Not the way I wanted to begin my Friday evening.
For the past several weeks, I have been keeping an eye on my Heterothele villosella (Tanzanian Chestnut Baboon) sling, as its behavior after a recent molt had become abnormal. I had received this wonderful little tarantula as a freebie several months back, and it immediately impressed me with its vicious appetite and beautiful webbing. Like many of my Ts, this one would only refuse food while in premolt.
My H. villosella, alive and well, after a recent molt. Despite only eating twice, its abdomen was still remarkably plump.
Well, after this specimen refused a meal about two months ago, I assumed it was in premolt. Sure enough, it emerged after a week of hiding a little bit larger and sporting fresh colors. As this particular sling was usually ravenous after a molt, I offered it a small cricket, which it took no problem. Another cricket was offered a few days later with similar results. She was back to eating well.
I dropped the third cricket in about two weeks after she emerged from her last molt, and I was surprised to find the cricket alive and kicking the next morning.
I waited a few more days before offering another cricket. This, too, was rejected. Now, I’ve had many tarantulas change their eating habits after a recent molt, so I wasn’t particularly concerned yet. I made sure to wet down part of the substrate in the enclosure to keep the humidity up, and waited another week to try again. Again, no dice. Despite being a great eater in the past, this T had inexplicably stopped eating, and during the warm months of summer when even my most picky specimens were ravenous.
More odd behavior.
About three weeks ago, my H. villosella started spending a lot of time out in the open. For the first six months I had this spider, I rarely saw it out of its heavily-webbed den, and when I did, it was usually in the early morning after I turned the lights on. The slightest bump would send it scurrying back inside its burrow.
However, this T was now out all the time and wouldn’t flee even when I picked up its enclosure. In many ways, I found this new behavior more alarming than its lack of appetite. I was pleased, however, to see that despite having only eaten twice, its abdomen was actually fairly plump.
I also noticed this T dragging its abdomen on the ground and on the side of the enclosure. I first thought that it was just webbing, but there didn’t seem to be any webbing coming out of it. The H. villosella was also using its back legs to rub its rear, something that didn’t seem particularly worrisome by itself, but proved concerning when added to the other odd behaviors.
With little I could do, I kept sprinkled water on the side of the enclosure daily to give it something to drink and kept it under close observation. It continued to hang out in the open, and this once speedy little spider was much more sluggish and calm.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t able to recover.
When I arrived home from work yesterday, I was saddened to find the little guy in a partial death curl. As a precaution (it is sometimes difficult to determine if they are truly dead), I put it into an ICU to see if it might be “revived”. While moving the T, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. The area around its anus was caked with bit of white stool. Also, there was a white “plug” partially protruding from it.
My H. villosella sling in an ICU. Unfortunately, it did not make it.
Suddenly, it seemed more clear as to what probably happened to this unfortunate T. I had read about other keepers losing tarantulas to fecal impactions, but I had never experienced it myself. An impaction occurs when the Ts anus becomes blocked, prohibiting it from evacuating its waste.
In some of these instances, the T will essentially eat itself to death as the waste compounds inside it until it dies. In some instances, the animal stops eating after a molt, yet it’s abdomen remains large and bloated. In this instance, it’s suspected that a complication with the molt causes the issue. Other symptoms reported are sluggishness and unusual grooming of its backside, especially around the anus.
When a tarantula is showing signs of a fecal impaction, there is little a keeper can do. Some recommend using a paper towel or cotton swab moistened with warm water to try to wipe away and loosen up any feces that may be blocking the anus. In my case, I don’t know if this would have worked due to the very small size of the specimen.
I checked on the T this morning to see if its condition had improved over night, but it was in the same position it had been in the night before. Unfortunately, it had passed. Can I be positive that it was a fecal impaction that killed it. No. However, I have made no changes in husbandry in the last six months, and it had been healthy and seemingly thriving until its last molt, so I’m convinced it wasn’t something I did. It also displayed many of the common symptoms of an impaction, which lend more credence to the theory.
A dead H. villosella sling. Notice the white around the anus, and the yellowish spot that formed beneath the corpse (likely feces loosened by the moist towel).
For those who may fear that they have a tarantula suffering from this malady, I will list the symptoms my T exhibit in hopes that it helps in identification.
Symptoms that indicated fecal compaction:
- Diminished appetite (food refusal)
- Plump, hard abdomen (even after not eating much)
- Dragging abdomen and rubbing it on substrate without laying web
- Excessive grooming of anus area with back legs
- Sluggishness and decreased activity
- White “plug” protruding from anus
- White stool around anus