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From the pages of 'The British Tarantula Society Journal'

First Aid for Your Spiders

Paul Carpenter

If you keep a large number of spiders, there will almost certainly come a time when one of them will have injured itself, and need some sort of attention for it to survive. How you give this attention will make the difference between the spider living or dying. What you do depends on the nature of the injury; a wound that is bleeding will need immediate attention, but if the spider has mites the treatment will take time.

The commonest problem that I see in my own and other peoples spiders is dehydration. The cure is obvious, but prevention is much better. I have said it before but I will say it again; check your spiders as often as you can and if it's too dry give them some water. one of the species that suffers most from this problem is Avicularia avicularia. It was thought to be one of the easiest species to keep at first, but it turns out that they just take a long time to die. If you buy a spider and it dies a year later you are hardly going to blame dehydration if the spider has had plenty of water and high enough humidity for most of that time. The problem is that in the short time the spider has dehydrated either in your care or the previous owners, the damage was done. The result is death, but it may take a while to happen, and during that time the spider will look okay. So take care and check your spiders at least once a week.

The problem next is wounds. Spiders have no coagulant in their blood, and this means even a slight wound will not scab over and can lead to death. Again, prevention is better than cure, so keep sharp objects out of the spiders way, and low-sided tanks are better than high for terrestrial species, because your spider will climb and a fall could cause an injury - usually a broken leg or spinneret. Bleeding wounds should be treated with a non-scented talcum powder applied directly to the cut, and then left alone. Do not try to remove the scab as you will only re-open the wound. Damaged legs or palps should not be treated at all, as the spider will shed these and grow new ones if it needs to. If the wound bled badly, make sure the spider has plenty to drink, and as soon as the bleeding has stopped and the scab has set firm then offer food. This will replace fluids quickly. If the wound is too large to treat and it is obvious the spider is going to die then place it in the fridge for 15 minutes, and then into the freezer. This will end its suffering quickly.

Another common problem is mites, and the species of mite most commonly found is the house dust mite, Glycyphagus domesticus. These are present in everybody's house, regardless of whether they keep spiders or not. Although we like to blame the live-food breeders, and we swear blind that the last batch of crickets sent to us must have been infested, it's not usually the case. House dust mites thrive in warm, humid conditions - just the sort of conditions our spiders are kept in, so that previously almost undetectable populations of mites your home supported explodes after entering your spiders tank.

House dust mites feed on the fungus that grows on damp, decaying organic matter, so if you do not remove all discarded food remnants from your spider tank you will get a mite problem. They are almost impossible to eradicate but easy to control. Small numbers will do no harm, in fact they will help keep your tanks clean. After all, that's their job - they are just one of natures cleaners. So, remove as much of the food remnants as you can and let the mites do the rest.

In the past, mites have been blamed for choking spiders to death. I find this hard to believe. If, on finding a spider dead, you check it over and find mites in and around the mouth parts, it will most likely have died from dehydration, and the mites, also suffering in the dry conditions, gather round the now dead spiders mouth in search of moisture and food If one of your tanks becomes really infested with mites, then you should remove the spider to an empty container, one without any substrate, place a ball of damp cotton wool in with it (this will attract any mites off the spider) and keep it there for a week, changing the cotton wool every day. Clean out the tank and throw the infested substrate.

There is also another species of mite I have noticed on some of my spiders, and this one may be a more serious problem I first saw them on a Pterinochilus affinis, and as I had never seen the like before I assumed they had been imported with the spider. I have no idea of the species or even genus and all I do know is they seem to live on the spider itself. They spend most of their time around the mouth parts of the host but can be found almost anywhere on the body. I am not sure if they just take food particles from around the hosts mouth or if they are blood-sucking, but as long as I keep the numbers low the spiders do not seem to suffer.

These mites should be removed with a paint brush. If you put some Vaseline on the end of the brush all you have to do is touch each mite and it will stick. As long as the spider remains calm it is easy. The mites have a very hard thoracic plate so are quite hard to kill. I tend to pop them between my thumb-nails! I cannot say for sure if these mites are harming the spider. They do not seem to be, and it's not really in the mites interest to kill its host. I do not think the mites life-cycle is tied to that of the spiders. I had a male P. affinis which also had these mites, so I put it with the female. As soon as the spiders began their courtship drumming the mites became agitated and started moving about very quickly on both the male and female. When the spiders joined, the mites quickly passed over, mixing with each other and so spreading the species. In the wild this male could well mate with 4 or 5 different females passing the mites on to all of them.

So, to end, all I can say is mites can be a problem, but only if they are allowed to reach large numbers - so don't let them.

Copyright 'The British Tarantula Society', 1996,2007

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Last Updated: April 17, 2007