Unbeknownst to many, tarantulas can pose a tremendous risk for eye injuries.  While tarantulas are still rare as pets, their popularity is growing, and we’re alarmed to discover that some schools and museums have now adopted tarantulas as a ‘hands-on’ tool to teach children about animal life.

There are over 800 different tarantula species, and most are generally labeled as harmless since most species’ venom is often no more toxic than a bee sting.  However, certain species have developed a defensive mechanism of ejecting barbed hairs off the top of their abdomen when threatened.   These ‘urticating’ hairs can become lodged in your skin, causing varying degrees of irritation.

Eye injuries result when these barbed hairs come into contact with the eyes, either directly from the tarantula’s ejection or more commonly when someone rubs their eyes just after they handle a tarantula.  If these hairs become embedded in the cornea, the outermost part of the eye, the barbed nature and fragility of the hairs prevents them from being removed by an eye doctor.

Your cornea and its thin covering (epithelium) have millions of nerve endings, and embedded tarantula hairs can cause disabling pain.  In a recent Nebraska case, a patient required frequent pain medicine injections behind her eye for several weeks, and it often takes patients six months to return to pain-free, acceptable vision.  Patients may also experience slightly-reduced vision due to corneal scarring from the injury.