Category: Spiders

It Could Happen

Basically, this is my worst nightmare.


My life, overtaken by bugs

Two days ago, I stepped out of the shower to find a baby spider crawling up the wall.  WHACK!

Last night, I discovered a long, fast multi-legged thing in the track of my closet.  SMUSH!

Five minutes ago, a small spider crawled out of my notepad at work.  GASP!  SMACK! (and another SMACK for good measure).

Why are they following me?  Why are they everywhere?  When I moved to California in 2003, I was pleasantly surprised by how few insects there were in general (nevermind the daddy long-legs infestation in my bedroom).

So what is going on this week???? 

More to come soon…

I woke up at 5 am on September 1st, determined to set up an array of birthday surprises for my husband.  Little did I know a surprise was waiting for me in the bathroom.

In the middle of the floor was a pudgy black spider.  Tiny.  Though I needed it to be gone, my heart didn’t pound as I smacked it with the Kleenex box three very loud times.  Progress?

Later that evening, Greg and I waited in the long line outside of Wurstkuche, a trendy and very popular German sausage restaurant and bar.  Perusing the menu of exotic sausages for the umpteenth time, I made up my final decision.  I don’t eat pork, which automatically knocked out at least a third of the menu, if not half.  And rather than chickening out with a sausage made from poultry, I boldly ordered the rattlesnake, rabbit and jalapeno option.  This was a little bit crazy for three reasons:  1. I’ve never eaten rattlesnake.  2.  I’ve never eaten rabbit.  And 3.  Anything hotter than mild salsa tends to burn my mouth.  But a very enthusiastic and tipsy male patron informed me it was the greatest, so I wanted to see if I’d agree!

I know a lot of people are afraid of snakes.  I myself am not horribly afraid of snakes.  I’ve seen some while hiking and they definitely give me the heebie-jeebies in the wild since I don’t know if they’re going to attack (plus they move REALLY fast when scared) but I don’t think I’d be afraid of a pet snake and I’ve definitely touched them at petting zoos before.  Not necessarily a rattlesnake though.  But it’s not as if you’re looking at its scaly skin, rattling tail or wiggly body when you’re eating it. 

Anyhow, it didn’t weird me out too much until I saw the raw sausage behind a display case – and it was white!  Most of the other sausages were various forms of beige, brown or red, but this one looked WEIRD.  In any event, I was confident it would be good, and you know what, it was.  It was really rich and buttery, and not at all spicy.  The drunken patron was right–you can’t taste the jalapeno.  I also tried dandelion and burdock soda…it was really delicious.

I didn’t think that ordering an exotic sausage was brave until my husband gave me major props for doing so.  He was afraid he’d be disappointed in his birthday meal, so he went with a more familiar duck and bacon sausage instead of something more unusual with alligator, buffalo or veal. 

After posting what I ate on Facebook that night, my friend Kim also wrote:  “And I’m brave for rappelling down a building?” 

What a great feeling it was to be called brave.

The Phone Call

I was just enjoying my night.  Just sitting around, not a worry in my mind.  And then my phone rang.  My friend Brandi told me she’d just had a close encounter with one of my new friends.  I had no idea what she was talking about. 

“A tarantula,” she said with gusto.

Now, I haven’t done tons of research on tarantulas, and the only time outside of the insect zoo that I’ve ever encountered one was during a family vacation to Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, where the large insect and arachnid populations are apparently so unusual to some outsiders that Creepy Crawly info sheets are often prominently displayed in the hotel rooms.  While outside the hotel where my family was staying, I spotted a rusty-colored baby tarantula no bigger than my thumbnail crawling across the sidewalk.  So when Brandi told me this tarantula, the size of her palm, had fallen off her roof and nearly landed on her boyfriend outside on the porch, I couldn’t help but think that A. she was exaggerating and B. it wasn’t a tarantula because tarantulas don’t live here.

WRONG.  I quickly received two photos on my iPhone (and thank G-d I had warning or else I’d have ended up with a smashed phone just like the people in that AT&T commercial).  The tarantula had long fuzzy legs and was splayed out inside the jar that Brandi had temporarily imprisoned it in.  How she captured that thing without dying of fright I’ll never know…I’d probably have left it out on the porch or swept it off with a broom, but Brandi is one of the bravest people I know so I suppose it’s not too far of a stretch.  She and her boyfriend later freed the unwelcome eight-legged visitor in the wild.  And I’m happy to say, I live enough freeways and miles away that I’m not scared I’ll run into this particular tarantula.  Though I am a little weary of roofs and porches now…eep!

And the winner is…

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.

All of the Above

After checking out the Natural History Museum’s new dino hall and dinosaur kids’ show this past Sunday, I timidly and somewhat reluctantly entered the insect zoo, where rosy cheeks and sticky hands crowded around tiny enclosures filled with plants. I ripped the Band-Aid off right away and stuck my face up to the glass where fuzzy tarantulas lay unmoving, awaiting their prey. Then I made my way towards the giant stick insects, the almost-cute domino beetles and the ferocious giant African millipede. 

Domino Beetles

As I perused the bugs’ cribs, my heart nearly leapt out of my chest for a cricket, who, upon seeing me approach the enclosure of beetles, promptly crawled towards me and – I swear it – begged with his bulging eyes and wavering antennae to be let out of that inhumane death trap. I never thought I’d feel so much heartache over a cricket, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that the image of that poor little creature’s final desperate moments may haunt me for weeks.

Swarming in a sea of people, I burrowed in my introversion and nearly declared my second fear-fighting challenge a bust. I was hesitant to disturb the insect zoo gallery interpreters, and secretly a teeny bit relieved when I realized I wasn’t going to have to hold a bug.

And then my friend Mitch, who has loudly played the role of wedding coordinator, announcement maker and group activities organizer on more occasions than millipedes have legs, asked, “Do you need me to be me?” That’s when I knew I was screwed. This was definitely happening one way or the other, because Mitch is someone who makes things happen.

Of course, his wife Kim is also someone who makes things happen, and she led me sheepishly to the gallery interpreter, starting the chain of events that eventually led me down into the humid basement breeding grounds of the Natural History Museum’s private insect collection. Serenaded by the rhythmic chirping of crickets, Greg and I were led by Leslie Gordon, the museum’s Manager of Vertebrate Live Animal Programs, through the narrow aisles of insect enclosures.

Desert Iron-Clad Beetle

If it weren’t for Leslie’s calm disposition and clear passion for insects, arachnids and myriapods, I’m not sure I would have made it through the experience. She started us off slow by allowing us to peek in at the fascinating leaf insects, giant walking stick insects and meaty tarantulas. Then it was time to man up or drop into fetal position. I bravely chose the former.

We began small. Leslie gingerly picked up a slate grey desert iron-clad beetle about the size of a quarter and let it crawl around her hand. I touched its back, which felt like a rough stone. And then I stuck my hand in there and let it crawl on me. “How does it feel?” Greg asked me from behind the camera. I told him it felt like I was holding an animal, not a bug. Which is, of course, silly, because technically bugs are animals. But what I meant is that I couldn’t feel the hairs on the back of my neck prickle; I wasn’t at all feeling squeamish. Being prepped to hold the insect and knowing I was in a controlled situation where it wouldn’t be allowed to do anything but read my palm, I was at ease. It didn’t feel tickly or gross. It just…was.

Giant Spiny Stick Insect

I was then allowed to touch a hissing cockroach, much larger in size than the beetle, and clearly it liked me more than Greg, because it hissed when he touched it. Then we took a trip to Mars, because that’s exactly where the giant spiny stick insect looked like it was from. Sci-fi makeup artists and costume designers must get their ideas from this thing. At least 6 inches long, this alien-like insect had the girth of a broomstick with sturdy antennae, bulging eyes and a variety of rubbery textures across its back. If anything like that ever appeared in my house, I’d most definitely have to check myself into an outpatient facility. But here, as Leslie held the bark it stood on, I was able to stroke its back and simply stare in awe.

After a failed attempt at picking up a threatening black scorpion, we arrived at the creepy crawly creature I was most afraid of…but I’ll save that story for next time. Until then, any guesses as to what scared me the most in that room?

Place Your Bets

I know, I know…after I emailed my family and friends and begged them to subscribe and read this blog, I totally dropped the ball and let my abnormally hectic week at work be my excuse not to write.  But in my defense, I was writing so much at work that the thought of turning on my laptop at home and massaging the QWERTY only made me wish it would turn the tables, become self-aware and offer to give me a much-needed shoulder rub.  I nearly forgot that this weekend was my second feardom-fighting adventure:  the Insect Zoo at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.

On Friday, I emailed my museum contact to confirm my visit and coordinate my insect encounter.  Unfortunately, the brief digital conversation that ensued led me to believe that I might have trouble entering the establishment itself, much less the insect zoo.  I started doubting that my second challenge was even going to happen.  Which, in a way, diminished my anxiety leading up to today. 

I’m still pretty exhausted, and because I love a good suspense story, I’m going to leave you guessing as to what transpired.  But if you’re gambling folk, feel free to make a little wager by commenting on my blog with your answers to the below quiz:

Which of the following did I see at the museum today (or, for most of you, yesterday)?

A.  A child dressed in a fireman uniform

B.  Dinosaur skeletons

C.  Domino beetles

D.  A Shia LaBeouf lookalike performing as a nerdy professor in a dino puppet show

E.  All of the above

Which of the following did I have a close encounter with?

A.  Butterflies

B.  A tarantula

C.  A giant walking stick bug

D.  A scorpion

E.  A cockroach

F.  All of the above

Which of the following did I hold in my hand?

A.  A giant African millipede

B.  A beetle

C.  A child’s hand

D.  A map

E.  All of the above

Stay tuned to find out!