NYC’S real-life spi­der man


Meet New York’s real-life spi­der man. Nor­man I. Plat­nick has been ob­sessed with arach­nids for al­most 40 years — and he hopes “The Amaz­ing Spi­der-man,” open­ing July 3, will get New York­ers bit­ten by the bug, too.

“They can be just as beau­ti­ful as but­ter­flies,” says Plat­nick, the Peter J. Solomon Fam­ily cu­ra­tor emer­i­tus of spi­ders at the Amer­i­can Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory.

Fans can get a chance to see for them­selves Wed­nes­day when the “reel” Spi­der­Man meets “Doc Plat” on his home turf: As part of Spi­der-man week in New York City, the wall-crawler will “sling” from the Mu­seum roof to hand­de­liver a live Chilean rose taran­tula.

The taran­tula will be part of he up­com­ing “Spi­ders Alive!” ex­hi­bi­tion (of­fi­cially open on July 28), which Plat­nick will cu­rate. More than 20 species of liv­ing spi­ders will co­ex­ist with in­ter­ac­tive ex­hibits to pass on all kinds of arach­nid facts.

“The Amaz­ing Spi­der-man” star Andrew Garfield will also make an ap­pear­ance.

In ad­di­tion to the mu­seum ex­hibit, Plat­nick, who holds a PH.D. from Har­vard, leads the largest re­search project ever launched on spi­ders: at­tempt­ing to map and de­scribe the world’s 2,000-plus species of goblin spi­ders.

“There are about 43,000 species of spi­ders that we know of, and that is prob­a­bly only half of what’s out there in the world,” he marvels.

Plat­nick, 61, be­came stuck on spi­ders while he was on a field study with his wife in south­west Vir­ginia in 1973. The pair were ac­tu­ally sup­posed to be col­lect­ing mil­li­pedes, “but when we would get back to the lab, there would be noth­ing in my jars ex­cept spi­ders.”

Plat­nick tried iden­ti­fy­ing what he caught, and suc­cess­fully pegged a fun­nel web spi­der com­mon to the Ap­palachian Moun­tains.

“My pro­fes­sor told me to try an­other one, and I just never stopped,” he says.

Plat­nick says that to him, it’s only nat­u­ral that his fa­vorite creepy-crawlers would spawn a beloved su­per­hero like Spi­der-Man. “The silk they pro­duce is a re­mark­able com­pound,” he says, re­fer­ring to the web strands Spidey shoots to swing from sky­scrapers. “It has strength greater than steel for its di­men­sions, and it can ex­pand.”

Plat­nick notes that the mil­i­tary and some pri­vate com­pa­nies are work­ing fu­ri­ously, with lim­ited suc­cess, to syn­the­size a sim­i­lar ma­te­rial for ropes and para­chutes.

The planet would fall apart with­out spi­ders’ pro­tec­tion, he says. “If they weren’t around, most crops wouldn’t grow be­cause they’d be de­voured by in­sects. Earth would be over­run. ”

With a mild win­ter ex­pected to spawn record num­bers of pests this sum­mer, the city could use all the spi­ders it can get.

“Spi­der-Man is great in that he brings pos­i­tive at­ten­tion to spi­ders, par­tic­u­larly in New York, where lots of kids go through their lives with lit­tle or no ex­po­sure to the nat­u­ral world.

“Hope­fully peo­ple who may be scared of spi­ders [will see] them as fas­ci­nat­ing and beau­ti­ful, and not to be feared,” says Plat­nick.

He swears not one of his spec­i­mens has ever bit­ten him. “Most spi­ders are so small that they can’t break your skin,” he scoffs. “And the like­li­hood of en­coun­ter­ing a spi­der that can ac­tu­ally harm you is par­tic­u­larly small.”

See, Doc Ock, Green Goblin and the Lizard? “Doc Plat” says, don’t fear the Spi­der.


Andrew Garfield (l.) on sub­way in “The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man”

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