Pet Of The Week: The pink-toed tarantula

Who's this scary-looking creature?

He is the savage, blood-thirsty, child-eating tarantula who devours little boys and girls who misbehave on Halloween. Not really. Although he may look like a ghastly, ghoulish beast, the pink-toed tarantula is the most gentle of the massive mygalomorphs. Adult females grow to about 4cm in body with a legspan of up to 10cm. I say "females" as they have a better success rate in the wild, living normally to eight or nine years, while the males die soon after reaching maturity, at about three. It is not a myth that female spiders eat or maim males after mating – but the guys fall for it none the less. Men!

Who would own a pink-toe?

She may look like the ideal companion for Marilyn Manson, but the pink-toe is for anyone with an interest in inverts. Of all the creepy-crawly exotic spiders, they are generally considered the easiest to keep. If you have never owned spiders before, then you will need to set up a vivarium, or large glass tank, with the right conditions of humidity and heat. Basically, it must emulate the rainforest climate of her native central and South America.

What does she actually DO all day?

Pink-toes are naturally nocturnal, so don't be surprised to find her crawling across your pillow in the middle of the night. Just kidding. Once she becomes comfortable in her surroundings, the naturally tree-dwelling tarantula will start to build webs like mini hammocks, so it is important that the vivarium has a few features for her to build her webs on. And once the pink-toe has become familiar with her living quarters, owners can start to handle her. If they like that sort of thing.

But does not the bite of a tarantula cause paralysis, madness and death?

No. They are most unlikely ever to attack anything, as long as they are fed once or twice a week (on crickets or other such winged inverts). In southern Italy, so the story goes, the bite from a tarantula (actually a Mediterranean black widow) caused such a fever that the person who was bitten – usually labourers in the field at harvest time – would have to dance wildly for hours on end to sweat the poison out of their system. It gave birth to a whole style of dancing, the "tarantella". But your average pink-toe is quite shy and will actively avoid confrontation.

How much?

According to Alex Boath at Crystal Palace Reptiles (020-8771 1349; crystalpalacereptiles.com) a healthy, mature female pink-toe will cost about £25. A vivarium with humidifier and under-tank heating element starts from as little as £50. Feeding costs are pretty low. All in, you are looking at quite an initial outlay, but then the tarantula is easy to keep.

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