Facing fear in the palm of my hand

From as far back as I can remember I’ve been afraid of spiders.

Something about all those hairy legs and the way they scuttle around gives me the creeps.

Feature on "Face Your Fears" experience at Tropical Butterfly House, animal keeper Ben Coulson and features writer Helen Johnston with a Dumerils Boa (w130528-1m)

Feature on "Face Your Fears" experience at Tropical Butterfly House, animal keeper Ben Coulson and features writer Helen Johnston with a Dumerils Boa (w130528-1m)

So when I was asked if I wanted to meet a giant bird-eating tarantuala, my first reaction was a massive shudder.

But the invitation was to try out a Face Your Fears experience at the Tropical Butterfly House, North Anston.

And the more I thought about it, the more I decided it might help me to ‘cure’ my phobia.

With some trepidation I took my place on a wooden seat next to animal presenter Ben Coulson, and just a few metres away from a sleeping crocodile.

Luckily the croc was behind glass.

“We’ll start off with the least scary creatures and then work our way up to the Goliath bird-eater, “ said Ben, 30, of Kiveton.

The ‘least scary’ turned out to be a Madagascan hissing cockroach.

Suddenly my palms were sweating and my heart was racing.

Ben began telling me all about the dark brown insect which was moving rapidly across his hands, but I was only half listening, horrified.

When it was my turn, I held my palm flat and looked away, thinking that might make the nightmare less real.

Next up was a vinegaroon whip scorpion.

It gets its name because when under threat it issues a smell like vinegar.

Its tail is like a thin whip, and it seemed much smaller than I’d imagine d a scorpion to be.

Holding this one didn’t seem too horrendous, but it was swiftly followed by the emperor, or imperial, scorpion.

This was like a ‘proper’ scorpion, with a sting-bearing tail.

“Don’t worry, if it does sting it’s only like a bee sting,” said Ben, trying - and failing - to reassure me.

A giant millipede followed, which I convinced myself was just like a big caterpillar, despite its hard shiny coat.

Its 200 sticky feet felt like velcro when Ben took it off my arm.

And then it was tarantula time.

First off a small beige one which Ben introduced as a Chilean rose.

So terrified was I when he placed it in my hand that I squeaked: “Where does it come from?”

Next was the Goliath. Luckily Ben said it wasn’t used to being handled yet so I didn’t have to touch it.

But as it poked a couple of its hairy legs out of the box it was in, I nearly ran a mile. It was huge.

To finish off Ben let me hold a Dumerill’s boa constrictor.

I didn’t think I had any fear of snakes until this 6ft muscley female tried to wrap herself around my leg.

Now I’ve got a new phobia.

To watch a video of me handling the creepy crawlies, click below.

To book a Face Your Fears experience, call 01909 569416.