I’m Jackie Marchant and I’m an arachnophobe.Things eight-legged make me behave
disgracefully, causing me to shriek, jump about and other silly stuff I’d
rather not mention.I can’t help it –
they give me serious heebie-jeebies.There, I’ve confessed.I feel a
little better now.
You might be asking why a sensible arachophobe like
me should write a book about a tarantula.Good question.I could tell you
that the book was born of a cathartic need to express my feelings about our
eight-legged friends, but no.I’m Dougal Trump – Where’s my Tarantula
was written because Dougal Trump went and got himself a tarantula – then
promptly lost it.Not only that, he
managed to acquire and lose several other creaturely beings as well.It was a story so bizarre it had to be
The problem with Dougal is that he loves all things
creepy and crawly – the creepier and crawlier the better.The more legs the better.So, when he was asked to look after a
could he resist?It wasn’t just a
tarantula, it was a goliath bird eating spider, the largest tarantula in the
world by weight, the second largest by leg span, beaten only by Australia’s
giant huntsman (why do people have to put words like giant and Goliath in
front of the word ‘spider’?)
Dougal's Goliath Bird Eating Spider - she's called Sybil
Now you might be wondering why I let him get away
with it.He’s my character after all,
isn’t he?Shouldn’t I decide what he likes
and dislikes?Well, no.The thing about creating characters is that
you have to listen to them – if they like spiders, they like spiders, whether
you do or not.Or, to put it another
way, Dougal Trump is as real to me as the boy next door.And when he acquired his tarantula, I had no
choice but to do some research into these lovely (I say that with great
I discovered that the word tarantula simply means very
hairy spider.In other words all
tarantulas are spiders, but not all spiders are tarantulas.Not something I was keen on knowing.The goliath bird eating spider doesn’t
actually eat birds that often – they prefer to lurk in their burrows and pounce
on unsuspecting mice.
I’m feeling a little ill now . . .
And I haven’t mentioned that in captivity goliath
bird-eaters – as they are affectionately known by entomologists (who are
affectionately known by me as mad people) – are generally fed a diet of mice
and crickets.In order to keep crickets,
you have to have mealworms.These are
like giant maggots and they come alive and wriggling.You feed the live wriggling mealworms to your
crickets, and then you feed your crickets – live – to your tarantula.
Dougal very 'kindly' sent me this picture of his mealworms
I’ve gone all shaky – and I haven’t got to the mice
yet . . .
Here goes. Not
live mice*, I hasten to add, but special humanely killed frozen pinkie mice you
buy in a pet shop. You keep them in the freezer and defrost as necessary. But it's a good idea to let your family
members know that there is an ice cream container full of mice in the freezer. Or, as Dougal finds out, the family can go a
Talking of mad . . .
Why did I do this to myself? I’m a writer and for us, the research is vital – I can’t
have my readers subjected to incorrect facts, it’s just not on.In order to write Dougal Trump’s story, I had
no choice but to read in great detail about the above, download lots of ghastly
pictures to look at, watch countless YouTube clips of wriggling mealworms, mice
being eaten, tarantulas pouncing, a wild Goliath bird-eating spider crawling
up someone's arm (who confessed to breaking out into a sweat – and he was an
So, when Dougal feeds his tarantula a frozen (but
defrosted) mouse, I had to find out what that would really be like.
Unfortunately, the YouTube clip I found showed a tarantula being offered a live
mouse for its dinner**. Even more
unfortunately, the clip had me mesmerised.With ever widening eyes and a squeaky sound coming out of me, I watched
this little white mouse innocently sniffing around and then –
I really can't bear to think about what happened next.
The things we do for research.
Dougal wanted me to put his crickets here as well . . .
And then Dougal goes and gets a load more creatures and
what do they eat? If not crickets or mealworms, then mice. Back to the research
board and this time I was watching mice being eaten by everything from an
African bullfrog to a python.
Over and over again, because I'm a writer and it's
important to be accurate.
I think need to have a lie down . . .
. . . and hope that Dougal does something nice and
sensible in his next book***.
*Some people do feed their pet tarantulas live mice, but
**You really don't want to type tarantula eating mouse, into your search engine.
***This is highly unlikely.
No I am NOT putting YouTube clip of
Mice being eaten by a tarantula,
a bullfrog a python or ANYTHING!!
Jackie Marchant is the author of the award winning Dougal Trump series (Macmillan). She lives in Northwest London. Dougal Trumplives in Ocklesford Middlesex with his
unbelievable family, daft cat, crazy hamster and mad dog.He attends Ocklesford Junior School and has
the most boring teacher in the world.