Australian Tarantulas may be kept in the classroom, subject to the regulations in your state/territory. These regulations may be covered in information concerning animal ethics and/or the government department that manages wildlife in your state/territory. See the following Science ASSIST Information Sheet for links to state and territory websites that contain support material regarding animal ethics and licensing, AIS: Links — Biological sciences safety. It is important to access the latest information available, which may mean directly contacting the relevant person in the correct department.
This question has been asked in Western Australia, where a permit is required from the Department of Parks and Wildlife, (DPAW). See https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/plants-and-animals/licences-and-permits/fauna... contact details of the Senior Licensing Officer – Fauna, DPaW Wildlife Licensing Section and links to forms. If Tarantulas are imported into WA from other states, this also requires an import licence.[i] There is also a requirement to have a written plan detailing an educational program, see https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/images/documents/plants-animals/licences-perm...
Schools in other states should investigate current requirements for their jurisdiction.
Science ASSIST recommends the following
- Containment of the tarantula is a major consideration and schools should have this aspect addressed well in advance of the acquisition of a tarantula.
- Any study should be observational only as the spider is very delicate and can inflict a nasty bite. There should be no direct contact by students, which includes feeding and cleaning of the housing.
- Consideration could be given to observing tarantulas in zoos such as the Nocturnal House at Perth Zoo.
- Consideration could also be given to the use of alternate invertebrates, such as stick insects.
General considerations for using animals in schools
Science ASSIST recommends that prior to embarking on any activity that involves the use of live animals that consideration be given to the following.
- The educational outcome from holding the animal in captivity. Can the same outcome be achieved without keeping the animal in the classroom? Are alternatives available such as visiting a museum or zoo?
- Any ethical issues, such as the impact of captivity on the welfare of the animal.
- Are any permits or licences required?
- Who will be responsible for the handling and care?
- The number required. Use as few as are necessary.
If it is determined that the animal will be obtained and kept in the classroom then the following should be considered:
- purchase from a reputable supplier;
- reference material/guidelines should be consulted with regard to proper care, including an appropriate diet;
- an environment be provided and maintained as close as possible to the natural habitat. This includes suitable environmental conditions such as temperature, lighting and humidity. The specimen should also be protected from any climate extremes;
- the enclosure be large enough for the well-being of the animal;
- the enclosure should be kept clean, well ventilated, escape proof and secure from other animal interference;
- the amount of student interaction in the care of the animal;
- a program be instigated for the care to continue over weekends and during holiday periods. Students should not be allowed to take the animal home, unless written approval is obtained;
- a record should be maintained of the upkeep and animal behaviour. Look for any signs of distress or pain;
- a plan should be in place for the fate of the animal at the completion of the activity.
In addition to general considerations of keeping animals, the following should be considered:
- the likelihood of the spider escaping;
- the likelihood of students removing the cage;
- the consequences to human health;
- the consequences to other animals such as dogs.
A site-specific risk assessment should be performed prior to purchasing a tarantula to ascertain the hazards, the likelihood and consequences of those hazards occurring, and if sufficient control measures are able to be put into place.
- have an average body length of 6 cm, a leg span of 16 cm and their fangs are up to 1 cm long;[ii]
- females may live up to twelve years, but the males usually die after mating at around five years of age. Females tend to be larger than males;iii
- are not usually aggressive, but can deliver a painful bite. Though not usually fatal to humans, at least one case has been reported that resulted in severe illness; [iii]
- can deliver a fatal bite to dogs and cats;
- should not be handled, and great care taken when cleaning their containers;[iv]
- should be housed in an environment that is safe and secure.
Characteristics and care of tarantulas
Further information regarding the characteristics and care of tarantulas can be found at the following websites:
http://perthzoo.wa.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Australian-Tarantul... (Last accessed 29 June 2016).
https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2012/08/gallery-... (Link updated August 2018).
[i] WA Department of Parks and Wildlife personal communication
[ii] Australian Museum Australian Tarantulas https://australianmuseum.net.au/australian-tarantulas accessed November 2015
[iii] Arachne.org.au THERAPHOSIDAE Whistling Tarantulas http://www.arachne.org.au/01_cms/details.asp?ID=2410 accessed November 2015
[iv] Australian Museum Australian Tarantulas https://australianmuseum.net.au/australian-tarantulas accessed November 2015