Senior Comp Challenges Common Misconceptions of Tarantulas

Allegheny College student Megan Collins ’22 is hoping to disprove misconceptions about one of the most widely feared but misunderstood creatures the tarantula. 

As an environmental science & sustainability major and psychology minor, Collins says the goal of her Senior Comp is to create an environmental education program about tarantulas to help people become more comfortable with them. She also aims to improve conservation attitudes toward the endangered Poecilotheria genus. 

Collins holding a tarantula

Hoping to work at a zoo taking care of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates, Collins says her project mirrors what she’d like to do for a living planning and conducting wildlife education programs.

“I want to use education and exposure to help people appreciate animals that tend to be considered ‘scary’ or ‘gross,’ and make them realize that, in reality, they are fascinating creatures that can be full of personality,” she says. 

To begin her research, Collins determined the most effective components of environmental education programs to encourage people to engage with the animal. She also researched how to properly utilize ambassador animals to ensure that participants established a lasting emotional connection with the specimen.

Using this information, she created a lesson plan that included a presentation on tarantula behavior, hands-on interaction with molts, and observation of live specimens. She hosted three programs throughout February and March for Allegheny students to test out the effectiveness of her lesson plan, which was based on the participants’ survey responses at the conclusion of each program.

Based on participant feedback, the programs seemed to successfully change people’s opinions on tarantulas. Regardless of their initial feelings, 29 of 32 attendees expressed feeling positive about tarantulas after attending the program. All 32 participants responded “yes” when asked if they felt that conservation of endangered tarantula species should be prioritized. The majority of people said they had not previously considered this issue, so Collins’ programs helped to raise awareness about conservation bias against invertebrates.

“I found that most participants connected best with the live specimens, as they allowed them to observe tarantula behavior up close and see these animals as individuals with unique personalities,” she says. “Overall, the response was very positive and students seemed to enjoy the programs while also learning a lot of new information that helped disprove misconceptions they may have had.”