It goes without saying that some things in nature are simply frightening. Coming across a snake in the wild will definitely overheat your fight of flight (mostly flight) response in no time!
Just because something seems scary, however, doesn’t mean that it is harmful! Celebrate the fall season in a different way by learning about the science behind the things in nature that may scare you but are essential to their environment.
Temple University Ambler EarthFest presents The Science of Scary on Sunday, October 20, from 2 to 4 p.m. in and around Bright Hall in the center of campus. Register for this family-friendly event online.
“Science of Scary directly ties into EarthFest’s mission as a whole — helping people build connections to the world around them and promoting a greater understanding of the environment and the role we play in protecting and preserving the planet,” said Susan Sacks, EarthFest Co-Coordinator and Manager of Research and Grants for Temple University Ambler. “All animals and insects, no matter how odd or icky, serve an essential purpose in their ecosystems and increase biodiversity!”
Temple Ambler, through its expanded EarthFest programs, has built partnerships with organizations throughout the region “that share the common goal of helping people learn how to make a positive impact within their communities while exposing them to some truly amazing science, research and, of course, critters!” said Sacks.
“Where else are you going to see a snake, tarantula, owl and a shark or learn about how storms develop all in one place? This event is definitely geared toward families,” she said. “We hope that what they see, experience and learn will start conversations that will continue well after they’ve left campus. It’s connecting people to nature in fun and exciting ways; it’s providing knowledge that they can take with them to their home or classroom.”
The Science of Scary is being held in partnership with the Academy of Natural Sciences, Barn Nature Center, Elmwood Park Zoo, Franklin Institute, Center for Aquatic Sciences at Adventure Aquarium, Ambler Arboretum of Temple University, the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion and students from Temple’s Tyler School of Art, who will have a variety of fall-themed artisan items for sale.
Visitors are invited to get up close with skunks, spiders, predatory birds, scorpions, snakes, sharks, storms, toads, carnivorous plants and more!
“In addition to our wonderful partner organizations, we also have some other Temple experts — in addition to the Ambler Arboretum — who will be sharing their personal passions for creatures that might send others running,” said Sacks. “Sarah Naughton, Certified Investigator Trainer at Temple University Harrisburg, has a whole collection of tarantulas! Vincent Aloyo maintains several of the honeybee hives in the Ambler Arboretum and will share information about the importance of bees and beekeeping.”
Honeybees pollinate a full one third of all of the food crops that we consume in the United States, according to Dr. Aloyo, an apiculture educator and master beekeeper.
“Honeybees are an essential part of our ecological sustainability, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate,” said Aloyo, who teaches non-credit courses in beekeeping on campus. “We need bees to pollinate the fruits and vegetables that we eat every day. Honey bees also pollinate wildflowers, which are essential to birds and other animals. One way to help honeybees make a comeback is through ‘backyard beekeeping.’”
Laura Houston, Director of Education at the Elmwood Park Zoo, said many animals get a bad rap simply because of misinformation or through “urban legends” whispered down the lane.
“Fear is often learned. A child isn’t afraid of a snake until they hear their parent scream and they make that connection — ‘Oh, I’m supposed to be afraid,’” she said. “With an animal like an opossum, I think a lot of it is simply how they look; they look a bit like a giant rat. But they are the most docile creatures and they serve an important purpose in nature — they eat a large number of insects, including thousands of ticks, every year.”
The Elmwood Park Zoo will be bringing along an opossum, a skunk and, hopefully, Temple’s favorite owl not named Hooter, Stella! Of course, with a skunk, it’s their stinky potential that sends people running.
“A skunk walking across your yard is looking to get away from you. A skunk will not spray you unless they really feel threatened,” she said. “’I think the wonderful thing about an event like this is that it helps us build empathy — you can’t love something that you don’t know about. And if you don’t care about animals, you’ll never learn to respect and protect them.”
For Chrissy Rzepnicki, Director of Operations at the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion, it’s her mission to get people out of a kill first, ask questions later mindset when it comes to insects and arachnids.
“There is a definite ‘otherness’ to insects and spiders. When looking at a tarantula, it’s huge and hairy and hard to tell where the face is; they can seem very alien to people and for some that triggers a fear response,” she said. “With cockroaches, people equate them to dirtiness and trash and decay, but that’s their job — to get rid of decaying material. Insects are essential to our ecosystems — without them, most ecosystems simply collapse.”
The Science of Scary will additionally include fall snacks, crafts and a fall photo booth. Ambler Arboretum Kathleen Salisbury will also provide garden tours in addition to a garden scavenger hunt for children!
Part of Temple Ambler’s EarthFest Presents series of events, the Science of Scary is designed to help learners and citizen scientists of all ages gain a deeper understanding of the wonders of nature and the amazing things that may be found right in their own backyards. What will you discover?