If there’s one question I hear more than any other it’s whether or not I handle my tarantulas.
The answer often disappoints: not all tarantulas can be handled safely, while it is generally considered better not to handle even the more docile species. The reason is simply that handling even friendly tarantulas can still pose risks to both you and the spider in question.
From your own perspective, even docile species which are unlikely to bite may have the irritating urticating hairs which can lead to itchy, blotchy skin afterwards.
More importantly, from the perspective of your tarantula, dropping a spider can lead to serious issues. In more extreme cases the soft abdomen can rupture, leading to almost certain death.
For this reason I rarely handle my tarantulas, except when proving to arachnophobes how docile many tarantulas really are, and that they have nothing to hear. Handling a tarantula, in my experience, really can be one of the very best ways to get over a lifelong fear of spiders.
But let’s put this aside for a moment, and assume that you want to handle your tarantula. How is this best achieved?
How to Pick Up a Tarantula
Over the years a number of methods for picking up tarantulas have been suggested. Some are easier than others. Some are also much safer for you and the spider. In this article I’d like to discuss my preferred method for picking up and handling tarantulas…
- Test the Tarantula’s Attitude
Tarantulas are wild animals. They don’t get tame with consistent handling; instead a species (or individual specimen) is typically either docile-enough to handle or not. That said, as wild creatures a range of factors can affect how docile a tarantula is on any given day.
A good example is a tarantula that is coming up to moult can be far more aggressive than normal. A hungry spider, too, may be more likely to try and bite you in the hope you are edible.
A smart first step is therefore to start by testing your tarantula’s reflexes. This I do with an inanimate object such a pen or, ideally, my long forceps. Simply gently nudge the rear end of the spider and watch for their reaction.
A tarantula that turns round and attacks the forceps, hisses, or reveals their fangs is likely best left alone for now. If the spider remains still, or gently moves forward away from your probing object is a much safer bet.
- Hold Out a Flat Hand
Assuming your tarantula has not responded badly to the initial contact, the next step is to place your flat hand infront of the spider. This should be placed flat on the floor of the cage, directly infront of them.
- Coax the Tarantula Onto Your Hand
Next, using your pen or forceps (or spare hand if you’re feeling brave) gently and patiently coax the tarantula to climb onto your hand by applying encouragement from behind. In time, the tarantula should gently walk onto your flat hand. When all feet are on your hand – rather than on the cage floor – you can move onto the next step.
- Move Your Hand Over a Low, Soft Object
Once the tarantula is sitting fully on your outstretched hand it can be gently lifted out of the cage, trying hard to remain slow and calm, and to keep your hand flat. From here aim to move your hand – and therefore the tarantula – over a soft object.
Placing your hand over a bed, for example, is a good idea. In this way, should your spider be unlucky enough to fall, they won’t have far to go, and will land safely on a soft, springy surface that will prevent injury.
- Move Your Hands as Necessary
At this stage you should feel free to enjoy handling your tarantula. Keep a close eye on them, moving from one hand to the other as necessary. This is also the ideal time to let them gently walk onto the hand of anyone else who would like to hold them.
If you are new to handling tarantulas, or are letting someone else hold your spider, be particularly aware of spider climbing gently up your arm. Be ready to block their ascent if necessary.
- Place the Tarantula Back Into Their Cage
Once you’ve finished handling your tarantula it’s time to place them back into their cage. Here there are two options. The easiest is to place your hand next to the top of their cage, allowing them to gently walk off your hand into their cage.
A second alternative is to place your flat hand back into the cage, flat on the floor, before allowing your tarantula to walk off it.
- Coax Them Off Your Hand
If necessary, it may be necessary to use your pen or a spare hand to gently shepherd them off your hand, and onto the floor of their cage.
When all eight of your tarantula’s legs are safely within their cage can you remove your hand and gently close the lid, making sure not to get any of their legs caught.
- Wash Your Hands Thoroughly
Lastly, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after completion. While no transferrable diseases between tarantulas and humans are known, washing your hands is still recommended.
This ensures they are hygienic, reduces the chances of being affected by urticating hairs that may have been kicked off in the handling, and if you have other tarantulas it also prevents the risk of any cross-contamination.
Photo by Iain A Wanless