Ok, now that you are an expert in the common types of food, let’s talk about how often they need to eat. There is not really a hard-fast rule because every spider is very different. Since you are their primary care giver, it is up to you to make the determination about when they are hungry. With that being said, please please please don’t underfeed your spider. Yes, there are some that won’t eat for several weeks, but it is important to still offer them food and let them make the choice to eat or not.
Yes, I’m sure you are tired of the “it depends” answer, but the longer you keep jumpers the more you will understand that answer. Generally speaking, the smaller they are the more frequently they need to eat. Think of it like a human baby. They need to eat far more frequently than adults do, the same is true for jumpers. They are doing a lot of growing and developing and need their calories.
On the opposite end of the scale, juveniles and adults have gotten close to or reached their full size and need less calories to maintain their body weight. There are a few exceptions, for example, gravid (pregnant) females will most likely need more food to grow some healthy eggs. Males will sometimes refuse food for more important things like finding a female. Again, ALWAYS OFFER THEM FOOD. Leave it up to them if they want to eat. With some exceptions, they will eat when they are hungry. Just watch them to make sure they are not getting too skinny. If they get too skinny, there are some tricks we will get into later.
So, how much then?
I’m betting you are ready for the numbers. Assuming your spider is going through “normal” development, a good rule is to offer slings food every 1-2 days. Keep in mind that slings should be eating small prey, but putting 1-2 in with your little one won’t get the job done. Remember, they are still new to hunting and they are growing. At BFP we dump several melanogasters/hydei in with them at a time. Putting 10 or so into the container with the little ones both increases the chances of the sling finding the food, and also provide them with meals they may need until the next feeding time.
As they get older, you want to increase the size of their food, but they will not need to eat as often. Depending on the spider, they can eat anywhere between 3-7 days on average. We offer them food around three days; some will eat, others will not. But the most important thing is that we give them that choice. We have found that females will eat more often as they are getting ready to breed and/or lay eggs, but we don’t have enough data to say for sure that this is the case every time. It is simply an observation.
HELP! MY SPIDER WON’T EAT!!!
And now, to help you with some of the exceptions. What do you do if your spider does not take advantage of the abundant food you are offering them? Step 1, breathe. Your spider won’t benefit by panicking and trying techniques that they don't need. It is perfectly normal for your spider not to want food. As hinted to above, there are several reasons why your spider isn’t eating. Your spider could be getting ready to molt, or looking for a mate, or simply not hungry. Yes, you absolutely should keep an eye on their eating patterns, their size, and habits, but missing a meal or two is not always cause for concern.
One thing to try is experimenting with is the type of food you are offering. Some spiders will prefer flying prey over crawlers. Some of these preferences are breed specific, others are individual specific. Be open to trying all different types of feeders until you figure out what your spider prefers. If you haven’t figured that out, there are still a few tricks to help keep them going.
Remember that if a spider getting ready to molt or breed, food is probably the furthest thing from their mind. Until they are done with their instinctual needs, they may not be ready to eat. Also remember that a spider can feed on the carcass of prey for a surprisingly long period of time. If you see a maggot or wax worm that is partially black, that is evidence that the spider has been eating.
Assuming all other factors are in order, if your spider is not eating and is looking lethargic and/or skinny, it is time for intervention. There are a few things you can try.
- Remove them from their enclosure – Normally at BFP we feed our jumping spiders in their enclosures. However, if they are struggling, we will remove them from their enclosure and put them in something smaller like a small grow cup or a BFP Cube. This makes them see the food in front of them and almost gives them no other choice but to eat. Remember, soft-bodied feeders like maggots or wax worms are the best in this situation because they don’t bite back.
- Introduce a smaller food source – I want to preface this section by stressing a point. Do not use flightless fruit flies as a primary food source for anything bigger than a sling. We have had some spiders refuse a meal until they have had something smaller introduced to them. As hinted to in part one, we have used flightless fruit flies to stimulate their feeding. We add the fruit flies to their enclosure along with the size appropriate, non-dangerous feeder. Sometimes the spider will feed on the fruit flies which can stimulate their appetite and get them ready for the bigger food.
- Desert first – You know how your mom always said that you will spoil your appetite if you eat that cookie? Well, if you were starving, I’m sure she would let you eat the cookie. One of the things many keepers have found helpful is to offer them some honey. Dilute the honey in some water and place it on a q-tip. Offer this to your jumper. Chance are they will go right for it and eat away. After they eat some of the honey water, offer them some food. Hopefully the honey water stimulated their appetite enough to make them want a real meal.
- Find a push pin – If those don’t do the trick, you may have to do something gross. This can be done with a push pin, or a knife, or some other means. Regardless of the option you prefer, you will either need to poke a hole in a feeder, or cut off a body part.
The first thing we try at BFP is poking a hole in a waxworm while they are in a small container. The spider can smell the bodily fluids and may jump right to the feeder and start to eat. If that doesn’t work, try decapitating another type of insect. Yes, it’s gross, but you are in life-saving mode here.
- Bug Guts – Here is another gross but helpful option. Cut a hole in an insect and place it on a q-tip. Offer it to your jumper just like you would with the honey water. Yes, I’m sure the last thing you want to do is spread the insides of an insect onto a q-tip, but again, if they are lethargic or really skinny, this may be your only option.
Remember to continue to offering a variety of food while you are trying to stimulate their appetite.
As a spider parent, we recommend trying a wide variety of feeders so you know what types they prefer. For example, many otiosus prefer flying food, but some will eat wax worms or maggots. Also, some of our spiders prefer maggots over flies. Also, make sure to ask your breeder what they were feeding primarily. That might help too.
A spider that is getting ready to molt or lay eggs will sometimes avoid food for a few days to a week before molting and will remain in their sac for upwards of a month without needing to eat. This does not mean you shouldn’t offer them food, I have seen some sneak out and eat, then go back in and hide for a few more weeks. Just be mindful of the food you offer. A wax worm or maggot won’t hurt the spider while they are in molt, but a moth or fly might hurt the nest. Mealworms and crickets can harm and even kill your spider while in molt so do not leave those in with the spider.
Sometimes they may not want to eat for days even if they are not in molt. That is usually ok, just make the food available for them. If they are looking skinny or lethargic, that is not a good sign and is a good indicator that you need to take some immediate action. This is where waxworms are invaluable. You will need to put your spider in a smaller container with the wax worms temporarily and poke a hole in the wax worm. This does not always work, but the wax worm contains more fat and can help your spider get back up to a healthy weight.
I hope this helps you troubleshoot your feeding ritual. If you come across any other tips or tricks, leave them in the comments section. We are all here to help each other.