Advertisement Tarantulas sometimes get stuck during molting – it happens, nobody really knows why. Accordingly there are a lot of threads that go “Help, my tarantula is stuck, what should I do?” More often than not the advice is to do nothing because ‘the tarantula knows best how to be a tarantula’. I think this advice is fundamentally wrong. If the tarantula is really stuck in a molt it has already exhausted all the things it knows how to do and now it’s helpless – and it could use some help. This post is about how to actively help a tarantula that is stuck. The first thing of course is to determine if your tarantula is really stuck or is just resting. Most threads that are posted asking for help with a prolonged molt are posted too late. If your tarantula has been stuck for a day or two and is already starting to harden than there’s nothing you can do anymore except watch your tarantula die in the worst case scenario or lose some legs. If your tarantula is experiencing problems you should start to help as early as possible. So, the question of all question: How do you know if your tarantula is running into trouble with its molt? 1. A molting tarantula usually turns onto its back. As long as it’s lying on its back, legs lying flaccidly and nearly stretched out to the sides, not moving, DO NOT INTERFERE, at all. This period can last minutes (small slings) to even days in old adult tarantulas. In this phase there’s nothing you can do anyway and everything you do will make matters worse, even if your tarantula does have problems. 2. The actual, active molting process starts with popping the carapace. As soon as the carapace has popped there should be nearly constant movement and visible progress. Yes, a tarantula may take a rest, but that rest shouldn’t take too long. If you don’t see any visible progress in a reasonable amount of time you should consider helping. That ‘reasonable’ amount of time depends on size and age of the spider. In a small sling I’d start helping after about half an hour of nothing happening whereas with an adult I’d wait 2 to 3 hours before interfering. Waving the legs around a little does not count as progress – you should really see the spider getting further out of the old exuvia, at least a little. If even a little progress is visible in that time, do not interfere! 3. Generally, a spider should have gotten at least its chelicerae out successfully before you start to help. If the chelicerae are stuck your chances of helping successfully decrease significantly. Please, be aware that the sucking stomach needs to molt, too, so if the front end of your tarantula is stuck it is in a very difficult and dangerous situation. If I can see clearly that the carapace has popped but there is no further progress even after several hours I’d probably still try to help since the tarantula is doomed at that point anyway, but I’ve never been in that situation and I don’t know if help is even possible. 4. A sure sign of the tarantula having problems is if it molts asymmetrically. If the legs on one side are coming out but not on the other, if the front legs are coming out but not the back legs or, worse, if the back legs are coming out but not the front legs then your tarantula is experiencing molting problems and could do with some help. A note of warning: Make sure the signs are clear and unequivocal! Don’t start interfering in every molt that looks a bit ‘off’!! Onto the second part: How to help a tarantula that is experiencing molting problems (Insert: Using the procedures described below I’ve helped about half a dozen tarantulas or so out of their old exuvias over the years, from a tiny sling attempting its first molt (lost two legs but survived) to a huge male G. actaeon stuck in its maturing molt (survived without even losing a limb). Every single tarantula I helped actually survived. The most difficult was a sling/small juvenile H. caffreriana that attempted to molt upright and got stuck after only getting its chelicerae out. Both its siblings were showing DKS-like symptoms at that point, so illness may have had something to do with its molting problems. I got it out using the methods described below but it was totally flaccid and lifeless. Nevertheless, I kept it sitting on my desk and after two hours it showed signs of coming back to live… it survived and is still alive today.) - Only use soft tools! I’ve heard of people ‘cutting’ a tarantula out of an old exuvia, but I’ve never tried it and I wouldn’t recommend it. My main tools are small, flat, and soft (!!) artist brushes and a small, wooden spatula, like a doctor may use to look into your throat or the wooden handle of the brushes. Other than that I prefer to use my fingers instead of tweezers, unless the tarantula is tiny, because I feel I have more control. 1. Dip your artist brushes in water, they need to be wet. Use one brush to hold your spider in place while you use the other to apply water to the edge where the old exuvia is stuck. This should soften the old exuvia and also provide fluid to help slide the legs out. Then: 2a. If you have a small spider just use slow, measured brush strokes in the direction of the legs to try to help the old exuvia slide off. Be patient, apply a little bit of pressure, keep the brush wet by dipping it in water and keep brushing. After a while the old exuvia should start to slide a little. Be patient and keep brushing. Use the second brush to hold the spider in place. Only use the flat side of the bristles of your brushes. The tips of the bristles can puncture a soft tarantula, so be careful not to impale your tarantula! Use a lot of water, your spider won’t drown. Make sure your spider sits on a soft surface – if I can reach I usually just leave the spider where it is on its molting mat, if I can’t reach I’ve lifted the spider by their legs with my fingers very carefully onto a small stack of wet paper towels. Be patient and keep brushing, if you haven’t waited for too long before you started the old exuvia will come off. If the new exuvia has hardened too much already your spider may lose a leg or two in the process but if you start early enough and are patient enough you spider will come out with all legs intact. 2b. If you have a large spider the principle is the same but you will not be able to apply enough pressure with just two brushes. Use the spatula or wooden handle to hold your spider in place by holding the sternum down. Be VERY careful not to squish your spider or damage the chelicarae. If you tend to be clumsy rather use a larger soft brush. Make sure the sucking stomach is out or can get out when using the spatula!! Otherwise try the handle of your brush at the base of the legs to hold the spider down. Wet the edge between the old and the new exuvia a lot. I then use my fingers to gently pull on the leg tips of the old exuvia. If the legs are still stuck completely be very careful not to squish the tips!! Only pull gently. If nothing happens apply more water and wait. Then try again. Capillary suction will draw water in between the old and the new exuvia and make it easier to slide. Be patient. Apply more water and try again. After a while you will see progress. I got a 7” male G. actaeon out that way that seemed nearly completely stuck. Even the emboli were intact. Now, I know this requires pretty good fine motor skills, but even more important is a lot of patience. It also needs confidence: you need to have the courage to pull on the old exuvia enough to get it to slide off but not enough to rip the legs off. If the spider lies flaccidly on the ground after the procedure and looks dead leave it alone! Most likely it is not dead. It will start moving again after a few minutes or, in bad cases, after a couple of hours. Be patient. Patience is the key.