Feeling Bugged: Why I Can’t Get Enough of the Victoria Bug Zoo
The Victoria Bug Zoo is seriously underrated. Every time I try to explain to my friends how magical, strange and surreal this space is (the walls literally crawling with ants, the fat spiders watching you through the glass, the stick insects almost invisible amongst their leafy habitat) they cringe with disgust.
Still, I stand by it – the Bug Zoo is great! I visited once in first year, and this past reading break, I returned with my good friend Morgan, who was visiting from Vancouver.
Inside, the walls are fluorescent and decorated with scribbled crayon masterpieces. A dozen children ran around our feet, just as excited as we were.
We bought our tickets ($10 for students!) and pushed through the main doors. As they shut behind us, a wave of heat hit me – it was like a sauna in there.
We quickly grew fascinated by the first glass tank – stick bugs. These strange insects were almost invisible, their slender bodies seemingly inanimate. Inanimate, that is, until one of them twitched, spindly legs clinging to the glassy surface, unblinking eyes muddy brown. Farther down, we spotted the leaf bugs. They wiggled and swayed as real leaves do in the wind.
We moved on to the spiders. The Goliath Spider was captivating. She sat stone still near the edge of her tank, every hair on her plump body visible. She was large enough that if I held her in the palm of my hand, her legs would reach my fingertips. I shuddered imagining what it would feel like to have this creature crawl over me, thinking maybe I should stop leaving my window open at night.
“She looks like she enjoys listening to smooth jazz,” Morgan said, and I laughed, shaking off my fretful imagination.
Beetles! There are so many beetles here. We watched dozens of White-Eyed Assassin Beetles crouched on their branches, seemingly poised to attack. Beetles crawled over each other, pushing one another out of the way as if the others were not even there. I wondered what it would be like to live out my life in a clear glass tank, every action on display.
We joined a group of half a dozen children gathered around a guide. In one hand, the guide held a fat Giant African Millipede. I eagerly held out my hands, flat as instructed, and the guide lowered the creature into my open palms. Her hundreds of legs squirmed. She felt like a sticky moustache. I passed her back to the guide, who passed her to Morgan, who reluctantly accepted.
“The worst she could do,” the guide reassured us, “is suck salt from your knuckles. She can’t hurt you.”
In the far corner of the room, clear plastic tubes connected glass tanks, curving all the way around the room. Inside, ants carried little bits of leaves and dropped them off to a brown fungus, which in turn will produce mushrooms for the ants to eat. The queen ant sat plump and huge. Ants carried the corpses of their deceased allies to an insect graveyard. It was a curious thing, to have a glimpse right into another creature’s world, to slice open their reality and peer inside.
We pushed open the door, and stepped into the cool air of the waiting room. We shook out our hair and sleeves instinctively, while simultaneously knowing there was no possible way any insects could have left the room with us. We pondered the items in the gift shop, and I considered buying some crunchy cheese-flavoured cricket snacks, but finally decided against it – even I have my limits.
Yes, the Victoria Bug Zoo is a little weird. Really, it’s only two small rooms. But those two small rooms are filled with insects, with learning, with hands on experiences. The intimate environment is unique, and one that I will return to time and time again – to hold a new creature, to stare down a spider, to watch an ant hauling a leaf through a plastic tube. To me, the Victoria Bug Zoo proves that bugs aren’t just creepy and crawly – they’re pretty darn cool, too.