One of the more popular attractions at Kidzmania in the Crossroads Mall Saturday only weighs a few ounces, has a lot of hair on her legs and gives more than her fair share of visitors the creepie crawlies.
She’s a 10-year-old tarantula that’s part of the Iowa State University Insect Zoo.
Haylee Wingerson, 7, of Fort Dodge, was one of those who had some mixed feelings about it. On one hand, she did reach out to touch the spider’s abdomen.
On the other, she looked terrified.
In the end, it was OK.
“It was soft,” she said. “I was scared to begin.”
ISU entomology student Grace Sward is pretty familiar with the tarantula and other spiders and insects.
“I do this seven times a week,” she said.
Sward said there are several common misconceptions about the tarantula.
The most common?
“That they’re automatically going to bite you,” she said.
What they’re more likely to do is flick hair at you; this defense mechanism is used to irritate the eyes of an attacker. Biting, she said, is only used as a last resort – and for getting dinner.
“I love getting rid of misconceptions,” Sward said.
She said that in her experience, older children and adults are more likely to react negatively to insects.
“Fear of insects is a learned behavior,” she said.
Barb Johnson, of Fort Dodge, came to the event with her grandson, Cooper Johnson, 9.
They enjoyed the science displays and the Insect Zoo, although they refrained from going too far.
“We didn’t touch anything,” she said.
They also enjoyed the Mad Science of Iowa display.
Jim “Dr. Shock” Birkel, of Pella, took on the role of showing students science experiments as a second career.
“I’ve always had an interest in education,” he said. “I thought we were too far behind in science.”
He likes to perform the experiment without saying much, then explain the chemistry or physics behind it when his audiences’ eyes light up.
“That’s a very cool moment,” he said.
Marcie Lentsch, with Linking Families and Communities, helped organize the event.
She got to wear a bright blue bucket.
“I’m talking to people about whether they’re filling their bucket,” she said.
To answer the question of “With What?” she had raindrops pinned to her shirt with a list of many good positive deeds such as helping others.
While a bucket may not be the most comfortable attire, she didn’t mind.
“It’s kind of fun.” she said.
Lentsch said they were expecting about 3,000 people to attend the event, which also included entertainment and about 35 displays.