What Happens if You Disturb a Molting Tarantula?

Molting is one of the single most dangerous times in a tarantula life. The formerly fearsome predator becomes almost defenseless for hours or even days. 

Even a single cricket accidentally left in the cage can do enough damage nibbling at your tarantula to cause its death. 

When your tarantula is molting, therefore, you want to stack the odds in your favor. You want everything just right, so your beloved pet can molt without issue or interruption. 

But what if you accidentally disturb a molting tarantula? How serious is this, and what should you do? Read on to find out… 

I Disturbed My Tarantula When Molting: Now What?

What Happens if You Disturb a Molting Tarantula?

It goes without saying that tarantulas don’t like to be disturbed when molting. They want to hide away from potential predators and get the job done as quickly as possible. So disturbing a molting tarantula isn’t ideal. That said, it needn’t be the end of the world either.

The key thing to realize is that your tarantula hasn’t just randomly started molting. Instead, unbeknownst to you, it’s been carefully preparing for this experience for weeks. Your tarantula will have made sure it was suitably hydrated. The temperature must be right. The light levels should be suitable. With conditions as perfect as possible, your tarantula then starts to molt.

The key lesson here if you’ve disturbed a molting tarantula is you need to return those conditions to the optimal as soon as possible, but as gently and calmly as you can. 

So ask yourself how you disturbed the spider. 

  • Did you throw a feeder insect in? If so, immediately try to catch (or kill) the insect before it can upset the spider.
  • Did you peel back your tarantula’s webbing to check it was OK, only to find it molting? If so, gently return what webbing you can and leave the tarantula alone.
  • Did you shine a bright light such as a flashlight at it, only for it to flip over and start wandering about? If so, obviously remove the light.
  • Did you throw open the drapes, blinds or curtains, flooding the cage with sunlight, only to spot the tarantula in the middle of a molt? If so, either close them again (ideally) or darken the tarantula cage by draping some fabric gently over it (an old t-shirt, towel etc.)

Is it a juvenile whose cage you picked up for a good look, only to find it flipped over mid-molt? If so, slowly and gently replace the tub and leave the spider alone.

The goal here is to return your tarantula’s cage to as close to the same state it was before you accidentally disturbed it. 

Normally this will be enough.

Tarantulas have been molting successfully for thousands of years. It’s natural that the odd disturbance will happen in nature, as it does with pet tarantulas. Once you’ve returned the cage to its former glory then all being well your tarantula will resume its molt and make it through fine.

Handy Hints for a Molting Tarantula

If you find your tarantula molting unexpectedly then try to follow these handy tips for a successful molt:

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Keep Light Levels Low

Tarantulas tend to molt at night. That is by no means guaranteed of course; I have had tarantulas molt during the day, or start late in the afternoon. It’s not unusual to wake up in the morning and find one of them on their backs. But in general, darkness is a molting tarantula’s best friend. 

If you find your tarantula molting during daylight hours then be sure to keep the cage dark if you can. Close the blinds or drapes, or put something over/around the tarantula cage to limit daylight. Even if it means leaning a book or magazine up against the side to create a shady area where your spider is. 

Maintain Temperature Levels

Temperature can affect molting cycles so you don’t want your tarantula suddenly getting a lot hotter or cooler. If you use a heater for your tarantula, for example, just leave it on exactly as it is. The spider will have figured out the best spot for their molt anyway. 

Minimize Noise and Other Distractions

Tarantulas can be greatly affected by noise and commotion. One great example of this is how many of my tarantulas seem to hate it when I vacuum the spider room. Upon finishing, I’ll find quite a few of them are out and about, moving round their cage, looking for somewhere quieter to hide away. 

So if you find your tarantula molting try to keep the room they’re in as quiet as possible till they’re done. No music, no TV, no kids screaming and certainly no vacuuming. 

No Further Disturbance for 24 Hours

Possibly the hardest part of disturbing a molting tarantula is simply wanting to check how it’s getting on. I get that. But appreciate that every time you check on it, you’re further disturbing the tarantula. And with each disturbance a failed molt becomes more likely. 

Many tarantulas will molt without hours of flipping over, but some can take considerably longer. This tends to be especially so for larger or older tarantulas. 

So make a pact with yourself. Agree you won’t even check on the tarantula till this time tomorrow. Let the spider do its thing; it’s most likely to produce the outcome you’ll want. 

Premolt: Signs of an Upcoming Molt

As a final chapter of this article, it’s worth pointing out the signs that your tarantula is going to molt. In this way you can take extra care as the time nears, and so minimize the chances of accidentally disturbing them next time around. 

Lack of Interest in Food

The most obvious sign of a tarantula in premolt is that they go off their food. This normally happens several weeks before the actual molt. Personally, I feed all my tarantulas once a week. If a tarantula doesn’t eat, I make a note. If it then refuses food the next week as well I consider it in premolt. I then withhold food until the tarantula has successfully molted. This can be some months in slower-growing species but it avoids the risk that a live feeder insect can pose to a molting tarantula. 

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Unusual Posture

A tarantula that is getting very close to molting may start to adopt unusual postures. Just not sitting quite right. You may find them slumped to one side, or stretching their legs uncharacteristically. This is likely to be a further sign that your tarantula will soon be molting. 

Reduced Activity

A tarantula coming up to molt will normally reduce its activity levels. This is one of the most worrying elements for most people. A lot of disturbance is caused by the caring pet owner worrying that they haven’t seen their tarantula in a while, so they dig it out only to find it mid-molt. 

Increased Defensiveness

Some tarantulas may be more likely to throw up a threat posture when in premolt, because they simply want to be left alone. 

Darkening Bald Patch

If your tarantula has a bald patch (not all do) then this turning black is a sure sign that a molt is approaching. Please note that simply having a bald patch is not an indication of a nearing molt – only when it turns shiny black does it tell you this. 

Legs Looking Skinnier

One thing I notice in a lot of my tarantulas, especially the juveniles, is that their legs start to look slimmer when they’re getting close to a molt. It’s much less obvious among the larger spiders in my collection. 

Increased Webbing

Tarantulas don’t like to be disturbed when molting, so it’s common to lay down extra web. Even tarantulas that typically don’t produce much web may carefully spin themselves a comfortable sheet of silk to molt on. 

Hidden From View

A tarantula that hasn’t been seen in weeks – or even months – is far more likely to be preparing for or recovering from a molt, than it is to be dead. 

Your Calendar

One final point – keep records of when your tarantula molts. Over time you’ll be able to spot the frequency. If your juvenile tarantula has been molting every 3 months, and suddenly goes off its food some 10-12 weeks after the last molt then you can be pretty certain of what’s coming up. 

Richard Adams

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