VICTORIA â€” Hairy-legged tarantulas and pointy-tailed scorpions send chills of fear through most people, but at the Victoria Bug Zoo they are as friendly as newborn kittens and will rest in the palm of your hand.
The downtown mini zoo offers visitors an up-close-and-personal view of live tropical bugs from around the world.
It also shatters long-held fears about deadly spider bites and stings as glow-in-the-dark scorpions and tarantulas the size of tennis balls are available to calmly interact with visitors.
"It felt OK," said Sally Millis of Brisbane, Australia, after she held a Chilean rose hair tarantula. "But I wouldn't be holding it anywhere else."
The bug zoo has about 50 species of insects, including giant walking sticks, robot-like praying mantises and Canada's largest ant colony, where the ever-busy creatures travel through a series of interconnected see-through plastic pipes.
Tour guides are on hand to introduce visitors to the world of bugs and provide safe spider, cockroach and beetle handling experiences for the more adventurous. But it's adults only when it comes to handling some of the more exotic and fragile spiders.
Biologist Jaymie Chudiak said she has become known as the zoo's bug whisperer for her skills in assessing the personalities and friendliness of every bug or spider that visitors will meet.
"I vet them for gentleness and ease of handling," she said.
Chudiak said most of the spiders are calm and easily adapt to human interactions, but some are cranky.
She said Hazel, a large Mexican red knee tarantula, is "little moody at times."
"She gets super excited," said Chudiak. "I've actually played tug-of-war with her. She'll grab onto the feeding tongs and not let go."
Hazel appeared to be in a particularly testy mood on a recent visit, standing almost upright in a fighting pose for several minutes.
Chudiak said the spiders bite and are venomous, but even though their bites will hurt, they don't possess enough venom to kill or serious hurt a person.
The bug zoo, open since 1997, had about 50,000 visitors last year.
School field trips are a major source of customers, but the zoo is also always full on school holidays.
Jordan Krushen, general manager of the facility, said adults are also fascinated by the bugs, spiders and insects at the zoo.
He said the zoo hosted an after-hours Valentine's Day event aimed at bug lovers.
The age 19-plus gathering, "Sex on Six Legs," explored the mating habits of many different arthropods, he said.
Guides were on hand to discuss the sex habits of bugs, including nuptial gifts and traumatic insemination, Krushen said.
If You Go...
The Victoria Bug Zoo is located at 631 Courtney St. and is open seven days a week. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 children, students and seniors. Children under age four are free.
For more information, visit http://www.victoriabugzoo.ca.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press