical damage. Also, as this spider can get very large, space may be an issue as it reaches adulthood. Be prepared to procure larger housing.

Did I miss one?

There are obviously many other species out there that can make for good beginner pets. Do you think I missed an obvious one? Let me know in the comments section, and perhaps I’ll add it to the list.

2

I cleaned my G. porteri’s enclosure and gave her fresh substrate today. It wasn’t really necessary, but wasn’t too much of a hassle. She’s had the same dirt for two years which isn’t a big deal– spot cleaning is usually more than enough to keep an enclosure tidy. If she was a P. murinus I would have never bothered, but she’s slow and docile and I had a fresh bag of coir and didn’t care for the top soil I used originally. It’s also more lively with some sphagnum moss and fake flowers added in.