Only one person dared to guess the creature I was most afraid of at the Natural History Museum’s Insect Zoo.  What, are you all AFRAID to comment on my blog?  (ba-dum-ching)

So let’s talk about his guess:  the mighty fear-inducing tarantula. 

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I lived in a cheap first-floor apartment, that among other problems – an ex-boyfriend with a jealous new girlfriend and moldy holes in the wall due to water leakage – was infested with daddy long-legs spiders.  And where was this infestation centered, you ask?  Of all places, MY ROOM.

Every night when I came home from work, I’d find no less than eight of these giant arachnids chilling on the crack between my wall and ceiling — just above where I slept.  I’d calmly grab my econo-sized can of Raid and spray them till they stopped moving, probably doing more damage to my own lungs in the long run than to their nest, then I’d fall into a peaceful sleep.  I am ashamed to admit that I rarely cleared the hair-like carcasses from my wall, but for two marginally acceptable reasons:

1.  I’m short.  I could barely reach them with the can of bug spray standing on tippy-toes on my bed.

2.  No matter WHAT I did, there was always a new bunch that showed up the next day.

It got to a point where I almost named them.  We nearly shared a bottle of chardonnay.  It was awful, but for a time, I became completely desensitized to one of my greatest fears — some unintentional exposure therapy did the trick.  That’s not to say that if a nest appeared in my condo right now I’d have the same reaction.  Okay, I’d grab the can of Raid probably…nevermind that it’s the anti-roach variety.  It still works!

So what’s the point of my little story, then?  To prove that the giant, fuzzy, monster-like tarantula is part of the arachnid family, and therefore was not what I most feared at the Insect Zoo.

And the winner is…(drumroll, please)…the giant African millipede! 

Giant African Millipede

When Leslie brought this sucker out of her enclosure, it was coiled up worm-like and didn’t look half as menacing as I thought it would, but that’s because I couldn’t yet see its legs.  Slowly, the millipede uncurled and began slinking up her arm.  GAH!  SLINKING!!  It gives me shivers just remembering it.  About the thickness of my thumb and perhaps 10 inches long when completely stretched out, the millipede was shiny, segmented and dark.  Upwards of 100 legs shone a reddish tone and were fascinating to watch as they all moved in turn.  I disagreed with Leslie – this creature was most certainly not “cute” as she described it, but I have to admit it was pretty neat to watch its legs gracefully undulate and “do the wave”. 

When she asked if I wanted to let the millipede crawl on me, I immediately grimaced but knew I had to face my fear — I didn’t want to let anyone down!  So I stuck my hand underneath and lo and behold, there I was letting a giant African myriapod dance across my palm.  I thought it would make me ticklish, but the legs felt almost solid and sturdy, tiny brush bristles that tinkled up a piano scale.  Though Greg cut it out of the video, I distinctly remember looking at the camera and saying, “My mom won’t believe I’m doing this.”  Just refer to the post entitled “When Fear is a Good Thing” and you’ll know why. 

After that, it was time to face the tarantula, but not before Leslie dug into a tupperware container full of tarantula “skins.”  Did you know that tarantulas molt?  They shed their ENTIRE bodies, right down to their fangs!  And for educational purposes, the museum keeps several on hand, one of which I held.  I was completely weirded out by the fact that its fuzzy exterior was just as velvety as my dog’s ears.  Anyone want to rub a spider molt on their cheek?

Desert Blonde Tarantula

Leslie then picked up a live female desert blonde tarantula, noting that the museum likes “hairy-legged girls” and let us pet her soft belly.  Each of its eight legs retracted and the spider held still — so still that I wasn’t 100% convinced it was even real.  In fact, I think I was more terrified of the bucket o’ inanimate spider suits than I was of the live tarantula, a species that can live up to 15 or even 20 years.  Side note:  to those of my friends and family with kids, please do not ever let them get a tarantula.  I might never enter your house again.

What?  You thought I was going to “get over” my fear of insects, arachnids and myriapods that quickly?  Come on!  I mean, in the days ahead of the insect encounter, I could barely kill an average house fly, and just over a week afterwards, I still jumped and shook upon seeing two enormous hoppety crickets outside my condo.

But nevertheless, I am proud of myself and can say I’ve experienced something most people are too afraid to try.  That’s right, macho dudes who can jump out of airplanes but are too squeamish to hold a bug in their hand.  I did this.  And that’s gotta count for something.

Until next time, this is your friendly neighborhood Feardom Fighter signing off, just a teensy bit less scared.