VIERA, Fla. - Displayed atop green lettuce leaves was a nausea-inducing insectile appetizer: one fuzzy Arizona blonde tarantula, one brown-shelled Madagascar hissing cockroach, one superworm and one desert hairy scorpion (stinger removed for safety.)
Three strong-stomached Space Coast residents successfully chewed and swallowed all four of these jumbo-sized bugs Sunday at Brevard Zoo, leaving children slack-jawed and adults shaking their heads in disbelief.
Local 6 News partner Florida Today reports that Sandi Mirabito stole the show. Like a jungle predator, the Cocoa stay-home mom crammed all four insects into her mouth within about 15 seconds -- shocking zoo personnel and drawing cheers from the crowd.
"I'm a vegetarian!" Mirabito exclaimed after she swallowed her mouthful of bugs, generating laughter.
Daily insect-eating contests have added a beastly twist to the zoo's Cold-Blooded Weekend. This annual Labor Day reptile-centric event at Nyami Nyami River Lodge highlights pythons, vipers, toads and other creepy-crawly creatures.
Competitors have five minutes to eat all four insects. Those who succeed received a four-pack of zoo tickets and a $10 voucher for non-vermin cuisine at the zoo's Flamingo Café.
A man, a woman, a teenage girl and a child took the challenge Saturday. The adults feasted on all four bugs -- but both grossed-out younger competitors failed to devour their tarantulas, said Olivia Wiggins, a zoo spokeswoman.
"It gives me chills thinking about it," Wiggins confessed, rubbing the tops of her forearms.
All Cold-Blooded Weekend attendees can sample an absurd "bug buffet" featuring crickets and waxworms baked with Cajun spices, cooked in stir fry, and suspended in Jell-O shots.
"Who's hungry? Who wants to try a bug?" asked insect cook Desiree Harrington, extending her arms to visitors wearing white gloves and a black chef's hat.
After wowing the audience Sunday, Mirabito said she had no particular preferences in her spider-scorpion-cockroach-superworm meal.
"I just ate them all at once. They've got to go down either way," Mirabito said. "I couldn't taste them. They all went down at once."
Rockledge resident Jason Simmons, a construction project administrator, also completed Sunday's challenge. Grimacing while chewing, he expressed surprise at how juicy the cockroach was.
"My favorite was the mealworm -- it was smallest and went down the easiest," Simmons said. "The tarantula was hard to get down, for some reason."
Ken Haven, of Palm Bay, a lineman for Young's Communications, was Sunday's third winner. He spent the longest time chewing, displaying a puzzled expression on his face.
"I probably should have started with the cockroach. Because of the shell, I couldn't get it down. The other bugs were easy. The scorpion was the easiest," Haven said.
"Taste-wise, the mealworm tasted good. The other ones were just nasty. Kind of like you would expect a bug to taste like."
Copyright 2011 by Post-Newsweek Stations. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed