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Who’s calling who creepy?

Halloween is coming up, and we’re all excited for this spooky time of year! For many of us it’s a time to don costumes, get silly or scary, and go to gatherings with friends or get candy from neighbors. At the Zoo, we celebrate the last two weekends of October with Boo at the Zoo! So get a timed reservation, put on your costume, and come experience the fun at Zoo Atlanta! You might even get to see some animals that you think of as spooky and creepy! Of course, at Wieland Wildlife Home, we care for a few of those animals, like the Madagascar hissing cockroach, the Chilean rose hair tarantula, or even the Virginia opossum. We don’t think they are spooky or creepy at all! Okay, well, maybe I used to think that, but since I’ve learned more about them, I just think they are unique and awesome.

For example, I used to think that the Madagascar hissing cockroach was gross, creepy, and even scary. The first time I held one, I even cried! But once I got to know them, I realized not only are they important for the environment, but they are also kind of cute. Cute?? Yep. When you look at a Madagascar hissing cockroach, you are looking at their carapace, or the top of their exoskeleton. Underneath is an adorable little face with two big oval eyes, little mouth parts, and even two antennae. Madagascar hissing cockroaches cannot fly, and their mouth parts are too weak to bite us, so they are totally harmless. You know what they do bite, though? Detritus. That’s what cockroaches eat, and boy am I thankful for them! Detritus refers to decaying matter around the environment, like rotting leaves or even deceased animals. Cockroaches are the garbage disposals of nature. Without them we’d up to our eyeballs in detritus, and that’s what I call creepy!

Of course, then we have the Chilean rose hair tarantula, another cute member of the invertebrate family. Our Chilean rose hair tarantula is not only furry, but pink and furry! Now that’s what I call cute. We sometimes think spiders are creepy because they scurry so quickly, but that’s only because they are chasing down food that also moves quickly or they are running from us and trying to hide! They are reclusive animals who feast on insects like mosquitos and flies. In fact, while all spiders are venomous, most tarantulas don’t have the kind of venom that is harmful to humans.

And last, but not least, some people think the Virginia opossum is a creepy crawly critter. I find them to be adorable. For one thing, they have little fingerlike paws, and for another, they have extremely soft and luxurious fur. But let’s talk about their naked tails. Some people think that their tails are kind of gross, but the reason their tails are hairless is the same reason we don’t have hairy hands! They use their tails for grasping and carrying things around (like leaf litter to build nests) and if they were furry, the fur would get in the way. Some people also think they are scary because if you startle one, the first thing they do in response is to open their mouth and bare 50 razor-sharp teeth. Really, they are only doing that because they are very afraid and are trying to scare off a could-be predator. If that doesn’t scare you away, they eventually get so scared they pass out, or play dead. So, they are way more scared of us than we should be of them. In fact, opossums’ body temperature is too low to carry the rabies virus, so they are not a threat to us at all. Not only are they not scary or creepy, they do a great service to humans in that they eat ticks. One opossum can eat around 5,000 ticks in a summer!

In short, next time you see a cockroach, spider, or opossum, take a closer look and you might be surprised. And, of course, don’t forget to thank them for helping keep our world looking nice and pest free! 

Rebecca Young
Associate Curator, Ambassador Animals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl