Poisonous night at the museum. Venomous arachnids stole the show.

The Royal Belgium Institute of National Sciences runs for the first time an exhibition about poisonous animals. More than 30.000 visitors stopped by the exposition since the inauguration in October 2016. Poison, the expo, is the first live fair ever held in the Brussels’ museum. 

An average of 30 different specimens of poisonous animals are exposed in individual terrariums. Venomous snakes, spiders, frogs, toads, fish and other arthropods are shown alive during the expo. Coordinator of the Poison exhibition Isabelle DuFour mentions that the fair is a real chance to get up close and personal with the creatures. ‘Poison is really exceptional. It is the first exhibition in Belgium to display venomous living beings. Before the opening of our expo, the Serpentarium of Blankenberge was the only location that hosted a similar event. Now we offer a temporary solution to all of those who wouldn’t want to make the trip to the Belgian seaside,’ Isabelle remarked.

No wild animals 

All animals were born in captivity. The vertebrates grew up in the zoo of Madrid, in Spain. Isabelle assures that the species weren’t taken from the wild. ‘All animals come from a long line of captive creatures. The museum takes part in a small breeding programme to ensure further descent and contribute to the preservation of those arthropods,’ says the coordinator. Black widows who mated in Spain, laid eggs during the expo.

The spiders' eggs are carefully displayed in hermetically sealed tubs. ©Morgane Decuyper

An educational journey

The organization wants to sensitize the public to the importance of venomous vertebrates. Isabelle DuFour strongly believes that people have a misconception about those critters. She points out that the snakes have an important role to play in nature. ‘To this day Belgium only counts one European Viper. But scientist are slowly reintroducing it to hunt for rats. Serpents maintain a normal population of rodents,’ says Isabelle. The attaché knows for a fact that their presence is utterly beneficial. When snakes loose their habitats it causes all sorts of problems for the biodiversity.

Serpents are not the only predators who suffer from a bad reputation. Spiders are equally discriminated. They are at the centre of a debate. Biologists argue that most of them are inoffensive but much needed for the biodiversity. Only a minority of spiders have a pernicious effect on humans. ‘All arachnids have venom and fangs but not all of them will use their instruments to harm individuals. Most of the six-legged creatures just hunt for insects and mice. But spiders will tackle any prey item they can,’ declares Isabelle.

The expo's mascot sleeps peacefully. ©Morgane Decuyper

Endangered species 

Venom is not only a biological necessity for toxic creatures it is also a gear to reinforce their natural survival instincts. ‘As poison is precious, the vertebrates won’t waste it. It costs a lot of energy to produce toxins. They will only use it to defend themselves against possible attacks of predators,’ highlights Isabelle. A snake won’t aggress humans unless he feels threatened. Even then, he will not give the complete dose of poison. That is one of the aspects that the museum wants to bring forward. Popular believes about venomous animals have destroyed their natural habitat and name. This has resulted in the near extinction of the Spruce-fir moss spider. This tarantula is threatened due to heavy animal trade.

Being bitten by a poisonous spider or serpent is not always fatal.©Morgane Decuyper

Scientific miracle 

The use of poison coming from venomous animals revolutionized the modern science. These creatures have become a real aid to scientist who try to decode the laws of medicine. Isabelle explained that remedies for diabetes type two patients will be based on snakes’ poison. ‘With the molecules of the King Cobra’s venom, biologists can create natural painkillers. This medication would be twenty times more powerful than morphine. The real asset is that patients wouldn’t be addicted to the antidote,’ explains Isabelle. The toxic saliva of the Gila monster, a poisonous lizard from the United States, is commonly used to regulate the insulin levels.

Zookeeper, Guillem Russell's lab exhibits the most venomous specimens of the expo. ©Morgane Decuyper

The temporary expo runs until the 3rd of September 2017 at The Royal Belgium Institute of National Sciences. The exhibition is open daily except Monday.

Text and pictures  ©Morgan Mc Kenzie