Do Tarantulas Have Venom? Science, Handling, Tips

Hairy tarantula close-up

One of the most important questions any tarantula owner has is are they venomous?

Tarantulas do have venom. They use their venom to paralyze their prey, before killing and then eating it. Tarantula venom is designed to work on small animals either the same size as the tarantula or smaller. Therefore, tarantula venom is harmless to humans.

Of course, there is lots going on with this question, and I’m going to examine all the aspects of it that you need to know about. That means the science behind the venom, and also how you should handle your Tarantula.

After all, you probably want to know if their venom could ever potentially cause you a problem as well, don’t you?

So, let’s get stuck into learning everything there is to know about Tarantula venom.

The Basics of Tarantula Venom

A Tarantula is going to use its venom to paralyze its prey before it then kills, and consumes it. This is nothing unusual in the world of spiders. It’s the most common way in which a spider will be able to kill something. Without venom, the spider would struggle to survive, so they have sort of perfected the art of killing in this way.

Spider venom is designed to help the spider kill something that is around the same size as the spider. That does affect the power of the venom to a certain extent, and it’s one of the main reasons why the venom from your pet Tarantula is not going to pose any problems for you. However, we are going to look into their venom and what it does to us later on.

To better understand things with the venom from a Tarantula, let’s quickly look at the way in which a Tarantula hunts down its prey.

The Hunting Method

A Tarantula doesn’t spin a web in order to catch its food. Instead, it needs to hunt things down and then kill them by basically ambushing things in the dark.

They actually set up what is effectively a trip wire that some potential prey can trigger to alert them that they are there. At that point, the Tarantula quickly determines if this is something they can capture and kill before they go out to grab whatever has walked on by.

But then there’s the catch itself.

A Tarantula uses its massive fangs and front legs to catch the prey in what is quite a powerful grip for a spider. The prey is going to be unable to get away from this grip, and it’s at that point the Tarantula sinks its fangs into the body of whatever it has caught.

When it does this, venom comes down through the fangs from the venom glands, and is injected into the prey. This venom is going to paralyze the prey and make it impossible for them to move. At the same time, they do then cover their victim in a digestive enzyme, and that takes things to a whole new level.

This digestive enzyme is going to pretty much dissolve the body of the prey. It helps turn it into something that is quite mushy, and the Tarantula is then going to drink up this strange soup like substance in order to devour the prey.

However, throughout all of this it wouldn’t be possible without the venom.

The Science Behind the Venom

Scientists have discovered that the Tarantula produces a powerful neurotoxin venom. That means it attacks the nervous system, and that’s what actually manages to paralyze the prey.

It’s because it’s a neurotoxin venom that it can potentially cause us problems, but snake venom is also generally a neurotoxin, but venom from a snake is far more potent and powerful than what you get from a Tarantula.

It’s also key to mention that the quantities of venom that a Tarantula can produce will also be relatively small. The venom is designed to kill something around the same size, or smaller, than the Tarantula itself. In that context, the venom is amazing.

However, it’s not designed to kill something that’s the size of a human. The Tarantula has no desire or wish to do that because it doesn’t see us as prey. Instead, we are something to be avoided, so they wouldn’t waste their precious venom on us, unless they are terrified.

One important point to make is that the National Institute of Health doesn’t even see Tarantula venom as being particularly dangerous. [Source] Hopefully that knowledge will give you some confidence that you won’t run into problems should your pet Tarantula bite you.

Where Does the Venom Come From?

But you may wonder a bit more about where the venom is coming from? Well, it’s their chelicerae that holds they key. Their chelicerae is where the venom glands are stored, and then there are tiny holes in the fangs that allows the venom to emerge.

This is similar to snakes, but the chelicerae also contain muscles that contract when the venom is being injected. This increases the force at which the venom is pushed into the prey, so the Tarantula is capable of injecting a large amount of venom in a short period of time.

Of course, when we say a large amount of venom, it’s all relative to the size of the spider and what it’s trying to kill. We are talking about just a few little drops of venom, but when it’s being injected into a small insect, then those few drops overwhelms their body in an instant.

But let’s move onto what happens with you and Tarantula venom.

Mexican red-kneed tarantula

Tarantula Venom and Us

So, what happens to us and if we come into contact with Tarantula venom? Well, the good news is that you really do have nothing to worry about with any part of this.

The venom that comes from a Tarantula is not going to kill us. It’s actually weaker than the venom in a bee sting, so that gives some indication as to how it may affect you. Basically, it’s going to do not very much at all. [Source]

Also, remember that the fangs of a Tarantula will find it difficult to penetrate through your skin to then inject the venom in the first place. However, if that did happen, then it doesn’t mean you are in any kind of danger. The volume of venom, along with how weak it is in comparison to other animals, means that most people will not even be aware of having venom injected into their body.

But that’s not the case for everyone.

Instead, there is a chance that you could have some form of mild allergic reaction. The area may become irritated and inflamed in the same way as it does if a bee stings you. That sort of thing has happened to most people at some time in their life, and the outcome is never really a problem.

For some people, they may experience a mild fever and nausea. It’s worth noting that these reactions are very rare, but that’s not to say that they will never happen.

Actually, the main problem with a Tarantula is not with the venom. It’s to do with the hairs that the Tarantula may throw at a potential attacker in order to ward them off. The hairs are irritating and can cause more of an allergic reaction than the venom.

That alone tells you how you needn’t worry about anything if a Tarantula did indeed manage to bite you.

Handling Your Tarantula to Avoid the Venom

As we just said, even though the venom is not that harmful to us humans, that doesn’t mean it will not have some sort of impact. The best approach is to make sure you handle your Tarantula in the correct manner to reduce the chances of anything happening.

Of course, you need to be careful. It’s also best to allow your Tarantula to really take the lead, as this lets you know if they are in the mood for this type of interaction. Misreading how they feel is often the main reason why the owner ends up being bitten, or having those hairs thrown over them, so try your best to not fall into this trap.

Picking Up Your Tarantula

To begin, be aware of how to correctly pick up your Tarantula. Grip them quite securly between their second and third pair of legs. Use your thumb and forefingers to pick them up.

If you do this quickly, then your Tarantula is going to stop moving. That is their instant reaction when they suddenly realize all of their legs are up off the ground. It is a scary time for them, so don’t be too hasty in dealing with them.

Another option is to use the palm of your hand, and this is the method you tend to see in the media. This will involve you coaxing your Tarantula to walk onto the palm of your hand before you then lift it up off the ground.

If you plan on using this method, please make sure your hand is always below your Tarantula. They will often move around slightly, so you may need to move your hands accordingly. Be prepared to have both hands free as they could go for a walk around, and you want them to feel secure enough in your grip to do so.

But one quick point.

Even though you may think it’s fun, don’t allow your Tarantula to walk all over your body. Keep them in your hands as it gives you more control, and there’s also less chance of them falling off. Remember, a fall will often be fatal for a Tarantula, so don’t put them into that sort of dangerous position.

Why They Would Bite You

So, let’s quickly examine why your Tarantula would bite you as it can, and does happen.

The first reason is probably due to the fact that most Tarantulas are not going to enjoy being picked up and handled. Sure, you see clips and images of them being handled, but most prefer to be left alone.

They can feel as if they are being attacked and become stressed when being handled. It then becomes almost an instant reaction for them to lash out as all they want to do is to get away and back to safety.

A Tarantula is only ever going to bite when it is feeling under threat in some way. They will not do it just because they feel like it, that’s not in their nature. As long as you do not create an environment where they feel threatened, then the chances of them biting you will be quite low.

So, if you do need to pick them up, then you need to take some time to assess their current mood. That will allow you to determine if this is the right time, or if they should be left to their own devices.

But then, you need to understand how to identify when your Tarantula is perhaps not as happy as they should be.

How to Know When Your Tarantula is Not Happy

So, you have started to handle your Tarantula, but be aware that not every Tarantula will be happy with this at any point, and you want to know how to identify when they are not happy. Well, there are a few tell-tale signs that are worth looking out for.

The first thing your Tarantula is going to try to do when they are not happy is to retreat from the situation. They will try to walk off and get away from whatever is worrying them. If that involves you handling them, then be prepared to let them get back onto the ground or into their enclosure where they can feel safe once again.

If this doesn’t do the trick, then they will rear up in a threatening position in order to throw those hairs at you. Even though it may not sound like much, they are very annoying and irritating. Also, you may get a skin reaction.

Should you encounter your pet Tarantula in this pose, then back off. They don’t want to actually go ahead and throw those hairs at you. It leaves a bald spot on their body, and that’s not a good look for them to have.

If You Are Bitten

But what happens if your pet Tarantula bites you? Well, the first thing is to remember that the chances of it becoming something serious will be low. However, if you want to play it safe, then you need to carry out a few simple steps.

You should begin by cleaning the area with some kind of antiseptic. This will reduce the chances of some sort of bacteria or infection taking hold, as that’s going to be the biggest problem you are likely to face.

Be aware that the area where you were bitten may throb a bit for a short while, and it may become slightly red. However, this really should not last long until everything settles down, and the bite becomes nothing but a memory. You may also want to add a cold compress to the site of the bite. That should be enough to prevent any swelling from appearling.

But if you are concerned about the bite, then you shouldn’t leave it alone. This is more for your own peace of mind, rather than the expectation that something could go wrong. One thing we should say is that you may wish to seek medical attention if you know you are allergic to bee stings. While there’s no guarantee that something will happen, it does increase the chances of some sort of reaction.

You Have Nothing to Worry About

Overall, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to venom from your pet Tarantula. (Source) The chances of it causing you any problems are so small that they are simply not worth worrying about.

Remember that their venom is weaker than that in a bee sting, and people don’t generally stress about that sort of thing on a regular basis. That’s not to say that nothing will happen. There is that very small chance that some individuals will have a reaction. But that’s generally not the case for the overwhelming majority of the population.

However, their venom is powerful when it comes to killing their prey. You can watch it in action when you feed them in their enclosure, as they will always use it in order to paralyze their prey. It really is an amazing thing, and it’s a fantastic way for them to hunt and survive.

But as we said before, if you feel unsure about what’s going on after a Tarantula bite, then do go and get it checked out by a doctor. They will be able to reassure you that there’s nothing to worry about and it will just put your mind at ease.

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