Feeding the Tarantulas at the Insect Zoo

It’s all about timing at the Insect Zoo at the National Museum of Natural History

It's all about timing at the Insect Zoo at the National Museum of Natural History.  When I heard that visitors could witness tarantula feedings there, I wanted to get it on video. (I am a journalism student studying this semester at the George Washington University Semester in Washington program, where I am learning video, photo and web production and I am interning here at Smithsonian.com).

When I went to meet with the Insect Zoo's manager, Nate Erwin, I thought that he would feed a tarantula or two and we would get it on camera, simple as that. Not so. Tarantulas, it turns out, can be temperamental. They can be picky. And they don't simply eat because we are pointing a camera at them.

The first day that we filmed in the "rearing room" of the Insect Zoo, none of the tarantulas wanted to be the star of our video.  Nate Erwin would introduce a cricket into the tarantula's cage and coax the cricket towards the spiders' mouths.  The crickets hardly seemed phased by their own peril.  I saw the creatures terrifying set of fangs, which were almost as big as the crickets' bodies.  They sat there cricket and spider, each oblivious to the other.  Lucky for the crickets, the first two spiders weren't hungry.  (You can lead a spider to a cricket, but you can't make him eat.)

I was beginning to give up after filming a Goliath birdeater, which is the largest species of tarantula. It ignored a huge cockroach lunch (This species not used is in live feeding demonstrations in the museum.)

Finally, a gorgeous Mexican Red Knee tarantula nicknamed "Ramona" stepped up to become the star of our video when she dutifully ate lunch. My video project was now done.

Check out the star of our show, Ramona, who feeds in her cage at the museum on Sunday at 11:30 A.M. Live tarantula feedings take place year-round on Tuesday to Friday at 10:30, 11:30 and 1:30,  and at 11:30, 12:30 and 1:30 on Saturday and Sunday.

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