As with the majority of arthropods, in order to grow, tarantulas have to molt, and following I will explain this process.
All arthropods have an exoskeleton, which means that they have a skeleton on the outer part of their bodies, unlike ourselves, who have internal skeletons. This has proven to be a great advantage for arthropods, and the reason why they are the most successful animals in the history, since currently they are the most numerous animals ever to roam the face of the earth.
One of the advantages of having an exoskeleton is that it provides great protection against external factors, such as weather conditions, enemies, conserving internal moisture, etc.
But, what is the great disadvantage of having an exoskeleton? Since it is external and very hard skeleton - made mostly by a protein called chitin that hardens when it comes in contact with the air– does not grow accordingly to the creature’s requirements, so the arthropods have to abandon this shell to make a new one, which, obviously, will be larger than the previous one.
The new shell that was made inside the bug at first is soft, and when the previous exoskeleton is removed, the new one dries and hardens when it comes in contact with the air. Little by little it will take the colors of its owner. Have you ever seen a white cockroach or an albino cricket? Actually, what happens is that they just finished their molting process and have not fully dried yet, so they still has to acquire the colors of their species. Any animal that has just finished molting is extremely fragile at this moment, since its shell is still soft, and it is exposed to the environment and its enemies.
As arthropods, tarantulas also have the need to molt every once in a while, since they need to grow and grow. When will your tarantula be molting? This can vary a lot, since it depends on many factors, such as its feeding regimen, age, temperature, etc. But in general, a 1 to 3 year old tarantula will be molting two to three times a year; a young-adult will be molting once a year; and an adult will do it an average of every two years.
By now, you are probably asking yourself several questions, such as “what should I do if my tarantula is going to molt? How do I know if she is molting, and what should I do?” Following, we will address these issues and provide solutions to help your tarantula if it’s going through a bad change.
Before molting, a tarantula will stop eating, since, besides shedding their exoskeleton, they also shed part of their stomach, and therefore, they can’t digest any food during this process. This lack of appetite lasts a few days and even a few months before molting, depending to the age of your tarantula – the younger she is, the less time it will take. This is why we insist that you do not leave any live prey with your tarantula for more than two days, because if she hasn’t eaten it by then, it is probably going through this process, and if one of these creatures happens upon your recently molted and soft tarantula, the hunter will become the prey. For American tarantulas with urticating hairs, another unequivocal sign that they are about to molt is that the hairs fall off from the opisthosoma, and you can see something black showing through the exoskeleton. These are surely its new urticating hairs.
If your tarantula is molting, don’t worry, you don’t have to do anything. It is better to sit and watch this incredible process. Any distraction can prove deadly to your tarantula, so make sure there is nothing that bothers her, especially vibrations and movements.
It is very important for your tarantula to have clean water available, as we showed you in the section on WATER, since she will need it before and after molting. Contrary to what is said, you do not have to spray her or the terrarium. They don’t need the moisture. They are completely sealed creatures, with no moisture leaks. Otherwise, they would not be able to live in warm, and sometimes very dry, weathers. Moisture might only be needed for baby tarantulas, since it is thought that their bodies are not as well sealed as the young-adults or adults. This is why I do recommend that you keep a baby tarantula’s environment with more moisture.
Fast motion video of the molting process. The real time was 4 1/2 hours.
Some tarantulas molt in their standing position, but most will turn up-side-down and go through the molting process in this position. So don’t worry if you see your tarantula up-side-down. She is not dead. Don´t worry either if you see two tarantulas instead of one, as if cloned. This is only the old skin next to the tarantula showing her brand-new skeleton. Once the tarantula is right-side-up and has moved away, you can remove the old skin from the tank. This video shows the process in detail.
If you want to keep the molt shaped like a live tarantula, just moisten it for about 10 minutes and it will become completely soft and pliable, giving you a chance to shape it any way you want it.
One of the great advantages of some arthropods and all tarantulas when molting is that they have the capability of re-growing any missing limbs. After the first molting, this limb might not be fully functional, but by the next molting, you will not be able to tell the difference. This is truly an amazing process, and sometimes the tarantula needs to self-amputate a limb that was damaged after certain event, severing it herself.
What happens if your tarantula changed its skin and some pieces of the old skeleton are still attached to her? This is very simple, only apply moisture constantly to this area until the previous exoskeleton is soft, and you can carefully remove it. If you find this hard to do, just apply some baby oil with a cotton swab on the area, wait a moment, and try to remove it. Never pull hard, because you could cause irreparable damage to your spider. If you can’t remove it, don’t worry, just leave the piece as is.
When should you feed your tarantula after molting? This is very simple, just wait until her exoskeleton dries. You can be sure of this when her fangs are black again.
In the section of FIRST AID you can get more tips.