Desert Blonde Tarantulas: Species Profile

Characteristics, Housing, Diet, and Other Information

Desert tarantula coming out of hole

C. Allan Morgan / Getty Images

Native to the American desert (Arizona, California, and New Mexico), desert blond tarantulas are less expensive and easier to obtain than other more exotic tarantulas. These spiders are often purchased by first-time tarantula owners, as they are generally docile and easy to house and care for, but it is best to avoid handling them. They make fascinating pets for hobbyists and older children but are not appropriate for children younger than age 10.

These arachnids are also quite beautiful with their long, blonde fur and long legs. Tarantulas have two body parts (the cephalothorax and the abdomen) as well as eight legs and two pedipalps (claws). They use their pedipalps to catch and transport their prey and to transfer food to the mouth and fangs on their underside of the head.

Species Overview

Common Name: Desert blonde tarantula

Scientific Name: Aphonopelma chalcodes

Adult Size: About 5 to 6 inches

Life Expectancy: Females live 24 to 30 years; males live 5 to 10 years

Behavior and Temperament

In the wild, these tarantulas dig long, deep burrows; they produce a silk-like thread to use as a covering over the entrance. The silk not only entraps prey, but it also helps to reinforce the burrow. Desert blonde tarantulas usually remain in the open and are fun to watch as they dig and climb, but as they hunt at night, they are most active after the sun goes down.

Desert blonde tarantulas are venomous, but their venom is very mild. In most cases, a bite from a desert blonde will only cause itching or stinging unless the handler happens to be allergic. As with all tarantulas, desert blondes are "look only" pets that should not be handled often. Individual pets, however, may be more or less aggressive. A more aggressive tarantula may be more likely to release its urticating hairs—sharp hairs on the abdomen which can cause irritation to a handler.

Most desert blonde tarantula pets are caught in the wild and not bred in captivity. In part, that's because the males breed only once in a lifetime. If you do wish to breed this species, you will need to place a mature male in a tank with a mature female. Once they breed, you'll have to separate the two immediately or the female will eat the male. If the female does produce an egg sack, you'll need to remove it after a month, allowing the eggs to hatch in their own enclosure.

Housing the Desert Blonde Tarantula

A small (5 to 10 gallon) tank is suitable for desert blonde tarantulas. The width of the tank should be three times wider than the leg span of the spider. Avoid very tall tanks and wire mesh tops as the desert blondes do climb and can be injured as a result of falling from a jostled lid or by catching a leg in the wire. Three or more inches of peat moss, soil, or vermiculite can be used as a good substrate. Wood, cork bark, or half of a small clay flower pot can be used for a shelter/retreat.

Desert blonde tarantulas prefer a temperature of about 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 27 degrees Celsius) and a humidity between 65 and 70 percent. Although, since they come from a dry climate, they are also tolerant of dryer air. If the temperature drops significantly, your pet will need some additional heating. Appropriate heating strips and pads are available at most pet stores, but only use them under half of the tank to create a temperature gradient. Lighting is not an issue for this species.

Food and Water

Tarantulas are hunters that must be fed live prey. Crickets and other large insects (pesticide-free) are good options for adults. Adult tarantulas usually eat once or twice a week, whereas immature spiders can be fed more often. While these tarantulas can eat quite a few crickets, they are also able to go for long periods without eating.

Feeding them correctly also means keeping pet crickets alongside your spider and providing them with a diet that will maximize the nutrient uptake to your pet. Some keepers recommend giving a full grown-spider the occasional pinky mouse, however, the calcium in the mammal's bones may overwhelm the nutrient needs of the spider. So, supplementing with this food source in captivity is not recommended.

Provide a flat ceramic pan of clean, clear, and chlorine-free water; avoid deeper dishes as they create a drowning hazard for tarantulas. However, take care to avoid spills when refreshing it, as this species will become stressed if their tank substrate is wet.

Common Health Problems

Fortunately, desert blonde tarantulas are usually very hardy and long-lived. Do keep a careful eye out, however, for behavioral changes such as lethargy, loss of appetite, or unusual restlessness.

Should your spider go longer than two weeks without food or if it presents with a shriveled abdomen, then it may be dehydrated or ill. Consult your exotic animal veterinarian to make sure your spider is not dehydrated, malnourished, or stressed. If kept on a damp substrate, these tarantulas can develop fungal infections; similarly, parasites can cause problems.

Tarantulas do molt, and the process can be disconcerting for a new owner. Spiders will appear "off" just before they shed their old exoskeleton including the lining of their mouths and many of their organs. It takes several weeks for a molting tarantula to get back to normal.

Purchasing Your Desert Blonde Tarantula

While it is possible to purchase a desert blonde tarantula at a pet shop, you may need to do some searching. A much easier alternative is to purchase your pet tarantula online. Be sure to carefully research your source and make sure they have a good reputation for providing healthy pets. Ideally, they should also offer support and further information after you make your purchase.

Species Similar to the Desert Blonde Tarantula

There are over 800 species of tarantulas belonging to the family Theraphosidae. They come from arid, subtropical, and tropical locations and are usually divided into two groups: "Old World" (from the Eastern hemisphere) and "New World" (from the Western hemisphere). Many species are kept as pets, including:

Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your pet.