Tarantulas: How Dangerous Are They Really?

Even to this day there are a number of myths surrounding tarantulas and one of the most common of these is really just how dangerous they are.

As someone who has kept tarantulas for over 15 years now I’ve heard it all from people asking whether my tarantulas are poisonous, whether tarantulas are deadly, whether they’ve had their fangs removed and more. So let’s try to settle the score once and for all.

In general there are two modes of attack that a tarantula can possess – a poisonous bite and the well-known urticating hairs.

In terms of a tarantulas bite most people who have experienced it find the discomfort and side effects as somewhat similar to a bee sting. Effects may include a burning sensation, swelling and redness around the site of the wound.

There are, however, chances of slightly more severe side effects. Most commonly kept tarantulas such as the Chilean Rose, the Curly-Haired and the Red Knee typically have quite weak poison but the faster-moving species from Asia may have stronger poison which can lead to muscle cramps and swelling of the limb which has been affected, together with nausea and lethargy. Even then though these effects typically subside after 24-48 hours.

In a tiny minority of cases anaphylactic shock has been experienced by people who have been bitten by a tarantula. Of course this in no way says anything about how dangerous a tarantula is because the same side effects can come from bee stings and a whole variety of other animals. However it’s important to say that the chances of this happening to you are slim at best and with treatment it is highly unlikely to be life threatening.

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The other defence mechanism is that of the urticating hairs which can be kicked off the abdomen of a tarantula. These barb-like hairs can lodge in the skin causing irritation, itching and swelling however the result is not serious. Some tarantulas kick the hairs off more regularly than others and the most common time I have felt the effects of urticating hairs are when cleaning out some of my spiders where clearly some hairs have been in the substrate.

On the skin the effects of these hairs are minor – a gentle, tickly tingle that won’t go away for a few hours. However if these hairs get into the eyes or up the nose the effects can be rather more uncomfortable and/or serious.

So in answer to the questions about tarantulas and how dangerous they are: realistically tarantulas aren’t too dangerous. They are poisonous and they don’t have their venom glands removed so can still bite you but the “myths” from non-tarantula keepers greatly exaggerate the risks involved in keeping tarantulas.

The fact is that the majority of specimens kept in captivity will rarely if ever try to bite and if they do succeed the effects are likely to be minimal. Trust me when I say that I personally wouldn’t keep any kind of animal if I genuinely believed my life could be at risk if I made a wrong move though medical attention should always be sought on these off occasions just to be on the safe side.

Richard Adams