Science of Scary at Temple Ambler

It goes without saying that some things in nature are simply frightening. Coming across a snake in the wild will definitely overheat your fight or 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 21, from 2 to 4 p.m. in Bright Hall in the center of campus. Register for this family-friendly free event online.

Science of Scary is being held this year in tandem with the Temple Ambler EarthFest: The Great American Campout. Join us under the stars for a night of camping, tours, s'more and more! Learn more.

"The Science of Scary has proven to be among 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 EarthFest Coordinator Jim Duffy. "All animals and insects, no matter how odd or icky, 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 Duffy.

"Where else are you going to learn about snakes, tarantulas, owls and bats or learn about the science behind natural disasters in one place? The resources we share through Science of Scary is definitely geared toward families," he said. "We hope that what they see, experience and learn will start conversations that will continue well after they've visited our event. It's connecting people to nature in fun and exciting ways; it's providing knowledge that they can use at home or in the classroom."

Science of Scary 2023 exhibitors will include the Temple Ambler Field Station, Elmwood Park Zoo, Barn Nature Center, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Cordes Laboratory, iEcoLab , the Tyler School of Art and Architecture Greenhouse Education and Research Complex, Temple's Department of Biology, the Ambler Student Life Board, and the Ambler Campus Library.  

"In addition to the wonderful organizations who have supported EarthFest year after year, we also have some other Temple experts — in addition to the Ambler Arboretum and Field Station — who have shared 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! Vincent Aloyo maintains several of the honeybee hives in the Ambler Arboretum and shares 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. "We need bees to pollinate the fruits and vegetables that we eat every day. Honeybees also pollinate wildflowers, which are essential to birds and other animals. One way to help honeybees make a comeback is through 'backyard beekeeping.'"

Sarah Chowning, Education Administrator at the Elmwood Park Zoo, said many animals get a bad rap simply because of misinformation or through "urban legends" whispered down the lane. An opossum, for example, might have that long rat tail, but they are among the most docile creatures. They also serve an important purpose in nature — they eat a large number of insects, including thousands of ticks, every year.

"Elmwood Park Zoo educators are huge fans of engaging guests about the importance of the most misunderstood creatures including skunks, opossums, spiders, bats, snakes, frogs and vultures. These animals all serve vital roles in our ecosystem, and often provide direct benefits to humans — we will have a variety of these animals at Science of Scary," Chowning said. "Our ambassador animals act as representatives of their wild counterparts, helping guests to get an up-close and personal experience that will hopefully make a lasting impression! When a guest has a personal connection to these animals, it can lead to better understanding and more empathy towards the species and its habitat and will hopefully encourage positive action in protecting and conserving wildlife."

Chowning said events like Science of Scary are beneficial in "helping make conservation more accessible and relatable by allowing guests to engage with different aspects of the natural world that they may not have previously encountered or wouldn't be comfortable exploring on their own."

"It helps to introduce them to ways that they can personally be involved, even in a small way, through citizen science," she said. "Providing opportunities for the community to get a hands-on, up-close experience with natural science topics in a safe and fun environment can help prevent fear and build a better understanding of things that are normally deemed spooky, creepy, and scary."

If you don't think plants have a capacity to dial up the creep factor to 11, you haven't meant the Amorphophallus titanium, or as it is more commonly known, the corpse flower. The Tyler School of Art and Architecture Greenhouse Education and Research Complex had  a whopper of a corpse flower bloom live up to it pungent glory back in April and had not one but two rare corpse flowers (Amorphophallus titanium) bloom in 2021 — and their scent certainly lives up to their name!

According to Greenhouse Education and Research Complex Manager Ben Snyder, the Amorphophallus titanium is the largest "unbranched inflorescence" in the world. The tallest flowers grow to about seven feet in height while the leaves spread a full 12 feet and the tuber weighs in at a monster 150 pounds — "Feed me Seymour!" indeed.

"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 have huge crowds come to see an Amorphophallus bloom."

The fact that it attracts so much in-person interest runs counter to its other 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 programs, 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. Register for the Science of Scary online.

Want to explore more? Discover a treasure trove of Science of Scary content online!

For more information, contact or 267-468-8108.