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Yikes! Get up close to the real creepy crawlers

Oct. 12, 2012 at 10:07 AM ET

spider
Courtesy Natural History Museum at Los Angeles County
The world's largest orb-weaver, Nephila maculata from Malaysia, is as large as the palm of an adult's hand and able to weave webs up to six feet across.

In addition to the zombie, sexy nurse, super hero, political candidate and Disney character outfits for sale this time of year, novelty and costume shops stock plenty of very realistic-looking spiders, spider webs, cockroaches and worms.

But why bother with plastic, rubber or animatronic arachnids when museums and attractions around the country offer a chance to get up close – in some cases perhaps a bit too close – to tarantulas, goliath bird eaters and other creepy crawlers. Here are five seasonal spots to meet the beetles, sup with snakes and explore your inner insect.

Beetles in Boulder
On Oct. 12, the Natural History Museum at the University of Colorado in Boulder holds an opening reception for a year-long exhibition about beetles, which have existed for millions of years and make up 25 percent of all known species. In addition to all manner of meet-the-beetles materials, there will be tubes mounted on the walls filled with about 1,000 live beetles.

Trick or treat? On Oct. 18, the museum is hosting “SSSupper with Snakes.” A reptile expert will bring live snakes for guests to touch and the kitchen will serve a slithering spaghetti dinner.

Spiders take Manhattan
In the Spiders Alive! exhibition running through Dec. 2 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the spiders really are alive. Along with a 40-foot model of a web and artwork inspired by the handiwork (or is that legwork?) of spiders, there are at least 20 live species in residence. Among them: a western black widow, a desert hairy scorpion and a goliath bird eater, one of the world’s largest spiders, which, despite the name, is known for snacking on snakes, mice and frogs.

While many people are spooked by spiders because they are often “hairy and can move quite quickly over short distances," exhibition curator Norman Platnick insists there’s really no reason to be afraid. He said despite the scary spiders in the exhibit “the proportion that are dangerous to people is certainly less than 1 percent.”

Trick or treat? If you’ve ever had a spider crawl on you, you can turn the tables: the exhibit has a climbable spider model that’s 50 times life size.

Pittsburgh is crawling with bugs
Through the end of July, the BugWorks exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh offers bug’s-eye views and bug models, videos and illustrations along with terraria of live insects that include giant water bugs, an Emperor scorpion and a tarantula. The exhibit “is great fun for bug lovers and haters alike,” said museum entomologist John Rawlins. “It teaches basic entomology using pictures eight feet tall…thousands of real beetles …and colorful images of living bugs.”

Trick or treat? In the exhibit photo booth, visitors can strike a pose with a butterfly, a beetle or another creature projected on the wall.

Free range spiders in Los Angeles
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County doesn’t just have a spider exhibit; through Nov. 4, visitors are invited into a walk-through temporary Spider Pavilion and watch more than a dozen “free-range,” local and exotic spiders series spin, weave and feed. Resident spiders include brown and black widows and the world’s largest orb-weaver, Nephila maculata, a Malaysian spider that can span the palm of an adult’s hand and create webs measuring six feet across.

Trick or treat?The museum also has a permanent Insect Zoo with 30 terrariums and aquariums filled with cockroaches, millipedes, scorpions and, of course spiders.

Buggy year round
Exhibits at Insectropolis, a year-round “bugseum” in Toms River, N.J., range from the “Creepy Tavern,” where tough-looking tarantulas hang out, to the “Battle Zone,” a home to insects that use armor, camouflage and scare tactics to stay alive. “We have lots of pinned and live specimens,” said group coordinator Diane Redzinack, “but being able to touch bugs that include the Madagascar hissing Cockroach, the emperor scorpion and the rose hair tarantula is definitely the highlight for most people.”

Trick or treat? On Oct. 12 and 13, the museum is hosting “Boo at the Zoo with Scooby Doo,” an interactive Halloween-themed mystery tour.

Find more by Harriet Baskas on StuckatTheAirport.com and follow her on Twitter.

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