Since moving to Yorkshire last summer, I’ve spent many a weekend exploring my new surroundings. If you’re an outdoorsy type like me, there are loads of places in and around East Yorkshire to visit. We love heading over to Hessle Foreshore or walking the dog along Mappleton beach, I’ve spent a sunny Sunday at Spurn Point, and we recently hiked the Trans Pennine Trail. But what if it’s a wet, miserable day and you can’t go outside?
Well, if you’re looking for something to do in East Riding that’s indoors and a little “different”, why not pop over to Hornsea Freeport and get up close and personal with the creepy crawlies at Bugtopia? We visited the attraction just before Christmas, and for just £3 per person for the Explorer Trail, we thought it was a great way to spend a couple of hours on a damp Sunday.
Though it’s aimed at children and I don’t have any of those (I have cats), I do have a boyfriend, which is kind of the same thing (especially when he sees a spider and panics like a little girl). So when someone mentioned to us that at Bugtopia you have the chance to get hands-on with all the creepy crawlies, I instantly wanted to check it out…
First up, we got to handle a Madagascan Hissing Cockroach.
I don’t believe that anyone, anywhere would ever call themselves a fan of cockroaches. The poor little bug has a really bad reputation. People don’t like them because they think they’re dirty, however the host of the Bugtopia Explorer show informed us that they’re actually one of the cleanest invertebrates on the planet.
I’ve only ever seen one cockroach in real life before, and that was when I stayed in the remote village of Cabo de la Vela, north of Santa Marta, Colombia. I wasn’t particularly fussed about holding the one at Bugtopia, but it moved fast which made me nervous, so I gave it back to the host quite quickly after the boyfriend had snapped a photo.
Next came a Giant African Millipede, and a lesson about how to tell the difference between millipedes and centipedes. The host was extremely knowledgeable, answering everyone’s questions while also supervising the millipede that was being passed around our small group of kids and adults.
As you can see from the photos above, it really was “giant”, running nearly the whole length of my arm from my elbow to my wrist. Definitely not one for ticklish people to hold.
Then it was time for a scorpion. We were told about scorpions having eight legs and being related to spiders, and then the host explained the difference between “stinger” scorpions and “pincer” scorpions. Scorpions possess two basic weapons for defense – their menacing pincers and their venom-laced stinger. You can tell which one they use by the size of their weapon: big pincers means they bite, big tail means they sting. Hopefully this is knowledge that will come in useful at some point on my travels.
But that wasn’t the coolest thing we learned at Bugtopia. When asked what colour we thought scorpions were, no one in the room got it right… Scorpions aren’t actually black or brown, they’re green!
As if scorpions weren’t frightening enough, when illuminated by a UV black light, the armoured arachnids glow green. The UV light that hits these creepy crawlies gets converted by proteins in their exoskeletons into light of a green-blue hue, which is visible to the human eye. We were fascinated…
As I mentioned before, my boyfriend is not the biggest fan of eight-legged bugs. It’s always down to me to get them out of the house when they’re crawling around on the bedroom ceiling at night (which isn’t easy considering I’m only 5ft1). So when the host bought out a tarantula with a leg span the size of a dinner plate, I suddenly felt the circulation in my hand stop. He was gripping it so tightly I thought I might bruise.
Reassuring him that he didn’t have to hold the spider if he really didn’t want to, he was undeterred, he took a big gulp, he could do this…
The host asked if he was ready and he nodded as put on the safety goggles that were passed to him. He then held out his hands for the Mexican Red Knee tarantula…
As he sat there holding the tarantula and the host told us more about it, I felt a huge burst of pride for my 38-year-old grown man boyfriend. Just look how proud of himself he is!
Then it was my turn. Having held spiders like this before, I wasn’t phased at all and listened intently as the host described the arachnid’s diet, the level of phenom in its bite, and how it protects itself by spraying itchy little hairs (hence the safety goggles).
My hands made the beast look huge, and the boyfriend and I felt so brave holding the big, hairy arachnid. That was until the youngest “explorer” in our group eagerly held out his chubby little hand for the spider.
We were shot down by a 2-year-old sucking a dummy. The shame.
After everyone had left, we stayed to thank our host. He was so passionately knowledgeable about all the little bugs in his care, we came away feeling like we’d learned more in the hour we’d spent with him than we’d ever learned in our school biology classes all those years ago.
We’d definitely go again, especially as Bugtopia has now opened its Jungle Trail – a walk-through greenhouse experience with free flying butterflies, birds and a whole range of different invertebrates. They were still building the Jungle Trail when we visited last year, but the pictures on the Bugtopia Hornsea Facebook page look amazing.
So when there’s another damp Sunday afternoon in East Yorkshire (of which there are plenty), and you’re stumped for something to do, I recommend popping down to Hornsea Freeport. You might even see us there, me with camera in hand and the boyfriend with sweaty palms trying to avoid eye contact with the tarantulas.