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Terrestrial Invertebrate Safety

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.



Terrestrial invertebrates, such as tarantulas and scorpions, don’t require a lot of handling. In fact, they do not typically enjoy handling and often become stressed by it, so they should be handled as little as possible. When you must handle them for certain tasks, such as cleaning their habitats, keep a few safe handling tips in mind to reduce the risk of getting injured. 

Toxin exposure

Tarantulas and scorpions have toxins for defensive purposes and can bite or sting their prey to protect themselves. Exposure to such toxins can cause an allergic reaction in people that ranges from skin inflammation to more significant systemic signs, such as respiratory difficulty, nausea, vomiting and neurologic issues. Women who are pregnant, senior citizens, children under the age of 5 and people with weakened immune systems should consult their physicians before handling a terrestrial invertebrate such as a tarantula or scorpion.

Urticating hairs

Tarantulas have bristle-like urticating (itch-causing) hairs on their abdomens that they either eject at or press onto predators by vigorously rubbing their abdomen when threatened. These tiny hairs are barbed and can work their way into the skin, causing irritation and pain. If these hairs get into the eye, they can easily penetrate the eye and cause severe inflammation.


Some tarantulas have venom that they inject into predators when they bite to defend themselves. Tarantula venom can cause skin inflammation, pain and other signs of an allergic reaction in people. A hungry or stressed tarantula may be particularly apt to bite, so they should never be handled.


Some scorpions sting from the stinger at the end of their tail. Scorpion stings are venomous, and the venom contains toxins that can cause an allergic reaction in humans that ranges from skin redness and pain to neurologic signs. Be sure not to handle a nervous or hungry scorpion.

Precautions to take when handling invertebrates

  • Handle tarantulas and scorpions as infrequently as possible
  • The best way to move a pet tarantula or scorpion is to place a cup to the side of the pet and use the cup to gently herd them into the habitat. Once the tarantula or scorpion is in place, you can gently scoop them into the cup and transfer them to an alternate habitat. Another tip for moving tarantulas is to blow gently on them; they typically move away from the breeze
  • Never attempt to pick up a tarantula that is flicking their abdomen hairs or rearing with their mouth parts exposed, as they are likely to try to injure you
  • If you must handle a tarantula or scorpion, always wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap and hot water or use hand sanitizer before and after handling

What to do if bitten, stung or exposed to urticating hairs

  • Immediately wash the exposed area with warm water and antibacterial soap; apply an ice pack or cool compress to reduce skin redness and swelling
  • If you are exposed to a tarantula’s urticating hairs, wash the area with warm water and antibacterial soap; avoid touching your face or eyes until you have medical help to remove the hairs. Hairs stuck in the skin may be moved with a sticky tape, such as duct tape
  • Seek medical attention if you believe you are having an allergic reaction or if you have been exposed to urticating hairs
  • If seeking medical attention, be sure to write down the species of terrestrial invertebrate to which you were exposed to help ensure proper treatment


Additional care sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because invertebrates can cause skin irritation by flicking their urticating hairs (tarantulas) or by transmitting irritating venom through bites (tarantulas and scorpions), minimize handling tarantulas and scorpions, and always wash your hands before and after handling your invertebrate or their habitat contents.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for invertebrates and should consider having a pet other than an invertebrate. 

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at for more information about invertebrates and disease.

The information on this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If your pet is sick, or you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.