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Tarantulas win over some visitors at the fifth annual nature festival at Laurier Woods

'Surprisingly she felt very soft. When she walked on my hand it was smooth, like a cat’s paw. And warm, surprisingly warm' Sabrina Carlson describing her first experience holding a tarantula.

One expects to see a wide variety of insects and bugs while walking through North Bay’s Laurier Woods Conservation Area. But a tarantula? That’s pretty much the last thing people would imagine they would come across.

But then again, anyone who has attended the annual Louise de Kiriline Lawrence Nature Festival has come to expect the unexpected.

“She was a world-renowned naturalist who lived in the Bonfield area. She was also a nurse and midwife providing health services to people in the area. She had written five books on nature, and many research papers on nature as well,” said Fred Pinto, president of Friends of Laurier Woods.

It was while visiting the Live Insects display by Entomica, an insectarium based out of Sault Ste. Marie, that Sabrina Carlson put aside her fear of spiders to bravely hold a tarantula.

“I’ve had some friends who have had tarantulas and I’ve always been freaked out by spiders, but today I was told they’re very friendly, that I wouldn’t be bitten, and that she’s handled by children. So if she can be handled by children, she should be okay with me I guess,” laughed Carlson.

“Surprisingly she felt very soft. When she walked on my hand it was smooth, like a cat’s paw. And warm, surprisingly warm.”

Kali Dias, works at Entomica as a bug wrangler.

She explains that while a tarantula’s bite can be painful, its venom is weaker than a typical bee sting, but it becomes extremely serious if the individual has an allergic reaction.

In her line of work, it’s not uncommon to meet people like Carlson who have a fear of bugs and insects.

“We travel with our insects and we like to educate people about the different types of insects we have. We also do school tours, or have groups of summer camps come in and we’ll teach them about insects,” said Dias.

“Today we have stick insects from Malaysia, giant jungle nymphs. And we have our katydid, it’s like a giant cricket or long-horned grasshoppers. It’s in that family. We also have some tarantula’s as well as some scorpions. Mainly everything here is okay to be handled so we do like to have a very hands-on approach when we are teaching.”

Professional and amateur naturalists were also on hand to speak with festival goers about the benefits of forests and wetlands.

“We plan different activities so children and adults can participate in them for as long a period of time as they want. There’s just so many different stories we have in nature, and we have different people here that are experts in different aspects of nature to share their knowledge,” said the president of Friends of Laurier Woods.

There was plenty to see and do, including wood crafts, nature photography and painting.

Ava Cesarano chose to paint a butterfly, which are plentiful in Laurier Woods.

“I saw the orange and I like vibrant colours. I chose to paint that one because it was pretty. I’ve always liked butterflies,” said Cesarano.

“This is my first time here. I thought I’d come because I like nature. I went on the bird walk, saw some birds, and then I held the insects over there and now I’m painting. Its been fun.”

Her friend Jenny Tripp is familiar with what the festival has to offer.

“I went two years ago and I had a lot of fun so I came back. I’m really enjoying seeing the insects and doing some painting. I’m drawing a duck because I really like them. I live on the lake so I see them a lot. I think they’re cute.”

The festival attracted people of all ages, including young families like Katie Ward’s. She brought her two and half-year old son Finley and seven-month old daughter Nora.

“It’s a perfect age for our son who loves walking around and seeing the birds, and can identify a bunch of them. My husband runs an outdoor forest pre-school so the kids are outside all the time,” said Ward.

“Today we found some frogs and birds and saw the bee hotel and Finley did some painting. So lots of identification of animals in the wild. It’s great for families. Finley loved having some of the insects crawling all over him that were almost as big as his arm.”

Guided walks were scheduled throughout the day, each focusing on something different whether it be plant identification, birds or insects.   

Walks are routinely scheduled on the first Saturday of each month during the summer and into the fall.

“So on September 1st, which is the first Saturday in September, we will walk in the evening, and the topic that night will be on bats. We have five different species of bats that live in Laurier Woods,” said Pinto.

“It will be a couple hours starting at 7 p.m. We have little devices to record the sounds.They might not actually see the bat, but they have very high pitched calls that we can detect with special microphones.”