WARNING: This story contains video that may be disturbing to some people.
After years of attempts to film the 10-hour process of a tarantula shedding it exoskeleton, a Vancouver Island butterfly keeper has posted the terrifying results.
Justin Dunning, the manager of living collections at Victoria Butterfly Gardens in Brentwood Bay, said he’s been trying to get the perfect shot of the natural process for about four years, but his female Burgundy goliath bird eater tarantula kept crawling out of its armour-like exoskeleton at night.
But at last, Dunning said the large spider started molting in the daylight during one of his days off, giving him the perfect opportunity.
“It’s a really a cool process when it molts, and I wanted to capture it,” he told Global News Sunday.
The video, which was first posed to the gardens’ Facebook page on Thursday, is a time-lapse version of the 10-hour tape Dunning created.
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The filming still presented some challenges. The female tarantula was on display at the gardens when she started molting, and Dunning had to make sure the public wasn’t alarmed by what was about to unfold.
“When they go into their pre-molt, they make a sort of web hammock out of silk and they flip on their back,” he said. “If you don’t know what you’re looking at, it looks like she’s dead. So we put up a sign saying she was molting and I got my GoPro and started filming.”
The first eight hours, though, were extremely uneventful. The spider remained on its back for most of that time, forcing Dunning to wipe his memory card and start filming again.
Once the action started happening, he said it was incredible to watch.
“I was able to film it in a wider shot so we didn’t miss anything, and I’m glad I made that decision,” he said, describing the process as horrifying and fascinating.
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Female tarantulas go through the molting process roughly every 10 months on average until they fully mature, turning the formidable arachnid into a soft, almost jelly-like being that makes it extremely vulnerable.
The process allows the spider to continue to grow past the limits of each shell it forms.
This particular spider, named Stirmi after its scientific name “Theraphosa stirmi,” is nine years old, Dunning said.
While he admits the video is hard to watch for some, Dunning hopes it also helps educate people about tarantulas.
“I like to stress that they’re not these big, creepy-crawly things,” he said. “They’re actually very interesting creatures, and they’re more scared of you than you are of them.”
—With files from the Canadian Press