On July 4, the “Spiders Alive!” exhibition will return to the American Museum of Natural History. The exhibit, which features 20 live arachnids and covers topics like class diversity, webs, silk, venom, and conservation, seeks to educate visitors about spiders’ important role in the ecosystem and dispel the many misconceptions surrounding these eight-legged critters.
At “Spiders Alive,” there’s something for both the fearless spider enthusiast and the slightly more reluctant investigator. Among the live arachnids, highlights included the massive goliath bird eater, which as one of the largest spiders in the world, is in known to eat snakes, mice, and frogs (!), and the Western black widow and brown recluse, which though tiny are thrill-inducing as some of the few North American spiders that can be harmful to humans. Each species’ descriptive placard includes a “Should I Worry?” section, that addresses the given critter’s potential for harm (and except for the black widow and brown recluse, the answer tends to be “no.” )
You won’t want to miss the hairy tarantulas or the 100 million year-old spider fossil preserved in limestone, and the kids will get a kick out of climbing atop a trapdoor spider model 50 times its life size. While in the exhibit, be sure to look up so as not to miss the hanging model of the golden orb-web spider. Also worth checking out is the display on the giant vinegaroon, which sprays a smelly substance from its abdomen when threatened.
But while spotting spiders behind the glass is certainly exciting, one of the most engaging and educational components of the exhibit is the 15-minute presentations by AMNH staff members. Held at 15 and 45 after the hour, museum staff present live arachnids to the audience, sharing quoteable facts on about spiders from basic anatomy to digestion—spiders inject digestive enzymes into their food to break it down, before slurping it up “like a smoothie”—as well as debunking common myths, such as the frequency of spider bites (most spiders do not bite, and ambiguous insect bites are often misdiagnosed as spider bites.)
During the presentation, as throughout the rest of the exhibit, you’ll also learn about the important role spiders play within their ecosystems, particularly in regard to eating insects—in one acre of woodland, it’s estimated that spiders eat more than 80 pounds of insects per year. You may also be surprised to learn the sheer variety of spiders that exist on earth. Scientists have identified 43,500 species, and believe that there are at least as many more to be uncovered.
The exhibit’s thorough overview of the species will engage both kids and adults alike. And, if your initial reaction upon seeing a spider is to scream, squash it under you shoe, or some combination of the two—well, after “Spiders Alive!” you might think twice.
“Spiders Alive!” is open through November 29, 2015 in AMNH’s Gallery 77 (enter through the Grand Gallery on the first floor near the 77th Street entrance). To learn more, visit amnh.org.