Dropping a tarantula can kill it, so this is definitely something to avoid at all costs. This is the key reason why most experts advise against handling tarantulas.
A tarantula that is suddenly startled may bolt away from the perceived danger, and in doing so may fall straight off your hand.
A tarantula that is dropped onto a solid surface from a great enough height is almost certain to be injured, and may even die from these injuries.
Why Does Dropping a Tarantula Harm It?
Tarantulas are arthropods. This means they have a tough outer skeleton, rather than an internal skeleton like you and I. In general this is a system that works well for them, but it is not without its weaknesses.
Unlike you or I, who have muscle (and let’s be honest, some fat too) around our skeletons, when a tarantula is dropped there is nothing to break the fall. That exoskeleton takes the full impact of the fall, and so can rupture on contact.
A ruptured or fractured exoskeleton is very bad news indeed. It means that the fluids within the spider’s body can start to leach out. Left long enough, the tarantula will essentially “bleed” to death.
The greatest danger is the tarantula’s abdomen. Unlike the armor-like exoskeleton that covers the rest of the tarantula, the abdomen tends to be very pliable. It’s evolved like a soft, juicy sac, to expand and contract over time. When a tarantula eats a large, juicy insect you’ll see the abdomen looks a lot larger afterwards. If a tarantula hasn’t eaten for a while, this abdomen will shrink back in size.
The fact the tarantulas’ abdomen is so soft means that it can burst if mistreated. This is the most common issue with a dropped tarantula; as the spider hits the floor, the abdomen splits and the haemolymph (a spider’s equivalent of blood) starts to leak from the wound.
What To Check If You Drop Your Tarantula
If you’ve been unlucky enough to drop your tarantula then you’ll want to do a quick visual check to see if there is any obvious damage.
As mentioned above, checking the abdomen should be your number one priority. If the abdomen is intact then you may just have got lucky. So what are you looking for? Basically you’re looking for any signs of liquid dripping out of the spider. This is normally a milky white in color.
While the abdomen should be priority number one, it’s also worth checking the rest of the spider over if you can. Look for any haemolymph leaching from the leg joints etc.
If in doubt, place the tarantula into a clear plastic container, fit the lid carefully, and then inspect the tarantula through the sides.
Hopefully all is well with your tarantula. But if not there are one or two further steps you may want to consider…
First Aid for Dropped Tarantulas
Let’s be honest from the outset; a tarantula that is leaching haemolymph doesn’t stand much of a chance. It’s likely the spider is going to die. Likely, but not guaranteed. If you find yourself in this situation then you’ve got some tough decisions to make. Vets don’t really understand or treat tarantulas, so any emergency care is really down to you now.
Assuming you find your tarantula is bleeding after being dropped then here are some of the most common treatments you might want to consider…
Do Nothing – The easiest option of all. If the wound is only minor, it is possible that it will scab over in time. Possible, but not guaranteed. Then, when your tarantula next molts, the scab will normally be replaced by a regenerated exoskeleton.
I have one tarantula in my collection that I think suffered a split on its abdomen before it came to me. It’s a Poecilotheria with a nasty blemish on the abdomen. It doesn’t look great, but the tarantula has been with me for quite a long time and successfully molts each year, though the “scab” marking still remains.
Use Superglue – A more active solution to a bleeding tarantula is using superglue to try and stem the flow. Of course, great care needs to be taken that the tarantula can still move about like normal; superglue is therefore most commonly used on a split abdomen, but not on any leg wound, where the glue might prevent the tarantula from molting properly in the future.
Use Cornflour – A slightly less extreme option is to gently add some cornflour to the wound. Indeed, any fine, non-toxic power can work. The goal here is that the powder soaks up the haemolymph, allowing it to scab over more quickly. And once the scab has formed, the bleeding stops, and your tarantula has a chance of survival.
Provide Water – Whichever of the three options above you choose, one non-negotiable step is to provide suitable drinking water. YOu don’t want your spider getting dehydrated, which is a serious risk after heavy bleeding. So top up that water bowl and, if your tarantula is docile enough, put it close to the tarantula so they don’t have to go far to drink.
Tips for Making Sure Your Tarantula Can’t Fall
One final area worth discussing is how to prevent your tarantula from falling in the future. To be honest, most of the following tips are common sense, but they’re worth highlighting just in case there are any you hadn’t considered before…
Don’t Hold Your Tarantula – The number one question I get asked when people hear I own tarantulas is whether I handle them. It seems that to the general public you can’t be a proper tarantula owner unless you hold it. I, of course, do not handle my tarantulas, because of the risk it can pose for the spider. Yeah. Boring old me. But the top tip to make sure you don’t drop your tarantula is simply not to pick it up in the first place!
Secure Your Tarantula in a Catch Cup – Some tarantulas are quite nervous and will bolt away if they’re spooked. If you’re moving your tarantula from one cage to another, it’s a good tip to secure it in a plastic container when doing the move. Catch the spider in the first cage, pop it into the plastic tub. Attach the lid. Then move the tarantula to the new cage and let it out of the tub. So boring. So safe.
Clean Out Your Tarantula Over a Low Surface – The shorter distance that a tarantula falls, the lower the risks. If you’ve got the cage door open then try to ensure the cage is placed as close to the ground or a table top as possible. Bonus points if you can ensure the surface is soft. For example, falling onto a carpet will be far less dangerous than tumbling onto a bare concrete floor.
Don’t Spook Your Tarantula – Lastly, a spooked tarantula is far more likely to bolt, which can then lead to drops and falls. Try to keep calm when maintaining your tarantula. Move slowly. Avoid spraying the tarantula with water from a mister, and don’t get close enough that your breath can be felt by the spider. Try to maintain a zen level of calmness and your spider will be far less likely to dash off looking for cover, at which point it could get out and/or risk falling.
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