Pet tarantulas pose eye problems for owners -

Pet tarantulas pose eye problems for owners

We've got a safety warning with enough legs to make your skin crawl. Keeping tarantulas as pets is a popular trend—but it can also be dangerous!

These creeping carnivores might seem like cool companions, but handling them the wrong way can lead to serious injuries. Here's a look into the hair-raising hazards of owning a pet tarantula.

Anette Pillau is secretary of the American Tarantula Society and has more than 150 tarantulas in her own collection. She says people are captivated by this exotic animal and that's why tarantula sales are on the rise.

"I love tarantulas just because they're really interesting," says Anette.

But one of the biggest dangers is not recognizing the warning signs tarantulas display when agitated.

"As you can see, she is not very happy that I'm handling her right now," says Anette. "You can tell by the chelicerae being spread slightly apart. That's the first stage before a bite. A very painful bite."

For many tarantula species, their bite isn't nearly as bad as their barbed hairs -- which they kick up when threatened by predators such as weasels and lizards. But if those hairs get into the eyes of a human handler, serious and painful injury can result.

Dr. John Nishimoto of the Southern California School of Optometry has conducted extensive research on the dangers of the tarantula's hairs.

"This is an eye problem that potentially can be serious depending on the amount of these hairs penetrating the eye," says Dr. Nishimoto. "The things most patients do complain of is a lot of pain and irritation. It could be a sharp type of pain, which perhaps it might be the feeling that there are needles getting poked into the eye. Potentially, the patients can start to have damage to the eye, as well. And that could potentially cause vision loss."

Dr. Nishimoto says once those hairs get into your eyes, there's no getting them out, because they're too small to pull out.

"There's no benefit in removing those. You just let the body absorb it and let it dissolve on its own," says Dr. Nishimoto.

Anette Pillau says the key is preventing this type of injury in the first place.

"If you're very gentle in everything you do, you take a pair of tongs and make first touch so they know something is there so they don't get spooked, then the likeliness of them flicking up all those hairs is very low," says Anette.

So if you're thinking about getting a pet tarantula, don't buy one blindly! Do your research. If you do get one, make sure you handle it carefully and be aware of its natural defense mechanisms. Because a frightened tarantula can lead to an eyeful of barbed hairs.  

Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved.

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