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Out with the old and "into" the new!
By: Gillian, Volunteer Manager, Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
With over the 70 live exhibits that we feature at the Insectarium, almost everyday is going to be exciting. Yesterday proved to be one of those days. Just after we opened the doors that morning a call came over the radio for an entomologist to come to our Indian Ornamental tarantula enclosure in the main hall. When she got there she understood why the person that called over the radio sounded a little stressed. It was because our tarantula was molting! Tarantulas tend to go through this process differently than other arthropods. Some will flip over on their back and begin the long, stressful task of growing. Many pet owners get confused when they see this happen thinking that their tarantula has died. This can lead to many unfortunate situations to otherwise healthy spiders.
All arthropods molt. Molting is when an animal sheds it's exoskeleton to grow or to replace lost limbs. As a younger tarantula grows it will molt more frequently than an adult, several times a year. Adult females will molt about once a year, sometimes longer. Male tarantulas that have reached adulthood will not molt again in their lifetime.
As I said previously, molting can be very stressful and dangerous for a spider. During this time they are vulnerable to attack from other animals looking for an easy meal, or if they don't shed the old exoskeleton fast enough their new exoskeleton could harden inside the old and create an even bigger mess. Also, when they have finished molting they are very soft and will not be able to defend themselves easily. When one of our tarantulas molt at the Insectarium we will not offer it food for a few weeks because its fangs aren't hard enough to pierce it's prey. During this teneral (soft) time even a cricket could cause injury to the spider if it wanted a quick nibble.
Of course the molting process can get a little more extensive when you really delve into the science of it, but that is a quick overview of the process. So next time you are in the Insectarium stop by the Indian Ornamental exhibit in the main hall and check out her new "skin"!