If John Kuba gets his way, spider haters will leave Brookfield Zoo’s new summer exhibit, Amazing Arachnids, with a new appreciation for the eight-legged creepy crawlies. Maybe, he hopes, they’ll even start to love them as much as he does.
In a huge white tent filled with 100 spiders and a few scorpions, it’s surprisingly fascinating to get up close to spiders you’ll not see anywhere else and spider specialist Kuba, a 2017 Riverside-Brookfield High School graduate, is right there to help others see the beauty and personality he sees in each one.
Spiders often get a bad rap, says Andre Copeland, interpretive programs manager at the zoo, who is especially passionate about spiders and this year’s exhibit created by Build 4 Impact.
In fact, he clapped his hands in glee as the zoo welcomed its first visitors to the exhibit.
“We wanted people to realize spiders are more than an eight-legged animal that crawls around and freaks us out. These spiders actually inspire art, entertainment, technological advances,” Copeland says. “We wanted to give people the opportunity to make their own connections and walk out deciding for themselves what spiders mean to them.”
Brookfield Zoo unveiled this exhibit, the largest public collection of arachnids in North America, on May 26. It runs through Sept. 3. It takes on arachnids’ influence on science, the arts and culture (hello “Charlotte’s Web” and Harry Potter’s Aragog) in three sections in the exhibit.
The exhibit was built with families in mind, with spiders housed in glass cases at kids-eye level and stools to help them see the higher-up spiders. Plus, the zoo has built in plenty of hands-on interactives, including a space to weave a spider web and a video teaching the fun tarantella folk dance from Italy.
Special zoo chats are planned as well; if you are lucky, you might even get to meet Fluffy, the zoo’s own bird-eating spider.
As a curatorial assistant, Kuba, 19, brings a lot of expertise to the exhibit, created by the company, Build 4 Impact.
Kuba has been collecting spiders for more than two years and has nearly 75 now in a menagerie of reptiles and mammals he’s creating in his parents’ Brookfield home. In the zoo’s new exhibit, he’s already coveting some of the spiders he plans to add to his collection.
“I love them so much,” he says, adding that he hopes he can help others appreciate the arachnids’ special qualities, too.
Kuba plans to study herpetology in college.
Outside the tent, located near the bison on the West Mall, families can experience the new 3,500-square-foot Mission Safari Maze with 48 possible missions that take them through the maze while teaching about species’ survival and protection, including spiders.
The maze includes a climb-on spider web, jungle vines, swinging bars and a zip slide — and plenty of dead ends to challenge the kids.
“We don’t promise that we are going to have people walking out of here loving spiders and wanting to get touchy-feely with them or that we are going to change perceptions,” Copeland says. “People may still be afraid, but they will at least have the opportunity to make a different type of connection and maybe dispel some myths.”
Tickets to Amazing Arachnids are $5 for adults and $3 for kids 3-11 and senior citizens 65 and over, in addition to regular zoo admission and parking.