Tarantulas – the largest spiders in the world (Family Theraposidae, Genus Aphonopelma), some as big as your hand — are not native to Indiana, a fact the vast majority of Hoosiers take comfort in. But some of them do live here as exotic pets. And four of them can be found at Irvington Community Middle School – in glass-enclosed tanks, of course. These hairy creepy crawlers have become the talk of the school. Each morning, students can be seen gathered at the display watching for movement from these supersized spiders. ICMS Assistant Principal Jeff Clark, the brainchild behind the unusual living exhibit, is delighted to sit back and listen to the students chatter about “their tarantulas.”

Last year, Mr. Clark decided to bring in a tarantula for some not-your-everyday-variety of Show and Tell. “They were fascinated by it,” he recounts. “Most had never seen a spider with a six-inch leg span covered in hair. This shows the lengths we will go to connect with all of our kids.”

The four tarantulas living in the ICMS west wing display case are an Arizona Blonde Tarantula, a Honduran Curly Haired Tarantula, a Texas Brown Tarantula, and a Mexican Fire Leg Tarantula. Mr. Clark decided upon these four from his home collection – which one would hope are fully accounted for each night before bed – because they are more active than most. “Typically, tarantulas are called ‘pet holes’ and you never see them,” he explains. Two of the four “resident” ICMS tarantulas are native to the southwest United States, a fact which surprises students.

The ICMS teacher and staff reaction to their new “colleagues” in education was initially mixed, Mr. Clark reports. One was especially cautious: the Irvington Community Schools Director of Facilities and Maintenance, Jim Miller. He wanted assurances from Mr. Clark that these “spiders on steroids” wouldn’t get loose in the building. So what did the ICMS Principal think? “Poor Mrs. Venekamp has just learned to live with me and my impulsive ideas to reach kids,” Mr. Clark notes.

Music Teacher Mr. Wingett didn’t care for the creatures upon introduction because of their “excessive number of legs” (eight). “Now Mr. Wingett is the resident staff expert!” Mr. Clark reveals. “I can count on him being at the display case every passing period sharing tarantula facts he has picked up from me with the students. I predict Mr. Wingett will be a tarantula owner by the end of the school year.”

So beware, parents. Before you know it, your ICMS student will want one of these “adorable” creatures for his/her very own. How can you say no?