Artful Blogger

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Museum of Nature summons a pest exterminator for ant exhibition

The Canadian Museum of Nature gets the gold star for being the most inventive Ottawa cultural institution in securing a corporate sponsor for an exhibition.

The sponsor for the museum’s new exhibition on ants is Orkin Canada, a pest control company that, among other things, kills ants. Now, isn’t that like asking Molson’s to sponsor an exhibition on temperance or the Ku Klux Klan to sponsor a Miss Africa beauty pageant?

An army ant soldier from Panama shows its fierce jaws. Mark W. Moffett/Minden Pictures

So, all eyes were on Dan Dawson, Orkin’s marketing manager, when he was summoned to the podium at the museum’s media preview of Farmers, Warriors, Builders: The Hidden Life of Ants.

First of all, Dawson did not have one of those giant cans of insecticide that exterminators often have strapped on their back. Surely, he was tempted though, there being a couple of live ant colonies in glass display cases mere steps away. A few squirts of Raid could have wiped them out.

Instead, Dawson demonstrated that he has a sense of humour, saying that everyone in the audience probably thinks that an ant exhibition and an extermination company are “a strange mix.”

Then, Dawson made a good case for his company being the sponsor. The folks at Orkin, just like the entomologists at the museum, study nature, Dawson pointed out. Orkin needs to know everything possible about pests, not just how to kill them, but how to stop them from taking up residence in your home or business. In other words, proper prevention negates the need for extermination. Call it sustainable extermination.

The ant exhibition comes to Ottawa from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the United States. The exhibition contains 39 large-scale photos of ants by Mark. W. Moffett, who has been nicknamed by the National Geographic Society as the Indiana Jones of Entomology. There are also live colonies of harvester ants and honey pot ants. They were imported from Arizona and took five months of paperwork to speed them through customs.

The exhibition is filled with fascinating factoids. Example: Ants communicate with each other using pheromones, sounds and touch. Another example: Some ant species enslave other kinds of ants.

I had to leave the media preview early. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to speak to Dawson about the swarm of ants that periodically emerge from under the deck of my house.

The ants exhibition continues until Jan. 5, 2014.