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Skin-Shredding Animals: Tarantulas, Snakes & More

First Posted: Apr 24, 2017 05:34 AM EDT
Annual Animal Stocktake At London Zoo
Zookeeper Jamie Mitchell poses for a photograph with a Mexican red-kneed tarantula during the annual stocktake of animals at ZSL London Zoo.
(Photo : Carl Court/Getty Images)

Dogs and cats may leave a lot of their fur on the sofa or carpet. While these furballs are considered small nuances for every pet lover, there are animals whose shredded skin could give people nightmares.

Spiders, for instance, are freaky enough for most people as they are, but they tend to shed their skins to leave an almost exact replica of themselves. This is not something they can forgo. As spiders grow larger, they tend to molt. This process is called ecdysis.

According to National Geographic, tarantulas tend to "secrete a new exoskeleton around itself." While the living tissue between the old and new exoskeletons dissolve, nerve connections will be left for sensory organs such as their eyes and touch-sensitive hairs. To remove itself from its too-small old skin, the tarantula contracts its abdomen to push fluids into its cephalothorax -- the fused head and upper body. The weak spots of the tarantula are then put in enough pressure for the old skeleton to "lift off" like a helmet.

Of course, spiders are not the only animals that molt. Arachnids and crustaceans alike do. Besides tarantulas and other spiders, animals like scorpions, crabs, lobsters and some insects molt, too.

While this could mean growth in these animals, for others skin shredding is a matter of life and death. In a study published in PeerJ in February, scientists also discovered a species of gecko from Madagascar that can drop its scales on demand, with supposedly extraordinary ease, although they look like raw chicken for a while afterward.

The time for animals to molt differ. Crabs can take 15 minutes to shed their old shells, while snakes are famous for basically slinking out of their old skins.

Molting, however, does not only occur when animals outgrow their old skins, or if they need to defend themselves. Injuries can also cause reptiles and amphibians to molt. A snake with a head injury was said to have been triggered to a continuous shredding cycle until it died.

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