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Five things to do at the new museum exhibit "Spiders Alive!"

AMNH's latest blockbuster, new museum exhibit "Spiders Alive!," teaches families to appreciate rather than fear the eight-legged creatures.

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    AMNH Spiders Alive!

Photograph: Dominic Perri

AMNH Spiders Alive!


Most kids know spiders as the creepy-crawly creatures that show up on their walls or countertops, causing great alarm. But thanks to the American Museum of Natural History's new museum exhibit, "Spiders Alive!," even the most squirmish tots can face their fears and get to know one of the most essential and abundant predators on earth. Curated by AMNH's resident spider expert and real-life Spider-Man Norman Platnick, Ph.D., "Spiders Alive!" lets kids and parents come face-to-face with more than 20 species of real, live spiders, exploring their anatomy, behavior and importance to the world's ecosystems, as well as the conservation methods used by researchers to protect them. Here are five cool things to do at the new museum exhibit that would make even Peter Parker jealous.

Explore biodiversity
Among its many missions, "Spiders Alive!" aims to teach children not to fear spiders by showing them just how crucial these creatures are to insect populations around the globe. If spiders didn't feed on insects like wasps, for example, the insect population would be out of control. Check out the tarantula wall when you walk in and look for the ivory ornamental tarantula, the metallica tarantula and the Indian ornamental tarantula. Kids will love comparing and contrasting the three species, looking for similarities and differences between them. Then roam the exhibit to track down other imposing spiders, including the black widow, alongside vials of real black-widow antivenom, and the goliath bird eater, one of the largest arachnids in the world (no, it doesn't eat birds much, but rather the likes of snakes, frogs, mice and even bats). You and the crew can also view a fluorescent-lit wall of vials containing some of the spiders that make up the AMNH's extensive research collection.

Meet a spider
Toward the middle of the exhibit is an area with a couple of tables and benches. Grab a seat and watch a 15-minute presentation by one of the museum's spider pros, who'll explain the basic anatomy of a New World tarantula while handling a live specimen, giving you and the little ones an up-close view. If you can't nab a seat, don't worry: A camera presides over all the action and projects the goings-on onto a large screen behind the instructor, giving all kids a good look. Between presentations, let your tykes walk up to the expert's table and check out the spiders for themselves with a magnifying glass.

Learn about spider behavior
Even the most unscientific-minded attendees will be intrigued by the exhibition's eye-catching and easy-to-follow displays describing spiders' fascinating defense and protection behaviors. Most feature mega spider anatomy models, some of which are up to 9,600 times the size of the real thing, like that of an urticating hair: a small bristle that New World tarantulas catapult at their enemies, causing often fatal bodily harm. Then walk the kids over to the life-size model of a beautiful orb web—the classic circular kind—made by the golden orb web spider. Don't miss a model of the common orb weaver that served as inspiration to E.B. White when he wrote the kid-lit classic Charlotte's Web, which nabbed the No. 2 spot in our roundup of the 50 best children's books.

Learn what it takes to be an arachnologist
Now that your kids have gotten over their fear of spiders, they might want to learn more about how they can look for eight-legged friends in their own backyards. Venture to the Essential Spider exhibit, where budding arachnologists can view the tools Platnick uses when conducting research. The display contains step-by-step instructions for using a sifter and a Berlese funnel, both of which help researchers find even the tiniest spiders that hide in heaps of soil.

Take a snapshot
Kids will especially love the giant model spider that practically demands a web-slinging photo op. Have them climb on top, where they can strike a memento-worthy pose. The photogenic giant isn't the only larger-than-life creature in the room; look up and you'll find an enormous spider overlooking the bustling scene from atop an orb web.

"Spiders Alive!" is on view at the American Museum of Natural History from July 28 to Dec 2.


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