His little arms held out his brown stuffed spider, named Lucas, in comparison to the picture of the wolf spider on the museum wall. Fitted in his favorite “Spiderman” shirt, Jamie Mallard, 4, strutted across the new exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.
“Spiders Alive!” is an arachnid-based exhibit that opened its doors on Jan. 28, said Julie Waters, exhibit coordinator at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The display is a part of the museum’s rotational series, replacing the “Fantastic Fossils” exhibit that was there prior.
“I’m the resident ‘spider-phobe,’” said Waters, pursing her lips together at the thought of spiders nearby. However, she said that the exhibit seems to be doing well and that many people are not as scared as she initially thought. The exhibit is owned and maintained by the exhibit design and fabrication company Peeling Productions but produced by the American Museum of Natural History.
The Mallard family showed no hesitation walking into the exhibit. Matt Mallard, 38, and his wife Loren Mallard, 39, watched their son Jamie Mallard grin ear-to-ear, pointing out all the spiders he could find.
“We watch a lot of nature documentaries, so he’s always been interested in stuff like this,” said Matt Mallard, crossing his arms in admiration of his son. Jamie Mallard made sure to show his stuffed animal spider, Lucas, all around the exhibit.
Some people in the exhibit made a special detour to see the spiders. Caitlin Hartsfield, 42, and her son Brooks Hartsfield, 10, are from Carrollton, Georgia. They came down to visit the manatees at Crystal River, Florida. After their swim, they came to see the spiders.
“When they’re in the glass, I think I can handle them,” said Caitlyn Hartsfield, watching her son run from spider to spider.
“I’m not afraid of them,” said her son, Brooks Hartsfield, as he responded to his mother’s concerns.
As he sat on top of the giant plastic spider in the center of the exhibit, the boy added to his original statement by saying he grew up in the woods and was used to seeing the eight-legged creatures.
But some were a little warier of what they were looking at. Viewing the glass cage from a healthy distance was Barbara Ahlersmeyer, 70. Ahlersmeyer is a self-described “snowbird” from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and said she wants to acquaint herself with the spiders in Florida.
“I eradicate spiders with my toe,” she said with remorse. Her husband, Bob Ahlersmeyer, 75, patted her on the back while she gave her opinions about the creepy crawlers.
The new exhibit is also a place for schools to visit on field trips. Destiny Leadership Academy, a private Christian elementary school in Marion County, Florida, held a class field trip there on Feb. 3.
One of the chaperones on the field trip was India King, 33. She watched as her section of students climbed onto the interactive spider in the center of the exhibit. While some kids were hesitant to see what was behind the glass, they eventually became very comfortable.
“We hope this exhibit brings more awareness to arachnids as a whole,” said Nikhil Srinivasan, 28. Srinivasan is the marketing specialist at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
He said that past exhibits have focused on live sloths or turtles but thinks that having an exhibition about arachnids is essential for people to care about all types of life on earth.
Srinivasan said that the live animals in the exhibit, including scorpions, are from Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland, an Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited Zoo in Allenwood, Pennsylvania.
The limited exhibit also features a closer look at the anatomy of spiders, spider conservation and research.
Exhibit Coordinator Julie Waters, the “spider-phobe,” said that after this exhibit closes on Labor Day weekend, its new exhibit, “Incredible Insects,” will open in its place. She said that she believes anyone can go and see the spiders to learn something important about the natural world, no matter how scared they are.
“I’m a recovering ‘spider-phobe,’ but I’m a lot more used to it now,” she said.