At boa constrictor at the Science fo Scary
Temple Ambler EarthFest will host Science of Scary in person for the first time in two years on Saturday, October 22, from 2 to 4 p.m.
James F. Duffy

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, the Temple Ambler Field Station and the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University will host The Science of Scary on Saturday, October 22, from 2 to 4 p.m. in Bright Hall in the center of campus. Register for this family-friendly free event online. Learn more about the event here.

"We held our first Science of Scary event in 2018 and they have proven to be some of our most successful events. 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 James, EarthFest Coordinator and Content Manager for Temple University Ambler. "For the past two years, Science of Scary has been held online, providing a broad diversity of fascinating content from Temple and our event partners. We are very excited to welcome citizen scientists back to Science of Scary in person this year!"

All animals and insects, no matter how creepy or crawly, serve an essential purpose in their ecosystems and increase biodiversity! Gain a deeper understanding of the wonders of nature and the amazing things that may be found right in your own backyard.

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 Duffy.

The Science of Scary is being held in partnership with the Academy of Natural Sciences, Elmwood Park Zoo, the Barn Nature Center, Temple’s own Sarah Naughton and her wonderful collection of tarantulas and insects, the Temple University Department of Biology and the department’s Cordes Lab, iEcoLab and Sewall Lab, the Tyler School of Art and Architecture Greenhouse Education and Research Complex, the Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers and the Pennsylvania Outdoor Lighting Council, apiculture educator and master beekeeper Vincent Aloyo, the Temple Ambler Library, the Bookbinders Club of Temple and the Ambler Student Life Board.

"In addition to our wonderful partner organizations, we also have some other Temple experts who will be sharing their personal passions for creatures that might send others running," said Duffy. "Sarah Naughton, Certified Investigator Trainer at Temple University Harrisburg, has a whole collection of tarantulas (learn more about Sarah's collection)! Dr. 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.'"

Fear of nature and outdoor denizens is most often learned by seeing a loved one respond to something — a snake or a bee — by screaming or running away.

"Sometimes, according to our event partners, it's just the look of the creature — a tarantula is huge and hairy and it's hard to tell where the face is. They can seem very alien to people and for some that triggers a fear response," said Duffy. "All animals and insects, no matter how odd or icky, serve an essential purpose in their ecosystems and increase biodiversity! According to the Elmwood Park Zoo, opossum, for example, are exceptionally docile and serve an important purpose, eating a large number of insects, including thousands of ticks, every year."

Volunteers from the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University will lead a Weird and Wild Plant Walk beginning at 2 and 3 p.m. From prehistoric plants to plants and that smell like rotting meat to insect mimicking plants and plants that create their own heat, the Weird and Wild Plants Walk will take you through the Ambler Arboretum and the Tyler School of Art and Architecture Greenhouse for up close experiences with some of our weird plants.

Dr. Steve Sassaman, Assistant Director of Recreation, Outdoor Education and Wellness at Temple Ambler, will also lead visitors in an outdoor interactive experience — Be Bear Aware — beginning at 2:15 and 3:15 p.m.

"Whenever we are out backpacking, hiking or camping, we need to be aware that we are visitors in the homes of wild animals," said Sassaman. "This hands-on activity will provide important information on how to create a safe space within the wilderness that protects both you and the animals that call it home that is based on the principles of Leave No Trace."

Dr. Mariana Bonfim, Assistant Director of the Temple Ambler Field Station, will lead a Disturbance Walk of the Ambler Campus beginning at 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. 

Natural disasters are scary, especially as they become increasingly more destructive and more frequent due to climate change. On September 1, 2021, an EF2 tornado spawned by Hurricane Ida proved to be a massive and devastating disturbance to Temple University Ambler and our surrounding communities. Join the Temple Ambler Field Station for a firsthand exploration of disturbance ecology on campus and learn how tornados are formed.

"From bats and giant sea louse to learning important information about protecting dark skies and combatting Sptted Lanternfly, where else are you going to learn about such a diversity of topics? This event is definitely geared toward families," Duffy 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."

In addition to the fabulous array of live animals ambassadors at the event, the Tyler School of Art and Architecture Greenhouse Education and Research Complex will also share some examples of fascinating, and freaky, plants including the Amorphophallus Titanum. Ambler Campus Greenhouse Education and Research Complex Manager Ben Snyder is currently growing several of them and two of the gloriously weird plants — Big Stinker and Lil' Stinker bloomed in 2021!

"You have to be patient with these plants as it typically takes seven to 10 years for them to flower and, in some instances, it can take up to 15 years," Snyder said. "When they bloom, it's truly an event because it's still quite rare in cultivation and the bloom only lasts a couple of days. You will have huge crowds come to see an Amorphophallus bloom."

The fact that it attracts so much in-person interest runs counter to its most well-known trait — when blooming it smells like death to an eye-watering degree. It's not called a corpse flower for nothing!

"The stench, the speckled maroon and pink coloring, it is this flower's way of attracting pollinators," Snyder said. "Rather than bees and butterflies, it attracts anything that would naturally be attracted to rotting meat, such as beetles and flies."   

Part of Temple Ambler's EarthFest 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?

Discover more information about the Science of Scary at You may also discover a treasure trove of Science of Scary content online!