About the Exhibition

Part of the Spiders Alive! exhibition.

Three children, two boys and one girl, looking at a tarantula in the palms of the hands of a person.
© AMNH/R. Mickens

For centuries, spiders have inspired mythmakers from Ovid to E. B. White to the creators of the eponymous superhero Spider-Man, but their actual role in diverse ecosystems around the globe is just as captivating. Among the most versatile animals on the planet, spiders inhabit every continent but Antarctica and are able to survive in environments that range from deserts to rain forests to crowded cities.

In Spiders Alive!, visitors can explore spiders’ anatomy, diversity, venom, silk, and behavior including little-known defensive mechanisms such as mimicry and noise-making. In addition to live arachnids, including 16 spider species that range from the goliath bird eater, one of the largest spiders in the world to the western black widow—the exhibition features larger-than-life models, videos, and fossils. Museum staff will be handling live arachnids for visitors to see up close.

Visitors will also be able to learn about spiders’ key characteristics; where spiders are found; how they are adapted to their environment; the roles they play in their ecosystems; and how scientists study spiders.

Spiders Alive! is overseen by Lorenzo Prendini, curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology. Dr. Prendini studies scorpions and other arachnids. 

Spiders Alive! opens on Saturday, July 4, 2015 – November 29, 2015. 

Learn more in a video.

The exhibition features approximately 20 species of live arachnids, including:

  • Ornamental tarantulas—Indian ornamental (Poecilotheria regalis), Metallica tarantula (Poecilotheria metallica), and Ivory ornamental (Poecilotheria subfusca): These ornamental tarantulas are as colorful as tropical birds, a sharp contrast to the fearsome, dark, and dangerous creatures many imagine.
  • Trapdoor spider (Liphistius dangrek): These spiders spend most of their time in underground burrows, emerging mainly to grab prey. Their rear half is segmented, a trait visible in some of the earliest spider fossils.
  • Wolf spider (Hogna antelucana): This active hunter searches for food on foot, aided by sharp vision and its ability to sense vibrations—like those of the beating wing on an insect or the patter of steps on the soil.
  • Fishing spider (Dolomedes okefinokensis): Large fishing spiders rest their front legs on the surface of the water on the shoreline trying to sense vibrations from prey. When something gets close, the spider pounces.
  • Desert hairy scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis): The largest scorpion in North America (reaching 10 to 18 cm), this arachnid beats the daytime heat of its desert home in burrows and hunts in the evening, feeding on insects, spiders, lizards, and even an occasional small mammal.
  • Tailless whip scorpion (Damon variegatus): Not actually a scorpion, this arachnid waves its first pair of legs around to feel its way. This species makes a cameo appearance in the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in which one character wrongly suggests that its bite is lethal.
  • Giant vinegaroon (Mastigoproctus giganteus): Like a skunk, this arachnid shoots a foul-smelling spray from its abdomen if disturbed.
  • Mediterranean brown recluse (Loxosceles rufescens): This spider is identified by a dark, violin-shaped mark on its head. Its venom can cause a deep wound in humans that takes weeks or even months to heal and can produce symptoms such as nausea and a fever.
  • Western black widow (Latrodectus hesperus): One of the few species harmful to people in North America, the black widow can be identified by the red hourglass shape on its underside.
  • Mexican red knee (Brachypelma smithi): This stunning tarantula, which lives mainly on the Pacific coast of Mexico, resides in burrows, hurrying out to prey on insects, small frogs, lizards, and mice.
  • Goliath bird eater (Theraphosa stirmi): One of the biggest spiders in the world, it preys on snakes, mice, and frogs but, despite the name, rarely birds.
  • Golden orb-web spider (Nephila pilipes): Found in the Southeast Asian rainforest, this large spider has yellow on its abdomen and spins a golden web.)
  • Orb weaver (Argiope sp.): Members of this genus are found all around the world and spin large webs that often contain striking designs. Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White, who consulted with a Museum curator while writing the classic children’s book, named the main character Charlotte A. Cavatica after a common orb weaver, Araneus cavaticus.
  • Funnel-web grass spider (Agelenopsis sp.): This spider spins a sheet-like web attached to a narrow tube, or funnel. Sitting at the mouth of the tube, the spider waits to strike after feeling vibrations of prey crossing the web.
  • Southern house spider (Kukulcania hibernalis): The large charcoal-colored females make flat, tangled webs in dark corners and under overhangs and shutters to catch insects.