While tarantulas are a favorite pet of arachnid lovers, a new discovery by scientists might have some rethinking how they go about handling the large spiders.

In February 2009, a UK man visited a hospital in England complaining of red, watery, and light-sensitive eyes. When the condition of the patient, initially thought to have been a case of conjunctivitis, didn't clear up with antibiotics, doctors took a look at his eyes under high-magnification lenses. What they saw was puzzling.

"When we looked at this guy's cornea, the clear window covering the eye, we saw these little whitish spots and a little black hairy-like thing at the center of each," St. James's Zia Carrim told LiveScience. "There were about a dozen hairs protruding from the cornea, a couple of which had gone all the way through the eye's thin covering."

After presenting their findings, the patient recalled an incident where his Chilean Rose tarantula had fired off a "mist of hairs" that hit him in the face and eyes. He had been cleaning the tank of the pet at the time - and according to scientists, that may have been a threatening activity that triggered the sharp shooting.

Unfortunately, since the hairs are so small, removing them is not possible. Doctors did treat the eye with topical steroids, but while most of the symptoms cleared up, the patient was still reporting mild discomfort as early as August. The hairs are still stuck in his cornea, and the doctors aren't sure whether they'll ever go away.

Moral of the story? If you own a tarantula, handle them with extreme care - and at a safe distance from your eyes. "Avoid handling the tarantulas at close range. If they do handle them at close range, they should wear some type of eye protection," Dr. Carrim advised.

via LiveScience