Molting is a very stressful process for tarantulas; knowing that tarantulas can get stuck during a molt makes it a nerve-wracking experience for the T’s owner. Luckily, you’re not completely helpless and there are some things you can do to help your tarantula should it get stuck.
How can I help my tarantula molt? Wet a soft (very important) artist brush or a q-tip and brush or roll over the edge of the old exoskeleton. This will soften the old skin and also provide lubrication for the T to slip out. This is a painstaking procedure and you will need a lot of patience.
Hopefully, you won’t ever need to apply the information you’re about to read in real life, but it is better to arm yourself with knowledge just in case a what-if scenario turns into reality.
Most often, time is of the essence when a tarantula gets stuck in its molt – you don’t want to spend that time frantically googling.
How Do You Know Your Tarantula Is Struggling To Molt?
Firstly, it is important to make a hundred percent sure that your tarantula is actually having a difficult time freeing itself from its old exoskeleton. Since molting is such a demanding exercise for tarantulas, it may just be taking a breather and here you are thinking it is stuck.
To figure out if your T is struggling to molt, here are some things to look out for.
1. If your Tarantula lies on its back
When a tarantula molts it usually lies on its back. If your T is in this position, with its legs stretched out to the sides, do not interfere. In this phase of molting, there is nothing you can do but wait – if you attempt to ‘help’ your tarantula you will only make matters worse.
2. Is there visible progress?
As soon as the carapace pops open, the active molting process has started. From here, everything should run at a constant pace and there should be visible progress.
Your T may take a break, but it won’t be for very long. After a fair amount of time has passed and you can see no progress, it may be time for you to step in and help. I
If it is still a sling (baby T), you can consider taking matters into your own hands about half an hour after nothing visible has happened. For adult tarantulas, you can wait for 2 to 3 hours before you interfere.
Just a note on what you should consider as ‘progress’ – you should visibly see your T getting out of its old skin; the random movement of legs does not count as progress. If you can see even a little bit of progress, do not get involved.
3. Don’t help to early
In general, a T should get at least its chelicerae out before you attempt to help. Stuck chelicerae significantly decrease your chances of success in freeing your tarantula from its old skin.
The front end of a T getting stuck is a very difficult situation, but I would suggest you still try to help your tarantula since it is doomed already.
4. Is your Tarantula molting asymmetrically?
If your tarantula molts asymmetrically, you can be sure that it is having a hard time. So, if you see the legs on one side coming out, but not the other or if the back legs are stuck while the front is free and vice versa, you must immediately try to help.
That being said, I can’t stress enough that you have to be completely certain that your tarantula is having trouble molting. You can’t interfere just because the process looks a little ‘off’ – you will do more harm than good.
How To Help Your Tarantula Molt
After establishing that your tarantula is having a difficult time slide out of its old skin, you have to gather some tools and start helping. I hope you are patient because this will take time and a gentle hand.
Tools You Will Need
Only use soft tools. Yes, some hobbyists may attempt to ‘cut’ a tarantula out of its old exuvia, but it’s not a chance I am willing to take.
There’s less chance of you harming your T if you use small, flat and most importantly, soft tools like these artists brushes (or even brushes used to apply eyeshadow- like these) and q-tips. At times, you may need to use a tweezer, just be extra careful when you do.
You can use a wooden spatula or the back of one of the brushes to gently hold down your tarantula and then follow the below steps to help free your T.
Wet your brush or q-tip and apply water to the edge where the old exoskeleton is stuck. This will soften the old exuvia while also providing lubrication to help your T slide out.
If the T is still small, use slow brush strokes in the direction of the legs. Apply some pressure and make sure to keep your brush wet throughout. Be patient and keep brushing; after a while, you should see the old exuvia sliding off bit for bit.
Important tip: Make sure to use the flat side of the brush – the tips can puncture the newly-molted and thus very soft parts of the tarantula.
If you only realized your T is having trouble molting a day or two after the process started, some parts of the new exuvia may have hardened too much already, and your tarantula may lose a leg or two in the process.
But to the tarantula noobs out there, that is nothing to worry about! Tarantulas are amazing and can grow back limbs – it may take a molt or two.
For larger spiders, the same principle applies but you will need to apply more pressure. If the legs are stuck, wet the edges between the old and new exoskeleton and then gently pull on the tips of the leg – making sure you have a grip on the old exuvia.
If nothing happens, wet the old skin some more and wait, then try again. See why I said be patient? After a while, you will see progress.
As you can imagine, this requires great fine motor skills but even more importantly – confidence. You need the courage to actually do it and not hesitate whenever your T makes the slightest of movements.
Once you’re done with the procedure and your tarantula is just lying there – looking dead – leave it alone! Again, be patient; it most likely is not dead but just recovering and it will start moving again in a few minutes or worst-case scenario, a couple of hours.
Helping your tarantula through a difficult molt is definitely nerve-wracking, but through your efforts – albeit very scary – you can save your T.
Why Is My Tarantula Struggling To Molt?
For you to be able to prevent future bad molts, you need to know why it happened in the first case.
Although you might be ready to blame yourself for creating a sub-standard enclosure for your T, causing a bad molt, you can take comfort in the fact that free-roaming tarantulas also sometimes get stuck when molting.
Although all possible reasons for a bad molt are not known, humidity and overall hydration of your tarantula definitely play a role. When a tarantula molts, fluid gets pushed into the upper body (cephalothorax) by abdominal contractions.
This fluid increases pressure on the already stretched exoskeleton, making it easier for the T to break through where there are weak spots.
If the tarantula is dehydrated, either due to not having water to drink or living in dry conditions, there is not enough fluid to act as lubrication between the two skeletons. This, as you can imagine, may lead to some difficulties.
So, to reduce the chances of your T struggling while wriggling out of its old exoskeleton, make sure your tarantula is living in the best possible environment with the right humidity level for its species.
Once you notice your tarantula enter the pre-molt phase, you can consider upping the humidity levels in its enclosure since it will stop eating in preparation for the molt and food is a T’s main source of hydration.
Important Health Tip: Tarantulas don’t have the lungs to separate moisture for air, so if your T’s enclosure is too hot and wet – causing condensation drops to run down the glass – you are drowning your tarantula. Take it out of the enclosure and dry the substrate out before putting the T back.
That covers all you need to know about helping your tarantula through a difficult molt. If you’re a tarantula noob and you’re not sure what a healthy molt looks like, watch this video of a female Mexican Red Knee shedding its old exoskeleton.
This particular molt took more than three hours but is compressed into less than a minute.