Going to the American Museum of Natural History began as a simple idea for a Sunday outing. Then Taran went to the web site. I had already checked it out and — given her absolute fear of even the tiniest little harmless spider — I assumed Spiders Alive! was a non-negotiable NO WAY! But I was wrong.
Terrified even reading the description, she decided that this might be a good opportunity to try to overcome a little bit of her fear. Poisonous spiders, sure, but safely sequestered behind glass, she reasoned. So she gave herself 24 hours to acclimate to the idea, and suddenly the visit was focused a battle between willpower and arachnophobia.
The excitement/anxiety built as our 1:30 p.m. reservation drew near. I readied the camera to document the journey. Taran braced herself against squealing in terror.
Here’s a photo-filled recap of what followed:
Upon entering, we immediately faced a set of terrarium tanks with tarantulas inside. Cautiously, she approached, she observed, she survived, she realized… these spiders aren’t moving.
It was downhill from there. There was plenty to learn and to see: a few dozen dead spiders (and several scorpions) from around the world and information about them, the tanks marked outside with sticky notes arrow showing where to look.
With that realization, everything changed. The exhibit became less impactful, the knowledge being provided seemed less intense.
Did the spiders need to be alive. Well, of course not. Taran’s disappointment was more in the lack of imagination or laziness of the exhibition. What should they have done? Only what they’ve done in the rest of the museum: from mammals to birds to insects, the specimens are in enclosures that look like their natural habitats. “Show me their prey!” Taran begged in retrospect. “You’ve got a Goliath Bird Eater; have it attacking a bird!”
There are signs all over the room that warn “Spiders can be hard to spot — they may sit very still and be hidden from view. Keep your eyes open, though. You’ll find them!” There are even warnings not to tap on the glass. They should have kept up that feeling of danger and put us into the world of these poisonous predators.
Instead, Taran walked out feeling like she was lied to, like her intelligence had being insulted. “I wanted to face my fear, and they denied me that opportunity,” she said.
In all fairness, what we learned was quite fascinating. There was a quick presentation geared toward kids which featured a live tarantula and a live scorpion and that nicely tied in the surrounding displays. There were several areas with enlarged models that explained the make-up of spiders and how they operate. A giant spider model overhead was a “pleasant” surprise, and a statue at the end was a blast for kids (and kids at heart) to climb on.