Handling Tarantulas

Authored by Martin Nicholas

I think of all the “political” issues that get kicked around the internet tarantula forums, including the BTS forum, nothing is as contentious, divisive or controversial as the handling of tarantulas and that the “BTS ban it.” As public relations manager for the BTS I decided to put my head above the parapet and try and clarify the BTS position on handling in a way that removes any ambiguity and hopefully will put an end to the torrent of often-abusive emails we receive on the subject. So let’s set out some platform facts.

1. The BTS committee, have all at one time or another, picked up a tarantula (I will allow time for you all to reel from the shock, get a strong cup of tea and now continue).

2. Based on nothing other than anecdotal experience, I think we can say the majority of tarantula keepers, hobbyists, arachnologists and breeders have also at some time held a tarantula spider as well.

3. So what are we getting so upset about?

4. The BTS constitution states, “to educate and allay fears of individuals concerning common prejudices towards tarantulas. To encourage Safety in the keeping of all arachnids, including the policy of not handling tarantulas.” and herein lies the problem.

5. This article of the aims of the BTS does not clearly reflect the current feelings of the membership, or indeed of the majority of the committee and needs to be rewritten.

6. Our position has to be one that reflects the welfare of spider and of the “handler”. Anthropomorphic feelings that a spider “enjoys” being held have to be set aside and we must be pragmatic and objective in stating our position.

7. The consensus from those I have consulted with seems to be that we can classify tarantulas into those that will tolerate being handled and those that won’t. We will not publish a list characterising particular species in either group, as there are a large number of exceptions both ways.

8. Our position (with one exception) therefore is purely an advisory one: namely, “we do not recommend the handling of tarantulas, however if it is to be done for terrarium maintenance, demonstration or veterinary inspection purposes, we strongly recommend this is done in a way that does not endanger the spider or the handler.”

9. With the potential risks of envenomation and/or urtication we advise common sense. If your Pterinochilus murinus (orange or otherwise) reacts by striking repeatedly when you spray its tank with water, you may not want to pick it up. If your, South American Xenethis immanis urticates furiously as soon as you lift the lid of the terrarium… Well, you are intelligent tarantula keepers – you get the idea!

10. The one point on which we will stand firm with, is handling at the BTS Exhibition. This is absolutely not allowed and I will briefly explain why. With 2000+ visitors through the door and with 200+ exhibitors, it only takes one person to get bitten, to sue and for the media to get hold of the story to mean the end. No more tarantula shows, probably no more BTS and possibly, if legislation is passed to classify tarantulas as DWA 1976 animals, an end to the hobby in this country.

11. The handling of a tarantula can be a positive and therapeutic thing to do. Dispelling myths of deadliness, reducing fear, seeding interest and the desire to learn more. We are not the “Handling Police” and are not in the business of telling people what they should and should not do – we just want the handler to stay safe, stay well and enjoy the hobby – and for the spider to thrive, grow and live for a long time.

The amendment to the constitution is being drafted as we speak and I hope we will publish this in the next few months. As always we welcome your comments and suggestions on this subject.