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”