Spiders Alive! at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City

by Gina Martin on August 1, 2012

in Arts and Culture

Spiders seem to inspire reactions that are extreme – you either love them, or loathe them. I find myself on the “love” end of the spectrum, with most family and friends on the “loathe” end. So, when the American Museum of Natural History in New York opened their new exhibit, Spiders Alive! I was giddy to make the trip to see it in previews, even if I had to go by myself.

Museum Entrance photo by American Museum of Natural History

Spiders Alive! Reflects World Class Scientific Research

Spiders are an important species in our ecosystem – they prey on insects, and help keep their populations in check. The American Museum of Natural History houses the largest collection of spider species in the world, as well as hosting the World Spider Catalog, an online reference with data on all known species of spider. Among scientists worldwide, Spiders Alive! curator Dr. Norman Platnick is the go-to scientist for All Things Arachnid. Dr. Platnick studies spiders in the field and in the lab, and told preview audiences that of the 43,000 species that are known, it is expected that there are at least that many still out there, yet to be discovered by humans. Of those, many are too small or too secretive to be seen, and they are found on every continent except Antarctica. Habitat loss is killing thousands of spiders per year, so there are species that exist now that may be snuffed out before we have the chance to find them, dealing a severe blow to biodiversity and environmental health.

Spiders Alive! has a mix of live specimens, and preserved ones, along with great photos and giant models of various spiders – one model is even set up for kids to climb on. It’s about the size of a pony, and makes a great photo op.

Climbable Spider photo by American Museum of Natural History

Other members of the class Arachnid are represented as well, with a Desert Hairy Scorpion and Tailless Whip Scorpion (which isn’t a scorpion, but does have an impressive whip) in their own little habitats for viewing. The whole exhibit has interactive areas in addition to the mini-habitats, that feature touch screens that give more info on specific spiders. There are also videos addressing the conservation angle, and how important these little creatures are to us, and on their behavior.

Educators have a station set up where you can see a live tarantula, as well as get a better look at ‘shed’ from the Goliath Bird Eater Spider (the outer shells that spiders discard when they grow out of them, like lobsters), a super sized fuzzy spider that literally does eat birds, along with snakes and other small animals when it can catch them.

Spiders Alive Presentation Area

Spiders Alive Presentation area cart photo by American Museum of Natural History

There is a live specimen of the Goliath for you to check out as well, in her own little environment. She’s adorably fuzzy, and I embarrassed myself a couple of times “squeeee-ing” and talking baby talk. One guy heard me talking to her, and asked if I was doing an interview. Hmph.

Goliath Bird Eater Spider says HELLO photo by AMNH.jpg

Spider Myths Debunked

Common misperceptions of spiders as being virulently venomous are incorrect. Of the 43,000 known species, only a few have venom strong enough to cause a reaction in humans, and most of those reactions are not deadly. In addition, most spiders are so tiny their jaws can’t break human skin, let alone inject anything into it. Nevertheless, misconceptions like this still abound:

The educators on site are enthusiastic about their subject. Kids and adults alike will learn a lot from Spiders Alive!, and maybe those that aren’t keen on spiders to begin with will leave with an appreciation of how fascinating and important these little creatures are to our planet’s health, and with greater respect for the first-rate research that is done by American Museum of Natural History scientists.

Go See It!

Spiders Alive! at The American Museum of Natural History
On view through December 2, 2012
Separate timed tickets needed, see website above for details
79th Street & Central Park West
New York, NY
212-313-7278

Thank you to the American Museum of Natural History for inviting me to the press preview, and for providing the pictures used here.

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| lives in Coxsackie NY with her husband, their two children, and an assortment of Rottweilers and cats. Gina has been a homeschooling parent since 2003, and is also proud parent of a Tech Valley High School student. Gina is the creator of ModSchooler, her blog about 21st -century learning and fun, and is a contributor to From Scratch Club writing on food and food policy. As lifelong learners, Gina and her tween and teen kids like to go off the beaten path to explore quirky travel destinations, unusual cuisine, and all things geeky. Email: GinaMartin@AlbanyKid.com, twitter: @GinaMartinBlogs

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