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Thursday, January 28, 1999 Published at 17:14 GMT


Creepy crawlies are cool - really

You'll like these guys

Jane Gordon takes a walk around the refurbished gallery
London's Natural History Museum is hoping a new Disney film will do for insects what Jurassic Park did for dinosaurs. The movie, called A Bug's Life, opens across the UK on Friday, 5 February.

It is a computer-animated story about a colony of ants that hire a group of clumsy, mercenary bugs to protect them from marauding grasshoppers. It is a Pixar production - the same company that made the smash hit Toy Story.

To tie in with the release, the Natural History Museum will re-open its Creepy Crawlies gallery, which has undergone an extensive refurbishment over the last six months. Some old favourites are back, such as a giant animatronic scorpion which moves its tail and pincers.

[ image: The robotic scorpion is 10 years old]
The robotic scorpion is 10 years old
But there are many new, interactive exhibits. There is an ant colony teeming with live leaf-cutter ants, a model of a spider crab Macrocheira kaempferi - with a leg span of over 3 metres - and "Crawly House", showing where the mites, fleas and wasps live in your own home.

You can even "walk through" a termite mound. "Termites, like ants, are very social creatures," says Dr Bob Bloomfield from the Museum, "so we've represented one of their huge colonies.

Sophisticated environment

Bob Bloomfield: We want people to see insects in a new light
"Although they are minute, they build these things five metres high with central heating systems, air cooling systems and underground gardens - a very sophisticated environment. We're bringing home some of the fascination of creepy crawlies."

[ image: Find out what is living in the cupboard]
Find out what is living in the cupboard
The five main types of arthropods (animals with jointed legs and a hard outer skeleton) arachnids, insects, crustaceans, centipedes and millipedes, are all explored in the gallery.

"It displays insect specimens from the Museum's vast entomological collections of over 30 million insects," says Dr Dick Vane-Wright, the Museum's Head of Entomology.

"We hope visitors will look at insects, spiders, crabs and other arthropods in a new way.

On land, sea and in the air, there may be as many as 10 million species of these mini-beasts alive today."

Humans need insects

The new movie is sure to be a big hit with cinema-goers, but will the exhibition hall enjoy the same success - or will it just give people the creeps?

[ image: Don't flush spiders down the plug hole]
Don't flush spiders down the plug hole
"Certain insects have a bad press, with good reason," says Dr Bloomfield. "They can be very economically damaging and they have an enormous impact of human health and medicine.

"But counterbalancing the problems they cause, they obviously have major positive impacts as well. We only have to think of bees as a very simple example. Without them, pollination would collapse and many of the crops we rely on would disappear as well.

The gallery opens to the public on Tuesday, 2 February. And although the Museum charges an entrance fee, this will be waived for children from April. The Website can be accessed through the Museum's own site and will go live on Monday.

A Bug's Life image courtesy of Buena Vista Films

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