The bird-eating tarantula, beginning to shed its skin at Victoria Butterfly Gardens. (Screengrab from Victoria Butterfly Gardens video)

Tarantula the size of a dinner plate caught moulting at B.C. garden

Nine-year-old ‘goliath bird eater’ spider took five hours to shed its skin

One of the largest tarantula species in the world was caught on camera moulting its exoskeleton Thursday at Victoria Butterfly Gardens.

The nine-year-old “burgundy goliath bird eater” spider took five hours to shed its skin and the video shows the process sped-up.

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Disclaimer: Not recommended for arachnophobes⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ We had the amazingly rare opportunity to film our Burgundy Bird Eater Tarantula (Theraphosa stirmi) molting!⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ This process lasted just over 10 hours and we're pleased to report she is in perfect health. 🕷️🕸️⠀⠀ #victoriabutterflygardens⠀⠀ •⠀⠀ •⠀⠀ •⠀⠀ •⠀⠀ •⠀⠀ #vbg #insectarium #victoriabc #yyj #explorevictoria #explorevancouverisland #supportlocal #pnw #pacificnorthwest #westcoastbestcoast #butterfly #hercules #herculesbeetle #butterflies #photooftheday #coloursofnature #naturebeauty #nature_brilliance #jungle #iguana #flamingos #duck #ExploreVictoria #ShareVancouverIsland #VancouverIsland @tourismvictoriabc @sharevancouverisland⠀⠀

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Justin Dunning, the living collections manager at the Gardens owned the spider and has watched it grow-up onsite for the past five years.

“We call her Stirmi, as the species is Theraphosa stirmi,” says Dunning, adding with a laugh, “We should probably give her an official name one day.”

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He says he has always been fascinated by nature and especially loves arachnids, due to their unusual life cycles. This particular spider comes from tropical Guyana in South America and at full spread is as large as a dinner plate.

“As young spiderlings, when they first hatch out of the egg they moult fairly often, it could be as often as every few months and they grow quite quickly, about an inch or two a year. The growth slows down quite significantly after that and you get long periods in between moultings. In the last four years, Stirmi’s moulted four or five times, and the process takes a lot of energy out of her.”

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What we don’t see on the GoPro footage of the spider’s skin-shed, is the amount of diligent preparation it took to catch the event on film. Dunning laughs as he recalls setting up the camera, hitting record and … nothing happening. After nine hours of inactivity, he was forced to clear the memory card and set it up again. After two hours the second time, Stirmi started moulting in earnest over a five hour period.

“Afterwards we have to leave her alone because when insects or invertebrates moult they’re very soft in their exoskeleton and very vulnerable, so when she moults we don’t open her enclosure, or touch her, or do anything with her for at least seven to 10 days. After maybe two weeks we can start offering her food again and then she eats lots for the next few months. Basically, she has grown to her max capacity in that exoskeleton and then she is really quite tight and uncomfortable. She’ll be almost gooey-soft for 24 to 48 hours.”

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To moult, the tarantula flips upside down and the museum has to put up a sign letting visitors know the animal isn’t dead. Theraphosa stirmi tarantulas are usually found in tunnels and tubes in the jungle floor. When threatened, they rear up and hiss, exposing their fangs. Sometimes they will flick hairs at predators, described as creating a burning sensation in humans. In captivity, the spiders are fed a diet of invertebrates such as large grasshoppers, cockroaches and crickets.

For more information, such as how to visit Stirmi, explore butterflygardens.com.

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nick.murray@peninsulanewsreview.com

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