Bug Lab: Little Bugs, Super Powers

Melbourne Museum Orchid Mantis in Bug Lab - photo by Joel CheckleyAn immersive and sensory exhibition experience that zooms in on the evolutionary genius of bugs as told by a collection of insects and related animals, Melbourne Museum will host the Australian premiere of Bug Lab: Little Bugs, Super Powers from 23 June – 15 October 2017.

A creative collaboration between Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, New Zealand, and Weta Workshop, Bug Lab will allow visitors to marvel at ultra-detailed large-scale models of bugs, discover cutting-edge science and explore the world as bugs do, through immersive sensory experiences.

Featuring six large scale bugs: Orchid Mantis, Bombardier Beetle, Jewel Wasp, Dragonfly, Japanese Honeybees and Katipo (New Zealand’s most dangerous native spider), Bug Lab uncovers the adaptive genius of bugs, which over millions of years have evolved to have superpower abilities, including camouflage, mind control, super speed, swarm intelligence and deadly venom.

Visitors can marvel at what each bug can do, uncover the secrets behind its success and discover how humans are using bugs as an inspiration for science and technology through six zones:

Display Zone – Orchid Mantis (Hymenopus coronatus)
Explore why bugs look the way they do. Bugs use mimicry and visual display to gain advantage and survive. Through bugs, humans are learning how to make better displays of their own. The Orchid Mantis doesn’t need to hunt – dinner comes right to it. To humans, it looks like the Orchid Mantis uses camouflage to attract its prey – but to its victims, it appears more attractive and colourful than any other flower.

Flight Zone – Dragonfly (Procordulia smithii)
Over 300 million years ago, bugs were the first animals to take to their air. This zone uncovers the secrets of insect flight and profiles how humans are attempting to understand and replicate it. Expert hunters with a successful strike rate of around 95%, dragonflies are amongst the best flyers in the world and have an ability to see 300 frames per second.

Venom Zone – Jewel Wasp (Ampulex compressa)
Venom is a powerful weapon for bugs. Visitors can explore how bugs use venom for attack and defence, and how humans utilise venom in the search for new medicines. In a multi-step process, and with more precision than a brain surgeon, the Jewel Wasp can inject venom into a cockroach’s brain, turning it into a ‘zombie’ incubator to feed its offspring.

Swarm Zone – Japanese Honeybees (Apis cerana japonica)
Bugs follow rules that give rise to complex group behaviour. Humans are learning how to create systems involving large numbers of robots, based on bug swarms and social insects. While European honeybees are easy prey for the Japanese giant hornet, Japanese Honeybees have a remarkable heat-balling defence that traps invaders by engulfing them in a quivering ball of bees and ‘cook’ them by heat convection.

Exoskeleton Zone – Bombardier Beetle (Stenaptinus insignis)
Bugs have bodies that make them powerful and ready for anything. Humans are studying what makes bugs so tough and are experimenting with exoskeleton prototypes. As a defence against aggressors, the Bombardier Beetle mixes a boiling chemical cocktail in its abdomen and sprays it in a rapid fire blast at its enemies – all without blowing itself up.

Silk Zone – Katipõ Spider (Latrodectus katipo)
Silk is one of the most incredible materials that bugs can make. Humans have used this remarkable material for thousands of years, but are only now discovering its new uses in medicine and technology. A close cousin of the redback and New Zealand’s most dangerous spider, the Katipõ Spider is a masterful spinner of silk and it uses this incredible fibre to build egg sacs, spin traps and disperse its offspring.

The exhibition also highlights how bugs are the leading inspiration for cutting-edge technologies such as fly-like collision-tolerant drones, nanotechnology based on butterfly wings and 3D printed objects created from silk.

A five time Academy Award-winning creative studio, Weta Workshop are best known as the creative wizards behind the vision, costumes and practical effects as featured in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, King Kong, Avatar and District 9.

From humble beginnings in the back room their flat in Wellington, Richard Taylor, Creative Director and Tania Rodgers, Workshop Manager, have built the company into a multi-award winning design and effects facility. Richard Taylor remains intimately involved in all Weta Workshop projects from concept to delivery.

“Bug Lab is an experience created by bugs to show humans their genius traits,” says Richard Taylor. “There is a risk that many people would think they know all about bugs and therefore we wanted to create a fantastical environment where audiences were delighted to discover the uniqueness of these extraordinary inhabitants of our planet.”

“We felt that if we didn’t create an exhibition that firstly brought joy and delight to the audience, then they would not be of a mind to learn the wonderful information on offer.”

Visitors to Bug Lab will be able to make the most of a full-day out experience at Melbourne Museum. In partnership with Bug Lab: Little Bugs, Super Powers, Melbourne Museum’s IMAX theatre is screening Bugs: Mighty Micro Monsters 3D. This 45 minute documentary takes viewers on an unbelievable tour of the world beneath our feet, from the Kenya savannah to the tropical rainforests of North East Australia and further reveals the superpowers of bugs.

Afterwards visitors can head to Melbourne Museum’s permanent exhibition Bugs Alive! to get up close and personal with the real thing – live insects, spiders, snails and other bugs and learn more about their habitats, life cycles, social lives and how much humans depend on them.

Bug Lab: Little Bugs, Super Powers
Melbourne Museum, 11 Nicholson Street, Carlton
Exhibition: 23 June – 15 October 2017
Admission fees apply

For more information, visit: www.museumvictoria.com.au for details.

Image: Orchid Mantis in Bug Lab: Little Bugs, Super Powers – photo by Joel Checkley