The Tarantula “Death Curl”

My A. insubtilis tarantula after succumbing to DKS. It's been flipped on its back, but this is the standard tarantula

My A. insubtilis tarantula after succumbing to DKS. It’s been flipped on its back, but this is the standard tarantula “death curl”.

The “death curl” … What is it?

Perhaps no phrase causes more fear and confusion for those new to the hobby than that of the dreaded “death curl”. I follow several tarantula message boards and at least once a week, a panicked keeper will come on asking how to save his/her dying pets. In some cases, it’s the real deal, and the animal passes away or is saved by quick intervention. In others, photos of the T reveal that the specimen was never in a “death curl” at all, and that the keeper misidentified an innocuous position as something more deadly.

When most tarantulas die, they don’t flop onto their backs as many believe (this is actually a MOLT!), or just stop what they are doing and die in a normal legs spread position. In the majority of instances, their legs curl beneath them in a very unmistakable position, one that hobbyists refer to as a “death curl”.

To see what this looks like, make a spider with your hand by arching your fingers and putting your fingertips on a hard surface like feet. Now, loosely curl in your fingers until your thumb and fingertips are touching and your hand is resting on your third knuckles. Congrats! Your hand is now doing a “death curl”.

My H. villosella sling in an ICU after I found it in a death curl. Unfortunately, it did not make it.

My H. villosella sling in an ICU after I found it in a death curl. Unfortunately, it did not make it.

Now, tarantulas are known to rest in all sorts of strange and sometime awkward positions, and unfortunately, a few of these normal postures can resemble a curl.  Finding a T in this position can throw those new to the hobby into hysterics as they worry that their prized pet is checking out. For example, a stressed tarantula will often pull all of its legs up close to its body so that its knees cover its face and carapace. This position in particular freaks out many a keeper and, unfortunately, usually leads the concerned owner to takes steps (like moving the animal, spraying it, or poking it) that will only lead to more stress.

This tarantula is not in a "death curl", but is bringing it's knees up over its head because it's stressed after a rehousing. A special thanks to Caroline Dellinger for letting me use her photo!

This tarantula above is NOT in a “death curl”, but is bringing its knees up over its head because it’s stressed after a rehousing. A special thanks to Caroline Dellinger for letting me use her photo!

My mature male H, incei gold after dying of old age. Notice how the legs are curled completely beneath his body.

My mature male H, incei gold after dying of old age. Notice how the legs are curled completely beneath his body.

H. incei gold mature male in a death curl. Notice how the legs are curled beneath the animal.

H. incei gold mature male in a death curl. Notice how the legs are curled beneath the animal.

A side view of a death curl (an H. incei gold mature male). Notice again how the legs curl beneath the specimen's body.

A side view of a death curl (an H. incei gold mature male). Notice again how the legs curl beneath the specimen’s body.

The death curl can occur when the tarantula is either too weak from sickness or old age, has sustained an injury leading to the loss of hemolymph (the tarantula’s “blood”), or is dehydrated. If these instances are severe enough, the spider will have difficulty maintaining the pressure required to keep its legs outstretched, and its limbs will start curling in underneath it.

For a tarantula entering a death curl-like position, all hope may not be lost. Although for some specimens, the curl might signify an irreversible, natural death, for others it could serve as a last chance warning sign that action is needed. If you suspect that your tarantula is in the “death curl”, here are a few a few question you should immediately ask yourself:

  • Is the species old or a mature male? Although many species are long-lived, they all eventually die. Also, mature males of many species generally don’t live for too long after their ultimate molts, and some folks are surprised when a seemingly vibrant and energetic adult T suddenly curls up and dies. Many folks also buy supposed adult “female” tarantulas from local pet stores only to discover later that they are matured males on the last legs of their lives. Always take age and sex into consideration first.
  • Has the T been injured? Accidental loss of a limb or a fall from a large height can lead to injury, bleeding, and death. So can a particularly bad molt. Examine the species to see if there is any milky white fluid (hemolymph) leaking from its joints or its abdomen. If so, you can try clotting the wound using corn starch, then put the animal in an ICU (a smaller container with moist paper towels, access to drinking water, and a little extra warmth if possible).
  • Is the animal possibly dehydrated? This is common one, and one that can be prevented or fixed if caught soon enough. A dehydrated spider will begin to go into a death curl as it lacks the fluids to maintain proper pressure.  Slings are particularly susceptible to dehydration as they are not able to hold their fluids as well as their juvenile and adult counterparts. Those who use heat lamps or other direct heat measures on their T enclosures also run the risk of baking the animal, thus dehydrating it. If you suspect your T is dehydrated, get it into an ICU immediately. Most will bounce back after they get some fluids. And if the animal was dehydrated, then its time to reexamine your husbandry.

There are obviously other ailments that can lead to a tarantula death curling (mites and nematodes are sometimes mentioned), but the three options listed above are the most likely.

And, as a friendly reminder…

IF IT IS ON ITS BACK, IT IS NOT DEAD OR IN A DEATH CURL!

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.

My A. schmidti on her back and ready to molt. Note: this T is NOT dead!

My A. schmidti on her back and ready to molt. Note: this T is NOT dead!

If you have a further question about whether or not your tarantula may be in a death curl, try a Google Image search for “tarantula death curl” and compare. Or, visit Tarantula Forum or Arachnoboards to seek the advise and opinions of other keepers.

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73 thoughts on “The Tarantula “Death Curl”

  1. Hmm :-/ I bought a little baby T, probably some kind of curly hair for $1 hah! Such a deal, too bad I didn’t know how to care of one.. Neither did the seller teach me anything. I guess it died of dehydration… Poor thing, it’s in spidey heaven now eating cricket cookies or whatever.

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    • Awwww…what a shame. Unfortunately, some folks (and pet stores) will sell Ts with either no care information or the wrong care information. Both can be equally as deadly for the animal. If you decide to get another T, please feel free to drop me a line with any questions!

      All the best, and sorry to hear about your spider.

      Tom

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  2. Well, more bad news a few months later, which is today. I also bought a little G.Rosea for 10$– fed it a cricket every now and then for the following weeks, left a bottle cap size “dish” for the water, anyways last night I saw the spider on its back. I thought GREAT I get to see the dang spider actually molt and I missed the other two molting process. But oh well, looks like it died on its back… Much like the one in your picture. When it started the T was really looking like it was stretching and twitching and moving back and forth, if anything I would say it was like looking at a turtle stuck on its back. Also if you remember anything about your dying tarantulas, my T that’s dying had a drop of fluid or maybe water forming on its fangs.
    Another note I did fed it a cricket from the outside, I saw the tarantula pounce on it and there was a bit of a struggle and then everything should be okay for the spider. Though what are the chances of the spider eating a cricket and then dying 2 days later. What a shame, I was hoping to see this spider grow to at least 2 inch.

    Oh and have you had any more tarantulas die? Maybe any smaller ones?

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    • Did this one possibly die from dehydration, too (isn’t that how that last sling died?).

      How was the T kept? If it was in its water bowl, was there water in it?

      T’s that are molting/premolt appreciate a little extra humidity. If he was in the bowl, it’s very possible that he was dehydrated. Although he ate a cricket, it’s likely that the prey item didn’t have enough moisture in it to help with a successful molt.

      Are you sure it’s dead? I would try to move the legs and carefully put a drop of water in its mouth parts. It’s possible it could be brought back.

      I have lost three slings. One was impacted with feces, one died for no apparent reason (it had water and it had just eaten), and a third I’m pretty sure died due to my negligence when it’s enclosure got too dry. It does happen, but I always try to learn from the experiences.

      Tom

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  3. Hi,
    I saved a T from a negligent cousin who left her container open, only for Little Red Rump to get out and fall from a really high height (I would think it it almost fully grown – cousin got it from a friend who got irritated because said T was aggressive…) Anyhow, by the time I took possession of it, it had already lost one limb and the abdomen was dwindling. I tried to rehydrate it but in the meantime it has lost another limb and is not eating. I have no idea how to save this creature and if it’s even possible. It looks terrible! Any advice would be helpful??

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    • Hello there.

      Man, what a sad story.

      Did the fall just happen, or was this a while before you took possession of the tarantula?

      Is the tarantula currently leaking fluid from either the missing limb or abdomen?

      How did it lose the second leg?

      Sorry for all of the questions; I’m just trying to fully understand what happened.

      If the fall happened a while ago, it wouldn’t still be bleeding out. Having fallen from more than a few inches, it’s possible that it injured itself internally, which is why it’s not eating and losing abdomen size.

      Could you possibly send me a photo of it at tomsbigspiders@outlook.com ?

      Let me know some more info and I’ll try to help,

      Tom

      Like

  4. My rose hair went into a molting position with her legs curled in. She’s been in that position for 4 days now. I VERY GENTLY picked her up and laid her right side up and her legs with to normal but she did not make any movement. Also her rump is very soft. She isn’t stiff or anything. Is she dead????

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    • Hi, India.

      Oh, dear…I’m afraid that it sounds like she is dead. Although larger species can take a while to molt, it will never take days. If her abdomen is soft and her legs curled in, she has passed.

      I’m very sorry. 😦

      Tom

      Like

      • With her leg span, she was the size of a man’s hand. She was a decent size. Before she went into the molting position, when she would walk she flicked her legs and ran around like she couldn’t see anything. It was weird. Also I just inspected her and she has a small hard spot on her abdomen. Like a think scar or scab texture??

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      • Oh dear…I was so hoping she was a sling. The behavior you’re describing, does it look like the behavior the T displays in the video below?

        If so, she might have been exposed to some type of chemical or pesticide. Is that possible?

        Like

    • Omg yes. That’s exactly how she was reacting. She wouldn’t have been exposed to any pesticides or chemicals that I am aware of unless my apartment complex came and sprayed without me knowing. 😦

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      • They refer to those symptoms where they seem to lose all coordination as DKS. It can be caused by several things, including severe temperatures (hot or cold), exposure to chemicals, or exposure to pesticides. I have yet to hear of a tarantula that survived after showing these symptoms. The one in the video was mine, and it died a couple days later. Do you have any other pets? Would the complex warn you before spraying?

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      • I have a cat and a dog. My fiance sad that the complex would have told us if they were to do that due to our dog being on the “aggressive” list. I hate that she had to suffer though. she had been acting like that for a few weeks though, so idk what it could have been for sure.

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      • Did you, perchance, treat your dog or cat with some type of flea and tick prevention? Sorry for all of the questions; I just know when mine died, I wracked my brain to try and figure out what happened.

        What kind of dog? We have four dogs and three are pit/pit crosses.

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      • It’s ok. I appreciate the help. I’m wracking my brain too!! My dog is a large jack Russell mix. I haven’t treated him or my cat for fleas in about 3 months due to fleas dying off in my area for the season.

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      • When my tarantula died, I had 40 others that had no issues. It was an isolated case, but it bothered me because I wanted to know WHY it happened. The only thing I could come up with is that it had trouble with a molt a couple weeks earlier.

        Jack Russells are on the list? Wow! I know they can be spirited, but I’m kind of surprised that they are on the aggressive list.

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      • Yeah. I hate not knowing too. And my jack Russell was put on the list because he is very aggressive to men and other animals he does not know. I rescued him from abuse.

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  5. Tom, I have a Rose haired T.she’s about 18yrs old. She’s molted several times over the years. I have noticed in that’s 2+ years she had stopped building a “feeding web”, that’s what I call it, that’s when I know she’s hungry. Can you tell me why she’s stopped?? Thanks

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    • Hi, Carla!

      Has she been rehoused recently? Is her old feeding mat still there? Is she still eating for you?

      I honestly wouldn’t worry at all about it. Ts will build mats to help them sense when prey is nearby and to give them a safe place to eat, and they don’t lay them down before every meal.

      My G. porteri is quite old as well (I’ve had her going on 20 years, and she was likely several years old when I got her) and she rarely throws down a feeding mat anymore. Some of the substrate is webbed up, and that seems to be enough for her. She eats fine and always finds the crickets/roaches no problem. She WILL occasionally drop prey and web it up a bit if I give her more than one item.

      Again, it sounds quite normal and I wouldn’t worry!

      Hope that helps!

      Tom

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  6. Unfortunately this just happened to my Gooty Sapphire. I have several juveniles in their own containers, placed in a 10 gallon tank with a heat pad on the side. My house is old so no matter what the heat is on, the rooms are cold. If I can’t use heat pads, and it’s not safe to run a heater in the room when no one is home, what other option is there to keep them warm?

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    • Hi, Lauren.

      Oh, man…so sorry for your loss. Yeah, unfortunately tarantulas have a tendency to hug heat sources (mats, rocks, ect.) until they become too dehydrated to move (then they die). Heating for them in older homes can be a bit of a chore if you don’t want to go the space heater route. The folks that I’ve heard successfully use heat mats with them will mount the heat mat on a shelf or wall behind one side of the enclosure, then use something as spacers to make sure that the cage stays a inch or so away from the actual mat. Or, they do what you did and heat a larger tank and put the smaller enclosures inside it. They’ll then use a rheostat to adjust the temp and carefully monitor how warm it gets inside the tank.

      Are you sure it was the mat that killed your P. metallica? What other species are you keeping?

      What is the temperature in your home normally?

      Let me know a couple more details and I’ll try to help.

      Tom

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      • Hey! Can i get a help? My avic versicolor sling about a half inch dont eat for already 8days, i rehoused her due to a very wet substrate. After that shes not even moving and webbing. I know that avics molt in their webs, correct me if i’m wrong.What is the problem here? I dont really disturb her and I put mist every 2days in some side of the enclosure. Im getting stressed out of her not doing anything. Thanks

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      • Hi, Angelo.

        What are you currently keeping it in? What does the enclosure setup look like? GREAT idea rehousing her if the substrate was too moist. Most now believe that stuffy, moist enclosures is a death sentence for Avics. Avic WILL web, but they will do it more if you give them some fake plants and stuff to web to. They need anchor points for their webs, and the more you can give them, the better. Also, Ts can take several days to a few weeks to settle back in after being rehoused. She might just be settling in.

        Could you send me photos of the setup?

        Tom

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  7. hello there, I have my choco golden knee, its been 4 days since I bought it, and she didn’t eat since then, she is 8 months old, almost 3-4in and she is always in the side of her cage, I don’t know what’s wrong because it’s my first time to have a T. Hope you can help me. Thanks

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    • Hi, CJ! First off, congrats on your new acquisition!

      When you first get a tarantula, it can take them a couple weeks to settle in. During this time, they will often refuse food and climb the wall of their enclosures. So, this behavior is actually pretty normal.

      That said, another thing that will make them climb is substrate that is too moist. Is the substrate dry?

      Could you send me photos of the setup and your new tarantula to tomsbigspiders@outlook.com ? I could take a look at both the spider and the setup and tell you if it looks okay?

      All the best!

      Tom

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      • Is that ok if she didn’t eat for 2weaks? The substrate is just normal & not too moist, I just send her picture & my set up, thank you so much,

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      • First off, I received the photo. You obviously did your homework as her setup looks fantastic. 🙂 I think that she’s probably still getting used to her new surroundings; it can take several weeks. She looks to be in great shape, so she can definitely go without eating for a long while. I had two chaco slings that were less than .5″ fast for over 5 months before, and they were fine. I would try offering food again once you catch her hanging out on the ground. Keep me updated! – Tom

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  8. My girlfriend’s rose hair just pasted. She was between 15 and 17 years old, so she had a good life. My question pertains to preserving her. My girlfriend wants her put in clear resin. I will not be able to get any untill tomorrow. Will I still be able to do so tomorrow?

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    • First off, sorry to hear about your your rose hair passing. I think the last person I spoke to who was putting theirs in resin also waited over 24 hours to do so, so I think you’re okay.

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  9. Okay for about a day now my tarantula has tucked her legs underneath her under Alief she is a pink-toed tarantula I thought she might be getting ready to molt so we’ve left her alone she left one on the ground what looks like a mole that she had been walking around on the bottom of the terrarium for several days and now she’s curled up to and what appears to be a death cearl any suggestions she has 4 water sources so I do not believe she’s not dehydrated when she went under the lease last night she did kind of a twitching motion left her but stretched out in the air for a little bit appeared to be digging a burrow and then tucked her legs underneath her and she has not moved for about a day

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Robert!

      I’m worried that my first response didn’t go through, so my apologies if you got my first reply…

      How long have you had her for and how large is she? Is her substrate moiste or dry?

      If she has water available then, like you said, you can probably rule out dehydration. They tend to get a bit lethargic when in premolt, so that could be what you are seeing. They can get very secretive during this time. Does she have foliage or cork bark to hide behind?

      Sorry for all of the questions!

      Tom

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  10. I don’t know if you can help at all my daughter has a spiderling has moulted once was fine yesterday and now it’s curled up its not moved st all I’ve taken it out and it’s on a moist cloth but it’s leg are right underneath so think it’s too late 😞 Am I right in thinking this? It hasn’t been eating lately either we got told by the pet shop that he just need the soil that was already in the container for him that was it

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    • Oh, dear! Did it just molt yesterday, or did it molt a little while ago.

      Also, was it not eating before it molted? If so, that’s normal. It also takes them a few days after a molt to harden up and be able to eat again.

      If you found it curled with its legs beneath it, it might have been dehydrated. Putting is on moist cloth or paper towel was a good move.

      Can you possibly send a photo of the T and its setup to my email?

      -Tom

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  11. I have a baby t this morning I woke up to seeing her in a “death curl ” I had fed her the night before and had water for her I went to see her she moves her legs a bit but I really believe she’s passing

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi we have a tarantula that was bleeding from its leg, I think we may be too late. We have glued the wound but she does not move. We but the front of her head in her water but we don’t know if she is drinking. What can we do ?

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    • Hi, Lou. Usually when they are bleeding from a leg, they will purposely cast their leg off. They have “valves” up by where the legs connect to the carapace that they can close off to stop the bleeding. How large your T? How did it get injured?

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  13. I just bought my first T. It’s a pink toe, the past two days they were very active and doing really well and then last night my T laid on the bottom of the enclosure next to the water dish and I woke up this morning and it’s still there not moving or anything. I very gently touched her but she doesn’t appear to be moving I don’t know what to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hey, Thank you so much for this guide.
    I hope you can help me; I’m pretty sure my grammostola is dead. She went to the pool (which contained shallow water), laid down and didn’t move for a day. It wasn’t odd behaviour,but then I noticed she didn’t move at all- At first I thought it might be her time to molt, but she’s been in this position for at least 3 days. Can I conclude that she is dead?
    Her abdomen seem to have shrunken in and when I tried to push her, gently (to confirm whether she was dead, as I haven’t heard of a molting taking 3 days), she’s all soft and limp.
    She is dead, right? 😦

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    • Hi, Alex.

      Oh, no…I’m so sorry to hear this. If her abdomen is sunken in, she is dead. That’s one of the surest ways to tell.

      How long did you have her for? Was she acting normal before this? 😦

      Man, I’m so very sorry.

      Tom

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  15. I have two tarantulas a rose hair adult and a juvenile A.Versicolor (3 years old). We lost power being out of town and temps dropped to 25 at night. I slowly brought them back to 70-75 degrees and in 10 mins the rose came back no problem yet my Versicolor will randomly move legs and fangs yet has not moved from her hiding spot and I don’t want to force her or stress her out so I’ve let her be yet it’s been 4 days and I don’t know what to do to help. I’ll do anything!
    If you have any input or ideas it would be greatly appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Toni.

      Oh, man…a power outage during a cold day when I’m not home is one of my biggest fears! I’m so sorry to hear this. Unfortunately, A. versicolors are a bit less durable and resistant to cold, so I’m not surprised to hear that the low temps seem to have had a worse effect on her. How long was she in those temps?

      You did the absolute right thing by slowly raising the temperatures up, and you’re right not to poke her. Honestly, there isn’t too much you can do right now unfortunately. I would allow her some more time to come out of it, make sure that she has water, and wait it out.

      Is it possible that she’s in premolt? That would be an explanation for her behavior that didn’t involve the temps. Just a thought.

      Tom

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      • Tom, Thanks for your input but sadly she has passed. Her legs have curled in unnatural directions and her fangs are not in tight any longer. She has been in this position for 3 days. I keep trying to see if she in some state of hibernation/recovery yet my hopes are dwindling. Now my rose hair has lost the ability to “stick” to the side of the tank. She can no longer climb it’s the strangest thing. Have you ever witnessed this? Thanks, Toni

        Sent from my iPhone

        >

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      • Hi, Toni.

        Awwwww…I’m so sorry. I was really hoping it would pull through. UGH.

        Terrestrial Ts like the rose hair are notoriously bad at climbing; they just aren’t built for it like arboreal species, so it’s not unusual for them to lose their purchase on glass. If she was having no problem before, I don’t know why she’d suddenly be slipping. Mine falls all the time, which is why I only give her about 6″ wall space from the substrate to the top. They can get injured when they fall.

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  16. My tarantula, a rose hair, is in the curl, completely unresponsive. It’s abdomen is very shrunken, afraid I didn’t give it fresh water often enough. After looking on different sites, one said for severely dehydrated tarantulas, to put their heads in the water but keep their abdomen out since that’s where it breathes from. I have done this, but no response in the last few minutes. Should I see it moving by now, meaning it’s probably too late? Or could it take longer?

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  17. Hey I recently rehoused my avic avic . She is in here but up in the corner at the top of the tank . In her hide position . Is she just stressed from the move . Or should I try and guidbher to her hollow bark .

    Liked by 1 person

    • The avics are notorious for making their webs as high ups as they can. I have two that completely ignored the cork bark and made their homes in the upper corner of their enclosures. It’s natural, if not very convenient. If you guide her to the bark, she will likely be back up to the top again the next morning. If you give her some time, she may make her way down.

      Like

  18. Idk if my tarantula is dead or molding. She had alway molded on her back this time she has not moved and is in the same position with her legs curl underneath her. She’s older. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want her to suffer. Help!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi. So my T just recently took quite a fall off of my kitchen table during the process of cleaning its habitat. It is slightly smaller than a half dollar. I was able to place her back into her habitat but since then she has not been moving around very much at all. She still clings to my fingers but seems lethargic. She is not leaking any fluid what so ever. I was wondering if she could just be in shock or if there is a possibility of internal damage that might cause her to pass? Any suggestions would be very helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no! What species is she? Unfortunately, they can suffer internal damage from a high fall even if they don’t burst their abdomens or bleed. I would definitely keep an eye one her, although there isn’t too much you can do but wait it out. Sometimes when this happens, they will have a bad molt due to the unseen damage. If she stops eating, she may have a quick molt to fix herself. Keep water handy for her when that happens.

      Now that it’s been a couple days, does she seem any better?

      Like

  20. My sweet Gloria, scratched her back and started bleeding. It clotted, but she wants nothing to do with wet towels! ( I think she’s a she) I’m not sure why she started bleeding, I keep water in cage and crickets. What can I do to make her home more comfortable? I’ve had her for almost 2 years now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If it clotted, it should be okay. If she’s not cottoning to the wet paper towels, just keep her in her cage and make sure water is available. 🙂

      Any idea what she could have hurt herself on? What’s in the cage?

      Tom

      Like

  21. hi my brothers rosed haired tarantula is on its top like its in the right position like a spider would be but its not moving at all we picked it up no movement but the body was still soft not hard meaning its not dead yet but we still dont know what happend i belive its a male and just about 4 years old

    Liked by 1 person

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