"I don't know what to do. There's a dead cricket in my tarantula's cage that I need to get out. How do I remove the cricket without stressing Mephistopheles out?"
(Photo by Mark Thomas. Used with permission. See also About this photo.)
Tarantulas are like no other creature you've ever kept or even heard of before. All your ingrained assumptions and prejudices, everything you've been taught since childhood, are either dead wrong or don't apply, and may even be dangerous to them. They're neither tropical fish, reptiles, birds, nor gerbils, and you don't take care of them like any of those animals.
ONE OF THE BIGGEST PROBLEMS WITH NEWBIES IS TRYING TO GET THEM TO ABANDON ALL THEIR PREJUDICES AND BEGIN TO LOOK AT THE WORLD FROM THE VASTLY ALIEN PERSPECTIVE OF A HUGE, FUZZY SPIDER.
Tarantulas and their precursors have been around for well over half a BILLION years! Their distant ancestors were among the very first land animals. They have seen and survived virtually every imaginable catastrophe, almost up to world-wide extinction events. Among them are -
If they've survived that, tarantulas can survive just about anything! Stress should be way down the enthusiast's list of concerns, pretty much at the bottom.
Now, tell me again what you think is going to cause your little buddy all this stress? And, why in your wildest dreams might you think it's so important?
While we all more or less agree that "stress" exists, and even have some subliminal concept of what stress is, the bare faced fact is that there are no really good definitions of it.
The foregoing section would lead one to believe that stress is entirely meaningless where tarantulas are concerned. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There are distinct times when stress IS a valid concern.
(Quoted from the Free Online Dictionary.)
While many of us think we can recognize some sort of mental activity (e.g., behavior modification, limited ability to learn, memory, limited ability to recognize individual humans, even some limited problem solving ability) that may be several orders of magnitude greater than a small head of cabbage, for instance, none of this has been proven. And, for the lack of some set of reproducible observations or experiments, the argument is still open and often hotly debated. Because we can't say that they have a mind or display some level of mental activity, we can't make any sort of meaningful assessment about the possibility of mental, nervous, or emotional stress. Thus, we are going to suspend further comment pending the development of some data worthwhile discussing.
Physiological stress, however, is a different story. Not only are we convinced that it exists in tarantulas, we can actually measure it in various ways. Organisms that are suffering from excessive heat or cold, mechanical abuse, dehydration or starvation also display measurable changes in a wide menu of physiological functions.
During extended transport, the unrelenting vibrations, rolling and turning, and bouncing cause the tarantula to constantly try to maintain its equilibrium and relatively constant position. Not only is this very tiring, but the frequent impacts with the walls of the container almost literally beat the tarantula up. The result is an often bruised and exhausted spider that's half dead before it ever gets near it's future home cage. We call this "shipping shock" and the treatment is an extended period of peace and quiet.
Here we include such things as bright lights, the so-called "expressway fever," and the so-called "stereo effect."
While wild tarantulas are sometimes seen outside their burrows in broad daylight (but never direct sunlight), and while there is strong circumstantial evidence that they need some limited exposure to light, they are basically dark-dwelling creatures. They are much more comfortable in dim light.
And, there is strong circumstantial evidence that they need some exposure to a normal day/night lighting sequence to help entrain their seasonal cycles. So we urge that the following set of guidelines be followed.
The Chilean rose tarantula
|Brachypelma emilia, The Mexican redleg tarantula displaying the bald patch during intermolt. The tip of the arrow points to the very faint, rear end of the heart.|
|Brachypelma smithi, the Mexican redknee tarantula displaying the bald patch during intermolt. The tip of the arrow points to the very faint, rear end of the heart.|
|Brachypelma smithi, the Mexican redknee tarantula in premolt. The bald patch has darkened to nearly black because of the developing pigmentation in the underlying, new bristles.|
We hate sitting at a table near the entrance in a restaurant. The constant traffic interrupts and interferes with any conversation we may have with others at our table, or interest in our food. The added noise overwhelms our failing old ears. It seems as though everybody entering or leaving must climb across our table. The distraction drives us to distraction.
A parallel situation exists with a tarantula kept in a busy passageway, kitchen, den, or recreation room, especially if there are a number of people living in the same home. If the tarantula hides in its burrow or cave all the time, this may be a contributing cause.
This doesn't mean that tarantulas are so sensitive to disturbance that they will suffer grave physical harm if more than a very few people walk past the cage more than once a day. We must maintain some level of common sense in this issue. But, if at all possible, try to keep your tarantula's cage out of the mainstream of noise and traffic. You'll enjoy it a lot more too.
About twice a year we hear from someone who wants to know if the sound from their stereo will have an adverse effect on their tarantula.
The answer is fairly straightforward: If you can FEEL the vibrations, so can your tarantula. Turn your stereo down, or move the tarantula to another room.
|The first sign of maturity is the discovery that the volume knob also turns to the left.
-- Jerry M. Wright
And, it should go without mentioning that you definitely should NOT keep your tarantula's cage on top of the stereo's speakers! Tarantulas possess a very keen sense of vibration. A constant barrage of vibrations from the speakers is very much the same as you living on top of a jackhammer. Be nice to your tarantula!
Whodathunk that something like this could cause stress in tarantulas? But, maybe not in the ways you might at first think.
Obesity, the condition of being overweight to the point where it's becoming a health issue, presents an enigma. Obesity and its effects among mammals and a few other vertebrates is well known. And, it's almost always a bad thing. But, what about tarantulas? The fact is that we simply don't know. And, these creatures are so different from things with backbones that we can't make any reliable extrapolations.
Why would this be so? Well, to begin with, the very largest spiders are pretty near the same size as the very smallest vertebrates. (Note that I'm including ALL spiders here, not just tarantulas.) While there is clearly some overlap, the two groups are largely an order of magnitude or more different in size. That clearly opens the door for huge differences, among them being the possible effects of obesity. But, we've little in the way of parallel examples, almost no experience, and certainly no research on which to base any judgements.
Another important issue is the fact that tarantulas are ambush predators. In the wild their food supply is extremely unpredictable, and fraught with long periods of hunger. They've evolved to be able to endure extremely long periods of fasting, even starvation; and still survive handily. And, they seem to have evolved the ability to accumulate huge amounts of excess food into important storage reserves for those times. While it certainly hasn't been proven, it's just possible that any injurious effects of obesity are more than offset by its other, more important, survival value in nature.
But, what about obesity in captivity? Perhaps only because of our ignorance, it appears that captive tarantulas may not suffer severe health problems from obesity. But then, we know very little about what kills them in captivity in almost any circumstances! Our ignorance is truly vast.
It should go without mentioning that tarantulas will suffer great physiological stress during times of extreme starvation. But, few enthusiasts appreciate the levels of starvation that these spiders can achieve and survive. For instance, the longest that any tarantula has been reported to fast and still survive seems to be slightly more than THREE (3) YEARS! However, because these reports are unverified, anecdotal comments made on the Internet, we must still retain some level of skepticism. Precise dates for the last time food was accepted and the precise date on which the tarantula resumed eating would be a big boon to the argument. Any who read this essay and who may be able to volunteer such data are encouraged to contact the authors.
One of the more remarkable cases of fasting concerns Grammostola rosea, the Chilean rose tarantula. The interested reader is referred to our webpage on that topic.
As with starvation, physiological stress from dehydration should be an obvious entry on our list. Tarantulas become dehydrated for any number of reasons, but the good news is that we can treat them for most such causes. The interested reader should read Humidity... and The ICU for much more information.
If tarantulas are allowed to get too warm they, like humans, suffer physiological stress, and quite unexpectedly, tarantulas' high temperature limits are very close to ours. For some reason, we both seem to be operating close to our upper limits. The interested reader is directed to Temperature... for further comments.
The obvious solution to the problem is to cool the tarantula down.
Tarantulas are able to tolerate cool and cold a lot better than excessive heat. But, when the temperature around them drops lower than the 50° F (low teens C) range or lower, we suspect they may become stressed. The only solution used at the present time is to SLOWLY warm them up to the appropriate temperature and watch them. If they show signs of weakness or disorientation, placing the tarantula in an ICU for a few days might be helpful.
As with heat stress, the interested reader is directed to Temperature... for further comments.
A large number of New World tarantulas posses special bristles on the top rear of their abdomens (the formal name is opisthosoma) called urticating bristles. (No Old World tarantula possesses urticating bristles or displays a bald spot.) These urticating bristles are only very loosely attached and are lost quite easily. This loss produces a bald area through which the tarantula's fatty tissue and even the rear end of its heart may be seen. (Look for a small gray area under the forward edge of the bald spot.) During the molting cycle in the stage called premolt this bald area, normally tan in color, will usually turn very dark brown to black as the new exoskeleton and its included new bristles acquire their coloring pigments, and if the end of the heart was visible during intermolt it will now become completely hidden. Depending on the age of the tarantula this precedes the actual molt by a few days to several weeks, with babies molting much more quickly than very old individuals.
These bristles are so loosely attached that almost any disturbance or physical contact will loosen them and they will waft away in local air currents. And, because the tarantula flicks these bristles into the air around it when startled, if it feels threatened, or even if it simply feels a little nervous or overwrought, many if not most such tarantulas sport such bare spots. Thus, while disturbance may prompt a tarantula to flick or kick the urticating bristles into a little cloud around them, this is definitely not the only reason or way that a tarantula may lose those bristles. And most certainly their loss does not necessarily indicate that a tarantula is experiencing great or undue stress.
In a nutshell, the bald area is entirely normal and unimportant except as a harbinger of the next molt.
AND, CASUAL STRESS TOO IS A NON-ISSUE!
Mark Thomas' photo is remarkable for a number of reasons besides its characterization of unbridled malevolence.
This is truly an exceptional photograph!
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This page was initially created on 2012-November-19.
The last revision occurred on 2013-July-04.
Copyright © 2012, Stanley A. Schultz.
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