No matter how many tarantulas you've kept throughout your life, keeping and caring for your first tarantula sling is always a daunting and slightly nerve-wracking task. Transitioning from hardy, large tarantulas that can easily fend for themselves to tiny babies that weigh next to nothing is quite a substantial shift.
There are many different reasons why sling husbandry is stressful for both experienced and beginner tarantula owners. To begin with, these creatures appear much smaller and more fragile than their mature counterparts. Even when their enclosures are set up optimally, there's always the feeling that you're missing something.
This feeling isn't meaningless, though! Some slings do in fact have different environmental requirements than their mature form. For example, P. Regalis is an arboreal species that requires a vertical enclosure with only a little bit of substrate at the bottom. However, as spiderlings, this species spends most of its time in a burrow until it reaches maturity, thus requiring a more terrestrial enclosure.
With all of the information regarding sling husbandry out there, there can be some conflicting or confusing concepts that you may need clarification on. This post will work to put you on the right path towards properly caring for and raising healthy tarantula slings.
It's important to note that this guide should only act as a baseline for care information. Be sure to look up the very specific needs of each of your species to know how to properly care for them, as every tarantula has special needs that need to be met.
Tarantula Sling Sizing
It's likely happened to every hobbyist: You're looking around for a new tarantula to add to your collection -- something a bit pricier, like T. apophysis. While it's not rare for mature adult females of this species to sell for $400+, you find some websites selling specimens for as low as $50. How could a tarantula this expensive sell for such little money?
After taking a closer look, you find that the listing is for a tarantula sling that measures a mere 1/2" in size -- about 1/20th the size of a fully-grown adult. This sling was literally just born, and it already has the potential to enter your hands and be fully in your care. The daunting task of taking in such a small tarantula may turn away a lot of potential owners, especially when they were expecting a much bigger specimen!
Tarantula sling sizing is an important characteristic to consider if you're adding a new tarantula to your collection. While it's certainly possible to successfully raise and care for tarantulas of all sizes, it's typically recommended that you go for slings around 1" in size. At this legspan, most species are close to growing into their much more hardy juvenile stage.
There are some downsides that come with smaller slings, too. First of all, they're simply hard to see. 1/4" slings blend right into the substrate, and when they burrow they can go unseen for weeks or even months.
This can lead many owners to worry that their slings have either escaped or simply died. These small slings also tend to scavenge off of previously-killed prey, giving off the impression that they aren't eating.
It's also important to consider the growth rate of a particular species. Sure, their sling phase may be extremely small, but they may quickly grow into the large spider that you're expecting.
Some species, such as most from Grammostola or Aphonopelma, have an extremely slow growth rate with infrequent molts and very little progress between molts. This slow growth is difficult for some of the more impatient owners to deal with, especially if the mature form is particularly beautiful.
This doesn't mean that you should avoid smaller slings, though! Many owners have plenty of fun raising these tiny slings, and it's not very difficult once you know how to properly care for them. However, you should still be aware of the potential challenges you can face as the owner of a small sling.
Enclosures For Tarantula Slings
Once you come into ownership of a new tarantula sling, you need to be aware of the different containers that you can hold them in. Most of the popular pets today have specific enclosures that are made for them.
Despite the fact that tarantulas have started to become quite mainstream in the past years, there is a surprising lack of enclosures available for them -- especially for tiny slings.
Because of this, tarantula owners need to get quite crafty with their tarantula's enclosures. This is a very fun part of tarantula ownership, though! Many hobbyists will go on and on about how they created the perfect enclosure for their specific tarantula.
When it comes to tarantula slings, there's a good chance that you'll have most of what you need for a good enclosure already in your home. If not, you'll only need about $10 to construct the perfect sling enclosure.
Plastic snap cap bottles
These are some of the most commonly-used containers for keeping slings, and they have been popular for quite some time. These containers are transparent, very secure, and are available in virtually any size that you may need. Ventilation is a breeze, as a needle can be used to poke several small holes in the lid. Whether you're planning on keeping one or a dozen spiderlings, these containers will likely suit your need.
The only downside to these containers is the fact that they can't be stacked due to their ventilation being on the lid. This is only a hindrance if you're low on space and plan on keeping many different spiderlings, though.
Plastic spice bottles
These containers are being used more and more in recent years due to their convenience and overall great construction for slings. To begin with, spice bottles are readily available for most people, as empty spice bottles can be cleaned thoroughly and repurposed for sling housing.
These bottles are also made of weaker plastic that can be punctured on the sides near the lid for good ventilation. One other benefit is that they have secure lids that can be opened up for feeding and then quickly closed so that the slings don't have a chance to escape.
Plastic deli cups
This is another very popular enclosure choice among enthusiasts due to their opacity, availability, value, and their ability to be ventilated and stacked. Many keepers get these enclosures for free with their food from a local deli, or they can be ordered online for just a few cents per cup.
Smaller 16oz cups are generally perfect for terrestrial slings that just need a few inches of substrate to burrow in. For arboreal species that need to climb or fossorial species that dig deep and stay hidden, 32oz cups tend to work great. Creating ventilation holes right under the top lip ensures that your slings get more than enough air.
I have seen many different keepers using these Amac boxes in the last few years, and it's pretty clear why that is. These boxes are crystal clear with a clean-looking flush lid and they come in many different sizes. They're perfect for owners that really want their sling enclosure to look as good as it possibly can.
The only gripe people have with these containers is that they are made with thick plastic, making it difficult to provide proper ventilation. Fortunately, a power drill with a very small drill bit will be able to achieve great results.
Optimal Sling Enclosure
Great, now you've purchased the perfect container to keep your sling contained. Now you have to go about the task of decorating it and decking it out with all of the features that will make it safe and healthy for your sling to live in. Fortunately, this is one of my favorite parts of tarantula ownership, and many other people share the same sentiment.
There aren't a lot of things that tarantulas need in an enclosure to make them happy -- especially a sling. However, there are still necessities that can't be skimped out on. Below we'll highlight some of those necessary supplies.
It should be noted that all of these supplies should be purchased before purchasing a sling so that they're cared for from minute one. Once all of these supplies have been purchased, they need to be combined into a suitable enclosure.
A sling enclosure should be completed and ready to go before the sling is added so that they aren't harmed during the construction process. Fortunately, completing the enclosure is a relatively quick and easy process that shouldn't take you much time at all.
- 1Create proper ventilation - This needs to be the first thing that you do with the enclosure. The best places to put ventilation holes are near the top of the container right under the lid. Most owners opt to use a heated pin to punch holes in thin plastic containers. For thicker plastic, you may need to use a power drill with a very thin drill bit. Make sure that the holes aren't anywhere near as big as the sling, as they're able to squeeze through surprisingly small spaces.
- 2Add substrate - For terrestrial species, 65%-75% of the enclosure should be filled with packed-down substrate to allow for adequate burrowing. These species should also not be given much room to climb, as a fall from even a small height could be fatal to slings. However, arboreal species can be given more room to climb and slightly less substrate, but there should still be enough substrate to dig into.
- 3Add burrow/hide - Take the cork bark hide and wedge it into one side of the enclosure. It's typically inserted into the substrate at a 45 degree angle so that it sticks out like an overhang. Then, for terrestrials, it helps to dig a small hole underneath the hide to act as a starter burrow that the sling can build off of. Fossorials typically need a very deep burrow down the side of the enclosure which can be dug with a pencil. Arboreals don't need a hide in the substrate, instead being fine with a cork bark hide placed up against the wall.
- 4Add/attach plants - If you're housing an arboreal species, then you'd be able to leave plants laying on the substrate. However, terrestrial, burrowing species will end up quickly burying those plants, meaning that you should superglue them to either the hide or the side of the enclosure. Keep them low to the ground so that slings can easily benefit from their presence.
- 5Place sphagnum moss - A few small bunches of sphagnum moss placed around the enclosure will help to create humidity and provide good hiding places for your sling. Sphagnum moss goes a long time without rotting or molding, but still keep an eye on it to see when it needs replacing!
- 6Add water dish - This is an easy step. Simply take the water dish that you've chosen, whether it be a standard dish, bottle cap, or LEGO piece, and push it down into the substrate. Fill it with clean water as you should do daily, and the enclosure is complete!
Unpacking & Housing Your New Sling
Unpacking a new tarantula sling is a task that not many people think about, but it's one of the most important tasks to get right early on. Transferring a tarantula sling to their enclosure from their travel packaging can be dangerous if done improperly.
There are two main types of packages that tarantula slings are shipped in. The first and most popular packaging is a a plastic vial filled with moist paper towels that the sling is enclosed within. The second packaging is for extremely small slings, and it simply consists of a straw that's plugged with paper on both ends.
When you're removing a tarantula sling from the straw packaging, simply remove a plug from one of the sides and gently place the straw down in the enclosure. The sling will eventually wander out of the straw and into their new home.
The vial of paper towels is a bit more tricky to remove the sling from, and requires several steps. Fortunately, when you know what to do, the process is relatively easy.
- 1Remove any plug from the hole towards the top of the vial. Some breeders will simply fold the paper towel over to act as a cover. In this case, fold the flap back to allow access.
- 2Using tweezers or tongs, grab hold of the edge of the paper towel. Make sure that you're not grabbing the sling or any part of its legs.
- 3Start to very slowly pull the tube of paper towels out in one piece. If the paper towels stay in-tact and don't change shape, continue to pull it until it's all the way out. However, if the cylinder starts to form a cone-like shape, stop pulling it immediately. This can constrict and crush the spiderling very easily. If the towels take on a cylinder shape, you'll simply need to place the entire vial in the enclosure and let the sling leave on its own.
- 4Once you've fully extracted the paper towels, gently place them down on the substrate in the enclosure. Locate the edge of the paper towel cylinder and slowly start to unroll it. Since there are a good amount of paper towels used to ensure the safety of the sling, unrolling everything can get quite tedious. Have a pair of scissors handy so that you can cut off sections of the unraveled paper towel.
- 5Once you've exposed the tarantula sling, you can either brush it off of the paper towel with a small paintbrush or simply wait for it to crawl off on its own.
Tom Moran from Tom's Big Spiders displays this strategy excellently in one of his videos where he unboxes a plethora of tarantula slings.
One more thing to note is that shipment is exactly a pleasant experience for these tarantula slings! It's possible that you may open up a sling's vial and see them curled up or acting extremely lethargic. What's likely happening here is that the sling is dehydrated.
If this happens, remove the sling from the vial and put it in a small container that's layered with moist paper towels. Over a few hours, most tarantulas tend to spruce back up and go back to their healthy selves.
Many owners also opt to unpack their tarantulas and let them sit in for a couple hours before rehousing to allow them to get used to the temperature and climate of their house.
Feeding & Watering Tarantula Slings
One piece of advice that you'll commonly get regarding tarantula slings is that they shouldn't be fed as soon as you get them in the mail. Instead, you should give them a few days to get acclimated to their new environment and the different factors within it. While this definitely makes sense, and while slings should be given time to adjust to their new home, you should be more than okay to feed them the same day that you get them.
In my experience, most of my slings happily eat small amounts of food that I give to them, even on the same day that I unpack them.
While slings are quite resilient, there are several things that you need to keep in mind when it comes to their diet and their water. There is a bit of wiggle room in this aspect, but all slings have specific requirements that need to be met in order to ensure their health.
Feeding tarantula slings is one of the most difficult concepts for new owners to get used to. These tiny baby tarantulas look so frail and weak, so it makes sense that you'd be hesitant to drop a cricket in their enclosure that rivals them in size. Questions regarding feeding frequency, the best food, and feeding strategies constantly come up in many different message boards, so I'll try to tackle some of those major concerns.
What Do Slings Eat?
While tarantula slings may appear tiny and seem like they should have extremely different feeding standards, the reality is that their food isn't too different from that of fully-grown specimens! All of the feeder insects that exist should be appropriate for your spiderling to eat, including mealworms, crickets, dubia roaches, super worms, and even flightless fruit flies for the smaller slings.
Many people try to state that some feeders are more nutritious and all-around better than others, but this simply isn't true. As long as your tarantula is getting a healthy supply of any of these feeder insects, they should be more than healthy. If you're concerned that your tarantula isn't having their nutritional needs met, you can supply them with a mixture of several different feeder insects.
Is There An Optimal Size For Their Food?
First and foremost, the size of your tarantula sling should be considered when trying to find the perfect food for it. Exceptionally small slings measuring under 1/2" are commonly given flightless fruit flies until they grow to be bigger. You can buy these fruit flies in very large cultures that will last a small sling quite a long time.
If you don't want to go the fruit fly route, it helps to know that wild slings tend to scavenge for their food, meaning that they eat off of larger creatures that have already been killed. This eating habit takes place in captivity, too, meaning that you could kill a cricket or roach and drop it in the enclosure for the sling to feed on it. These insects could even be cut up into smaller pieces to make them easier to eat.
Larger slings over 1/2" can be fed most feeder insects without a problem. These can also be pre-killed if you think that they're a bit too big to eat live.
If you're uncertain about an insect being too large to eat, most keepers simply opt to keep feeder insects at or below the size of their tarantula sling's body. At this size, tarantulas should easily be able to hunt and kill their prey while still getting a good amount of food out of each insect. It's recommended that you always start small, but then build up to larger prey.
Portion Sizes & Feeding Frequency
You should know that tarantulas have evolved to be very hardy and can go long periods of time without eating any food. Wild tarantulas sometimes go for months without a single bite of food! Now, while this doesn't mean that you can feed your tarantula once a month, it does mean that their required feeding frequency is quite low. Most keepers end up feeding their slings average-sized insects once or twice weekly.
There is a concept that exists in the tarantula world called "power feeding", and essentially it involves feeding slings more frequently in order to get them out of the fragile sling stage. Some keepers will feed their slings small meals 2 to 3 times per week in order to get them to molt more quickly and grow into their less fragile juvenile stage.
Some of the faster-growing species, when combined with this feeding schedule, reach maturity in a very short time, and can then go back to being fed 1 to 2 times per week. This isn't done to get a tarantula to adulthood as soon as possible, it's meant to help hurry it out of the sling stage.
Note that an ambitious feeding schedule needs appropriate environmental conditions. You'll need to keep the enclosure in the mid 70 degree range to promote good metabolisms and growth rates. Colder temperatures will quell a tarantula's appetite.
Why Won't A Tarantula Sling Eat?
One of the biggest fears of new tarantula owners is watching the food that they place in an enclosure going uneaten. A tarantula sling not eating its food seems like it could mean that there is something seriously wrong environment-wise or health-wise.
Fortunately, if your tarantula sling isn't eaten, there's likely a very good reason for it. Most of these reasons can be quickly dealt with by most keepers, and others are simply natural reasons that every sling experiences. Below we've highlighted some of the most common reasons behind why a tarantula sling won't eat.
Keeping The Sling Hydrated
Slings are particularly susceptible to dehydration, so you need to be extra cautious in keeping your tarantula well-hydrated. One reason for this is that slings lack the waxy coating that more mature tarantulas have on their exoskeleton. This coating works to retain moisture and keeps the tarantula from drying out in the heat, making it more hardy.
This coating will develop as the sling goes through its first few molts, but it's quite vulnerable until that happens. So, whether or not your tarantula is a species that's used to dry, hot weather, you need to keep them hydrated 24/7. How exactly should you go about doing that?
An extremely common myth that's perpetuated a lot is that tarantula slings don't need water bowls. In fact, this myth is so common that we've written an entire post about tarantula water bowls! The reality of the situation is that every single tarantula enclosure needs to have some type of water bowl, no matter their size or environmental background.
There are some incredible benefits that come from the presence of water bowls in a tarantula's enclosure. The two most prominent benefits are the constant presence of clean water and the added humidity within the enclosure.
As for what can be used as a water dish, there are many different options. Normal-sized slings are often given water bottle caps filled with water as they're very cheap, well-sized, and even recyclable when they get too dirty.
For smaller tarantulas, you need to get a bit crafty. Many owners have come up with very creative dish ideas for their minuscule slings. Some of my favorite makeshift dishes include:
While there are clearly defined groups of people that supply their slings with water dishes and those that don't, every single owner mists their tarantula's enclosure. This method of tarantula hydration is extremely easy to do and costs next to nothing. All that you need to do is spray a few squirts of water on the substrate, on the side of the enclosure, and on the plastic plants. If you've put sphagnum moss in the enclosure, you'll want to spray that a few times as it's great with moisture retention.
It's recommended that you come up with a schedule to follow when it comes to misting. You want to keep a consistent humidity in the enclosure, so you'll need to make sure that there are no periods of time when all of the water has evaporated.
However, you'll also not want to overdo it. Enclosures that are too moist can cause serious problems for slings, so they'll need to be avoided too. It's all about finding that perfect balance that will keep your sling healthy and happy.
Some owners opt to keep the entirety of the substrate moist instead of just one or several small areas. This is done because it leaves more room for error. More moist substrate will keep the enclosure humid for a longer period of time, requiring less frequent misting. However, this definitely can be overdone and create an overly-damp enclosure that no spiderlings thrive in.
No matter the tarantula species, many owners will supply each sling with the same amount of water. Since all slings lack the protective waxy layer that makes mature tarantulas hardy, it's safe to supply them with a good amount of water regardless of their native climate. This can be adjusted as the slings mature, though, as some species adapt to heat much more quickly than others.
You'll need to come up with a watering system that works for both you and your tarantula slings. Keepers tend to use a combination of water dishes and spraying in their effort to keep their slings well hydrated. Terrestrial species often get a water dish and have their substrate sprayed down regularly. Arboreal species are also given a water dish, but they'll get sprays of water up high so that they have access to water while climbing. This is where it helps to know your tarantula species and find a watering schedule that works for the both of you.
My Tarantula Hydration Strategy
Every tarantula that I own has its own water bowl, regardless of the size or species. I have seen many of my tarantulas drink water, and the benefits of constant access to fresh water are extremely valuable. One easy way to provide extra hydration is by slightly overflowing my water dishes so that the substrate around the dish gets wet and helps to provide extra humidity.
For my tarantula species that need moist environments and dry out easily, I start out the enclosure by filling it with a healthy amount of damp substrate. I maintain this wetness by periodically spraying down the substrate, focusing on the sides so that it can seep down into the lower levels. Heavy spraying only needs to be done about once a week, while light misting should be done about every other day.
For slings that prefer more arid climates, I'll put extra focus on keeping the lower levels of the substrate damp. An inch or two of damp substrate will be placed at the bottom of the enclosure, and it will be covered with a few inches of dry substrate. Then, I'll dig a starter burrow down to the damp layer so that the sling is able to find the humid layer and dig a burrow for itself. This gives the sling more of a choice when selecting where it wants to dig.
Optimal Temperature For Slings
Every single tarantula species is different. There are some similarities that are present among different species, but the specific requirements of slings differ between species. Because of this, there are no specific catch-all guidelines when it comes to appropriate temperatures and humidity levels for tarantula slings.
It's common to see keepers stating that people should keep their slings in temperatures over 80° to help them grow and remain healthy. This is simply incorrect information, due to the fact that a majority of tarantula species aren't native to regions that stay 80° year round. Most of the warmer regions actually experience very cold winter temperatures.
Also note that higher temperatures may promote better metabolisms, but it also contributes to faster dehydration in slings. Warmer temperatures will evaporate water quicker and dry out the enclosures, thus requiring more frequent sprays and water refills.
Tarantulas are hardy, so even slings will do well at or around room temperature. If you look at the vast collections of experienced keepers, you'll see a surprising lack of additional heating. This is because most slings will still thrive in temperatures around the mid to high 70s, even dropping into the high 60s during the nighttime in winter. I personally have had no bad experiences with these temperature levels, and neither have any keepers that I know.
Now, just because slings do well around 75°F, that doesn't mean that higher temperatures are dangerous. Some keepers will keep their tarantula slings in a separate room that's controlled with a large space heater that keeps the room at a consistent temperature. With frequent dampening of the enclosures, these slings thrive as well as any other sling.
Lower temperatures will have a few effects on a sling's health, though. These aren't dangerous effects due to the fact that wild slings will also encounter these, but they may not be optimal for you. In sustained colder temperatures, you may notice that your slings have smaller appetites, slower growth rates, and more pronounced periods of fasting.
A Sling's First Molts
Tarantulas molt, or shed their old exoskeletons, in order to grow into bigger and bigger tarantulas. The first step in the molting process is a period called the premolt, which is a process that results in several different symptoms and displays. Look out for any combination of the symptoms highlighted below.
If you noticed any of these symptoms and then see your tarantula flipped onto its back, do not do anything! Keep the water bowl full and substrate damp, but that's all that you should do. Interfering with the tarantula during its molt process is extremely dangerous and can potentially harm or kill it -- especially as a very fragile sling. Keep live food out of the enclosure during this time, too, as it could potentially attack and kill a molting sling.
After your sling has molted, its fangs are still going to be soft. This means that you'll need to wait about a week before you could start feeding it again.
There seems to be a lot to know about tarantula molts, so how frequently should you expect your sling to molt? Once again, there's no overarching answer that will encompass every single species. However, you can roughly expect a molt every 1.5 to 2 months. This number is influenced by factors such as species, size, feeding schedule, and temperature, though, so you'll always want to stay observant and be prepared for a molt at any time.
I need to start this section off by saying that you should never handle your tarantula slings. They're simply too small, fragile, and unpredictable to safely hold in your hands, even for a small period of time. That's why I put the word "manipulating" into the title of this section. Sometimes you might need to move your slings from one place to another, and you need to know exactly how to do that to avoid disaster.
In the case that you need to move your tarantula in any way, it's recommended that you use a small, soft artist's paintbrush to gently shoo the sling in a particular direction. The soft bristles won't harm the delicate sling, and will instead get it moving without any harm.
It's a good idea to have a variety of different sizes of brushes so that you can appropriately manipulate your tarantula as it grows to be bigger.
When it comes to rehousing your sling into a bigger enclosure, take a slow and very careful approach. It's recommended that you wait to rehouse your sling until it reaches about 2" in size, as it could be quite dangerous before that point. The process of rehousing is quite simple, it just takes a good deal of care and patience to make sure that your sling doesn't get harmed in any way. The video below highlights this process extremely well:
General Sling Maintenance
Slings are ultimately quite easy to care for and don't require a lot of special attention in most aspects. However, there are a few different things that you the owner should do and check for to ensure that their growth and health are optimal. During every feeding, you should look for these few things to make sure that everything is in line.
Common Questions Owners Have
Even after reading the entirety of this post, it would make sense if you still have many questions. Holding the life of such a small and fragile creature is a big task! Below, I'll answer some of the most commonly-asked questions that new and prospective owners have regarding tarantula slings. If you have a question that wasn't answered in this post, be sure to leave a comment down below!