Edmonton

Beetles, wasps and ants join critters on the march to new Royal Alberta Museum

In a carefully planned move, thousands of bugs were transported Tuesday from the old Royal Alberta Museum in Glenora to the new downtown location.

Transfer required careful planning — 'Imagine if we had a nest of paper wasps get out'

The Royal Alberta Museum has begun transferring their invertebrate collection from their old to new exhibit space in downtown Edmonton. 1:37

In a carefully planned move, thousands of bugs were transported Tuesday from the old Royal Alberta Museum in Glenora to the new downtown location.

"Some of these animals are actually permit-requiring. If they were to escape into the greater environment, they could be a threat to our crops or our forests," said Pete Heule, the museum's live animals supervisor.

The museum's live invertebrate collection includes 250 to 300 different species, he said.

"We have corals, we have stick insects, we have tarantulas, we even have a greenhouse full of food plants, so there's a lot of different stuff that we have to move," Heule said Tuesday.

Lots of planning is involved in the move of thousands of live bugs from the old museum in Glenora to the new location in downtown Edmonton, said Pete Heule, the museum's live animals supervisor. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

Some of the critters were packed in their own special transport containers, while others were moved in their regular enclosures after removing any objects that might shift.

"The care of the animals is really paramount but, of course, we want to make sure they're contained as well," said Heule.

"Imagine if we had a nest of paper wasps get out while we're driving." 

The new museum's environment for the invertebrates is a sophisticated space that Heule describes as being more like an "art gallery of bugs." 

Staff will have much more control over humidity, lighting and temperature in the new enclosures, increasing their ability to recreate natural habitats, he said.

The lab space where animals are hatched will have windows, allowing the public a look into that "back of house" space — something that was only available by invitation at the old museum, Heule added.

"Our capacity to show off native species is vastly increased," he said.

There will be new displays of northern paper wasps, stalk-eyed flies and carpenter ants.

While one "batch" is on display, a second can be placed in a refrigerated space that mimics winter, he said.

The groups can then be swapped out so there are always some on display, something that wasn't possible in the old museum location, Heule said.

The idea is to have a lot more to see year-round, he added.

"You might see a handful of species one time and next time you come, you might see something different," Heule said.

It also means visitors will have chances to learn something new.

For example, wasps are generally loathed but including them in the museum provides a great opportunity to explain their "very important role," Heule said, adding it takes a lot of work to breed the wasps and avoid inbreeding.

Moving in stages

The move is being done in stages over a number of weeks and some of the collection is already in the new space.
So far, things have gone smoothly — which Heule credits to good planning.

He pointed to the coral reef tanks as an example. They are moved one at a time, he said.

"We take the whole thing down, save all the water, save all the rock, put it into bins, drive it downtown and set it back up again," Heule said.

The museum's old location in Glenora was closed in December 2015, with the new $375.5-million downtown location expected to open before the end of this year. 

Staff at the Royal Alberta Museum are preparing the live invertebrate collection for transport to the new location downtown. (CBC)