Dominic Monaghan Loves Python Hugs and the Sexy Figure of Black Widow Spiders

If you’re like most people, you may recognize Dominic Monaghan as “one of the minor characters on the TV show Lost. I forget his name. The one who was friends with Hurley and drowned in the third season.” You may also know him as “one of the hobbits in Lord of the Rings. Not Frodo or Sam. The other one.” But come next Tuesday, every thing you kinda thought you vaguely remembered about Dominic Monaghan will change. You’ll know him as “that guy who’s really, really, really, really into insects. Not regular insects that are harmless and at worst annoying. Insects that share parents with Mothra.”

Dominic

It’s all thanks to Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan, a new show which sounds like it should be a Maurice Sendak tribute but is actually devoted to things much less cute and family friendly. Beginning on January 22nd—10pm ET on BBC America—Monaghan documents his travels to places like Ecuador,Venezuela, and Namibia, where he track down the type of exotic, occasionally dangerous animals that exist mostly in our nightmares.

I called Monaghan to ask about his clinical entomomania.

The press release for this show claims you encountered “life-threatening insects.” Was your life ever really in danger?

It might’ve been during the episode in Malaysia where I climb a tree to get close to about two and a half million giant honey bees. Otherwise, it wasn’t so much life threatening insects as much as life threatening creatures in general. I held onto the world’s largest spider, which is venomous and as of yet we’re not sure what it could do if it bites a human. Along the way I encountered quite a few highly venomous snakes; cobras and vipers and everything in between. There were certainly animals that we come across in each episode that could take away one of my limbs if I were to be bitten by them, whether it’s a finger or an arm or a foot or a leg, and possibly kill me at the same time.

Which would suck for anyone but especially an actor. You lose a limb, it’s hard to get work after that.

It would definitely mean a career playing pirates.

And how many pirate roles are there that Johnny Depp doesn’t have dibs on?

Exactly. But I’m willing to take that chance for something I love. I’m also a huge soccer fan. If I’m at a game and enjoying myself and something happens that risks my state of health, at least I’m doing something I love. We all take those risks in life.

When you’re holding an insect that could feasibly kill you, does it sense fear? Do they smell fear like dogs do?

I feel like they can. With my insect pets at home, I feel like they’re a little bit more secure with me than they are with people who get nervous around them. I try as hard as I can to control any sense of fear when I’m with an animal that can hurt me. It doesn’t do you any favors.

So what are they responding to? Sweaty palms, trembling, that kinda thing?

Obviously you sweat a little more, your heart rate is increased, your blood pressure rises. I think animals can pick up on those slight changes in your chemistry. And then they get more panicky, and they’re more inclined to sting or bite.

Tell me about your pets. I heard you have a black widow spider and a prying manthis and some scorpions and other things.

That’s right. I also have a tarantula, a python, and a chameleon at the moment.

Do you set out to have that many? Or is it like impulse buying? You start with one scorpion and before you know it your house is like an H.G. Wells novel?

It doesn’t sound like a lot to me. I have friends who have 50 snakes, over 100 spiders. I keep my menagerie relatively small because I travel quite a lot. I want to make sure everybody gets the right amount of attention. But the good thing about these kinds of animals is, if they’ve got fresh water and food, they’re fine. They’re not seeking company or affection in the same way that a dog or a rabbit or a horse or a cat or a gerbil might. They want to be left alone to sleep and take it easy.

So a python isn’t going to want to spoon on the couch with you?

Well, it might want to wrap around me for warmth. I’m okay with that. They do hug better than most animals.

I don’t think many people would describe it as hugging.

It feels like hugging to me.

Is there an emotional bond? Do they miss you when you’re gone?

No, I don’t think they miss me at all. I don’t think they really know I exist for the most part. There’s not really an emotional bond for me outside of hoping they’re fed and healthy. I like my pets. I enjoy hanging out with them and telling people how beautiful they are. But I don’t seek any kind of emotional reciprocation from them. If I had a hard day at work, I don’t come home and hope my animals will greet me at the front door. I’m not insane.

A few years ago, a python in Florida ate an entire alligator. Do pythons typically have such hearty appetites?

I’m guessing it was either a reticulated python or a Burmese python.

I think it was Burmese.

Well, they can grow 15, 20, sometimes 25 feet long and they’re absolutely gargantuan beasts. These animals might not eat for a year, maybe even two years. When they do eat, they go for something large that they don’t need to worry about eating again for a while.

How many times has the mailman in your neighborhood disappeared?

Oh no, no, I love my mailman. But there have been a few occurrences of paparazzi getting a little too close to the house and, well, let’s just say they’ve never been seen again. So sometimes pythons come in handy.

It’s interesting that you keep a black widow spider as a pet. Isn’t Los Angeles infested with black widows?

Oh yeah, they’re very common in LA. I could probably find you one at night in about ten minutes. They are all over Hollywood. They have these nightmarish connotations linked to them that really aren’t that accurate. People think they’ll kill you with one bite and they’re aggressive animals. But a black widow spider is not in any way aggressive. They’re very, very shy. You rarely see them leaving their webs. They don’t like humans at all. They don’t like bright lights.

They’re shy and don’t like humans or bright lights? What the hell are they doing in Hollywood?

Exactly, yeah. Wrong place for them to be. And as for their supposed lethal nature, I think a black widow would probably hurt a young child under the age of five or six. And possibly a family pet. A cat or dog might get into trouble with them. But a grown healthy adult such as you or I would probably be in a lot of pain for a couple days, maybe go through some muscle spasms and a little bit of nausea, but we’d survive.

And you thought, ‘Hey, an animal that could feasibly give me nausea and painful muscle spasms? Let’s keep a few in the house!”

I keep them because, in a rudimentary way, I study them. I watch their behavior to find out when they eat and when they’re active. So that way I can go out at night and find them a little bit easier. For me, they really are one of the most beautiful classic spiders. They’ve got that stunning hour-glass figure, and that jet-black body. I think they’re pretty bad-ass.

(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on MensHealth.com.)