‘Bug wrangler’ Brian Lawton has brought his bugs to the Nelson Provincial Museum, including an Avondale spider. The bugs feature in their latest exhibition, Bugs! Our Backyard Heroes, which opened last Thursday. Photo: Kate Russell.

Museum buzzing with bugs


‘Bug wrangler’ Brian Lawton says he was born with a rare disease – a compulsive interest in natural history.

From horror movies to the Lord of the Rings, Brian’s cavalry of bugs have developed quite the following around the country, and now they have taken up residency at the Nelson Provincial Museum.

The museum’s latest interactive exhibition, Bugs! Our Backyard Heroes, opened last Thursday and runs until February 11.

It features cockroaches, Avondale spiders, weta, locusts, stick insects and crickets, and a giant poisonous centipede, which have have all come from Brian’s Auckland home.

The exhibition was designed and built by Puke Ariki Museum in New Plymouth, where it attracted more than 65,000 people.

Brian was contracted by Puke Ariki to provide the expertise and the bugs – and now Nelson is lucky enough to have the exhibition that the New Plymouth District Council worked so hard to produce.

“One of my passions is to share bugs with other people and what better way to do it than this,” says Brian.

“The bugs really bring this show alive.”

He says the one bug in the exhibition that “will really get people scratching” is the American cockroach – a bug that he has been breeding in captivity for over thirty years.

“They are the most diseased bug in the world, but they actually clean themselves regularly and will usually eat their own skin – you don’t want to waste the protein, of course.”

He says the exhibition can change people’s outlook on bugs from being “creepy and crawly” to fascinating, important creatures.

“People spend ages here watching them, and they can see that a cockroach has got a personality when you see its face and everything it is doing – you don’t see it as just a ‘blah’ diseased bug.

“Bugs are cool, they really are. The bigger, uglier and scarier they are, the more I’ve got to have them.”

Shelley Doherty from the museum says the idea of having live bugs in one of their exhibitions is “pretty exciting.”

“We haven’t had live creatures at the museum for a really long time. There are plenty of educational hands-on activities as well as school holiday workshops which will hopefully get Nelson kids inspired to explore what’s in their backyard.”

And if the sight of thousands of creepy crawlies isn’t enough for some people, you can tantalize your taste buds with mealworm and ant lollypops, chocolate covered crickets, crunchy BBQ grasshoppers, and cricket flour from the museum’s shop.

Bugs! Our Backyard Heroes runs from 28 September – 11 February, entry is free.