Owning a tarantula can sometimes be difficult, especially when it comes to managing their health. Growing up keeping popular animals as pets then picking up a tarantula can throw anyone off. As a pet owner, we spend a lot of time watching our tarantula’s everyday movements, and try to work out what they could mean. Some of these behaviours we work out quickly, such as grooming, post moult stretching, and digging, but some still fill us with anxiety as to what could be wrong. Novice keepers will panic more, as we all did when we first started in the hobby. However, there is one issue that still sends waves of terror through us all, which is when tarantulas refuse to feed, especially when the apparent reason is not obvious.
Many factors can contribute to a tarantula not eating, so we will break down and discuss each one so that hopefully a solution can be found.
The most common reason why tarantulas may be refusing food is that it is actually in pre-moult. Pre-moult comes with a lot of other signs that may go unnoticed with the less experienced keeper, so this can be quite alarming if the whole process is new to you. Let us break down the pre-moult cycle to see if you recognise any of the other signs your tarantula is showing.
Firstly, the main reason you are reading this article is the refusal of food. During your tarantula’s normal cycle, it will eat and remain its usual self; after this, hormones will kick in the effect of pre-moult. The lack of feeding response will feel like it comes out of the blue, and it is usually the first indication that your tarantula is getting ready to moult.
Another sign is the size of the abdomen, which will look noticeably large, and will outshine the size of their carapace. As the size of their abdomen increases, a bald peachy spot will start to appear, then as the new exoskeleton and hair develope underneath, it will begin to darken and have a glossy appearance to it. During the time that the new exoskeleton is forming under the old one, the tarantula will be developing fluid to fill in between them. The liquid will help with the moulting process and enable the tarantula to slide out of its previous exoskeleton with ease.
Some behavioural changes come with pre-moult. You may find that your very food responsive tarantula all of a sudden turns into a pet rock, again this is an extremely common sign that a moult is on its way. Your tarantula will be getting ready to go, and the whole process is extremely stressful for them, so reframe from adding any unnecessary stress to them during the pre-moult period.
Another telling sign that a tarantula is in pre-moult is the use of its webbing. For some, this will be laying down a web mat for them to moult on safely, and for others, they will web up the entrances to their hides so they can not be disturbed.
The final sign of pre-moult is the flip. The tarantula will flip onto its back and begin the moulting process. The tarantula must be left alone during this period, and it is exceptionally vulnerable to moving, or touching, which can cause extreme harm to the tarantula.
Prey size and type
Another popular reason why tarantulas may refuse to eat is due to the prey, whether that be size or type related. Tarantulas can be fussy eaters, but a lot of this comes down to the nature of tarantula you have. Using a Dubia roach as a feeder can be extremely difficult, as they typically play dead when they feel threatened, therefore not giving off vibrations for the tarantula to follow. If the tarantula gives up interest in the Dubia, the Dubia will burrow down out of danger, making it a nuisance to catch, again this can play a massive factor in tarantulas not eating. Using red runners or crickets may trigger the food reaction from tarantulas as they tend to dart about, giving off more signals for tarantulas to follow. The size of the prey cause issues when wanting a feeding reaction from a tarantula. Although this is dependant on the species, some are comfortable enough to take down larger prey, whereas other species may only feel bold enough to take down much smaller prey items. Some tarantulas will have a preference as to what type of prey they prefer; some have no interest in eating anything expect what they want, so try mixing up the selection of prey you have to offer.
Getting your first tarantula is an exciting day for anyone. You have their new enclosure set up, you get them in it, and you want to see their famous prey takedowns. Then all of a sudden, the tarantula has turned into a pet rock, giving off no indication that it wants to eat, that’s when the panic kicks in. But, changing a tarantulas environment can play a massive part in their refusal to feed. The majority of tarantula will be stressed from the process and will feel too vulnerable to catch prey, especially before they’ve found a place for them to hide. It is advised that you leave the tarantula alone for a few days before you attempt to feed them in their new enclosure, this gives them enough time to establish their surroundings.
It’s not only new environments that can cause a tarantula not to eat, but inadequate husbandry can also cause your tarantula to become stressed and refuse food. Keepers need to do their research on the specific species they are adding to their collection to ensure that the enclosure is set up to reflect the tarantula’s natural habitat as closely as possible. Whether this is the size of the enclosure, less or more substrate, vertical or horizontal hides, and the correct temperature and humidity.
As tarantulas are nocturnal and some species are photosensitive, you may find that you get less of a feeding response during the day. If this is the case, trying feeding at night, without too much light and noise as this will disturb them. If it’s not possible to feed them during the night, keep the tarantulas in a dark room, using a red light, as this won’t affect them.
Bad moult or damaged fangs
Although this is relatively uncommon, tarantulas can have a bad moult that effects their fangs, causing them to break or become damaged, meaning the tarantula can’t eat. How tarantulas catch and eat their prey primarily comes down to the use of their fangs, and if these aren’t there, or are damaged, then they won’t be able to eat. A tarantula can also damage their fangs if they bite something hard, whether that be too soon after a moult, or even in some cases when they’re fully hardened. Do not attempt to feed you tarantula too soon after they’ve moulted to reduce the likelihood of damage, and check their fangs when you can. If a tarantula has damaged fangs, there are videos on youtube that can help you overcome this issue.
Age, gender, and species
Like with most animals, when tarantula begin to slow down ready to pass, they will refuse to eat. This can be alarming if the tarantula is only five years, but the chances are that it’s male. To rule this out, examine the tarantula to define the gender. Although worrisome, this is normal behaviour, and know that there isn’t much you can do to stop it from happening.
Some species will go on a feeding strike, some of them up to a year. If this is the case, offer food once a week, if it refuses, then take it out and try the following week again. Ensure the tarantula has plenty of water, although it may be refusing food, they still need to keep hydrated.
It’s just not hungry
As simple as it seems, it may refuse food because it isn’t ready to eat, or you’ve recently fed it. Tarantulas should be feed weekly, so if you’re offering it food every day, the chances are it will refuse to eat.