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It’s time to face your fears and dance with a peacock spider, or hang out with some social huntsman at the newest interactive exhibition at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT). 

by Tamara Howie

More than 200 spiders and spider specimens will  take over MAGNT for Spiders, a joint exhibition developed and toured by the Australian Museum and Questacon - The National Science and  Technology Centre.

Senior curator of natural sciences Dr Richard Willan says the show is all about getting up close and personal with live spiders and interacting with the exhibit.

“It’s not just looking at a redback or bird eating spiders, it’s actually being able to have direct hands on interactions with these creatures – you can dance with a peacock spider, hold virtual spiders, test the strength of silk and play with augmented reality spiders,” he says.

While arachnophiles won’t be able to handle the live spiders, there will be 11 species they can watch scuttle around their enclosures, plus more than 200 specimens to look at.

Half of the live spiders are species locals can find throughout the Territory, including the golden orb weaver, redback, St Andrew’s cross, and the green jumping spider.

“If you look at the coastal hibiscus and turn their leaves over you’ll see the green jumping spiders,” Willan says.

“Hopefully the exhibition will encourage people to go out in their own back yards and learn a bit more about them.”

Often when you ask someone their fears, spiders are close to the top of the list, but Willan hopes some phobias will be quashed by this show.

“As soon as they see the darling little peacock spider – they’re just like a painted teddy bear, they’re furry and friendly with multiple eyes and involve a lovely behaviour like dancing – they’ll soon realise spiders are much more than scary things,” he says.

Willan says he believes one of the reasons so many people are afraid of spiders is because, for many, they are unpredictable and fast-movers.

“The golden huntsman has been recorded to run 31 times its body length in a second – which means it’s almost six times faster than Usain Bolt,” he says. 

“Spiders are a creature that’s not always under our control, and being humans we like to control the environment. With animals we’re familiar with, we know where they are and how they move and they don’t suddenly appear in the darkness. 

“It’s the same with snakes – snakes surprise us, but we don’t like surprises.

“Hopefully people can learn more about them (at MAGNT’s show) and hopefully some people who have an unseemly fear of spiders will get rid of that fear and come to like them.”

Accompanying the exhibition is a free interactive app – Spiders: Augmented Reality.

Download the app and use it throughout the exhibition to see images of spiders come to life on your screen. You can even test it out on the front page of this edition of Off The Leash.

You can also look after a peacock spider – and even play soccer with it!

MAGNT engagement officer Tessa Duke says using an app has been a really successful way of engaging young people. 

“It’s a really good drawcard for the younger generations to have something that really engages them more than just the displays,” she says.

Willan adds that the whole exhibition is great for the little ones.

“It’s perfect for children.”

Sat 15 Dec – Sun 28 Apr | MAGNT | See the event listing

Thumbnail and above lower image: Spiders – Alive and Deadly, Australian Museum. Photo: James Horan

Header image: Peacock Spider. Photo: Jürgen Otto

Above top image: Dr Richard Willan. Photo: Clive Hyde

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