You wake up one morning to find there are TWO tarantulas in your T’s enclosure and freak out a little before realising it’s just an old exoskeleton! What now? Should you leave it for your T to enjoy as a snack or remove it?
Do tarantulas eat their molt? Most tarantulas do not eat their molt, however, some may end up consuming parts of it, especially the stomach and book lungs. It comes down to the individual tarantula as well as the suitability of the enclosure for the species of tarantula you own.
Tarantulas are still somewhat of a mystery as not a lot of research has been done on what makes them the fantastically creepy creatures they are. Luckily, hobbyists who’ve spent years observing their pet tarantulas are eager to share their experience and knowledge with the interwebs.
Read on for some anecdotal evidence, much speculation and a sprinkle of science about tarantulas eating or not eating their molt.
Why Would A Tarantula Want To Eat Its Old Skin?
The two main reasons why your T may munch the exoskeleton it just shed are nutrients and water.
Molting is a very intense and tiring activity for tarantulas. They have to bust out from the inside and to do this, a lot of physical exertion is needed. The tarantula’s heart rate increases to pump hemolymph (tarantula’s blood) from its abdomen to the cephalothorax.
That pressure then expands the cephalothorax causing the exoskeleton to crack.
Now comes the workout; the tarantula has to flex its muscles continuously until it is free from the old exoskeleton.
And, even after all this, a process that can take anything from a few hours to a day or more, the tarantula goes through a growth spurt while the new exoskeleton is still flexible.
No wonder your T may be craving some exoskeleton after molting, I feel tired (and hungry) just thinking about it.
What makes the old exoskeleton a little more appetizing is the fact that it is made up of layers of cuticle that contain various proteins, chitin, and some sugar – perfect to replenish the T’s lost energy.
Oh, and don’t forget moisture. If the enclosure the tarantula lives in is not humid enough for the species’ needs, the T will get dehydrated.
This can have a serious impact on your tarantula’s chances for a successful molt and can lead to your T getting stuck. But, since we’re talking about your T eating its molt, let’s assume it was hydrated enough to break free from its old exoskeleton and is just thirsty afterward.
Fun fact: A tarantula secretes molting fluid between the old exoskeleton and the new one. This fluid is then later reabsorbed by the T.
Tarantulas have a handy mouth
Another reason you may see your T ‘eating’ its molt is because it’s not actually consuming it but just compacting it to move it. Tarantulas use their fangs as hands.
Yes, they also use their pedipalps but ultimately, their fangs are their true hands – just look at them when they move substrate. So, it is easy to see how one can mistake compacting of the exoskeleton with the consumption of it.
The mouth is the only way tarantulas can compress its old skin and get it in a more manageable shape to move it out of the way.
Why Don’t Most Tarantulas Eat Their Molt?
Imagine feasting on a handful of short, itchy hairs. No thanks! And that is precisely why most Ts will drag their old exoskeleton to some far corner in the enclosure rather than eat it.
Remember, tarantulas (well, the New World ones) have urticating hairs they use as a protection mechanism. They flick these hairs at predators, aiming for sensitive areas like the eyes, nose, and mouth.
I can’t imagine why a T would be desperate enough to eat the whole of its old skin, including these hairs and put itself through discomfort meant for those that pose a threat.
Another belief of hobbyists is that the soft and juicy parts of the old exoskeleton will be dried out by the time the T is ready to eat it and therefore won’t help rehydrate the tarantula after its molt.
This opinion is highly plausible as tarantulas spend quite some time recovering from molting – they don’t get up straight away to look for a snack. In fact, tarantulas have to wait for their new exoskeleton to harden somewhat before they can get up and move around.
A tasteless tarantula dispute
Are you ready for contradiction? Some tarantula enthusiasts say the old exoskeleton has no nutritional value at all. Hey, I warned you that the world of tarantulas is one filled with speculation and uncertainty.
According to some hobbyists, the proteins, chitin, and sugar contained in the cuticle of the old exoskeleton are digested by the molting fluid that is secreted between the old and developing exoskeleton.
So, what you’re left with is a substance with no nourishment and no taste, and who would want to eat that?
What To Do With Your Tarantula’s Molt?
Well, that is completely up to you and your tarantula. If you’re not sure if your tarantula will all of the sudden develop a craving for some exuviae, leave the molt in the enclosure for a day or two.
That way you will give nature time to run its course and your T can ‘decide’ if it will benefit in any way from eating its old skin or if it will make a nice decorative element in the enclosure.
If your tarantula shows no interest in the molt, it will be beneficial to remove it so grab a pair of tweezers and take it out.
Top tip: If you use your hand, make sure to wash it afterward as the urticating hairs will get stuck to it. Rubbing your eyes and getting these hairs into your eyes will be very uncomfortable!
After removing the molt from your T’s enclosure you can throw it away or do something cool with it like preserving it and putting it out on display. If you know your tarantula has no taste for the exoskeleton, you can grab the exoskeleton as soon as your T is done molting.
This way, it will still be fairly soft and pliable, making it easy for you to lay out on a soft surface to position the legs correctly. Let it dry and there you have it, a tarantula exoskeleton to add dramatic flair to your décor.
This is also a nifty way to track your tarantula’s growth and will make it easy when you want to show off your T kids to your friends like all proud tarantula parents always want to do!
Okay, so the abridged answer to the question of whether tarantulas eat their molts is: No. The old exoskeleton is not a delicacy that most tarantulas enjoy but you may get an oddball here or there that will eat their molt.
Of course, if they’re actually eating it or just compacting it to move it around is something we’ll never know.