Spiders are the stars at the Natural History Museum
Spiders are the stars at the Natural History Museum

Along Came a Spider Pavilion: Big Spiders Are Back at the Natural History Museum

While some may ring in the Halloween season by smearing shrubs with 99-cent store fuzzy webbing and plastic spiders, the arachnid purists over at the Natural History Museum have a more organic approach. This weekend the screened pavilion on the museum’s South Lawn becomes seasonal home to more free-range, eight-legged tenants than anyone in his right mind could want – in short, an arachnophobe’s worst nightmare and an eight-year-old boy’s version of heaven.

We have paid several visits to the museum’s springtime Butterfly Pavilion through the years, joining the throngs of smiling families oohing, ahhing, and extending fingers. The fall Spider Pavilion crowd behaves quite differently – more along the lines of gasping, shuddering, and shrinking away. I've never seen a single spider house visitor needing a reminder not to touch. Enormous creatures (on the scale of what you don't want to find in your bathtub) perch in the center of doubly enormous webs, hanging out and waiting for museum staff to toss a few worms and grasshoppers their way.

No one needs a reminder not to touch at the Spider Pavilion.

The dramatic-looking spiders journey here from as far away as the swamps of Louisiana, though local varieties are also represented. Breeds inclined to sit in their webs are chosen for the exhibit, and we learned that only females are selected because the she-spiders are so much bigger than the he-spiders.  The Spider Den houses those spiders that are best viewed while safely contained behind glass,  including tarantulas, wolf spiders, and jumping spiders; the spiders spinning free are those not considered dangerous to humans.

Daytime visits are great for photo ops, but families harboring true arachnophiles and budding entomologists should keep their eyes open for opportunities to do one of the evening flashlight tours that are occasionally offered (we'll keep you posted!). After dark is when the creepy crawlies are the most active, and if a knock-down, drag-out spider brawl sounds like a good time, after dark is the time to find one. Nighttime is also when spiders gobble up their own webs and rebuild them someplace else (TMI?) in the ultimate act of recycling.

Magnifying glasses are fun, but the spiders in this exhibit are plenty big.

Between pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and apple picking, entertainment is not hard to come by at this time of year, but slipping in an outing that has a big educational element feels good—in spite of all those icky, hairy legs.

Spider Pavilion 2019 dates: September 15 - December 1.  (Museum closed Thanksgiving Day).
10:00am-5:00pm (last entry 4:30pm)
Spider Pavilion: $5 (plus general admission: Adults $15; Students/Youth $12; Children (3 - 12) $7, (2 and under) free; prices may be lower online)
Or visit on one of the museum's free admission days.

Photos by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging courtesy of the Natural History Museum

Originally published October 13, 2011

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