Tarantulas are easy to care for, and their fearsome reputation is vastly exaggerated.
"I hear it all the time: What are you doing with those around? What if it got out? It could kill somebody," says Mark Jones, who with his wife, Beth, runs Chaos and Critters exotic animal rescue in Mobile, Ala.
But in fact, these large spiders aren't as dangerous as that. "They will not kill you," Jones says. "You'd have to have a severe allergy to insect venom. Some of them, the bites are no worse than a mosquito."
Some species have hairs that they use as defense; these are extremely irritating, and you especially don't want to get one in your eye. But aside from this caution, tarantulas are interesting pets, and extremely low maintenance.
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"A well fed and watered tarantula can be left for a month when you go on vacation," says Michael Jacobi of Tarantulas.com, a breeder and dealer with 25 years of experience.
On a routine basis, tarantulas need little more than a spritz of water to maintain humidity in their enclosure and a few crickets once in awhile -- although you should remove uneaten food, which can injure the spider when it's molting. And they don't need large cages, so they don't take up much space.
And according to Jones, "They're great observational pets. Some of them construct extremely elaborate webs. Some of them excavate a tunnel and construct a trap door over it."
And -- surprising as you may find it -- their owners say they are beautiful.
"There are lots of different colors and different varieties," says Jacobi. "There are 850 species of tarantula, and well over 100 available in the hobby."