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New exhibit spotlights creatures living in our shadows

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Photos by Adam Forsgren,
POCATELLO – The Idaho Museum of Natural History in Pocatello is filled with creepy-crawly creatures — at least, representations of them.
These models are part of the museum’s new “In the Shadows” exhibit. The exhibit shines a spotlight on the creatures that inhabit nooks and crannies of our world that usually escape our notice. The goal is to show visitors the impact that creatures they may not see have on their lives.
Many of the exhibit’s pieces were created with 3-D printing technology, including the star of “In the Shadows” — a 12-foot wolf spider.

“We decided to do it because we wanted to focus on these creepy-crawly things, these weird things in Idaho that can also be beneficial,” Timothy Gomes, a technician who helped design and fabricate the creatures in the exhibit, told
“Wolf spiders are something that anyone who’s seen them in their house, especially me, our first instinct is to just stomp that thing as soon as possible,” Gomes said. “But what this exhibit kind of shows off is that these creatures are really nice to have. They basically take away all the other nasty creatures in your house. They’re like pests doing pest control.”
Along with the wolf spider, “In the Shadows” also features a mosquito, potato blight and Demodex face mites. These models were all created through the use of 3-D printing, a process that Gomes was heavily involved in.
“Once you have a model, you have to convert it to a proper size and code format for printing,” said Gomes. “You can’t just scan a model and pop in into a printer and start printing. You actually have to let the software know ‘Hey, these are the dimensions,’ because every 3-D printer has a build volume that it maxes out on. You also have to know how to place those models within the build volume to get the best accuracy and the best model you can.”

The models are composed of a substance called polylactic acid (PLA). This material allowed Gomes and his coworkers to print the creatures relatively cheaply, without worrying about the costs associated with making mistakes. But it takes time.
“Once you figure out how the model is going to be placed in the actual print volume in the machine, then it’s just waiting,” said Gomes. “The spider, that’s like a solid three weeks of non-stop printing.”
The creatures for “In the Shadows” were printed one body part at a time, then assembled, sanded down, painted and made ready for display.
“In the Shadows” doesn’t just feature the 3-D printed pieces. It also includes several pieces of taxidermy, including a mountain lion and some bats, depicting scenes from nature we don’t often see because they happen while we sleep. Throughout the exhibit, video stations play content that tells visitors all kinds of facts they may want to know about the subjects of the exhibit.

And a few you may not want to know. For example:
“The Demodex mites, just the way those things live in your follicle pores,” said Gomes. “They apparently come out at night when you’re sleeping and they do that primarily so they can mate. If too many of them die, you get goopiness on your eyelashes or you get rosacea. Or if you have too many of them that are alive, they can cause rashes or itchiness.”
Gomes said that members of the public who have visited “In the Shadows” have really enjoyed it.
“A lot of people have loved it,” he said. “It’s freaky and gross and informative, and that seems to be this really cool combination.”
If that sounds like a cool combination to you, you can catch “In the Shadows” at the Idaho Museum of Natural History in the Idaho State University campus in Pocatello through January 2021. Visit the museum’s web page for its hours of operation and other information.

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