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Are Tarantula Bites Dangerous? Sometimes Yes, According to New Study

Are Tarantula Bites Dangerous? Sometimes Yes, According to New Study

 

P regalis

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Morkelsker

Hi, Frank Indiviglio here.  I’m a herpetologist, zoologist and book author, recently retired  from a career of over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.  I’ve worked with thousands of tarantulas, in zoos and my own collection, for over 50 years.  In all that time, I’ve never been bitten…mainly because I do not handle them!  Tarantulas certainly adjust to captivity, but they can in no way be “tamed” or “trusted not to bite”…videos and statements to the contrary should be ignored.   Cases involving muscle spasms, chest pain and other severe reactions requiring hospitalizations were reviewed in a recent study – I am aware of similar cases involving colleagues working in the field.  The urticating hairs of New World tarantulas are also a consideration; some years ago, a co-worker of mine required corneal surgery to remove those shed by a Red-Kneed Tarantula.

 

Indian Ornamental Tarantula Bites

In a recent incident reported in the journal Toxicon (an excellent resource for those interested in venom and venomous creatures), a man in Switzerland was bitten on the finger while feeding his pet Indian Ornamental Tarantula, Poecilotheria regalis.  He felt little pain at the time, but experienced hot flashes 2 hours later.  Within 15 hours, he was hospitalized with muscle spasms and chest pain.  He was treated with muscle relaxers, but muscle cramps continued for an additional 3 weeks.

 

Researchers at the Swiss Toxicology Information Center became interested in the case and decided to investigate further.  They turned up 18 additional reports of severe reactions to the bite of the Indian Ornamental Tarantula (a/k/a Indian Ornamental Tree Spider) in their organization’s records and reported in medical journals.  Spider care websites contained anecdotal information about 18 other bites from the same species.

 

Most of the bites were to pet-owners’ hands, but thighs, cheeks and shoulders were also bitten (I imagine this to be the result of foolishly letting spiders wander about the body).  In 58% of the published cases, muscle spasms were suffered by bite victims.  Cramps continued for 1-4 weeks after discharge from the hospital.

 

Tarantula Venom

When corresponding with tarantula owners or training zookeepers, I always stress the fact that spider venoms are quite complex, and we that know very little about those of even commonly-kept species. Antivenin is, in most cases, not available.

 

P metallica

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by MLursus

Also, spider venom may evolve in response to the reactions of prey species, as has been shown to occur among many venomous snakes.  This may affect how bites should be treated, but specific information is scarce.  Venom composition (and, therefore, the necessary treatment) may vary among different populations of the same species…again as occurs in venomous snakes.  Individual sensitivities to tarantula venom, another unstudied subject, must also be considered.

 

As numerous species may be sold under the same common name, and exact identification is often difficult, it is critical that you ascertain the Latin names of any tarantula under your care.

 

Urticating Hairs

North and Latin American tarantulas shed tiny barbed hairs when agitated.  I saw x-ray images of such hairs imbedded in my co-workers eye (please see above).  At the time, I was undergoing a cornea transplant (non-spider related!), and being treated by the same surgeon who had operated on my co-worker.  According to the surgeon, tarantula hairs that work their way into the eye are extremely difficult, and in some cases impossible, to safely remove (in 2009, doctors were unable to remove the hairs of Chilean Rose-haired Tarantula from the eye of a victim in England).

 

P. subfusca

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by mistic

So please…enjoy observing and studying tarantulas, but do not touch them.  Please see the articles linked below for information on how to safely keep and transport these fascinating creatures. 

 

Snakes: Venomous Bites and Human Predation

Two surprising studies examining venomous snake bites and snake predation on humans:

 

Venomous Snakes Bite 4.5 Million People Each Year

 

People as Reticulated Python Prey: Study Documents 150 Attacks, 6 deaths in the Philippines

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

 

Further Reading

Tarantula Care: Popular Species

Important Supplies for Tarantula Keepers

Interesting Tarantula Facts

Tarantula Care and Habits – Useful Facts for those with Pet Tarantulas

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Over 900 of the world’s 40,000+ spider species are commonly known as tarantulas (family Theraphosidae).  Among them we find a staggering diversity of sizes, colors, and lifestyles, and many species that make interesting, long-lived pets.  In the early 1980’s, I had the chance to work with the huge collection of a long-time friend, now a noted arachnologist.  Several species in that collection were (and remain) little known in the hobby or zoos.

Goliath Bird Eater

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bobisbob

Today, a wide variety of pet tarantulas, including such long-time favorites as the Mexican Red Leg (Brachypelma), Chilean Rose-Haired (Grammostola), Pink Toed (Avicularia) and the massive Goliath Bird-eating Tarantula (Theraphosa blondii), are now regularly bred by hobbyists.  The key to success with tarantulas is an understanding of their lives in the wild.  Following is an overview; please remember that tarantulas are an extraordinarily diverse group, so details will vary.  Please post below for information on individual species.

Unique Characteristics

While the fangs, or chelicerae, of typical spiders move from side-to-side when grasping prey, those of tarantulas are employed in a downward strike.  Tarantulas are also distinguished from other spiders by their unusual respiratory organs, known as book lungs, and by the presence of 2 claws and adhesive pads on the tips of the legs.  The defensive, urticating hairs of New World species are also unique among spiders (please see “Handling”, below).

One typically sees tarantulas referred to as “primitive” spiders, but they quite successful (please see “Range and Habitat”), and may be the dominant invertebrate predators in many environments.

Females of several species may live into their 30’s, while males rarely exceed 1- 4 years of age. Read More »

Scorpions Surprise Biologists – New Scorpion Species near Tucson and In the Andes

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Approximately 2,000 scorpion species have been described, but most arachnologists believe that many more await discovery.  Few, however, expected an unknown species to turn up within sight of a major city in the USA.  But that is what happened earlier this year, and the discovery was unusual for other reasons as well.  Another noteworthy new scorpion species surfaced in the Ecuadorean Andes, a little-studied region long suspected of being a diversity hotspot for scorpions.  New Arachnids of all kinds are regularly discovered…please post our own news items and thoughts at the end of this article.

Vaejovis sp.

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Acrocynus

A Unique Scorpion from Arizona’s “Sky Islands”

One never knows where new invertebrates will appear.  In 2000, a new centipede was found in NYC’s Central Park, of all places.  Still, the discovery of a sizable scorpion now known as Vaejovis brysoni was surprising on several levels.  The scorpion was discovered accidentally, in an area of the Santa Catalina Mountains that had been well-studied (6 new species have been found there since 2006), and within sight of Arizona’s capitol city of Tuscan (please see photo).

Also very surprising is the fact that the new scorpion’s habitat is considered by biologists to be a “sky island”.  Sky islands are mountain tops that have become isolated from nearby mountains that contain similar habitats and species.  The valleys between the mountain tops prevent scorpions and other animals from breeding with one another.  Over time, these isolated populations evolve into distinct species.  Oddly, another scorpion of the same genus is already resident on V. brysoni’s “sky island”.  This is the first time that closely related animals have been found on the same mountain in this region.  Learning how 2 similar species survive in close proximity to one another should provide interesting insights into scorpion evolution. Read More »

“My Emperor Scorpion Has Babies…What Should I Do”?

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Emperor Scorpions give birth to live young, and most hobbyists are thrilled when this happens.However, scorpion reproduction breaks many of the “rules” that apply to other pets.For example, a female that has been alone for 14 months may one day be found with 30 tiny white youngsters, or “scorplings”, on her back!I’ve written about scorpion breeding and care in detail elsewhere (please see links below), but thought that an article describing what steps one should take when first discovering youngsters would be useful…especially if your female turns out to be a less-than-perfect mom and begins eating her new creations!Please also be sure to post your questions and concerns below, as scorpion births often take owners by surprise, and I’ll be sure to get right back to you.

Predicting Scorpion Births

In the wild, some Emperor Scorpion populations breed seasonally, while others may reproduce year-round.Captives can mate and give birth during any month of the year. Further complicating our ability to predict births is the fact that females seem able to both store sperm and delay giving birth if conditions are not ideal.Environmental factors such as temperature and stress may also affect the youngsters’ development.Even under ideal conditions, the gestation period may exceed 1 year, although a range of 7 to 10 months is more common.

Read More »

The Best Humidity Gauges for Reptile, Amphibian and Invert Habitats

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Like most lifelong animal keepers, I consider myself to be a fairly good judge of humidity levels in the home terrariums and zoo exhibits under my care.  But when I began working in new buildings equipped with state-of-the-art hygrometers (humidity gauges), I quickly realized that I had much to learn.  I was especially surprised to discover how widely humidity levels can vary within even a small enclosure, and how this can affect every facet of an animal’s life.  The accurate, easy-to-use humidity gauges now available offer us the chance to provide better care to our charges and perhaps to uncover important new details about their lives.

Recent Innovations in Humidity Monitoring

Over the past several decades, hobbyists and zoos have greatly expanded the number of rare and delicate species that can be kept and bred in captivity.  Many of these successes have been due to an increased understanding of the roles that UVB, temperature, diet and other such factors play in their lives.

Orchid mantis

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Luc Viatour

Humidity levels have also been taken into account by serious animal owners, but this topic has been given less attention than others.  This is partially because many reptiles, and some amphibians and invertebrates, can meet their needs by soaking in a water bowl or retreating to a moist shelter.  But the real obstacle has been the unavailability of affordable hygrometers designed for use with animals.  Happily, humidity gauges that fit just about every terrarium and budget are now available, and all are very simple to use (since I can do it!). Read More »

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