Reptile Rescue Orange County - RROC

Chilean rose Tarantula Care by Stan Schultz author of the Tarantula Keeper's Guide

The tarantula you refer to is Grammostola rosea. While everybody
has their own favorite variations for the common name, the official
American Arachnological Society Committee on Common Names name for them is
"Chilean rose." Capital "Chilean," lower case "rose." The plural is
"roses," not "rosies" although I have to admit that I sometimes use the
latter. There is no such thing as a "rose hair" or "rosehair." Tarantulas
have bristles, not hair. (All right, "picky picky picky." :)


We don't know a lot about these tarantulas because few if any
people have ever actually gone to Chile to see how they live and brought
back believable reports. (Great vacation idea, no? Take *LOTS* of
pictures! You wouldn't need someone to carry your bags, would you?) What's
presented here seems to fit with what is known about them, but a lot of it
is conjecture, not fact. It should be taken as interim wisdom until
confirmed or corrected by new data.


For the most part, immatures, males and females are colored much
alike but with the males being somewhat more vibrant. They have no
distinct or distinguishing markings.

This species is a bit unusual among tarantulas in that is occurs naturally
in at least three different color forms. These all possess a more or less
uniform dark gray to black undercoat. One color form is a more or less
uniform, drab, dark gray (sometimes called "muddy" or "grubby") with at
most only a sprinkling of lighter beige or pinkish hairs. Another
possesses a uniformly dense, pretty, light pink outer coat. The last is a
beautifully intense coppery form. The adult males of this last form are

For a while, enthusiasts thought each color form was a different species,
even calling the copper colored form G. cala, the Chilean flame tarantula.
However, over the last several years all of the several color forms have
been reported to arise from the same eggsac, proving that these are all
merely variants of the same species.


A medium sized tarantula. Mature females will have a body length
of up to about 7.5 centimetres (three inches) and a leg span of about
fifteen centimetres (six inches). While the males' body is smaller the leg
spans remain the same. Because of the numbers being exported from Chile
the average size of the individuals currently found in the market is
usually smaller. It is presumed that, given time and proper care, these
will reach respectable sizes.

Roses come from the borders of the Atacama Desert in Northern
Chile at least as far south as Santiago. The Atacama can be one of the
harshest environments on the planet! There are parts of it that have never
had rain in recorded history. The temperatures there may reach 135 F (57
C) or higher in Summer. They may experience light frosts in Winter. We
think that the areas where roses are found aren't quite so severe. They've
been reported from semi-desert to scrub forest areas. Apparently their
principle source of water in nature is from the food they eat and fogs
that drift in from the Pacific Ocean once in a while.

Roses have not been bred in captivity often enough or kept in
captivity long enough for us to make anything more than a wild guess at
maximum life spans. They've only been imported in any numbers for possibly
10 years, certainly less than 20. During that time they have only been
bred in captivity a handful of times.

Because the wild caught ones don't come with birth certificates we don't
know how old they are when we get them. They may live anywhere from 10
minutes or less to 10 years or more in our care, and I wouldn't be a bit
surprised to hear of someone who's had one since 1980 or so that's still
going strong. The few captive raised ones have had nowhere near enough
time to mature, live a full life span and die of old age, so we have no
handle on a maximum lifespan in captivity.

As an educated guess we can bracket the probable limits of their lifespans
at more than 10 years and less than 100 years. Reasonable guesses might be
20 to 40 years. Beyond that, all bets are off.

Being desert animals, one might assume that these tarantulas
require excessively high temperatures. Not so. They're extremely sturdy
and resilient creatures and will do quite well at normal room
temperatures. For the most part, unless you have antifreeze in place of
blood, any temperature at which you're comfortable will suit the tarantula
just fine. If you have a choice, 74 to 85 F (23 to 29 C) is ideal.

Be careful about trying to artificially raise the cage's temperature in
the belief that the rose needs higher temperatures. There are 2 problems
with supplying extra heat to a tarantula's cage. First, without a major
engineering effort the heat is largely uncontrollable. If you happen to
experience a particularly hot day and accidentally leave the cage heater
on, you could easily come home to a strong smell of well cooked tarantula.

Second, artificial heat sources are strong desicators. They dry the cage
out extremely rapidly and to a very harsh degree. Roses are accustomed to
living in a desert, but even they have limits to what they can tolerate.

The bottom line here is that maybe a lower temperature is better than an
artificial heat source unless you can engineer a fool proof, fail safe
heater. Be extremely careful. You've been warned!

NO SUNLIGHT! In fact, avoid all bright lights, but make sure that the
tarantula can easily tell the difference between day and night. (See


Aquarium sand/gravel is generally frowned on by the tarantula
keeping community although we have kept many species for long periods of
time on it with few or no problems. The most telling argument is that it's
too abrasive. In defense of aquarium gravel it must be pointed out that
tarantulas customarily live in soil that may have a large admixture of
gravel of all qualities in it, and these tarantulas seem to do quite well
in spite of it. We suspect that the bias against aquarium gravel is merely
just that: a bias. In fact it probably seldom makes a difference.

Garden soil, on the other hand, is a strict no-no! It almost surely
contains a heavy load of environmenticides from your and your neighbors'
finest efforts to control bugs and weeds. The bugs and weeds have had
generations to develop resistances to them. The tarantula hasn't. You'll
merely kill your spider.

The most commonly used substrates are potting soil and horticultural
vermiculite and the debate rages on endlessly over which is better. Both
have their advantages and their disadvantages. Recently some other
substrates have come on the market for reptiles and have been used by
tarantula keepers with good results. But they haven't been used long
enough that I'd recommend them to a newbie.

If you use potting soil, get the cheapest kind you can find. It should be
peat based, not composted bark or other lumber byproducts. It should not
have any additives (like fertilizers) except perhaps perlite (little
round, crisp white balls). The small amount of perlite normally added is
irrelevant, not a necessity, and is usually not harmful.

If you use potting soil, start with about 2/3 of a package and add about 1
quart (1 liter) of room temperature tap water per 4 quarts (4 liters) of
potting soil. Mix it well. Grab a handful and squeeze it as hard as you
can without breaking bones in your hand. When you open your hand, if the
potting soil retains the shape of the inside of your fist quite well,
you're about finished. If it easily falls apart, add a little more water,
mix and test again. If it's so wet that you can squeeze water out, add
more dry potting soil. (That's why I specified starting with only 2/3 of
the package.) Don't become pathologically obsessed with the amount of
moisture in the potting soil, there's a wide margin for error and it's all
going to dry up in a few days anyway.

Now pack the potting soil into a pad on the bottom of the tarantula's
cage. Pack it quite solidly. In the end you want a pad that's about 3
centimeters (an inch or slightly more) thick. Install a water dish with
the obligatory rock or slate chip, allow several days for the substrate 
to dry, and add one tarantula. Don't try to feed it for several days or a 
week to give it a chance to get used to its new home before it's 
stampeded by a herd of wild crickets. 

Vermiculite is even easier to use. Use only horticultural vermiculite from
a garden shop, not insulation grade vermiculite. We suspect the insulation
grade to be toxic and it won't absorb water at all. Moisten it slightly
and dump about a 3 centimeter (an inch or slightly more) layer in the
bottom of the cage. Tamp it as well as you can. (But don't expect
miracles. The stuff is pretty fluffy.) The biggest complaint with
vermiculite is that many otherwise terrestrial tarantulas hate
vermiculite. When this is the case they will spend inordinate amounts of
time (days, sometimes weeks) hanging from the cage's sides or top, seldom
if ever coming down to earth (or vermiculite) unless forced to by fatigue,
thirst or starvation. Even then they will very soon cover the vermiculite
with a dense layer of silk to separate themselves from it. If this is the
case with yours, change to potting soil in spite of all the
recommendations for vermiculite.

With both vermiculite and potting soil, the moisture will evaporate in a
few days. This is good. Roses are desert creatures and excessive humidity
is not appreciated. They will learn to get all the moisture they need from
the water dish. They'll also get a lot from their food. Don't even think
of misting them with a plant sprayer as some people do. This only annoys
the tarantula.

After you've had a couple of tarantulas for a couple of years you might
try one of the newer substrates (Shred-a-Beast or whatever :) ), but for
now stick with the tried and proven.

Chilean roses pose a special problem. If they weren't so hardy
they'd make lousy pets. The problem is this: They evolved in the southern
hemisphere and their seasons are reversed to ours. (Here I'm assuming that
you live in the northern hemisphere as the majority of tarantula keepers
do.) And, they seem to have a particularly hard time adjusting to northern
hemisphere timetables.

Think of it this way. In the Atacama they experience seasonal fluctuations
in temperature, water/humidity availability, day length, and food
availability. They use one, some or all of these to entrain their annual
cycles, to synchronize their lives with the rest of Mother Nature. Their
species evolved in this absolutely predictable waltz of variations. Each
individual tarantula has grown up in these conditions.

Then somebody snatches them out their lair and ships them to the other
side of the planet. Worse yet, we keep them in a house with
thermostatically controlled heat. There goes any temperature clues to let
them readjust to the new time table.

We get up and turn the lights on every morning at 6:30 or 7:00 AM and the
house is well lit until we turn the lights off at 10:30 or 11:00 PM. And
this never changes regardless of what season of the year it is. We've just
removed day length as a clue.

Worse yet, in nature they're preprogrammed to eat as much food as
available in preparation for the coming famine season. (There's *ALWAYS* a
coming famine season!) During the famine season they may go hungry for
several months before food becomes plentiful again, another seasonal clue.
In captivity we give them all the food they'll eat and, out of instinct,
they eat everything that we throw at them. We overfeed them thinking that
they're starved and they don't stop eating until they're obese. Even then
the food *STILL* keeps coming! There is no string of light meals followed
by a few months of fasting. This destroys any food availability clues

Lastly, in the Atacama, as dry as it is, there are dry seasons and damp
seasons. It may not rain often, but from time to time fog banks roll in
from the Pacific and generally moisten everything for a few hours to
several days. And, this tends to happen seasonally. In your home its
always bone dry, but you always keep a dish of water in the cage. Ooops!
There goes another clue.

The result is that this species more than almost any other gets really
confused about what season of the year it is. Because we've removed all
their clues they don't know when to start eating again once they get too
fat and stop. Neither do they know when it should be time to molt. They
may go 2 years or more without eating or molting, before they finally pick
up the few very subtle clues available to synchronize with the local

If this happens to your rose you should try to supply the missing clues.
Keep it in a warm place in Summer and a cool place in Winter. Try to keep
it in a room where artificial lighting isn't used very much so it can see
a normal change in day length. Don't feed it all it will eat when you get
it. Four to 6 crickets all at once, repeated *ONLY* every 2 weeks is more
than enough. If it stops eating for an extended period of time, don't
worry. Offer it a few crickets every 2 or 3 weeks. If it doesn't eat them,
remove the crickets after several days and try again two or three weeks
later. When it does begin to eat again, give your rose *ONLY* 4 to 6
crickets every 2 weeks regardless of how hungry you think it might be.

Handling is the other subject that incites riots among tarantula
keepers. Should you or shouldn't you? When should you? When shouldn't you?
Which ones can be handled? Which can't? And it goes on and on and on...

:) Yeah, I know I'm
pushing my own book, but the whole reason I wrote it was to help people
like you. The royalties don't even pay for the crickets!]

Read pages 136 through 142 of THE TARANTULA KEEPER'S GUIDE, 2ND EDITION
(Barron's Educational Series, Hauppauge, NY) for some pointers, the "dos"
and the "don'ts."

About 1 out of every 1,000 roses bites and the bite causes swelling and
intense pain for several hours to a day. Nobody has yet lost life or limb
over such a bite, however. If your rose begins to rear back and raises its
front legs in a threatening posture as you try to pick her up, maybe you
should label it a look-but-don't-touch pet or take it back to the pet shop
for another one. The other 999 out of 1,000 will make perfect hand pets if
you follow the basic rules.

For a long time enthusiasts were puzzled by roses' apparently
unwillingness to burrow in a cage. It was thought that they might be
vagabonds in nature, seldom if ever actually living in a formal burrow.
However, recently Dr. G. B. Edwards (Curator: Arachnida & Myriapoda
Florida State Collection of Arthropods, FDACS, Division of Plant Industry)
on a trip to Santiago Chile, examined Chilean rose tarantulas in large
numbers living in burrows some 45 centimetres (18 inches) deep. Now we
know: Their apparent reluctance to dig a burrow in captivity is apparently
an artifact of being captive, not a "natural" life style.

The general experience in the hobby is that they neither require a burrow
nor use one. When given the chance we've seen them use a coconut shell as
a place to hide, but all of ours have firmly rejected burrows when they
have been offered. This is supported by the experience of many other
keepers. Installing a coconut shell or a plastic aquarium plant that
drapes over to produce a darkened cave-like space might be appreciated,
however. It may decide that's a good place to hide. Otherwise, don't worry
about it.

:) Yeah, I know I'm
pushing my own book, but the whole reason I wrote it was to help people
like you. The royalties don't even pay for the crickets!]

We strongly recommend that you read a good book on tarantulas. You
can get copies of the GUIDE, mentioned above, Sam Marshall's TARANTULAS
AND OTHER ARACHNIDS and several others at your local public library. The
2 mentioned here are both rated quite highly by the American Tarantula
Society. If you like them you can get your own copies from many pet shops,
at almost any bookstore by special order, and from and and other webstores.

Now, perhaps you can appreciate your little buddy for the marvel that it

really is. 



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