How Do I Know if My Tarantula Is in Premolt?

Don’t panic…learn to watch for the signs.

Fewer facets of tarantula keeping can cause more excitement and confusion for the novice keeper than premolt. This is the point where the tarantula usually stops eating for a bit and prepares its body for the stresses of molting its exoskeleton. As part of the joy of keeping tarantulas is experiencing their growth, an impending molt should be a joyous occasion.

However, as many newer keepers aren’t familiar with what premolt entails or looks like, it can also be a confusing situation that leads to worry and stress. Couple this with the fact that premolt periods can drag on for weeks, and you have the makings of a concerned keeper.

Part of the issue is because we have all grown up keeping pets that need to be fed daily in order to stay healthy. So, when our beloved little spider suddenly stops eating for several weeks, years of experience preys on our nerves and the worrying begins. Should I try feeding again? Does she need more water? Is the enclosure too large? Is she sick? Should I dig her out of her den? These are the questions that dog the novice keeper as he watches his pet, waiting for some sign that everything is totally normal.

I went through it myself the first time my little L. parahybana sling suddenly closed off the entrance to its den and buried itself for over a month. I worried that the poor little guy was trapped by a cave-in or had died. Luckily, I chose to leave him alone instead of trying to dig him out, as when he finally reappeared it was with a new exoskeleton and an extra 1/4″ of length.  Since then, I’ve learned to observe and recognize the signs of premolt.

Are you thinking that your specimen might be in premolt? Here are some telltale signs to look for…

1. The tarantula stops eating

This is probably the most obvious and common sign. You’ve been feeding your specimen regularly for several weeks, and suddenly it stops eating. Most species will stop feeding during their premolt period (although there are exceptions) as they prepare their bodies for the arduous process.

That is not to say that a tarantula might not stop feeding for other reasons. The G. rosea is known to fast for long periods of time, even when not in premolt. A stressed tarantula may also refuse food. Therefore, consider some of the other signs as well.

2. The tarantula has a fat, shiny abdomen

Most tarantulas ready for premolt will sport nice, plump abdomens up to 1.5 times the size of their carapace (or even larger for an over-stuffed specimen). If your tarantula has a nice, bulbous booty, and she has stopped eating, chances are she’s in premolt. As the flesh around the area stretches, the abdomen may also appear to be shiny.

The shininess is often more evident in slings than their older, much hairier counterparts. My little G. pulchripes, G. rosea, and L. parahybana slings all get “shiny hineys” whenever they are entering premolt. My P. cancerides slings and juveniles look like little grapes ready to pop when they are in premolt.

A female LP in premolt. Notice the shiny abdomen. This is particularly noticeable as she has kicked all the hair off. Also, the abdomen is very dark.

A female LP in premolt. Notice the shiny abdomen. This is particularly noticeable as she has kicked all the hair off. Also, the abdomen is very dark.

3.The tarantula’s abdomen and overall color darkens.

As the new exoskeleton forms under the old one, the spider will often darken up a bit. This is particularly evident on the abdomen where new hairs can be seen through the stretched skin here. Many of my slings will have a dark spot on their abdomens when in premolt, and it will continue to grow the closer they get to the actual molt. For species that do a lot of hair kicking and therefore have a bald spot, this darkening is especially evident.

G. rosea sling in premolt. Notice the large, shiny, and dark abdomen.

G. rosea sling in premolt. Notice the large, shiny, and dark abdomen.

My L. itabunae in premolt. Notice the shiny abdomen and the dark patch forming .

My L. itabunae in premolt. Notice the shiny abdomen and the dark patch forming .

4. The tarantula becomes slower and more lethargic.

Not all of the indicators are physical; an observant keeper should notice some behavioral changes as well. Besides not eating, most of my tarantulas that are in premolt become less active and often more secretive. Keep an eye on your tarantula, and along with the physical signs listed above, look for a change in behavior. Some of my most hyper species become noticeably sluggish when they are in premolt. For example, my GBBs tend to be fast little buggers who are constantly moving around their enclosures. However, when in premolt, they often become much more sedentary, sitting in one spot and often tucking themselves away behind their cork bark. Speaking of secretive…

5. The tarantula has buried itself in its den.

I frequent the Arachnoboards forum, and there is usually at least a post a week by a concerned keeper who wants to know if his/her buried T is okay. Heck, this is the situation that caused me alarm when my LP buried itself during a molt. Many tarantulas will retreat to their burrows and close of the entrances when entering a premolt period. My LP slings, M. balfouri juveniles, and G. pulchripes slings all bury themselves before a molt. Some things to consider if your T buries itself due to premolt.

They are not in danger.

They will not suffocate.

They have not been buried alive.

They do not need to be rescued.

The tarantula is just looking for some privacy and security during this vulnerable period. The tarantula will reopen its den once is has molted and hardened up. DO NOT freak out and try to dig the poor creature out; you only run the risk of distressing the animal and possibly interrupting its molt.

6. The tarantula has constructed a hammock-like web “mat” in its enclosure.

This web is referred to as a “molt mat”, and it is where the tarantula will flip over on its back when it molts. You may catch your premolt T laying layer after layer of web in a small area, and some of the new world species will actually kick hairs on the web as a form of protection. If you see this behavior, it means that your tarantula is about to molt very soon, usually within a day. For arboreal species, they will sometime build elevated “hammocks” off the ground for their molt mats or seal themselves in their funnel webs. This behavior serves the same purpose.

My female LP during a recent molt. Notice the molt mat on the left hand side of the photo.

My female LP during a recent molt. Notice the molt mat on the left hand side of the photo.

One more thing to remember for those who have not witnessed a tarantula molt…

IF IT IS ON ITS BACK, IT IS NOT DEAD!

That’s right, this is normal behavior; this is the position they get in to molt.

DO NOT touch a spider in this position.

DO NOT flip over a spider in this position.

DO NOT throw away, flush, or bury a spider in this position.

DO NOT blow on it.

DO NOT spray it with water.

DO leave it alone and let it complete the exhausting task of molting in peace. Molting is a natural occurrence for a tarantula, but it is also a period where they are quite vulnerable. Any fiddling with the animal could prove deadly to the T.

Hopefully, the photos and explanations above will help other keepers recognize and enjoy their tarantulas’ premolt without worry. Keep in mind, there is no set time for how long a tarantula can be in premolt. For slings, it can take anywhere from couple weeks to a month. Adult species can often spend several months in premolt. My 3.5″ B. smithi stopped eating and secluded herself for two months before finally molting. Conversely, my 3.5″ L. parahybana female molted two weeks after her last meal. Don’t panic if your animal takes a while; it’s a very natural process, and it will molt when it is ready.

And, for anyone curious as to what a tarantula molt looks like, please check out the following video.

Tarantula Molting in Time Lapse!

Watch my female L. parahybana get a new suit…in fast motion.

As I stated in an earlier post, I’ve had tarantulas molting constantly lately. The warmer weather has definitely sped up those metabolisms, and even my slower-growing species have joined in on the molting fun. It’s been amazing to discover a different T molting about every other day.

When I noticed that my female L. parahybana had turned over on her back for a molt, I decided to try to catch in on video. Having just purchased a new GoPro Hero Black video camera capable of time lapse photography, I scrambled to come up with some type of set up that would allow me to safely record the event without endangering my T. 15 minutes and quite a bit of profanity later, I had it all set up and ready to go.

The molt took approximately 4 hours from her flipping over to the molted exoskeleton being completely free. I set the interval at 60 seconds, which worked, but I will probably use 30 seconds on the next go round. This is the first time I’ve seen one of my tarantulas molt in entirety, and I’m floored.

My 11-year old, who was disappointed he was going to miss the molt due to being away for the week, is going to flip when he sees this…

 

 

 

 

L. parahybana Feeding Video and Husbandry Notes

After 17+ years of keeping a G. porteri, and with no idea that the tarantula hobby had exploded over the past two decades, I decided that I wanted to see what kinds of species were currently available. To say the number of animals available in the trade was overwhelming would be an understatement, and I soon found myself compiling lengthy lists of potential candidates. After several months of research, I decided on two slings; a Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens (GBB) and a Lasiodora parahybana (LP).

I purchased my LP sling in October of 2013 at a size of about 3/4″ or so. This species has a reputation for being a very fast grower with some keepers reporting their LPs reaching 4″ in a year. Mine has molted five times in the time I’ve kept it, and in that time, it has grown to about 1.75″.  I wouldn’t say this is the fastest-growing T I keep, but it molts like clockwork every two months, and puts on a little size each time.

Besides their awesome adult size (8″ is the norm with 10″ possible), it was their rather simple husbandry that attracted me to this species. I keep mine fairly dry and only moisten the substrate in the corner once a week, letting it dry out in between. I’ve provided my 3″ female with a water dish, which I overflow to provide a moist spot. Usually, it quickly ends up filled with dirt. The substrate is a 50/50 mix of coco fiber and sphagnum peat moss, and for the slings, I give them several inches of depth as they like to dig.

For the first five months I kept my LP, I rarely saw it. The little guy had dug an extensive burrow beneath the surface, and he would only pop out to snatch a prey item. There was a two-month period where I never saw it at all. When entering premolt, it would often close off  the entrance of its burrow for weeks at a time. Eventually, the hole would reopen, and I would catch a glimpse of my slightly-larger LP.

I keep my LPs at the same temps as my other Ts; high 70s during the day and low 70’s at night. They are great eaters, only refusing a meal if in premolt. Like my P. cancerides, they usually attack their prey with gusto, often rushing at it from across the enclosure.

As slings, LPs are quite skittish, and will quickly bolt or dash down into their hides with the slightest disturbance. My female is a bit more brave, often sitting right out in the open instead of using her hide.

I know keep three LPs; two slings and the gorgeous female my wife gave me for my birthday. I look forward to the day that these beasties mature into an 8″+ behemoths.

Below is a recent feeding video featuring my 1.75″ juvenile.

L. parahybana – Pre and Post Molt Pics

Mama’s Got a New Fuzzy Suit!

First off, if you haven’t read my earlier post about my L. parahybana female entering premolt, then you may want to check this out.

I’ve been watching this young lady like a hawk since she went dark, and I was hoping that I could get a good photo of her freshly molted. Well, as luck would have it, I actually caught her laying down a molting mat before flipping over on her back. A few hours later, she was standing next to her discarded molt sporting a new skin suit with darker colors.

Besides her new colors (you can now see the salmon hairs that give this little beauty her common name) my little lady picked up about .5/.75″ of length. I will now spend the next few weeks fattening her back up.

My 3" LP female before a molt.

My 3″ LP female before a molt.

Was lucky enough to catch my LP as it flipped on its back for a molt.

I was lucky enough to catch my female LP as it flipped on its back for a molt.

My female LP an hour or so after she completed her molt. Notice the bluish color of her new and not-quite-hardened exoskeleton.

My female LP an hour or so after she completed her molt. Notice the bluish color of her new and not-quite-hardened exoskeleton.

My female LP stretching out in her new exoskeleton.

My female LP stretching out in her new exoskeleton.

My female LP having her first meal after a recent molt. Notice that she now sports the salmon-colored hairs that give the LPs the common name "Salmon Birdeaters"

My female LP having her first meal after a recent molt. Notice that she now sports the salmon-colored hairs that give the LPs the common name “Salmon Birdeaters”

This is easily one of my favorite species of tarantula, and every molt is just a thrill. I’ll be looking very forward to watching her grow into the 8″ to 9″ beast she’ll eventually become.