January 1, 2010

Tarantula Owners Beware! Protect Your Eyes!

The owner of a pet tarantula in England recently got an unpleasant surprise after cleaning out the cage of his eight-legged companion.

After suffering from a severe eye inflammation for more than three weeks, the man went to a local clinic to have it checked out.  Upon examination, doctors told him that he appeared to have tiny hairs protruding from his eyeball "” at which point the man recalled that his pet arachnid had sprayed his face with a barrage of tiny hairs when he had last handled him.

Dr. Zia Carrim of St James's University Hospital in Leeds wrote that the man came in with complaints of having a red, watery and light sensitive eye for several weeks.  Using a high magnification examination lens, Carrim was able to detect numerous hair-like objects in and around the man's cornea.

When Dr. Carrim described the objects to the man, he recalled the incident with his spider from several weeks prior.

When cleaning the terrarium of his Chilean Rose tarantula "” one of the commonest and heartiest varieties of imported pet arachnids "” the man said that he had just noticed the spider moving in the corner when he saw it spray a "mist of hairs" towards his eyes and face from a distance of about 6 to 8 inches.

According to Dr. Carrim, the tiny projectiles were the "obvious" cause of the man's painfully irritated eye.

"We attempted removal of corneal hairs for our patient under the operating microscope, but even with the smallest pair of forceps it was impossible," described Carrim.

Though generally docile and nonaggressive, the Chilean rose tarantula has both venom and "Ëœurticating hairs' along the back of its abdomen.  When the creatures perceive a threat they will often rub one of their hind legs against their abdomen to release the tiny barbed hairs into the air as a defense mechanism against potential predators.

Each of the hairs is equipped with multiple barbs that allow them to work themselves deeper into tissue with movement.

In addition to surface irritation, doctors suspect that some of the barbed hairs had migrated all the way the deepest layer of endothelial cells in the man's eyeball, causing internal inflammation as well.

For now, Dr. Carrim explained that the man is being treated with steroids to try to mitigate the inflammation response while his body attempts to naturally dispose of the hairs.

"And he will remain on long-term treatment with steroids at a very low dose," said Carrim.

Experts suspect that many pet tarantula owners are completely unaware of their beloved arachnids' unique protective mechanism.

Physicians who wrote up a report of the incident for the British medical journal The Lancet have cautioned that all tarantula owners "routinely wear eye protection when handling these animals."


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