Touch a wasp?!

1 12 2010

I was chatting with Matt (Mr Bug) at the Galway Science Festival last week and I asked him about handling poisonous spiders. We had both heard of a child in Scotland who had been given a “dry bite” by a tarantula. Luckily there was no venom but it was still very painful and distressing for the child. Matt doesn’t allow his poisonous spiders to be handled by the audience and he would normally not handle them himself- as he said: you wouldn’t hand a wasp to a child to hold so why a poisonous spider?

How much thought has gone into the presentation of the average animal show? Is it necessary for every person in the audience to handle every creature?

Animal shows tend to follow the same format. A presenter brings a creature out of a box. They handle the creature whilst telling the audience about it. They then walk around the circle allowing the audience to touch and sometimes handle the creature one by one. The creature is then put back into the box and we move onto the next creature. Why do most animal shows follow that format? And why is the handling of the creature so seemingly central?

I’m not experienced in animal handling but I’d guess justification for audiences handling animals might fall under the following categories: to dispel a myth (eg: that snakes are slimey), to challenge a fear (eg: who’s brave enough…) or to get really close to an animal (eg: can you see…) Do we need to put the creature in question into every audience member’s hand to make these points? Maybe the reason we are allowing everyone to touch the animals is to justify an otherwise uninteresting or uninspiring show?

If we are dispelling a myth a single audience member can be used just as effectively as getting everyone to touch it. If we are challenging fear then plonking the fear inducing creature into someone’s hands is a pretty radical approach. And if we are wanting the audience to get a close up view wouldn’t a USB camera or a projected presentation would reveal more than a couple of seconds in the hand before the creature is swept off to the next person?

You can read a school’s review of one of Matt’s appearances by following this link.

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