My best friend Janine and I recently made a trip up to Victoria, British Columbia for the first time. Upon researching the top things to do while there, I came across the Victoria Bug Zoo. Intrigued, I contacted them and set up a tour with Jordan Krushen, the Victoria Bug Zoo General Manager.
The zoo is conveniently located in downtown Victoria. While the museum itself is small, like the creatures that call it home, Janine and I loved every moment of our time there. Amazed adults and children alike filled the zoo, staring intently into each of the enclosures and excitedly asking their tour guides questions. I highly recommend making reservations to the zoo and letting them know about your arrival, especially if you are coming with a large group. It was packed with people and a tour guide is recommended but not required. Also a fair warning, they keep the zoo very warm to accommodate the small creatures, so be prepared! The zoo does offer a place to hang your coats.
The Victoria Bug Zoo opened its doors in 1997. The zoo is home to over 50 species, including giant walking sticks, beautiful praying mantis, glow-in-the-dark scorpions, hairy tarantulas, giant beetles, and Canada’s largest ant colony. All the animals are alive and housed in tanks. Visitors are allowed to hold and touch some of the animals, with close supervision of a knowledgeable tour guide.
Jordan first introduced Janine and I to Giant Walking sticks. The giant walking stick is one of the longest insects in the world, with the longest ones being found in China (measuring at over 21 inches long). Like many in the insect world, the males are much smaller than the giant females. A walking stick can drop a leg often with the aim to distract and escape from predators, but lucky enough for them, they are able to regenerate their legs in part when they molt. Since females do not have wings and cannot jump, their camouflage remains their best defense. Walking sticks perfectly blend into tree branches.
The Tailless Whip Scorpion was featured in the fourth Harry Potter movie, The Goblet of Fire. However, this arachnid is harmless to humans. It does not have venom and there is no tail. Its formidable pedipalps, front mouth parts, are use solely for capturing small prey like tiny crickets, and cannot grasp you to bite you. They are horribly misunderstood creatures!
These Thorny Devils are native to Papua New Guinea. They may look intimidating, but they are gentle leaf grazers. Their fierce exoskeleton is solely for protection against predators. This member of the walkingstick family takes a more active role in its protection. Male devils have very large femural spines, and when disturbed, they will take up a defensive position. They can raise their abdomen and use their thorned hind legs to snap down to pinch and clamp a potential threat, impaling them on their own spines.
The tarantulas were my favorite part of the zoo. As Jordan explained to us, they make very good pets and are low maintenance. Female tarantulas live longer than their male counterparts, and can live up to 30 years. Due to these long lives, if you want one as a pet, prepare for a very long commitment. Jordan explained how several of their tarantulas were actually surrendered former pets. Tarantulas are all born with different personalities, which is useful to know when owning them — some may be more aggressive than others. The Old World Tarantula is not one you would want for a pet, they have potent venom and some can catch bugs out of the air.
The Dead Leaf Mantis mimics dead leaves and has incredible eye sight. This natural camouflage is not their only defense, they also feign death. This particular one at the zoo, named Petunia, recognizes the bug zoo staff and has become a favorite with the crowds. Unfortunately, they only live for about a year. Jordan mentioned how zoo staff gets attached to the insects and its always a sad day when the little creatures pass away.
Star Wars creator, George Lucas, owned Madagascar Hissing Roaches and there is a rumor that they were his inspiration for Darth Vader. See for yourself (sorry for the blurry photo)!
Jordan also told us some interesting facts about spiders.
The silk from a Black Widow Spider is among the strongest in the world. However, Nephila spiders are typically harvested for their silk instead of Black Widows due to the widow’s stronger venom and smaller size. Spider silk has higher tensile strength than many man-made substances, including steel and kevlar. Scientists have been working on ways to synthetically replicate it’s strength by using its proteins in other hosts, to copy it using 3D modeling, and to increase silk spinning from spiders themselves. The applications for this natural fiber are endless.
These Leaf-cutter Ants are a part of the largest indoor ant colony in Canada. The Queen can live up to 15 years and lays an egg every three seconds. Every ant that lives in the colony has a function that serves the colony and the queen – worker, drone and solider. Once the queen dies, the colony will function until the final ants pass away. The Zoo’s colony queen started her work 12 years ago and the zoo has begun searching for a new queen to bring in and start anew. The strain of fungus the ants feed on has been alive for 23 million years. Death is important to manage in a closed colony and Jordan told us that if an ant or another ant realizes they are sick, they will go out 100 meters away from the colony to the “ant graveyard.” If that didn’t happen, whatever ailment affecting the one ant could wipe out the entire colony within days. For this colony, zoo staff have to empty the colony’s “trash” area every 2 weeks.
Speaking to Jordan after our tour, I told him how impressed we were with the zoo and the staff. All the staff members are incredibly knowledgeable about the bugs and you can tell they love what they do. They are very passionate about educating the public about misconceptions surrounding the tiny creatures. For example, Norah, a 20-year old tarantula is used as a therapy spider to help people who have arachnophobia. Zoo staff don’t speak to guests using a script, they talk to guests about what interests them. Most of the 15 or so employees are part time, but each one takes their job seriously. The goal of the zoo is to shut down bug myths and make sure each guests walks out armed with the correct information. They aim to inspire you to learn more about the tiny world that is alien to so many of us. Each of the zoo staff truly believes in their work and that they are making a difference in a world. I can attest to that, I learned a lot about bugs (insects and arachnids) during my time visiting the Victoria Bug Zoo, and I highly recommend making this a part of your next trip to Victoria! If you do go, make sure to plan for at least two hours – trust me, these critters are fascinating!
Victoria Bug Zoo
631 Courtney Street
Victoria, British Columbia