Tarantulas don’t usually eat their molt.
Normally, once a tarantula has molted, you will find the molted skin still within their cage. For tarantulas that choose to molt out in the open, this skin will be almost instantly visible.
However in tarantulas that molt down a burrow, or in a piece of cork bark, it may be some time before you actually see the skin.
In my experience many (though not all) tarantulas that molt out of view will “dispose” of their skin later on. They’ll actually carry it out of their hide and dump it somewhere else in the cage to keep their home hygienic. This seems to take around 2 weeks between a tarantula molting in a burrow, and them removing the unwanted skin.
One frustration when it comes to tarantula molting is that while they don’t typically eat their skin, they may still chew it up in their chelicerae. This can take a perfect, specimen-quality molt and chew it up to something almost unrecognizable.
There are two annoyances with this.
Molts Not Worth Keeping
Many tarantula keepers like to retain sloughed skins as a souvenir. Of course, a molt that has got “chewed up” and is now shredded and battered isn’t ideally suited to this pursuit.
Unless your tarantula is a mature adult, the single most reliable way to tell whether your tarantula is a boy or a girl is to examine a molted skin under a microscope or hand lens.
For the inexperienced keeper, there is just one particular area you need to examine. This also, annoyingly, tends to be the most fragile part of the molt, and therefore the part most likely to be damaged.
I have some quite large tarantulas that are still unsexed as they always seem to chew up the skin at just the wrong place. Hopefully in the end my patience will pay off.
The temptation with a tarantula that has just molted is to avoid either of these issues by instantly removing the skin. A tarantula that hasn’t hardened up yet after a molt is far less likely to have chewed up their skin, such as when removing it from their burrow.
The downside to this, is it involves disturbing the tarantula when it is feeling most fragile. Clearly this is something we should be avoiding.
Therefore I would implore you to leave a recently-molted tarantula to do it’s thing for a few weeks before you go looking for the skin. Let them harden up. Let them have a drink, and maybe something to eat. Then once they’re back to “normal” you can retrieve the old skin.
How to Remove a Molted Tarantula Skin
Removing a molted tarantula skin is normally very easy indeed. This is especially so if you’re patient, and wait for the tarantula itself to “dump” the skin in the corner of the cage.
I typically just use long forceps to pick the skin up to keep fingers away from my spiders.
Trying to pick up the skin by one or two legs makes most sense if you want to try and sex the skin. This is because you avoid doing any potential damage to the sensitive area that needs to be inspected.
What To Do With A Molted Tarantula Skin
When tarantulas molt there are three common things you can can with them:
- Throw them away
- Keep them
- Sex them
Throw Them Away
This is the easiest and quickest option. Just dump it in the bin or, like me, put it in your compost heap.
When tarantulas molt, their sloughed skin is soft and pliable. Over time, however, the skin dries out and becomes brittle.
If you’d like to keep your tarantula molts it can be wise to dampen them again, so they once more become “workable”.
I just soak them in a small jar of water, with a few drops of dish soap. Leave the skin for around half an hour.
The skin can then be taken out of the water, and carefully manipulated so that it looks something more “tarantula-like”.
Left to dry for a few hours, it should then permanently remain in the pose you have chosen.
This topic would require a whole article of its own, but it is possible to tell the gender of a tarantula from their molted skin.
Like in the previous point, the skin should be soaked to make it pliable, and the skin can then be inspected carefully with a microscope (for small skins) or a hand lense (for larger ones) to see if it’s male or female.
For larger tarantulas it may be possible to visually sex them without the need for any expensive equipment; the female’s spermatheca for example can be easily seen by eye in bigger tarantulas.