Steps away from Parliament Hill might be the last place you would expect to find tarantulas, scorpions and stick insects, but that’s exactly what the Ottawa Insectarium’s collection has to offer.
Felisc McIvor, owner of the insectarium at 71 Sparks St., said he’s been collecting animals for 28 years and those on display are just a small part of what he used to have.
“I was very young and started collecting with spiders and scorpions and then just went a bit crazy. I got way too many, I had more than enough to actually open a museum,” McIvor said.
Visitors at the Ottawa Insectarium can view and hold a wide variety of insects and reptiles – like leaf insects, stag beetles and geckos -- and learn about cultural anthropology. The insectarium also has preserved butterflies and other bugs on display.
McIvor said he had a travelling show around Belfast, Ireland, where he would show off his collection and lecture, before settling down and opening the museum in Ottawa. He used to have larger animals, like caiman crocodiles and turtles, but needed to focus on something smaller when opening the insectarium.
“Better to care for a few well than too many,” he said. “[The animals] get neglected if they’re not cared for well, so it’s really just about doing things the right way.”
The Ottawa Insectarium is one of only three insectariums in the country, McIvor said. The other two, in Montreal and Newfoundland, are both larger, but the Ottawa Insectarium is more hands-on.
“You can hold a gecko, you can hold a stick insect here, you can hold a stag beetle… you can come year-round and you can hold things that are alive, if you want to,” McIvor said.
The insectarium has been open since June 2017 and is a “pilot project” for now, he said. If things go well he wants to open a larger museum with live bee and ant colonies.
McIvor said he spends eight months a year in Vietnam and travels around south-east Asia collecting more specimens. None of the animals he brings back are invasive species, he said, and they are all already dead.
One of his goals for the business is to help people connect with the animals and be more comfortable with them. Through education, McIvor said he hopes people see the value in the insects and become more conscientious about the environment. Being able to actually hold the insects gives people a real tactile experience that makes it unique from watching videos or seeing them in a zoo.
“Being able to hold and see them and get a picture with them makes all the difference, without a doubt,” he said.
McIvor said holding and touching the insects has also helped some people get over their fear of them. Most people in Canada don’t have the chance to interact with the types of large insects found in tropical climates, unless they go to an insectarium.
“People do overcome their fear,” he said “They walk away, I won’t say ‘empowered’, but with a renewed confidence and renewed knowledge that maybe things are not so scary as they thought they were.”
The Ottawa Insectarium is open from Monday to Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.