Spiders Alive!

  • Spiders Alive!
For centuries, spiders have inspired mythmakers from Ovid to E. B. White to the creators of the eponymous superhero, but their actual role in diverse ecosystems around the globe is just as captivating. Among the most versatile animals on the planet, spiders inhabit every continent but Antarctica. They survive in environments that range from deserts to rainforests to crowded cities.

In Spiders Alive!, visitors can explore spider anatomy and evolutionary history, learn about their signature traits—venom and silk-making—and be surprised by little-known defense mechanisms such as mimicry and noise-making. In addition to live arachnids representing approximately 17 species, the exhibition includes larger-than-life models of spiders, a climbable spider model 50 times life size, and a rare 100-million-year-old fossil of a spider in limestone.

Spiders can be easy to miss, because many are secretive or too tiny to catch human eyes, but they are important predators. Without spiders to control them, insect populations would explode. By one estimate, the spiders on one acre of woodland consume more than 80 pounds of insects a year. Scientists have identified more than 44,500 species of spiders to date and think there are at least as many yet to be discovered!

Adapted from an exhibition by The American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Spiders Alive!

This exhibition explores the incredible diversity of arachnids with living species, including the goliath bird eater, one of the largest spiders in the world; the western black widow, a member of one of the few North American spider groups that can be harmful to people; the fishing spider, which senses prey by resting its front legs on the surface of the water; and the golden orb-web spider, which weaves a golden web that can reach more than 3 feet in diameter. Species from other arachnid orders are also on display, including African whip spiders, whose whip-like feelers, up to 10 inches in length, help the animal find its way; the giant vinegaroon, which can spray a foul-smelling vinegar-like chemical from its abdomen if disturbed; and the desert hairy scorpion, the largest scorpion in North America.

Each habitat is securely locked and features associated interpretive graphics. Videos and interactive components are scattered throughout. A mini theater, where host institution staff may present live arachnids for visitors to see up close, includes close-up video camera and large screen. In addition to live arachnids representing approximately 20 species, the exhibition also includes larger-than-life models of spiders, a climbable spider model 50 times life size, and a rare fossil of a spider in limestone.

Scientific Advisor: Norman Platnick, curator emeritus in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History.

Booking Period: 12-week minimum

Space Required:  3,000 to 5,000 square feet

Gallery Conditions: Requires a secure indoor space at room temperature.

Shipping: Host institution is responsible for inbound shipping of exhibition components (two 53′ trailers) and round-trip live spider/arachnid transport (per mile fee).

Versions: Available as do-it-yourself exhibition where you provide care of live arachnids, or as turnkey exhibition staffed by a professional zoo keeper from our staff.

Please contact us for exhibit pricing and availability.

Exhibited species are subject to change, but typically include the following:

  • Ornamental tarantulas—Indian ornamental (Poecilotheria regalis), Metallica tarantula (Poecilotheria metallica), and Ivory ornamental (Poecilotheria subfusca): These ornamental tarantulas are as colorful as tropical birds, a sharp contrast to the fearsome, dark, and dangerous creatures many imagine.
  • Trapdoor spider (Liphistius dangrek): These spiders spend most of their time in underground burrows, emerging mainly to grab prey. Their rear half is segmented, a trait visible in some of the earliest spider fossils.
  • Wolf spider (Hogna antelucana): This active hunter searches for food on foot, aided by sharp vision and its ability to sense vibrations—like those of the beating wing on an insect or the patter of steps on the soil.
  • Fishing spider (Dolomedes okefinokensis): Large fishing spiders rest their front legs on the surface of the water on the shoreline trying to sense vibrations from prey. When something gets close, the spider pounces.
  • Desert hairy scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis): The largest scorpion in North America (reaching 10 to 18 cm), this arachnid beats the daytime heat of its desert home in burrows and hunts in the evening, feeding on insects, spiders, lizards, and even an occasional small mammal.
  • Tailless whip scorpion (Damon variegatus): Not actually a scorpion, this arachnid waves its first pair of legs around to feel its way. This species makes a cameo appearance in the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in which one character wrongly suggests that its bite is lethal.
  • Giant vinegaroon (Mastigoproctus giganteus): Like a skunk, this arachnid shoots a foul-smelling spray from its abdomen if disturbed.
  • Brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa): This spider is identified by a dark, violin-shaped mark on its head. Its venom can cause a deep wound in humans that takes weeks or even months to heal and can produce symptoms such as nausea and a fever.
  • Western black widow (Latrodectus hesperus): One of the few species harmful to people in North America, the black widow can be identified by the red hourglass shape on its underside.
  • Mexican red knee (Brachypelma smithi): This stunning tarantula, which lives mainly on the Pacific coast of Mexico, resides in burrows, hurrying out to prey on insects, small frogs, lizards, and mice.
  • Goliath bird eater (Theraphosa stirmi): One of the biggest spiders in the world, it preys on snakes, mice, and frogs but, despite the name, rarely birds.
  • Golden orb-web spider (Nephila pilipes): Found in the Southeast Asian rainforest, this large spider has yellow on its abdomen and spins a golden web.
  • Orb weaver (Argiope sp.): Members of this genus are found all around the world and spin large webs that often contain striking designs. Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White, who consulted with a museum curator while writing the classic children’s book, named the main character Charlotte Cavatica after a common orb weaver, Araneus cavaticus.
  • Funnel-web grass spider (Agelenopsis sp.): This spider spins a sheet-like web attached to a narrow tube, or funnel. Sitting at the mouth of the tube, the spider waits to strike after feeling vibrations of prey crossing the web.
  • Southern house spider (Kukulcania hibernalis): The large charcoal-colored females make flat, tangled webs in dark corners and under overhangs and shutters to catch insects.
  • Magnifying glass over preserved spider in amber and rare, 100-million year old fossilized spider in limestone.
  • Large model of spider, 50 times life size, invites children and adults to climb aboard.
  • Large touchable models of:
    • Spider eyes
    • Urticating hairs
    • Spinnerettes
    • A brown recluse’s chelicerae—paired structures that help the spider grasp food, dig, and inject prey with venom
  • Lighted case of vials containing preserved spiders from the AMNH collection
  • Videos inset into graphics highlight web spinning, ancient spiders, venom, spider diversity, venom and humans, silk production, spider conservation, and more.
  • Behavior theater features narrated video on a large screen and includes seating.
  • Live presenter theater features podium with close-up camera, large presentation screen, and seating.
  • Orb weaver spider model on its web.