I once spoke at a tarantula’s funeral. Her name was Rosie. She belonged to my friend Tim. We babysat her one summer while Tim was away in Minnesota directing a boys’ camp, and I have to say, I kind of fell in love with her. She was quiet, she was fuzzy, and she did the cutest little happy dance when we fed her soft green grasshoppers.
Alas, one sad day one of Tim’s students dropped her. Her abdomen was punctured and the blood — there was just so much blood. (Ok, so technically spider blood is called hemolymph, but that doesn’t sound nearly as dramatic.) There was no way she could recover from such an injury, so Tim sadly said goodbye to her as he put her in the freezer to help speed her passing. Several staff members gathered around to pay our respects. Another friend and I actually cried. She was just that lovable.
We held her funeral the next day.
A few months later my brother gave me a baby tarantula for Christmas. She was ADORABLE. All fluffy and pink and teeny tiny. We put her in an aquarium decorated with a miniature Christmas tree and named her Sabrina. That was almost five years ago. She’s been sitting on my kitchen counter ever since, and she is no longer teeny tiny. And every year around the beginning of October, she sheds.
Shedding is a VERY stressful time in the life of a tarantula. And in the life of the tarantula’s mommy. Here is how the process works:
First, the tarantula grows new tarantula skin under the old tarantula skin. This makes it very difficult for the tarantula to see and move, thus resulting in a very grumpy arachnid.
When everything is ready, the tarantula spins a “molting mat” that looks just like a little spider spider picnic blanket. Then the back of the spider’s abdomen opens up like a hatch on a jet, and the spider flips over on her back on top of the mat.
Then the scary part begins. The poor little tarantula has to force off the old skin before the new skin hardens. It’s just like trying to take off a very tight fitting glove without using your other hand (or teeth, or anything else). It’s an exhausting process for the poor little critter. During the shed and for several days thereafter the spider is completely helpless. COMPLETELY HELPLESS. Again I say, it’s terrifying.
(The spider pictured above is not Sabrina, but it looks just like her.)
So every time Sabrina sheds, our entire family goes on “Sabrina alert” mode. We turn off all the lights in the kitchen (darkness makes Sabrina feel more secure), no one is allowed to bang any cupboards (again so as not to stress her out), and I start boiling water (to increase humidity, Silly, although I do know of some people who had to operate on their tarantulas when shedding went wrong). And then, we wait. And wait. And wait some more. Sabrina is a very slow shedder.
Last Tuesday right after lunch I found Sabrina on her back. Lights off, cupboards quiet, water boiling – I have it down to a science now. At 11:00 that night she still hadn’t made any visible progress. I was WORRIED. I stayed up for an extra 45 minutes, carefully analyzing every tiny twitch of her fuzzy legs. I paced the floor. I looked up “tarantula first aid” in my Tarantula Keeper’s Guide. I started to develop an ulcer. Eventually Elisabeth’s cry called me to bed, but I couldn’t sleep.
Here’s the thing: I am TERRIFIED of spiders. You should have seen our internet repair man laughing at us yesterday when a spider followed him into our house. There was screaming, there was stomping, Jakob almost lost a foot. I can’t even look at a picture of a spider without shuddering. And yet every year there I am, pacing the kitchen and worrying about my very large pet spider. I know, I don’t understand me either.
When I woke up the next morning, I anxiously rushed to her cage.
She made it! There she was, all beautiful and pink again, stretched out next to her old skin. (Cue Halelujah Chorus.)
She’s recovering quite nicely. She should be able to eat again in a few days, after her new stomach has hardened. And I can sleep peacefully again at night.
Isn’t she pretty?