Many people are quick to recoil at the sight of tarantulas but taking the portrayal of these big and beefy spiders in the movies into consideration, it is no wonder. Then again, most tarantulas actually make sweetie pie pets with their docile nature.
Do pet tarantulas bite? Pet tarantula bites are very rare since tarantulas are hesitant biters; when given a choice between attacking or retreating, most tarantulas draw back and find a place to hide. Tarantulas are actually some of the least aggressive and dangerous spiders out there.
Tarantulas are fascinating creatures, but to those unfamiliar with having these hairy spiders as pets, it’s easy to believe that Ts are dangerous and best left crawling around in the jungle. Although that assumption seems reasonable, the reality is very different.
Tarantulas Are Docile
The words skittish and docile are often used to describe tarantulas by those in the know. These timid creatures, despite their frightening reputation, are more likely to run and hide than attack you.
Think about it, if you were confronted by a giant predator, and I am talking huge – 100 times or more your size – would you be crazy enough to attack it? Nope, didn’t think so.
You will most probably run as fast as you can and find a place to squeeze yourself in where it can’t get to you. It’s a case of choosing your battles.
Of course, when you’re cornered with nowhere to run or hide, that is when you’ll put up a fight. Same goes for tarantulas; it may show some hostile behavior at times but attacking is the absolute last resort.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that spiders willy-nilly bite whatever gets in its way. False. Spiders and I am not just talking about tarantulas here, in general, never bite humans unless, as mentioned above, the spider is protecting itself.
Can you blame the little guy for taking a bite when it gets stuck on the inside of your shoe under your foot?
When it comes to tarantulas, it’s best to look and not interact. I know this is a hot-button topic as a lot of people who get Ts as pets want to show off how courageous they are for letting such a creepy creature walk over them.
But, too many bad things can happen when you handle your tarantula and it biting you is the least of your worries.
Remember up there where I said the words skittish and tarantula go hand in hand? Well, a nervous and panicky T is more likely to bite. In fact, most bites occur when a T got spooked while being handled, bolted and the owner frantically tries to catch or pick up the edgy tarantula.
Fundamentally, tarantulas are solitary animals without any desire to socialize – with their own kind and especially not with humans – so it is my belief that leaving them be will keep them calm and prevent any opportunities for bites.
How To Avoid Getting Bitten By Your Tarantula
Tarantulas are basically houseplants with legs – until they aren’t. They usually don’t do much unless they’re exploring their enclosure, feeding or molting, but should you mistreat them, their fangs will come out (although they’re never put away to begin with, but you get what I’m saying).
Building on the previous section, the easiest way to avoid getting bitten by tarantula is by staying out of biting range of a tarantula’s fangs.
Tarantulas don’t gain anything from being handled; they don’t form a bond or feel affection for their keepers and thus won’t want to curl up and cuddle. This hands-off policy lessens your chance of getting bitten drastically.
When it comes to feeding, moving things in the enclosure or filling the water bowl, use equipment like long tongs to make sure you don’t get too close to biting distance.
Basically, the best way to never get bitten is to not out yourself in that position in the first place.
- Don’t use your bare hands. Use tongs during enclosure maintenance, and if you have to use your hands, gloves may be a good idea. This will not only help prevent punctures when bitten but will also make sure that loose urticating hairs don’t get stuck to your flesh, causing irritation.
- Don’t handle your tarantula. They’re like hairy fish with legs – there to be looked at but not touched.
- Use enclosures with a big enough opening to get your tools and hand in without the possibility of getting stuck when you have to take it out quickly.
- Learn to read tarantula body language. If you see your tarantula is agitated or stressed, don’t go poking around. That is just asking for trouble. Rather wait until the T calms down.
- Make sure you know where your tarantula is before opening and working in the enclosure. You don’t want to startle it.
Signs that your tarantula is getting ready to strike
As mentioned above, reading a tarantula’s body language will help you know when it is safe to get close (if you have to). When your tarantula is relaxed, you’ll be able to do some maintenance on the enclosure without it sticking its fangs into you.
1. A relaxed state
When your T is chilled, you will find it on the ground with its legs slightly bent. Your tarantula may even be catching some z’s when you see it in this position.
But be warned, even the slightest ruckus may startle your T, and what do we know about tarantulas that are in a state of shock? They tend to go into defence mode.
2. First warning position
If your tarantula is mildly annoyed because you just interrupted its laid-back vibe, it will tense and raise one or two legs. This passive defensive stance can be considered as a first warning.
Now is the time to rethink if you really need to remove the gunk in the corner of the enclosure that’s been bugging you for days.
3. Agitated much?
If your tarantula raises its first two legs, extends its pedipalps fully in the air and lifts its thorax, it means business. This threatening stance is usually a precursor to a bite.
If I were you, I would get my hand as far away from its fangs as possible because if you were to continue approaching, you’re likely to feel a sting.
- Interesting fact: Old World tarantulas are more likely to bite than New World tarantulas. This is because the oldies from Africa and Asia do not have urticating hairs to use as a defense mechanism.
4. Shooting time
When your T directs its back legs at you and proceeds to rub it against his abdomen, things are about to get itchy. New World tarantulas have urticating hairs they use as a means of defense.
These hairs are meant to enter the eyes, nose and mouth of a predator and cause a stinging sensation. It won’t do much more than cause some itching and a slight rash on your hand, but should you rub your face and get it into your eyes, the irritation can be severe.
Here is a cool video that shows what signs to look out for to see if your tarantula is about to attack.
Are Tarantulas Venomous?
Yeah, their bites are venomous but can typically be compared to that of a bee sting’s toxicity. The bite of most species will cause a local reaction such as swelling, stiffness, redness and some pain.
Although there is not even one verified case of human death by tarantula bite, some species do have stronger venom that can make you ill.
And, if you’re quick to put two and two together, you’ll be able to predict which are the more dangerous types of tarantula. Yip, you’ve guessed it, the venom of Old World tarantulas are more potent.
Since most tarantulas from Africa and India do not have those nasty hairs to flick at predators, they have to rely on their venom, and that is why it packs more of a punch.
Luckily, most of these species are only available from reputable importers or hobbyists, and they will make sure to tell you that you’re dealing with the big boys now.
- Warning: If you have an allergic or anaphylactic reaction to a tarantula bite, seek medical treatment immediately. Just like with a bee sting, the venom has the potential to be fatal in some cases.
Also keep in mind that although New World tarantula venom may have a mild effect on humans, there’s no telling what effect it will have on other pets like dogs, cats, rabbits, rats and so on.
Scientists have actually only scratched the surface of the properties – even medial uses – of tarantula venom. Let’s hope they get to it quickly!
- Interesting fact: The Fringed Ornamental Tarantula (Poecilotheria) is alleged to have an extremely painful bite.
To read more about the effects of the bites of specific species of tarantulas, here is a bite report from hobbyists that are oddly specific and at times entertaining.
What To Do If Your Tarantula Bites You
Oops, you made your T mad and got rewarded with a fangy kiss. What now?
First things first, stay calm; you’re not going to die. Unless you’re allergic, you won’t experience anything worse than some swelling, itching and mild pain.
Now, follow these steps:
1. Place your tarantula back in its enclosure
This is the first and most important step. If your tarantula bit you, its most likely not in the best frame of mind at the moment and may bolt towards a dark corner somewhere to hide. Trying to find a missing tarantula will be much more nerve-wracking than your bite.
And for goodness sake, don’t panic and throw your T to the floor! That can seriously harm your tarantula and can even lead to death.
2. Treat the bite wound
You want to clean it to prevent infection. Wash the part that got bitten with a disinfectant soap and water and let dry. Apply some antibacterial medicine like Bactine or Neosporin ointment.
If the bite wound really hurts, use some topical treatment that contains pain reliever. Keep the wound clean until it closes.
3. Take some anti-inflammatory medication
There’s no doubt that the venom in the spider’s bite will cause pain and swelling. To help combat this, drink some aspirin or ibuprofen. If the swelling increases and the area around the bite turns red, it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor to check for infection.
Of course, if your tongue immediately starts swelling and your throat closes, and you have difficulty breathing, skip steps one to three and get emergency care right away! Alternatively, use an EpiPen if you have one!
Have a look at the video below on how to treat a tarantula bite.
Can You Train Your Tarantula To Stop Biting You?
Tarantulas are wild animals that can’t be trained or tamed. They also don’t have any desire to please humans. Ts act on instinct, and if you’ve learned anything from what you’ve read so far, if a tarantula bites you, it is feeling threatened.
So, to stop it from biting you, keep it away from your soft fleshy bits.
Throughout this article, I’ve mentioned that tarantulas are best kept as ‘look but don’t touch’ pets.
This is something you have to consider before entering the captivating world of owning tarantulas as pets – if you’re looking for a pet you can train and touch without the fear of it biting you, maybe rather get a dog. Or a rat; I hear they’re trainable!
The main thing is, you can’t train or tame a T. They are too wild and just don’t have the cognitive ability to understand when you tell it to roll over.
The more docile species, you may say, already come ‘trained’ not to bite. If you’re hellbent on handling your T, get yourself a New World passive-type T that will really have to be pushed into a corner before it strikes.
It’s best to leave the more aggressive species to hobbyists who have no intention of trying to cuddle with a tarantula.