Animal handlers Cat Long and John Tarrant joined us in Episode 5… and they were not alone!
First, we got to meet stick insects with some of the best camouflage in the animal kingdom. Some stick insects look like, well, sticks, but the ones on Wonderama look more like crumpled leaves. It all depends on the species. These herbivorous creatures live in subtropical areas and are part of the 3,000 species Phasmida order, which gets its name from a Greek word meaning “apparition.” Makes sense to me!
Next, we encountered some Madagascar hissing cockroaches. To answer your inevitable question, yes! They really do hiss! When Cat Long held up a microphone to these little guys, we all got to hear them. A unique feature among insects, the hissing comes from air blown from the abdominal cavity of the cockroach through breathing holes called spiracles. We also learned that Madagascar hissing cockroaches are so hardy that they would survive even a nuclear bomb, a fact that gave David the idea of making armored suits out of of cockroaches to protect ourselves from atomic radiation… new fashion statement, anyone?
Then came the tarantulas: crawling out of their glass containers and onto David’s hand! While they didn’t do any jumping on the Wonderama set, tarantulas do pounce on their mostly insect prey. The hairs covering a tarantula’s body are sensitive and help the tarantula navigate its environment, which is crucial because even though it has eight eyes, a tarantula still can’t see more than indistinct shadows. Not exactly 20/20 vision! As scary as tarantulas look, they are actually harmless to humans. As John said, if a tarantula bit him, he would:
- Not die.
- Cry like a man.
We’re with you, John, we’re with you.
The grand finale in our creepy crawly adventure? Scorpions! We saw two different species: the emperor and the flat rock scorpions. The world’s largest scorpion, emperor scorpions live in the rainforest and have huge claws compared to their tails, a size difference indicative of the relative tameness of their sting. When you see a scorpion with small claws, that likely means that its sting is especially poisonous. Flat rock scorpions, meanwhile, live in the desert and have flattened bodies that allow them to escape the desert heat by slipping beneath rocks. It comes out at night to feed on insects and (gasp!) other scorpions.
The absolute coolest thing about scorpions, however, is that they glow in the dark! In natural moonlight or, as we saw on Wonderama, electric black light, a protein in a layer of the scorpion’s exoskeleton makes the scorpion light up. Scientifically, this property is called fluorescence. No one knows for sure what purpose fluorescence serves for scorpions, but some have hypothesized that it protects them from sunlight, helps them find each other, or confuses prey. Pretty awesome if you ask us!
Cat Long and John Tarrant come to Wonderama from the animal agency All Creatures Great and Small.
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