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News Clippings

CNN, June 5th 1999

Sick tarantula gets top-notch care

CATONSVILLE, Maryland (CNN) -- Giving a CAT scan to a spider is not a regular event, but Goliath Tarantula No. 79011 is special and worthy of saving, according to those who know her.

The tarantula, which has a habit of showing fangs and shooting barbed hairs from her rump, is suffering from an infection, and doctors say her treatment can teach them about the medical care of tarantulas in captivity.

A member of the largest spider species in the world, No. 79011 was recovering from her infection Saturday. On Friday, she underwent a second CAT scan to check on the nasty infection oozing from her side.

The prognosis wasn't good. Doctors are planning to perform a lifesaving operation next week to try to save the eight-legged creature, The Associated Press reports.

"She has a robust, loose personality," said Sandy Barnett, senior herpetologist at The National Aquarium in Baltimore. "I really hope we can help her out."

No. 79011, weighing in at a hefty 21/2 ounces, is the size of a salad plate, has dark brown hair, and a turret of eyes atop a flat head.

She also has an abscess the size of a quarter that is causing her to lose fluid. Instead of walking on the tips of her toes like a ballerina, she's down at the heel -- a sure sign of trouble.

"They use water pressure to keep their legs up," Barnett said. "This one is walking a little flat-footed."

An antibiotic ointment had no effect and another technique, punching a hole in her side to drain the infection, could kill her, said Dr. Brent Whitaker, the aquarium's director of animal health who is to perform the operation.

Dr. David Herring, a veterinary radiologist who donated his expertise, said the images Friday looked worse than the ones taken last month. The abscess looks to be contained within the spider's body cavity, making it possible to perform surgery.

During the procedure, the same artificial skin used in human surgery will be used to create a covering over the abscess. The abscess can then be drained and more artificial skin can be used to seal the drain hole, Whitaker said.

Dr. Ian Walker, a veterinary intern at the aquarium who hopes to assist Whitaker, said his biggest fear is that he could break into the body cavity by mistake, causing her powder blue blood to leak out uncontrollably.

"We will probably lose the animal anyway if we don't try," he said.

The tarantula, which comes from South American rain forest, is worth all the effort, Whitaker said.

"We don't discriminate," he said. "All of our animals get top-notch care."

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