A Day Among the Insects

By Nathaniel Crumlich

In the heart of Montreal is a botanical oasis that one might not expect to see in any given major city, let alone one this far north. Of course, the Montreal Botanical Gardens and Insectarium are no mystery to those of us who have been living in the city for even this short amount of time. During the summer and fall months it is a popular attraction for those of all ages, hosting a variety of fun events and activities. However, what many may not know is that the beauty and fun of the Botanical Gardens does not cease once all the leaves have fallen for the winter.

When we students of the Environmental Earth Science class arrived I was a bit confused as to what we would be doing at a botanical garden in the middle of December. The shrubs that would usually decorate the sides of the paths were covered by tarps and all trees but the hearty pines were bare of leaves. After a short walk we arrived at a rather nondescript structure on the edge of the garden’s grounds. Once inside, however, it became clear that the Botanical Gardens’ Insectarium was far from any normal attraction. Halfway between a museum and a zoo, the Insectarium combines the best aspects of both and presents visitors with a stunning display of insects and arachnids that are sure to impress. I was the only one of the group who had not previously visited the Insectarium before, and so my fellow students showed me some of the highlights. Most notably were two separate exhibits. The first I saw was that of a large tarantula, easily the size of a plate. The other was a section devoted stick bugs. One interesting thing here is that the stick bugs we think of, usually the type feature in films such as A Bug’s Life make up only a small portion of the Phasmatodea class of insects. In reality these insects can vary in appearance from walking sticks, to mantis-like creatures that perfectly mimic a tree’s leaves. Of course there were also all sorts of beetles, spiders, and other creepy-crawly things to delight anyone.

After we left the Insectarium we made our way to the Gardens’ greenhouses. Now, when one thinks of a greenhouse we often picture long, low structures with a selection of pretty yet usually less than fascinating plants sitting in pots or planters. What the Montreal Botanical Gardens offer is far from this view though. Upon entry we were greeted with a blast of hot, humid air and the sound of a small waterfall. In this main hub room one can see a selection of carnivorous plants, as well as many large vines. If you choose to start by going down the left wing, as we did, you will be greeted by a hundreds of beautiful temperate plants. Many of these will be familiar with those who grew up in the northeast. Continuing into the next room we found a large greenhouse modeled on a desert-style biome. Here there were a great number of succulents and cacti. The next room is devoted to bonsai trees, and the last in the wing is a dedicated event room, currently decorated for Christmas. The right wing is more tropically inclined. The first room features some of the most beautiful flowers I have seen in my life. Almost every color of the rainbow was represented here. The next room of the wing featured a raised platform that overlooked a tropical rainforest. On the lower level one could see a dozen or so tropical fruits and spices, durians to allspice. The last room was dedicated purely to ferns, and featured a large waterfall and a cooler atmosphere.

Being there in the winter made it better, as had there been the full display of outdoor plants as well then there may very well have just been too much to see. The Insectarium is a fascinating and simple way to learn about a variety of bugs that one may otherwise never even know existed. Similarly, the greenhouses make it easy to see a tropical rain forest and an arid desert in the same day, as well as providing a fantastic break from the cold of the Montreal winter.