Mexican red-knee tarantulas are actually two different spider species that are native to the Pacific coast of Mexico. Brachypelma hamorii and Brachypelma smithi both have vibrant reddish-orange "knees"—i.e., the middle portion of their legs—that contrast with their black bodies. As pets, these spiders are favored for their beauty, generally docile temperament, and long lifespan. They often make good pets for first-time spider owners. Plus, their housing doesn't take up much space, and their diet is relatively straightforward.
Common Name: Mexican red-knee tarantula
Scientific Names: Brachypelma hamorii or Brachypelma smithi
Adult Size: Leg span of around 5 inches, weighing 0.5 ounce
Lifespan: 25 to 30 years (female), 5 to 10 years (male)
Mexican Red-Knee Tarantula Behavior and Temperament
The Mexican red-knee tarantula is one of the most docile and calm pet tarantulas, making it ideal for beginner arachnid keepers. This spider rarely bites. However, it's important to note that its bite is venomous. And like most tarantulas, it will eject urticating hairs from its abdomen and legs if it thinks it's in danger. These hairs can embed in the skin and cause irritation; they also can be seriously damaging if they get in your eyes. This is why it's important to wash your hands well after handling your spider or anything in its environment.
Still, many Mexican red-knee tarantulas are comfortable with gentle handling, though they don’t need the socialization. It’s important to sit on the floor when handling one, as an accidental drop from even a few feet can be seriously damaging. Keep handling sessions brief to avoid unnecessary stress.
Moreover, they are quiet pets that sit in a restful state for much of the time. They should be housed individually and kept away from other household pets to prevent injury and stress. Plan to spend a few hours per week on feedings and keeping the enclosure clean.
Mexican red-knee tarantula bites are venomous. The venom typically causes a local reaction that's similar to a bee sting. However, allergies can cause more serious reactions in certain people.
Mexican red-knee tarantulas have a leg span of around 5 inches, and they weigh roughly 0.5 ounce. The females are generally slightly larger than the males.
Keep your tarantula in a glass or plastic aquarium with a secure top that has ventilation. As a general rule, the tank should be roughly two to three times wider than the spider’s leg span and roughly as tall as the leg span. Ideally it should have a side opening. Tarantulas like to hang upside down at the top of the tank, so this will prevent the spider from falling each time you need to service the tank.
Maintaining a consistent temperature and humidity level is an important element of Mexican red-knee tarantula care. The recommended terrarium temperature is around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and can be achieved by using a heat mat under one portion of the tank. While supplemental heating is recommended for most North American terrarium environments, it's also important to give your spider an unheated area to cool off should the tank get too hot.
Keep the humidity level at 60 to 70 percent, which can usually be achieved through evaporation from a water bowl. However, in some dryer homes, misting the tank might be necessary. If you see your spider hovering over its water bowl but not drinking, chances are your environment is too dry. Conversely, if it's continuously hiding out in a far corner of the terrarium, your enclosure is probably too humid. You can measure the tank humidity with a hygrometer.
Within the tank, wood, cork bark, or half of a small clay flower pot can provide good shelter for the tarantula. Adding a few fake plants also helps mimic its natural environment.
Specific Substrate Needs
The substrate, or bedding in the tank, should be a mix of peat moss, soil, and vermiculite. Make it at least 4 inches thick and loosely packed to allow for burrowing and to dampen any falls.
What Do Mexican Red-Knee Tarantulas Eat & Drink?
Live crickets will be a staple in your Mexican red-knee tarantula's diet. These spiders also eat roaches, locusts, and other insects. A pinky mouse or a small lizard may be fed occasionally as a protein boost, but make sure to clean the remains from the tank immediately. Also, remove any uneaten live insects, as their constant movement can stress your pet spider once it's full.
Mexican red-knee tarantulas usually eat once or twice a week. Consult your vet on how much and how often to feed, as this can vary based on factors such as age and size. To feed, simply drop the prey in the tank. This is best done in the evening when the spider is more active.
The tarantula also needs access to fresh water at all times both for hydration and humidity. Add a shallow water dish that your spider can easily get in and out of to the enclosure. Refresh the water every day.
Common Health Problems
Most pet tarantulas are hardy creatures that rarely fall ill when kept in the proper environment. Accidental falls are one of the biggest dangers to their health, which is why a secure enclosure and careful handling are so important.
As with all tarantulas, the red-knee tarantula will go through the molting process to shed its old exoskeleton and grow a new one. During this time, spiders often refuse to eat and might lie immobile on their back. It can look startling and appear as though the spider is sick or dying, but it's all normal. Avoid handling your spider during this time. And don't feed any live prey for about a week after the molt is complete, as even a cricket can damage the fragile new exoskeleton.
Just like with any animal, physical activity is important to keep a Mexican red-knee tarantula in good body condition. However, this spider doesn’t need a great deal of exercise. As long as you provide a large enough tank, it should be able to get all the activity it needs.
Tarantulas essentially “groom” themselves via molting. They typically don’t require any help from you besides making sure their environment is at the right temperature and humidity and keeping live prey away from them until their new exoskeleton has hardened.
From month to month, the primary cost for a Mexican red-knee tarantula will be its food. Plan to spend between $5 and $10 on average. You can diminish this cost by raising crickets yourself instead of purchasing them from a pet shop. Occasional substrate changes can cost between $10 and $20 on average. Also, make sure to budget for veterinary checkups and emergency care.
Pros & Cons of Keeping a Mexican Red-Knee Tarantula as a Pet
Mexican red-knee tarantulas are interesting, quiet, and low-maintenance pets. They also don’t take up a lot of space. However, they’re not the best choice for those who want a cuddly and social pet.
Similar Spiders to the Mexican Red-Knee Tarantula
If you’re interested in pet tarantulas, check out:
Otherwise, check out other tarantulas that can be your pet.
Purchasing or Adopting Your Mexican Red-Knee Tarantula
Before you purchase a Mexican red-knee tarantula for a pet, be aware of its lifespan. A female pet tarantula can live for decades, making it a long-term commitment. Because this tarantula species is popular as a pet, you often can find it at pet shops. But going to a reputable breeder or rescue organization is often the better choice to ensure you are getting a healthy animal.
Expect to pay between $50 and $100 on average, though this can vary widely based on factors such as the animal's age and sex.
Check with local exotic veterinarians for recommendations on a good breeder or rescue group. The primary benefit of going to a breeder is you’ll likely have a wider selection of younger animals to choose from. The seller should be able to provide information on the animal’s history, sex, age, and health.
When choosing a spider, avoid those that appear hunched or shriveled in any way. Ask the seller whether you can see the spider eat if possible. And to avoid accidentally becoming a breeder yourself, keep multiple tarantulas housed individually.
Does the Mexican red-knee tarantula make a good pet for kids?
Mexican red-knee tarantulas can be good pets for kids, as long as they remain out of reach of children who don't understand their handling restrictions. Some kids also might not be comfortable with feeding live prey.
Are Mexican red-knee tarantulas hard to take care of?
These spiders are fairly low-maintenance, requiring regular feedings and periodic tank cleanings.
Does the Mexican red-knee tarantula like to be held?
Some Mexican red-knee tarantulas will tolerate gentle handling, but they never will become truly tame.
Brachyphelma smithi. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.
Tarantula Spider Bite Information. Mount Sinai Health System.
Tarantulas: Terrible or Terrific! Cornell University
When Your Pet Has Eight Legs. University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine