Medical advice: eye protection worn to avoid spider urticating hairs

In a case report titled “Spiderman’s Eye” in The Lancet, a medical journal, his doctors suggest that “tarantula keepers be advised to wear eye protection when handling these animals.”

When a 29-year-old man went to an eye clinic in Britain complaining of a very sore, watery, bright-red eye, doctors at first suspected a virus.

Then they took a closer look, and found something quite different: fine, hairlike projections embedded in the patient’s cornea.

As soon as the doctors, at St. James University Hospital in Leeds, told the patient what they saw, he remembered what had happened just before his eye trouble began. He was cleaning the glass tank holding his pet tarantula when it suddenly released “a mist of hairs” that hit him in the eyes and face.

It turns out that some species of tarantula have a defensive weapon called “urticating hairs” that they can deploy when threatened. By rubbing their hind legs against their abdomen, the tarantulas can kick off a cloud of these tiny hairs, which have multiple barbs and can cause tremendous irritation in the eyes, skin and airways of any unfortunate creature that happens to get too close.

The hairs were too fine to pull out of the patient’s cornea, even with microforceps under an operating microscope. All the doctors could do was treat the inflammation in his eye with steroid medicines. Nearly a year later, the man is much better, but still not fully recovered.

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