School talks and phobias

Yesterday I had the opportunity to share my passion for tarantulas and other creatures with children at a local primary school.  I’d supplied them with some Extatosoma tiaratum (giant prickly stick insect) nymphs which the children are raising as part of a class project on life cycles in nature.  They invited me to talk to them about stick insects and other invertebrates, and can honestly say I’ve never seen a more excited bunch of kids, or been asked quite as many questions, but it was an interesting experience and they seemed to love it.

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I began by showing them some stick insect ova (eggs) and talking through their entire life cycle from eggs, through how they mimic Leptomyrmex ants when they hatch, through the various instars to maturity.  They also had the chance to handle some stick insects which they loved.  The kids asked lots of questions and I was very impressed with some of their knowledge and their enthusiasm.  Most of them however struggled to disguise the fact that they were more excited about something else during my talk though – their teacher had told them that I would also be bringing a tarantula and a snake!

I actually took several tarantulas along, and for obvious reasons they remained securely in plastic enclosures much to the relief of the teacher!  I also took some moulted skins and showed them a slideshow of a tarantula moulting which absolutely fascinated them.  Time flew by and after an hour and rapidly running out of time, the tarantulas were put away and I gave them the chance to get up close and personal with a snake – a young royal python.  For many of them it was their first time touching a snake, and while a few declined most were extremely excited and loved the experience.  A couple of the children were a little scared but plucked up the courage and the beaming smiles on their face afterwards showed how proud they were to conquer their fears.  The biggest achievement however was one of the teachers who had always had a lifelong phobia of snakes.  She had said right from the start that she wanted to touch the snake if she could, and though she was visibly trembling with fear, she gently touched the python with one finger and then held her hands out and I allowed the snake to rest in her palms for a few seconds.  She was certainly very relieved when I took the snake back, but she was really glad she managed it.  After conquering my own phobia it felt really good to be able to help someone else with their own.

I’ve never considered doing anything like this in the past, and I certainly won’t be making it a regular thing, but it was great to share some of my knowledge and passion, and seeing both the children and the adults getting so much out of it.  If anyone reading this keeps tarantulas or other “exotics” themselves and you get the opportunity to do something like this please do – you won’t regret it!

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