________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 16 . . . . April 14, 2000

cover Tarantulas. (Champions of the Wild Series).

Andrew Gardner (Director). Christian Bruyere (Producer). Michael Chechik (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 1998.
25 min., 30 sec., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C9198 138.

Subject Headings:
West, Rick.
Wildlife conservation.
Wildlife films-Arizona.

Grades 2-6 / Ages 7-11.
Review by Gail Hamilton.

**** /4

Much maligned and misunderstood by people, tarantulas have remarkably adapted to life in a variety of habitats around the world. They are native to all continents but Antarctica, though, typically, they are associated with desert locales. Most of this film's footage was taken in Arizona's Sonora Desert. Amateur biologist Rick West has been fascinated by tarantulas for over 30 years. He travels all over the world to find and study these hairy arachnids whose name is derived from a wild Italian dance, the tarantella, which is said to mimic the gyrations of a person bitten by a tarantula. To dispel the myth of tarantulas being biters, West claims that, in all his years of handling them, not once has he been bitten.

The film takes viewers to the desert on a "tarantula safari" with West. Research has to be done before sun-up, for temperatures can easily climb to 120 degrees C during the day. West looks for a clue - spun silk -to indicate the presence of an underground burrow's entrance. Having discovered the entrance, he blows air through a tube into the hole to check for the burrow's occupant and coaxes her out with a stick. Handling the spider gently, West points out the various body parts and explains the warning colours of several species. Tarantulas have two million hairs per square centimeter. Special hairs can irritate or even blind an attacker. Predators such as the grasshopper mouse, the roadrunner and the wasp easily devour the spider, but the tarantula will fight certain predators and has even been known to take on a snake.

When food is scarce, such as during a drought, tarantulas do not reproduce, but, when moisture finally comes, the spiders begin to look for mates. For the male, there is great danger in approaching the female. Like the black widow, the female tarantula might eat her suitor shortly after mating if he does not make a hasty getaway.

In a particularly graphic scene, the film shows a group of rainforest dwelling Indians who eat tarantulas on a regular basis. First, they twist off the spider's abdomen and squeeze its contents onto a leaf. Then they roll up the leaf and place it on the fire (to act as rainforest "briquettes"). Finally, they roast the rest of the spider and eat it. After consuming two or three tarantulas, the Indians use the fangs to clean their teeth (rainforest toothpicks).

In addition to the fabulous colour photography of tarantulas in their natural habitats (and some extraordinary footage taken from inside an occupied burrow, looking out), the camera takes viewers to West's basement where he keeps 1500 live spiders as well as many "pickled" specimens. With a sense of humour, he credits his wife's understanding of his passion for these creatures and offers a few personal anecdotes of life in the West household when one of his pets is "on the lam."

West is very concerned with the tarantulas' habitat being under siege and their being exploited for the pet trade. Thanks to his efforts, nine species have been declared endangered.

As with any nature film, the quality of the photography is paramount. This video is no exception - fantastic close-up views of the spiders and their habitats will keep viewers enthralled for the duration of the video and leave them wanting more. Though the vocabulary in the narration might be too advanced for youngsters below Grade 4 level, teachers could play the video twice, once with narration and once with the volume turned off, allowing teachers to do the voice-over to reinforce specific concepts. The video is close-captioned (requires a decoder).

Inside the video case is a brief summary of the video as well as a few pre-viewing and post-viewing questions. There is a short list of tarantula websites and a list of other videos in the "Champions of the World" series.

Highly Recommended.

Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364