'Amazing Arachnids' spins its web this summer at Brookfield Zoo
Spotting spiders is all too easy in suburban backyards and basements, but you won't see anything crawling across your patio like the 100 arachnids on display at Brookfield Zoo this summer.
"Amazing Arachnids" opens Saturday, May 26, and runs through Sept. 3. It features spiders and scorpions, as well as interactive activities.
"They're very striking animals and come in all colors of the rainbow," said Chicago Zoological Society interpretive programs manager Andre Copeland.
Visitors will have the chance to observe various parts of the arachnid life cycle. Two of the spiders began molting shortly after they arrived -- part of their natural growth process -- and there's currently a scorpion carrying her young on her back. The babies will soon have their own enclosure, but handlers think another scorpion might be getting ready to give birth as well.
Some of the arachnids can be hard to find since they like to burrow or find hiding places, but facilitators from the zoo will be on hand to help visitors spot them. On occasion they will also bring in spiders from the zoo's permanent collection for special chats.
The exhibit is filled with interactive elements for kids. One area lets them build a web using bungee cords, and another shows how arachnids hide by challenging kids to dig up plastic versions. Children can assemble their own arachnid using a wall of puzzle pieces and move along with a video of an Italian folk dance that was once believed to cure spider bites.
Adventurous visitors can also explore the Mission Safari Maze, starting by spinning a wheel to choose their animal guide. They then venture through the corridors searching for their animal, learning as they go about conservation and animal survival skills and trying various activities such as climbing bars like an orangutan.
"Amazing Arachnids" boasts 80 species of tarantula, which are larger and slower than most spiders -- qualities that make them perfect for the big screen.
"The spiders that starred in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and 'Kingdom of the Spiders' were one of the first very popular pet tarantulas, the Mexican redknee," Copeland said. "It was so popular that it was over-collected across the Mexican border with the United States and was one of the first arachnids to have a conservation message attached to it. It became a threatened species. Mexico stopped exportation of these animals and when you wanted to get them you had to look for breeders. This started the captive breeding trend for arachnids."
Spider conservation is important because the animals eat insects, including those that would otherwise spread disease or devour crops. A section of the exhibit shows how the animals survive, including the difference between a spider's fangs and a scorpion's stinger and how tarantulas climb using their claws.
Arachnids have played an important part in cultures throughout history. The exhibit shares African stories of Anansi, who teaches children how to interact with their peers, and tales about King David and Mohammad being protected by spiders.
Another section is devoted to the role arachnids play in science, with spider and scorpion venom used to treat heart ailments and brain tumors and spider silk seen as a way to make lighter, more flexible bulletproof vests.
"We want people to come in and take in all of this so they see these animals as a whole and maybe make a different connection with them and appreciate all the benefits they provide society as opposed to just thinking of them as an eight-legged animal that scares them," Copeland said.
• • •
Where: Brookfield Zoo, 8400 31st St., Brookfield, (708) 688-8000, czs.org
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 26 to Sept. 3
Admission: $26.95; $13.95 for kids ages 3-11 and seniors (includes zoo admission)