Caught in the Web Live Specimens, Interactive Games and Some Truly Original Web Sites Spin into Town in a Smithsonian Spider Exhibit Opening Tomorrow at the MOSH

By Phelps, Bob | The Florida Times Union, December 12, 1997 | Go to article overview

Caught in the Web Live Specimens, Interactive Games and Some Truly Original Web Sites Spin into Town in a Smithsonian Spider Exhibit Opening Tomorrow at the MOSH


Phelps, Bob, The Florida Times Union


Spiders may give squeamish observers the creeps, but they rank

among the good guys, ecologically speaking.

They can bite humans, but most probably won't.

They all have venom, but the vast majority of them can't

poison people. However, bugs should look out for nature's

original web sites.

Good and bad poetry, nursery rhymes, myths, bad movies and

nightmares all have been inspired by innocent, architecturally

gifted arachnids.

But why all this talk about crawling spiders with the Yule

holiday season in full swing and Halloween weeks in the past?

Because, by some quirk in scheduling, the Smithsonian

Institution's traveling show SPIDERS! is opening tomorrow at the

Museum of Science and History. The show will continue at MOSH

through March 8.

Spiders for the holidays? Well, consider that spiders give us

a gift just by surviving, said spider expert Cmdr. William Kanour

of the Navy Disease Vector Ecology and Control Center at

Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

"They're the best little pest control agents we have," he

said. "They eat all kinds of various insects, other spiders and

small critters."

All but a rare few of the 170,000 species of spiders are quite

harmless to humans, Kanour said. He will be a lecturer at the

spider show at 2 p.m. Jan. 10, part of a series of lectures by

Kanour, toxic bite expert Maynard Cox and storyteller Diane

Delage scheduled for January and February.

The show features a lot of local talent of the eight-legged

variety and a lot of web sites, not of the computer variety.

The star of the 8,000-square-foot exhibit will be the

Jacksonville museum's own celebrity spider, Darlene, an

eight-inch salmon-haired bird-eating spider from Brazil.

Darlene is just a juvenile and could grow to be a foot long

and live 20 years, said Jean Schubert, museum naturalist. To

prove just how harmless these arachnids are, she confidently

picked up the hairy critter from its aquarium, turned it over and

tapped it's quarter-inch fangs with her fingernails. Don't do

this at home.

"She doesn't bite me because she has confidence in me,"

Schubert said of Darlene. "If she did [bite], it would be

painful, but it wouldn't kill me."

Darlene shares star billing in the Smithsonian show with a

clay animation video cousin named Tallulah Tarantula, who teaches

children about the amazing sensory abilities and architectural

genius of the web builders.

The museum also is supplying other live specimens, some

brought in from supply houses and some that are permanent

residents of the museum, including a quick-legged rabid wolf

spider. The "rabid" is part of the spider's official name and is

a reference to temperament, not disease.

The exhibit, built by the Smithsonian in 1994, includes

computerized games that allow viewers to weave a spider web, plot

strategy on catching an insect for a meal, feel the difference

that spiders feel between different kinds of insects when they

land on the web and use venom to immobilize prey.

An entire section is devoted to ancient-to-modern myths about

spiders, art works, literature such as Charlotte's Web by E.B.

White and poetry about spiders. Dioramas of spider habitats, dead

and live specimens, and videos are included.

"Every so often the museum likes to put together a really

blockbuster exhibit and this is one of them," said Ann Aptaker,

MOSH director of exhibits. "It has a small theater built

into it and 70 units to view. …

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