For Dani Janae, the journey to owning a tarantula did not come naturally. First, she had to get over her lifelong fear of spiders.
“As a kid, I once swore I saw a tarantula in my basement,” says Janae, who now admits it was more likely a wolf spider. “So I felt like that was the last fear I needed to conquer.”
As part of that process, she started reading and watching videos about tarantulas. “I thought they were so incredible and adorable,” she says. “They’re like buck-toothed bunnies with more legs.”
In May, she bought a tarantula called Della Champagne, who belongs to a docile breed known as Aphonopelma Chalcodes, or Arizona Blonde. Janae looked forward to spending 15 to 20 years with Della, the usual lifespan for females of the breed. That was until Della molted, which signified that she was actually a male.
“I was honestly disappointed,” she says. “But he had already become such a joy and a part of my life that the feeling didn’t last long. I just vowed to make his life cooler since he won’t be around long.”
She now runs an Instagram account for Della, @Della_Champagne, as a way to help people understand tarantulas better by dispelling long-held myths, particularly the idea that they’re aggressive creatures venomous enough to kill humans.
“Tarantula venom is harmless to humans, it’s basically a mild irritant,” say Janae. “They say if you’re allergic to bees it can be more threatening, but the most you’ll get is swelling and pain.”
“I’m a poet and I’m also interested in spiders from a mythos stand point; they are such artists,” says Janae. “Ultimately, I think the spider and the poet have the same job: to quietly do our work.”
Doug Graham denies that he owns the seven exotic birds living in his Bloomfield home.
“I hate the word 'owner,'” says Graham. “I do not own these birds, they are my companions.”
These companions, all of which were rescued from people who no longer wanted or could no longer care for them, have become the subjects of the Instagram account, birdkibitzer. Drawing on his experience as a photographer, Graham uses the account to focus on the adventures of the eclectus parrot Ziggy and his six “brothers.”
The account features thousands of photos of the birds at home or meeting people at local restaurants and events, and on trips to places like Gettysburg.
Graham says he originally started taking the birds outside because they required sunlight. Once he saw how people reacted to Ziggy, who suffers from a condition that makes him pull out pieces of his own feathers, leaving him partially bald, Graham recognized an opportunity to help people better understand exotic birds.
“I do it because I like educating people about what bird companionship is like,” says Graham, adding that Ziggy, with his gentle, friendly demeanor and expressive features, makes him a perfect ambassador.
Misunderstanding the level of care these birds require is how Graham ended up with so many. He started saving exotic birds in the early ’90s when he saw how many were kept cooped up in cages as “living knick-knacks,” stressing how they are intelligent creatures that require a lot of stimulation and interaction.
While that may seem like a lot, Graham, now 61, says he’s able to care for the birds full time due to a heart condition that has left him unable to work.
Graham hopes his Instagram will help the birds, all of which could live for many more decades, find a new home when he’s no longer able to care for them. But mostly, he wants it to reflect the amount of love and appreciation he has for them.
“They’re more than just an animal,” says Graham. “They really have a sentient quality to them that people don’t really understand that much.”