Home | Arachnids | Tarantulas

Category Archives: Tarantulas

Feed Subscription

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 »

Important Supplies for Pet Tarantulas – a Zoo Keeper’s Notes

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Among the world’s 900+ tarantula species (Family Theraphosidae) we find spiders of every conceivable size, description and lifestyle, some of which make interesting, long-lived pets.  I had the chance to work with many during my zoo career, and most of the supplies that I relied upon are now readily available to hobbyists.  Whether you are just starting out or looking to add additional species to your collection, the following information will assist in your decision.  Please be sure to post any questions or observations about pet tarantulas below. 

Housing

Setting up the Terrarium

Tarantulas are best kept in screen-covered aquariums, reptile cages or plastic terrariums.  “Extra high” styles are best for Pink-Toed Tarantulas and other arboreal species.  Be sure to use cage clips on the cover, as tarantulas can climb glass and are incredibly strong.  A 10-15 gallon aquarium is adequate for all but the largest individuals.

Goliath Bird eating Spider

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Snakecollector

All tarantulas require a dark hiding spot.  Burrowing species such as the Goliath Bird-Eating Spider will dig their own caves if provided deep substrate. Sri Lankan Ornamental Tarantulas and other arboreal species will utilize the underside of an upright piece of cork bark.  Most also accept inverted flower pots and plastic reptile caves. Read More »

2012’s New Species – Spiders, Roaches, Millipedes, Wasps – Which is your Favorite?

Trogloraptor marchingtoniHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Invertebrate enthusiasts have learned to expect the discovery of fantastic new species on a regular basis.  But even old timers such as I were shocked by some that came to light this past year. Large, claw-bearing Cave Robber Spiders, giant bio-luminescent roaches, brilliant arboreal tarantulas, neon-colored freshwater crabs, dive-bombing wasps…the list boggles the mind.  Today I’ll highlight a few that have entranced me; please post your own favorites (whether covered here or not) below.

Cave Robber Spider, Trogloraptor marchingtoni

The Cave Robber Spider, arguably 2012’s most “otherworldly” discovery, turned up in a place not known for hiding unseen species – southwestern Oregon.  In fact, not a single new spider has been described in the USA in the past 130 years.  Read More »

Beyond Webs – Swimming, Spitting and Other Spider Hunting Methods – Part 1

Trapdoor SpiderHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Silk webs are amazing innovations, and the “sit and wait” tarantula stategy is remarkably effective…but among the world’s spiders we also find a mind-boggling array of other hunting techniques.  Some of these odd hunters, such as Fishing, Jumping and Trapdoor Spiders, occasionally appear in the trade…all are worth a closer look.

Tarantulas (Mygalomorphs) and Their Relatives

Tarantulas are the best known of the Mygalomorphs (spiders distinguished by, among other things, fangs that strike downward as opposed to side-to-side).  Some relatives stray from the “sit and wait” strategy: Read More »

Scroll To Top