Cash, paintings, expensive technology…these are all things most thieves would steal. However, at Philadelphia’s Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion this past August, insects were the prime targets. Over the course of several days, the thieves managed to sneak away with thousands of insects and lizards, including one of the world’s most venomous spiders.
The heist went down in the middle of the day. Camera footage shows two people in the museum, carrying plastic boxes. In the parking lot, they load the bins into their cars. When other staff realized what had happened, they found two blue uniforms – they had been stuck into the wall with knives. This menacing display implied disgruntled workers were behind the theft. Police went to the homes of the two suspects and recovered some of the insects, including a Mexican fireleg tarantula. Most of the bugs are still missing, however, including the six-eyed sand spider, one of the world’s most venomous animals. This spider is found in deserts in southern Africa and hunts by burying itself in sand and waiting for prey. Its venom destroys the flesh around the bite and causes the victim’s blood vessels to leak. No antivenom exists. Luckily, it isn’t naturally aggressive, but that’s in its natural habitat. If it’s being handled a lot by humans, a potentially-fatal bite is probably not out of the question.
Other bug-knapped critters include several cockroach colonies, giant African mantises, bumblebee millipedes, and leopard geckos. The thieves took off with 80-90% of the museum’s exhibits along with their records, forcing the insectarium to set up a GoFundMe page. In total, the missing inventory was worth $40,000. It’s most likely that the thieves hope to sell their loot on the black market. The FBI is even involved, since eight tarantulas had been smuggled into the country and were part of an active federal investigation. That could get the thieves into even more trouble than they are already in, since the spiders are technically evidence.