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Rare bugs worth thousands stolen from an insect museum. Owner says he knows who did it

John Cambridge, CEO of the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion, said that thousands of rare bugs worth $40,000 were stolen from his museum in late August. He said security footage caught ex-employees.
John Cambridge, CEO of the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion, said that thousands of rare bugs worth $40,000 were stolen from his museum in late August. He said security footage caught ex-employees. Screenshot from Fox29

John Cambridge is asking for the safe return of thousands of insects stolen from his bug museum — and he says he knows who did it.

Cambridge, CEO of the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion, said security footage shows multiple employees smuggling bugs and lizards out of the museum over a few days, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. The CEO said the critters started vanishing on Aug. 21, The Inquirer reported, but he wasn’t sure at first if the insects had just been moved to another part of the insectarium.

It wasn’t long until a majority of the bugs were nowhere to be found, Cambridge said in an interview with Fox29.

“80 to 90 percent of the creatures that we had in the museum were taken,” he said, according to the TV station. “Any types of exotic tarantula, scorpions, millipedes. We specialize in the arthropods of the world and we use those to tell the story of biodiversity.”

In total, Cambridge says the thieves stole about 7,000 critters, which are worth about $40,000, according to CBS Philadelphia.

As noted by CNN, the museum has housed bugs like zebra tarantulas, desert hairy scorpions and rhinoceros roaches. It’s a tough loss to stomach for Cambridge, who said the heist is “unprecedented” and has left him without the exotic, endangered and, in one case, venomous insects that called his museum home.

“I’m not sure there’s ever been a larger live-insect heist,” he said, according to CNN. “Our insurance doesn’t cover this. Why would they?”



Some employees also left their uniforms hanging on a knife, which had been stabbed into a wall, Cambridge said, according to Fox29.

“We caught them on camera,” Cambridge said, according to CNN. “They took all the stuff and then they didn’t show up for their shifts.”

Despite detectives with the Philadelphia Police Department interviewing possible suspects, Cambridge said he’s still waiting for arrests, CBS reported.

Cambridge said one employee already returned a Mexican fireleg tarantula, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. He also explained that some bugs had been seized by federal authorities and stored at the museum for safekeeping while officials investigated if the insects were brought to the country illegally, the newspaper wrote.

“These are young people,” Cambridge said, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “We don’t want to see this follow them around for the rest of their lives.”

Staff member Trisha Nichols said she is just hoping the suspects bring back the critters, Fox29 reported. She said “they are like part of the family, you know?”

The Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion created a GoFundMe page to help “save” the museum. The page said the insects were used “in school programs, exhibits throughout the museum and behind the scenes rearing and feeding programs.”

“It is incredibly important to teach about ecology and natural diversity in today’s world,” reads the page, which has raised over $6,000. “We hope to continue to do this work far into the future but could really use your help to get through this hard time!”

CNN reports that the museum is slated for a full reopening by the first week of November, and that some bug donations have started to pour in. The insectarium shared an image of one of those donations on its Instagram page.

It’s a spider named “Cutie Pie.”

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