Insectarium: No Place for Faint-Hearted : Museum: The facility aims to promote a better understanding of what it calls the ‘least appreciated creatures on Earth.’

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The new annex to Montreal’s graceful Botanical Gardens is not for the faint-hearted. Hissing cockroaches from Madagascar, 10-inch African beetles, hairy trapdoor spiders and other heart-stoppers are the top draws at the Insectarium, a downtown museum built in the shape of an insect.

It houses 450,000 varieties of insects and arachnids, or spiders, representing nearly half of the 1 million species on the planet that have been identified.

The bulk of the collection was donated to the city in 1987 by Georges Brossard, a notary public whose fascination with insects led him to the four corners of the globe in search of specimens.


The Insectarium, which opened in the spring of 1990, aims to promote a better understanding of what it calls the “least appreciated creatures on Earth.”

In addition to the terrariums, vivariums and wall displays, the museum has installed audiovisual terminals that blink streams of little-known facts about insects and arachnids.

Homeowners will be alarmed to know, for instance, that certain queen termites can lay up to 36,000 eggs in 24 hours.

Mosquitoes beat their wings 600 times per second but can fly only 1 m.p.h. Dragonflies are the fastest flying insects, clocking speeds of 20 m.p.h.

Trapdoor spiders live as long as 30 years, more than twice as long as most dogs. Like other spiders, they partially digest their prey before eating it.

Five butterfly species from Indonesia, the gynandromorphs, produce specimens with both male and female attributes, including a male-patterned wing and a female-patterned wing.


“People feel an attraction and a repulsion for insects because they are so different,” said guide Elaine Boileau.

“A lot of it is cultural. We’re taught that they sting, they bite and they’re essentially evil. But very few are dangerous,” she said.

Less than 1% of insects can harm people, according to the museum’s brochure. It describes the essential role they play in the food chain and in consuming waste and recycling organic matter.

One terrarium, devoted to necrophagous insects--those that prey on dead flesh--has a cross-section display showing how they bury their meal and feast on it underground.

Although the museum aims to promote respect for insects, it is evident that the insect world has yet to benefit from the animal-rights movement. Only 10,000 of the 450,000 insect and spider specimens in the Insectarium are alive.

“It would be too hard to show a collection from all parts of the world with live insects,” Boileau said. “They have nutritional needs we couldn’t satisfy.”


Some of Quebec’s native insects, such as the striking monarch butterfly, have an easier time because their dietary needs are easily met. They live in an outdoor aviary during the spring and summer before migrating to Mexico in the fall.