The Costa Rican zebra tarantula—a must-have for hobbyists—is native to the wild shrublands of Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. This spider (also called the striped-knee tarantula) is strikingly beautiful with a black body, deep red hairs, white stripes on its legs, and orange spinnerets.
These burrowing arachnids live in large communities in the wild and use their burrows to insulate their bodies from the harsh temperatures of day and the plummeting temperatures at night. As a pet, the zebra tarantula is quite easy to care for; it can adapt to a wide range of living conditions. However, due to its skittish nature, beginner spider keepers may want to start with a different species; this pet requires an intermediate level of care.
Common Name(s): Costa Rican zebra tarantula, striped-knee tarantula
Scientific Name: Aphonopelma seemani
Adult Size: Leg span of 4 to 4 1/2 inches
Life Expectancy: Females live 15 to 20 years; males live 5 years
Costa Rican Zebra Tarantula Behavior and Temperament
Costa Rican zebras move very fast, making them a less likely candidate for those who like to handle their pet spiders. While docile in demeanor, this spider displays darting speeds when startled; this is a pet that is hard to catch and difficult to contain. Trying to capture and pick up this type of tarantula often leads to injury of the animal when the spider falls into its cage or onto the floor from a substantial height. However, with daily socialization and gentle handling, the Costa Rican zebra tarantula can become moderately tamed.
Like most tarantulas, the zebra tarantula's barb-like hairs are ejected from its body when it perceives danger; these hairs can cause mild skin irritation. This pet spider's venom is also mildly toxic to humans.
Housing the Costa Rican Zebra Tarantula
A small 5- to-10-gallon aquarium is suitable for Costa Rican zebra tarantulas. The width of the tank should be at least three times wider than your spider's leg span; it should also be tall enough to accommodate a thick substrate for burrowing. The enclosure needs to be escape-proof. Since spiders spend most of their time climbing, a wire mesh top is strongly discouraged. Specially designed spider terrariums better fit the spiders' needs and can be purchased at pet stores.
The substrate on the tank's bottom should be at least four inches thick and consist of a mix of peat moss, soil, or vermiculite. A hollowed-out log, cork bark, half of a small clay flowerpot, or a store-bought spider house can be used for a shelter. Various climbing supports like fake plants and vines should also be situated throughout the enclosure.
The temperature of your spider's habitat should hover around 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 30 degrees Celsius) with a humidity level of 75 to 80 percent. Supplemental heat is usually not necessary unless you keep your house cool. In this case, supplement heat by placing a specially designed heating pad underneath only one side of your spider's habitat. This allows your pet to move to a cooler location should it need to escape the warmth. Evaporation from your spider's water dish should provide enough relative humidity, preventing the need to mist inside the enclosure.
Food and Water
Like most tarantulas, this carnivore prefers eating live prey; it has a strong affinity for crickets. This means that in addition to caring for your pet spider, you will also need to carefully raise its food source. Grasshoppers, beetles, and cockroaches can also be caught and fed to your pet, just make sure the foods you choose have been dining on pesticide-free foliage. The occasional pinky mouse can also be offered periodically for added protein.
Feed your pet tarantula at least once a week, noting its increase in appetite. Be sure to remove uneaten food from the cage, as the movement can stress your spider; remove any decaying remains as they can cause unhealthy conditions in the habitat.
Provide an easily accessible water bowl as both a drinking and humidity source for your pet. Change the water daily and be sure to scoop up any substrate that becomes soaked with spills to prevent rot and bacterial growth. Provide clean and clear non-chlorinated water into a shallow dish. Add climb-out rocks to prevent accidental drowning because the book lungs (air-flow vents) are located on the spider's lower abdomen.
Common Health Problems
Tarantulas are typically hardy breeds of spiders that seldom fall ill. However, falls are the main thing to prevent. Even a fall from a short distance can be enough to rupture a tarantula's eggshell-like abdomen, resulting in death. For this reason, it is necessary to always sit in a low spot (preferably on a carpeted floor) while handling your pet.
Tarantulas can succumb to dehydration, usually due to careless husbandry practice. Since tarantulas get the bulk of their hydration from their food, make sure your pet's feeding schedule is regular. Changing the water daily and allowing it to evaporate will also help to maintain hydration levels. But if you see your spider hovering over its water bowl and not drinking, it is seeking hydrated air. This is a sign that its environment is too dry. You will need to mist the tank and monitor your pet closely.
If your spider refuses to eat, acts listless, and is laying on its back with its legs in the air, don't worry. These are signs of an imminent molting—an occurrence that happens annually when a spider sheds its exoskeleton. Leave your pet alone during a molt but monitor it closely.
Once the molting period is over, remove the exoskeleton from the habitat and refrain from handling your spider or feeding it for several days. After three to five days, offer some food but leave the tarantula in its enclosure until its new exoskeleton has time to harden; handling could cause irreparable damage. This is a very sensitive period of time for your spider.
Purchasing Your Costa Rican Zebra Tarantula
Remember, nearly all spiders are poisonous; even if the venom is mild, someone in your household could have an allergic reaction if they are bitten. Also, most spiders do not like being picked up, making them a poor choice for pet owners who seek interaction.
Costa Rican zebra tarantulas can be purchased from a pet store or a breeder, with the latter being the preferred option. Breeders tend to exercise better husbandry practices than your typical pet store, assuring the health of the tarantula. Also, breeders handle pet spiders at an early age, making them less scared of humans and more likely to easily acclimate to a new environment.
Similar Spiders to the Costa Rican Zebra Tarantula
Maybe a Costa Rican zebra tarantula—with its darting speeds and multiple defense mechanisms—isn't the best choice for you. If you are interested in species that are easier to handle, check out:
- Curly-Haired Tarantula Species Profile
- Mexican Red Knee Tarantula Species Profile
- Chilean Rose Tarantula Species Profile
Otherwise, check out other tarantulas that can be your pet.
When Your Pet Has Eight Legs. University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine