Temple Ambler EarthFest presents The Science of Scary

The Elmwood Park Zoo shares one of their opossums.

Some things in nature are just plain scary…or creepy…or at least pretty icky.

Just because something seems scary, however, doesn’t mean that it is! 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 21, from 2 to 4 p.m. in and around Bright Hall in the center of campus. Register for this family-friendly free event online at ambler.temple.edu/science-of-scary.

“The Science of Scary is a first-time event that 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 creepy or crawly, 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, the Tyler School of Art, and local falconer Tom Stanton.

Visitors are invited to get up close with skunks, spiders, predatory birds, scorpions, snakes, sharks, storms, toads, carnivorous plants and more!

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 their 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 Temple’s favorite owl not named Hooter, Stella! Of course, with a skunk, it’s their stinky potential that sends people running.

“But 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 (which will be making its grand re-opening on Saturday, November 3), 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.”

Within it’s ecosystem, the shark is the apex predator, regulator of their food chain. Sharks, however, have been placed into the “bad guy” role for decades thanks to films such as Jaws and the recently released The Meg, which renewed interest in the prehistoric Megalodon.

“Peter Benchley, who wrote Jaws, later said he regretted writing the book because of how it has impacted sharks ever since. Without sharks, the oceans as we know it would be gone,” said Amy Durkin, Outreach Manager for the Center for Aquatic Sciences at Adventure Aquarium. “Oceans tend to cause some fear in people in general because there is so much beneath the waves that we just don’t know. The deeper we go and the more we discover, the creepier some of these things become!”

Adventure Aquarium is bringing along a chained catshark, also known as a dogfish (which is definitely a bit confusing) and a horseshoe crab, familiar to anyone who has visited the New Jersey shore and heard a child run screaming from the water because a monster tried to eat them.

“People have been told their whole lives that horseshoe crabs will sting or bite them, but that’s actually not the case at all. They are completely harmless and extremely beneficial to their environment,” Durkin said. “They are the ocean’s vacuum cleaners — without them, you’d be swimming in dead fish soup! One female will also lay about 90,000 eggs a year, which provide an absolutely essential food source for migratory shore birds. My goal is to break the myths and misunderstandings.”

In addition to the fabulous array of live animals at the event, the Ambler Arboretum will also share some examples of fascinating, and freaky, plants including the Amorphophallus Titanum. The Amorphophallus is also known as a “corpse flower” for good reason — it gives off the scent of a dead body to attract flies and beetles who in turn act as pollinators for the plant. Five of the fragrant blooms are growing in the Ambler Campus Greenhouse.

Ambler Arboretum Kathleen Salisbury will also provide garden tours at 2:15 and 3:15 p.m. in addition to a garden scavenger hunt for children!  

The Science of Scary will additionally include fall snacks, crafts and a fall photo booth. The Tyler School of Art Painting Guild, Bookbinding Club and Ceramics Collective will also be on hand with fall and holiday-themed items for sale! The Painting Guild will also lead an interactive painting project in addition to having paint on hand to allow children to unlock their inner artist!

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?

For more information, contact duffyj@temple.edu or 267-468-8108. Visit ambler.temple.edu/community for information about all Ambler Campus community event.