A nursing assistant has turned her two-bedroom house into a haven for her seven tarantulas and two snakes.
31-year-old Keira Jarvis, who lives in Chester with her girlfriend, loves spiders and snakes.
She said: ‘Forget cute and fluffy creatures, I had lizards and exotic fish as a child, but my mum would never allow me to have something like a spider or snake.
‘She was completely against it, however my dad was never bothered by the idea, as he loved more unusual creatures, like iguanas, and taught me how to love all animals, not just cats and dogs.
‘I never felt I needed to have a cuddly puppy. Instead, I was fascinated by tarantulas and how they act in nature – doing things like shedding their outer skin and getting bigger every time.
‘A King Charles Spaniel can’t do that.’
Though she can’t take her spiders or snakes on a walk, Keira still plays with them and enjoys their company.
She continued: ‘With the snakes, I get them out every day for about half an hour just so they get used to it. I stroke them and speak to them like any other pet.
‘I only get the tarantulas out when I’m doing maintenance to their tanks. The tarantulas have sensitive hairs and can’t be stroked and it can make them feel threatened.’
When Keira stopped living with her parents two years ago, she had the freedom to keep any pet she wanted.
First she bought two tarantulas from The Spider Shop online for £10 each – which sends spiders hem to customers in secure plastic pots with air holes and tight sealing.
But within two years of moving in to her new home, her collection had grown to seven, after her girlfriend Catherine bought her a ‘mystery spider box’ online for £30 for her birthday, on 1 August last year.
‘I said I was desperate to have more, so Catherine went back to the online shop, which send five mystery tarantulas in a box,’ explained Keira.
‘I knew she was getting me another tarantula, but I never expected to open the box and see five running around!
‘They come in the post, which terrifies a lot of people.
‘I wonder how the postman would feel if he knew what he was handling when he gave it to me that day.’
Now Keira is the proud owner of a colony of tarantulas, including a cobalt blue, named Nebula, a pinktoe, called Demi, a Brazilian black named Nyx, Miri, a Chilean gold burst, Orion, a Mexican Red Knee, Indi, a curly hair, and Cas, a purple bloom bird eater – which will grow to be at least 6 inches wide.
Keira said: ‘The cobalt blue has venom that could potentially cause anaphylactic shock if you’re allergic to bee stings, but luckily I don’t have those allergies so I feel confident I’m ok.
‘I can recognise when they don’t want to be handled, like when Nebula rears up and puts his legs in the air. He shows his teeth and I know I shouldn’t interact with him.’
As well as the tarantulas, which all live separately in their own tanks, Keira also has two snakes: Humbug, a black and white king snake and Wiggle, an orange, black and white milk snake, both 16 inches long.
Both cost £40 – one from a pet shop in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, in September 2018 and the other from a private seller in London in January 2019.
The pets all live in her spare bedroom, where the snakes are kept warm by a lightbulb inside the tank during the day and a heated mat at night.
While Catherine does not mind the snakes, Keira remembers a time when she was terrified of tarantulas.
She recalled: ‘We’ve been together for three years and I told her very early on that I’d love to have tarantulas.
‘She seemed fairly okay about it, but she made it extremely clear that they wouldn’t be allowed near her!
‘She still never really deals with them and only tolerates them for me. She has drawn the line at having seven, but I know one day I’ll convince her to let me have more.’
Keira added that many of her friends find them scary, too.
She said: ‘I’m always questioned about them and why I would want them, but I don’t mind at all. I like to educate people and let them know that these kind of creatures aren’t as dangerous or aggressive as you might think from watching TV shows.’
Keira has had better luck with her parents, who agreed to look after her spiders for a month in March 2018 while she and Catherine went travelling to Thailand.
She said: ‘My dad came and picked them up from my house and we drove them for two hours to Aberystwyth, in Wales, where they now live.
‘I had one tank between my feet and one in the back seat. My dad didn’t seem to mind, and I tried not to worry about any accidents!’
According to Keira, her mum locked them in a spare room and refused to be around them – leaving her dad to look after them.
Still, despite other people’s reservations, Keira insists that tarantulas make excellent pets, as they do not need much care – only requiring food once every two weeks as well as needing water and for their uneaten mealworms to be cleared away.
She said: ‘I feed them mealworms and crickets and make sure to keep their water topped up in their tanks.
‘I put soil in their tanks and small logs to replicate the environment they would have in the wild.
‘Meanwhile, for the snakes, I feed them two mice every five days, which I buy from a pet shop, for £20 for 100, and give them jungle scenery in their tanks which I bought as a big sheet and cut out to size – almost like wallpaper for them.
‘I suppose the only downside is when Catherine has to walk into the kitchen and see frozen mice defrosting on the side ready to be eaten!’
Now Keira, who loves handling her snakes and doing photoshoots with her spiders, is determined to convince others that they make perfect pets.
She said: ‘Everyone who thinks they’re an expert tries to claim that some of the tarantula species I own, like the cobalt blue, are aggressive, but the reality is that I have never been bitten or attacked by any of my pets.
‘I want to get more of these exotic animals and show everyone how they can be just as fulfilling and exciting as any other pet.’