Cel­e­brat­ing creepy crawlies at Vic­to­ria Bug Zoo

The Hamilton Spectator - - BOOKS - DIRK MEISS­NER

Hairy-legged taran­tu­las and pointy-tailed scor­pi­ons send chills of fear through most peo­ple, but at the Vic­to­ria Bug Zoo they are as friendly as new­born kit­tens and will rest in the palm of your hand.

The down­town mini zoo of­fers vis­i­tors an up-close-and-per­sonal view of live trop­i­cal bugs from around the world.

It also shat­ters long-held fears about deadly spi­der bites and stings as glow-in-the-dark scor­pi­ons and taran­tu­las the size of ten­nis balls are avail­able to calmly in­ter­act with vis­i­tors.

“It felt OK,” said Sally Mil­lis of Bris­bane, Aus­tralia, af­ter she held a Chilean rose hair taran­tula. “But I wouldn’t be hold­ing it any­where else.”

The bug zoo has about 50 species of in­sects, in­clud­ing gi­ant walk­ing sticks, robot­like pray­ing man­tises and Canada’s largest ant colony, where the ever-busy crea­tures travel through a se­ries of in­ter­con­nected see-through plas­tic pipes.

Tour guides are on hand to in­tro­duce vis­i­tors to the world of bugs and pro­vide safe spi­der, cock­roach and bee­tle han­dling ex­pe­ri­ences for the more ad­ven­tur­ous. But it’s adults only when it comes to han­dling some of the more ex­otic and frag­ile spi­ders.

Bi­ol­o­gist Jaymie Chu­diak said she has be­come known as the zoo’s bug whis­perer for her skills in as- sess­ing the per­son­al­i­ties and friend­li­ness of ev­ery bug or spi­der that vis­i­tors will meet.

“I vet them for gen­tle­ness and ease of han­dling,” she said.

Chu­diak said most of the spi­ders are calm and eas­ily adapt to hu­man in­ter­ac­tions, but some are cranky.

She said Hazel, a large Mex­i­can red knee taran­tula, is “lit­tle moody at times.”

“She gets su­per ex­cited,” said Chu­diak.

“I’ve ac­tu­ally played tug-of-war with her. She’ll grab onto the feed­ing tongs and not let go.”

Hazel ap­peared to be in a par­tic­u­larly testy mood on a re­cent visit, stand­ing al­most upright in a fight­ing pose for sev­eral min­utes.

Chu­diak said the spi­ders bite and are ven­omous, but even though their bites will hurt, they don’t pos­sess enough venom to kill or se­ri­ous hurt a per­son.

The bug zoo, open since 1997, had about 50,000 vis­i­tors last year.

School field trips are a ma­jor source of cus­tomers, but the zoo is also al­ways full on school hol­i­days.

Jor­dan Krushen, gen­eral man­ager of the fa­cil­ity, said adults are also fas­ci­nated by the bugs, spi­ders and in­sects at the zoo.

He said the zoo hosted an af­ter­hours Valen­tine’s Day event aimed at bug lovers.

The age 19-plus gath­er­ing, “Sex on Six Legs,” ex­plored the mat­ing habits of many dif­fer­ent arthro­pods, he said.

Guides were on hand to dis­cuss the sex habits of bugs, in­clud­ing nup­tial gifts and trau­matic in­sem­i­na­tion, Krushen said.

CHAD HIPOLITO, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Si­enna Mel­lis, 7, re­acts to see­ing a gi­ant Brazil­ian cock­roach as an­i­mal care­taker Jean­nie San­der­son talks about its unique fea­tures at the Vic­to­ria Bug Zoo.

Head bi­ol­o­gist Jaymie Chu­diak holds a rose hair taran­tula at the Vic­to­ria Bug Zoo in Vic­to­ria, B.C.

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