How Do Tarantulas Eat?

Left unattended, even a cricket can injure a captive tarantula during its vulnerable molting stage.
Left unattended, even a cricket can injure a captive tarantula during its vulnerable molting stage. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

It may be hard to believe tarantulas are related to microscopic dust mites, but they are both arachnids -- eight-legged arthropods with two pairs of special appendages for feeding called the chelicerae and pedipalps. Unlike dust mites, however, tarantulas are hunting carnivores that stalk live prey. Attached to their powerful chelicerae are venom-injecting fangs and small teeth that help provide an incapacitating grip.

Hunting in the Wild

Rather than spinning webs to catch insects, as many other spiders do, a tarantula catches its food on foot, which means it needs to be quick and agile. In the wild, tarantulas eat all types of insects. Larger tarantulas may eat frogs, toads and small rodents, and some arboreal species even ambush small birds. Tarantulas typically sneak up and pounce on their prey at night.

Pet Tarantula Food

Pet tarantulas are commonly fed a diet primarily of gut-loaded crickets that are sprinkled with a vitamin and mineral supplement. Gut-loading refers to the process of feeding insects a nutritious food for several days prior to offering them as live food to the tarantula. Insects like meal worms, but roaches can be added occasionally for variety. In the case of larger tarantulas, pinkie mice or small lizards may be offered.

External Digestion

Limited by their narrow stomach tubes, spiders, like other arachnids, cannot eat solid food. Spiders expel digestive enzymes that help liquefy their prey for ingestion. After immobilizing its prey, a tarantula chews it with its powerful chelicerae while covering it with digestive enzymes. Contraction of the muscles surrounding the fore-stomach helps the tarantula suck up the liquefied prey through its straw-like mouth and into the mid-gut.

Internal Digestion and Food Storage

While the sucking stomach area in the front part of the tarantula acts like a pump, the mid-gut has many digestive areas called ceca. These blind pouches serve as storage areas that help further break down the liquefied food and extract nutrients, which then pass into the bloodstream. Cecal fluids can make up the bulk of a tarantula's weight.

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  • "Invertebrate Zoology"; EE Ruppert, et al.; 2004
  • "Invertebrate Medicine"; Gregory Lewbart, VMD, MS, DACZM, et al.; 2006
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