"This is Briar Rose," says Aaron Rodriques, with the giant, hairy tarantula resting calmly in his palm. He then gives a rundown of her personality traits most people might not associate with big spiders: Docile, gentle and a little shy.
Rodriques, who started his PhD in entomology at Purdue this fall, has been collecting and raising insects and reptiles for more than 20 years.
His collection of hundreds of animals consists of 35 species, 18 of which are insects.
What started as a childhood curiosity grew into a bigger passion and a path to academic research. In his spare time, Rodriques enjoys hosting live animal shows, allowing people to interact with his collection.
"One message I have with my show is overcoming the fear of the unknown and getting comfortable with things you don't understand and are afraid of," Rodriques said during a petting zoo at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in July.
Rodriques says it would be difficult to host a petting zoo without the bond he shares with his pets: They can recognize him to a certain extent, which makes them very calm and docile in his presence.
"I would really like to add the Death's-Head hawkmoth to my collection," Rodriques said. You might recognize the moth with a skull-like mark from the filmThe Silence of the Lambs.