The Insectarium de Montréal is preparing its great Metamorphosis. After more than 30 years of existence and great success at the popular, touristic, educational and scientific levels, the museum is about to become the Insectarium of the 21st century. One of the special features of the Insectarium is the wonderful diversity offered visitors when it comes to the collection of naturalized and live insects. The collections team has brilliantly met a major challenge: renovating an important part of the live collection consisting of unique and unusual species, which will be presented to the public when the museum opens.
The development of the live collection
Finding new live species amounts to a considerable challenge, because those species must meet rigorous selection criteria. We work closely with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to get the permits needed for importing them. We also have to take into account a number of factors such as acquisition cost, lifespan of the insect, its mobility, its reproductive and exhibition potential as well as its interest in terms of education while at the same time trying to choose a species that is spectacular and to this point rarely observed. We additionally have to be sure that we’re familiar with, or sometimes need to discover, its biology, its optimal living conditions, what it feeds on, and host plants in the case of herbivorous insects. The challenge is all the greater in that we want to present insects to the public with as few restrictions as possible, as we do with butterflies at the Butterflies Go Free event. Visitors that way have a sense of being immersed even more completely in the insect world.
The stages and the challenge of transporting live insects
To illustrate the complexity of acquisitions and transportation, let’s talk about a couple of recent examples. To acquire unique specimens of Sagra genus beetles from Indonesia, it required having them come in pupa form (the stage after larva), because transportation of adults would have taken too long and been too risky. These insects touched down in Germany, with one of our entomologist colleagues, so that they could be dampened, packaged and shipped to Canada. That stopover allowed us to make the insects stronger and help them endure the rest of the voyage. That journey continued in our direction and finally came to fulfilment in our laboratories in a controlled environment. When the Sagra are presented to the public, they’ll have traveled more than 13,000 kilometers, stopped over for 10 days in Germany and spent months incubating in a laboratory!
For the acquisition not long ago of a few colonies of fungus-growing, or leafcutter, ants from Mexico, we had to find a competent supplier who knew how to keep them in captivity but above all how to prepare them for a long northward journey. We needed an import permit, an export permit, a phytosanitary permit and a certificate from a veterinarian. We then had to reserve a flight between Mexico and Québec, and this at the height of the pandemic! Flights were quite infrequent, but we finally got space on one coming back from a sunny destination. Once it landed in Québec, of course we had to pay duties, taxes, cargo, storage and inspection fees and at the same time make sure to keep those precious colonies warm and alive. In other words, it’s not unusual to see an employee of the Insectarium walking between an airport and the Insectarium’s temporary laboratories at any hour of the day or night with cargo that, to say the least, is unusual!