By Emmie Bristow
From the hundreds of tarantulas Indiana Jones fought in Raiders of the Lost Ark, to the thousands of spiders Ron Weasley was afraid of in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, arachnids have been the article of nightmares for many people. There’s just something about their eight hairy legs and glossy black eyes that can give you the heebie-jeebies.
Therefore, when I visited Exploration Works’ exhibit on The Art and Science of Arachnids, I was not exactly sure how much I would enjoy it. I decided to give it a go, though, and was not disappointed.
I spoke first with Kari Gagner, the marketing director, and then Paige Terhune with the visitor services to learn more about this exhibit and all it had to offer to the public, which it turns out was more than I expected. The exhibit is different from many others because it not only has more than 100 species of live arachnids on display (which I found also includes scorpions), but, as it states on their website, it “explores human-arachnid cultural connections through literature, art, folklore, paleontology, science, [and] history.” And, Helena, Montana is the first in the country to experience the display.
When speaking with Kari, she said that the arachnids were brought in small plastic cup containers that often weren’t even sealed, which initially surprised and frightened her, though they never escaped. She, like me, has a fear of arachnids, but after working with them has seen their beauty and how fascinating they are and slowly warms up to them every day with the help of Paige, who has quite the extent of arachnid knowledge.
While there, I went through my own warming-up process–with the help of Paige and Kari–as I watched the rare Vinegaroon chase down its breakfast-cricket. I felt the fuzzy skin of a tarantula molting (which looked alive), and saw how most are fluorescent and glow in black-lights. I learned quirky facts, like that males only live to be five years old while the females can live to be twenty, and that all the arachnids on display, even if they are listed as poisonous, are still not harmful enough to kill a human (their bites are more like bee stings). I saw extremely rare and difficult-to-get species like the Cameroon Dictator Spider, and learned that any tarantula with the name “Pokie” means it is poisonous. There were snippets about arachnids’ presence in literature, television, folklore, and history, as well as amazing close-up photographs by a German photographer. There was even a video showing how to do a dance inspired by arachnids!
This exhibit has has attracted spider experts, arachnophobes, grandparents, children, parents—all walks of life to Exploration Works.
“My favorite is to see people’s attitudes change toward arachnids. At first, they say ‘oh!’” Paige said, her face wrinkled up in disgust. “But after watching the them, they get a little more interested, and say ‘oh.'” Her face relaxed, calm and beguiled. I’m sure this is close to the way I reacted when viewing these creatures at first.
The Art and Science of Arachnids will be at Exploration Works through the end of August, and business hours are 10am to 5pm, Monday through Saturday. Admission is $5.50 for kids ages 2 to 18, $6.50 for students with an ID and seniors, $9 for adults, and free for members and children under 2. There is also a Ride & Explore Combo Pass offered, where you experience both Exploration Works and The Great Northern Carousel for $25 for up to 4 people ($5 per additional guest).
Also, if you are a patron to the Lewis & Clark Library, you have the option to check out two family passes for access to Exploration works. More information on this can be found on the library’s website at lclibrary.org/327/Edventure-Passes.
So come have your mind changed about arachnids like me. I promise you will enjoy yourself, and even if you still don’t (which is highly unlikely), you can still head on over to the Carousel for an ice cream cone to calm your nerves afterward.