If you’ve been dreaming of owning a tarantula, you should be mindful that you won’t be able to just pop on over to your veterinarian if your tarantula is ill or dying. It will mostly be up to you to spot the signs that your tarantula is at death’s door and react accordingly.
What are the signs that your tarantula is dying?
1. The tarantula is weak and unable to support its own body weight.
2. Tarantula has a shriveled abdomen.
3. You see a white fluid leaking from the tarantula’s abdomen.
4. The tarantula is curling its legs in under its body.
If you see your tarantula showing any of the above, it is time for you to put on your veterinarian hat and jump into action to see if you can save your T or not. Read on to find out when your tarantula is dying and how to make it its very own ICU where your beloved pet can hopefully recuperate.
4 Warning Signs That Your Tarantula is Dying
As tarantula hobbyists, we do our best to make sure our Ts are kept in optimum living environments, but sometimes, no matter our best effort, tarantulas get sick and die.
Although these creatures are delicate, they are survivors with the ability to regenerate limbs and self-regulate their health without much outside help.
In spite of this, there may come a time when you can clearly see your T is dying and may want to intervene to increase its chance of survival. Below is a breakdown of the four warning signs that your tarantula is dying and what you can do to help.
Interesting fact: Tarantulas do lie on their backs when they die, but you will find them in this position when they are busy molting.
1. Tarantula is too weak to support its own body weight
If you see your usually active tarantula staying in one spot with its body low to the ground for an extended period of time, something is wrong. Likewise, if it is moving around in a sluggish manner, you may be looking at a tarantula that is dying.
But, before you go into a panic, quickly think back to your Ts behavior the past few days to make sure it’s not just in the pre-molting phase.
Here’s a checklist that may indicate it’s time for your tarantula to shed its old exoskeleton.
- Stops eating.
- Acts more lethargic than usual.
- Bald patch develops on tarantula’s abdomen.
- Abdomen looks bigger than usual – like it is ready to pop.
- Colors seem dull.
- Tarantula has spun a mat on the substrate.
After ruling out an imminent molt, you can start to look for any other possible explanations for your Ts weakness. One of the first things to check – its water dish.
You may not actually ever see your tarantula drinking water, but it is an essential element in a tarantula’s enclosure; it provides humidity that ensures your T does not dehydrate.
Tarantulas get most of their water intake from the food they eat, but if its environment is too dry it will become more and more sluggish as time goes by and die.
2. Tarantula has a shriveled abdomen
This is a clear indication that your tarantula is dehydrated, and as you just read, this can be deadly.
Your tarantula may hover over its water dish in an attempt to hydrate itself because its environment is too dry.
If this does not work, the T will start to hunch and curl its legs under its body – this is the beginning of the ‘death curl’ and if you don’t get your tarantula hydrated fast, it will die.
One way to help a dehydrated tarantula is to make it a mini sauna. Take a small plastic container and poke small holes in the lid for air circulation.
Wet some paper towels and place at the bottom of the container, then take your dying tarantula and put it in the tub for 24 hours. You can place the container somewhere warm (but not too hot) to help the water evaporate in the air and hydrate your tarantula.
While your tarantula is getting better in the mini sauna, take the time to correct the humidity in its enclosure; make sure there’s a water dish that’s full, spray the substrate lightly to create extra moisture in the air, and keep the temperature warm enough to ensure vaporization.
3. You see a white fluid leaking from the tarantula’s abdomen
This white fluid is called hemolymph – but we can just call it blood. So, if you see a lot of this fluid, it means your tarantula somehow hurt itself and is bleeding out.
Since ground-dwelling Ts aren’t built for falling, it’s possible that your tarantula may have slipped while climbing up against the glass of the enclosure and fell on something hard – rupturing its abdomen.
You’ll have to act fast to save your tarantula from dying. You can use this superglue or any other superglue you have at home to try to repair a ruptured abdomen. If you don’t have superglue in your house, some tarantula hobbyists use corn starch or Vaseline to clot the wound.
- Interesting fact: Tarantulas can ‘self-amputate’ and shut off blood flow to injured legs.
After gluing your tarantula back together or doing what you can to stop the blood loss, you will have to place your T in a makeshift intensive care unit. Luckily, this DIY ICU is easy to make and will play a big role in your tarantula’s chances of survival.
The ICU you’ll need is exactly the same as the mini sauna I talked about earlier for dehydrated tarantulas; plastic container, ventilation holes, moist paper towels, heat and there you go!
4. The tarantula is curling its legs in under its body
This is probably the most alarming of signs because when your T has reached this stage, there is very little you can do.
When tarantulas are dying, they don’t just stop and die in a normal position with their legs spread or by flopping onto their backs; they slowly start to curl their legs underneath their body, a position coined as the ‘death curl’ by hobbyists.
A lot of the times, newbie tarantula owners will flood forums and message boards with messages of panic when in actual fact, they have nothing to worry about, their T is just molting.
Mind you, I remember when I saw my very first tarantula, a Chilean rose called Chili, on her back. It was awful; I was sure I did something to kill her in the short time I had her.
Thank goodness I knew some more advanced tarantula hobbyists and after laughing at me a good while, they explained what was actually happening.
So, a tarantula on its back is completely okay and should be left to do its thing in peace.
Do not touch it, flip it over, blow on it, spray it with water or bury it in the garden; just leave it.
But if your T is upright with its legs curled under its body, get the ICU ready. A death curl may be a warning sign that action is needed – or it can signify natural death due to age. You will have to think of all the variables and draw your own conclusion.
- Interesting fact: A stressed tarantula will also pull its legs close to its body and over its head. Before intervening, first try to think if something happened to stress your T. You don’t’ want to move it to ICU and cause it even more stress!
Things That Can Lead To Your Tarantula’s Death
We covered dehydration and injury due to a fall earlier in the article but unfortunately, those are not the only dangers your tarantula will face, even while living as a pet and not out in the wild.
Problems with molting
Although this is a process tarantulas go through various times in their life as they grow, it doesn’t mean it always goes smoothly. A tarantula can get stuck in its old skin, become immobile and slowly die. This usually happens due to low humidity in its environment.
There’s not much you can do when this happens because the old skin will be too dry to remove without harming the T. You can attempt to remove the old skin with a soft and damp paintbrush, but success is unlikely.
Another danger tarantulas face during their molt is when uneaten live prey is left in the enclosure. Crickets will no doubt bite a helpless T when it is molting. This will result in death due to a loss of blood.
- Interesting fact: If you can’t help a tarantula, you can humanely euthanize tarantulas by placing them in the freezer. They won’t feel any pain and will go into hibernation until they die.
Mold and fungus
The hot and humid environment tarantulas thrive in is highly susceptible to mold. As soon as you notice any mold, you should clean out the enclosure and replace the substrate. If left as is, the mold will spread to your tarantula’s internal organs and this will lead to death.
If you spot a white or yellow plume on your tarantula, it is a sign of mold on its body. Remove your tarantula from that enclosure and place in a dry container (water dish should be present).
You can place Betadine antiseptic solution on any affected areas and will have to reply for any significant results. If you can’t get Betadine specifically, look for any water-based antiseptic.
In very extreme cases, you can dip the whole tarantula in a 10% solution of alcohol. This is, however, the last resort as it comes with side-effects including dehydration.
These microscopic non-segmented worms can be found in soil around the world. While most species are harmless to your tarantula, some (Steinernema sp.) are dangerous. They transmit bacteria that are lethal to its host.
These worms enter through a small opening and then spreads throughout the entire spider – eventually coming out of the T’s mouth.
One piece of good news is that these worms are rather unusual and if you take the correct procedures, you can limit much of the damage they will do and save your tarantula from death.
Below are some symptoms caused by a nematode work infestation:
- Spinning unusual amounts
- Spending a lot of time at the water dish
- Sweet odor coming from the enclosure
- Tarantula drooling excessively (more than during normal grooming)
- White mass around the mouth
Tumors or abscesses
You may notice a blister-like sore on your tarantula’s abdomen that will progressively get worse. The cause is yet unknown, however, it is always fatal.
Now that you know what the signs are that your tarantula is dying, you can do whatever you can to save your pet.
It’s good to have a basic tarantula first aid kit lying around that include superglue, water-based antiseptics like Betadine, plastic container with ventilation holes, paper towels and a water dish small enough to fit in the tub while leaving enough space for your T.
Remember, if you spot your spider in a death curl, you may still be able to do something – you never know, maybe you rescue your tarantula and it lives to be 21! Cricket cake, anyone?