Science meets Hollywood as extraordinary bugs take centre stage

The deceptive orchid mantis disguises itself among petals by impersonating an orchid. All pictures: David McAlpine

By DAVID McALPINE,
science editor

Art and science collide at Melbourne Museum’s latest international touring exhibition – a world of bug “super powers” exquisitely crafted by the creative team behind Avatar and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Bug Lab: Little Bugs, Super Powers is a collaboration between Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and the Academy Award-winning creative studio Weta Workshop.

The exhibition is designed to appeal to all age groups, with the immersive audio-visual adventure complemented by educational interactive displays aimed at a younger audience.

A group of large-scale insect puppets, specially commissioned by Melbourne Museum, will roam the museum on Sundays in August and September from 1pm to 3pm.

Weta Workshop’s craftsmanship captivates the senses, inspiring patrons to learn about the “super powers” of the insect world, from the brain surgeon-like precision of the jewel wasp to the awe-inspiring defence strategy of the bombardier beetle.

Six large-scale bugs are among more than 2000 individual pieces, the result of more than 40,000 hours of work of around 200 Weta Workshop technicians.

Weta Workshop’s Richard Taylor says the exhibition tells the story of the six “genius” bugs in a “highly emotional” and “dynamic” way.

“By utilising touch, sound and vision you have the ability to connect with people’s emotions and share extraordinary stories with them,” he says.

Interactive displays of drones that are inspired by insect swarming behaviour.

“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.”

Bug Lab not only presents the latest fascinating scientific research into insect biology and behaviour but also shows how the insect world is inspiring scientists and engineers to create cutting-edge technology.

Museum visitors can interact with displays of drones mimicking insect swarming behaviour to avoid mid-air collisions, discover how nanotechnology is influenced by butterfly wings and encounter 3D printed objects created from silk.

Museums Victoria CEO Lynley Marshall is “delighted” Melbourne Museum is hosting the Australian premiere of Bug Lab.

The jewel wasp stings its prey with surgeon-like precision and turns the cockroach into a zombie.

“Combining cutting-edge science and technology with fantastic design and craftsmanship, this is an exhibition which goes far beyond the realm of a regular natural history exhibition and is sure to be an engaging and interactive experience for all museum visitors,” she says.

Bug Lab joins other bug focused activities at Melbourne Museum over winter and spring, including permanent exhibition Bugs Alive! and the IMAX Melbourne’s 45-minute documentary, Bugs: Might Micro Monsters 3D.

More than 150,000 people are expected to experience Bug Lab during its residence at Melbourne Museum from June 23 to October 15.

Children can slide down the inside of bombardier beetle.