Tarantulas can and do die during moulting. The process of moulting is one of the most dangerous times for a tarantula for many reasons.
As a result many tarantulas sadly pass during this period. It also represents one of the most common reasons for pet tarantulas to die.
What are the Dangers of Moulting?
There are numerous reasons why moulting is dangerous. Some examples include…
Attack by Predators
A moulting tarantula is almost helpless. They cannot run away and they cannot defend themselves. Furthermore their tough exoskeleton is sloughed off to reveal a far softer and more pliable new skin beneath. This can make for an easy meal for the right predator.
Of interest to the hobbyists is that even some feeder insects can represent danger to a moulting tarantula. Crickets, in particular, may nibble on or bite a moulting tarantula if left in the cage. This can lead to the untimely death of the tarantula.
For this reason it is crucial that any feeder insects are regularly removed from the tarantula cage, with an extra-special effort for any tarantula that is obviously in pre-moult.
Inability to Get Out of Their Old Skin
Tarantulas can sometimes get stuck in their old skin. They split open the old skin, but fail to successfully clamber out of it. At the most extreme level this can result in the tarantula dying essentially entombed in its old skin.
In less serious cases the spider may almost make it out of the old skin but with one or more legs still stuck to the old skin. A small piece of the old abdomen skin or the carapace may remain attached. Fortunately these issues tend to be easier to resolve for the pet hobbyist.
Falling While Moulting
Arboreal tarantulas typically spin a thick hammock of web, on which they lie to moult. Sadly, sometimes this doesn’t end well, with the spider accidentally falling off the side while moulting. This can lead to the still-soft tarantula, which is not yet able to walk after it’s moult, getting stuck somewhere and slowly dying.
Even some terrestrial tarantulas may ignore the safety of moulting on the substrate of their cage. The odd specimen will decide to moult in an odd part of their cage, such as balanced on a piece of cork bark or even in/on their water dish. Again, there is a risk here that the spider can fall, and get stuck in its moulted skin as a result.
Hardening Up Wrongly
A final risk is that once your tarantula moults, the new skin begins to harden almost immediately. While the process takes some time, if the tarantula does not properly stretch during this process then the exoskeleton can harden incorrectly.
A common example is legs that are bent or otherwise misshapen. In lesser instances this can just be an inconvenience, but in others it can lead to the death of the spider.
Take Care During Moulting
As we can see, there are many ways that a tarantula can die during moulting. If you keep pet tarantulas it is therefore absolutely crucial that you watch for signs of an impending moult and respond appropriately.
Assuming the cage is properly set up then there are a number of additional things you can do to maximise the chances of your tarantula moulting successfully.
Provide a water dish – If you don’t normally provide a water dish then it can be wise to provide one before a moult to ensure suitable hydration of your spider.
Provide one or more suitable hides – Give your pet somewhere they can safely hide away and moult in privacy.
Stop feeding the tarantula – When your tarantula stops feeding before a moult don’t keep trying to force food on them. Instead stop feeding the spider to avoid the chances of any feeder insects remaining in the cage when the moult occurs.
Provide peace and quiet – A tarantula that gets disturbed during moulting may make bad decisions. Give your spider plenty of peace and quiet so that it can complete its moult successfully.
Note the date – It is a good idea to keep records of what your tarantula moults. Pop it in your calendar, or write a note on the cage. This way you’ll build up a list of moult dates, making it easier to predict when the next moult will occur. In adult female tarantulas this tends to be roughly once a year.