There’s something creepy, crawly and utterly fascinating about one of the Columbia Valley’s newest businesses
By Steve Hubrecht
The enormous insect resembles a thick, rough-barked twig. Spikes dot its six long, clasping legs and its armoured body. Its antennae poke up, twitching and it slowly clambers over Bruce Devlin’s hand. Well, perhaps ‘clamber’ isn’t the right word. ‘Engulf’ is a better description, since the giant bug — which, appropriately, is called a thorny devil stick insect — is nearly as big as Bruce’s fist. It’s hard to see some of his fingers underneath the thing’s long, vaguely skeleton-like form.
“Do you want to hold this?” Bruce asks two kids, who look to be about 11 or 12 years old, extending his arm — and the thorny devil insect — in their direction.
Both kids look on with wide eyes — an equal mix of curiosity and mild fear — and then simultaneously let out a soft, nervous “aaaaaah”, followed by an intrigued “hmmmm”.
Is it a scene from the latest summer science fiction blockbuster Hollywood movie? Not at all. It’s just another day at work for Bruce at Invermere’s very own Wild Wonders Insectarium.
And if thorny devil stick insects are somehow not enough to pique your interest, there’s more – literally hundreds more — creatures awaiting at Wild Wonders. Vivid blue poison dart frogs (that any animal can be so richly hued must be seen to be believed), tarantulas, mantises of all sorts, scorpions, bark frogs, tree frogs, gleaming gold scarabs beetles (which were once worshipped by ancient Egyptians), gangly looking giant prickly stick insects, ferociously horned rhinoceros beetles, and 15-centimetre long brilliant green giant Malaysian katydids, which can produce high pitched, high decibel electrical screams.
“We do hear a lot of screams in here,” says Bruce, of the giant Malaysian katydids.
Wild Wonders opened as one of the newest businesses in downtown Invermere in late June, and has been a source of engrossing fascinating for local and visiting kids — and adults — since.
It’s family run, with Bruce’s wife Myriam deeply involved, and the couple’s 10-year old son Bryson and eight-year daughter Leah contributing their own insect enthusiasm to the enterprise.
“It’s going to be quite dynamic. There’s always new insects coming in,” Bruce told the Pioneer. That’s no easy feat, since Wild Wonders already has several hundreds (too many for an exact count) from all over the word, spread throughout its 51 enclosures.
“So far the reception has been fantastic,” says Bruce. An average of 65 people visit the insectarium each day, on either day passes or annual passes. Initially the Devlins though visitors would stay for about 20 minutes each or so, but “actually the average stay is about 45 minutes to one hour.”
This, Bruce suspects, is because coming to the insectarium is not just a pit stop to look at bugs. Instead it’s an immersive educational experience, with visitors even able to hold some bugs, and with Bruce enthusiastically explaining everything you ever wanted to know about bugs, and more.
“Interact, learn, discover — that’s our motto,” explains Bruce. “It’s pretty unique. There’s nothing like this in Invermere, or anywhere nearby”
Bruce was born in Prince Edward Island, grew up in Ontario, and first came to the Columbia Valley in 1993 to work at Panorama Mountain Resort. In 2010, the couple moved to Kamloops where Bruce worked in a gold and copper mine.
“The money was fine, but there was no joy in it,” says Bruce. “It wanted to do something that gives back to the community”.
In 2020 the Devlins returned to Invermere and began hatching the plan to open the insectarium.
“I’ve always been an animal person, and I’ve always loved insects. I really got interested in entomology through fly fishing, because they go hand in hand, but even before that, I was that kid who just had to pick up every rock and see what was underneath,” says Bruce.
That passion has now grown into a career. The Devlins hope to get permits soon which will allow them to take the insects out to schools and libraries. They have already had plenty of visits to the insectarium by school and day care groups.
If all goes well, and the “community really embraces us,” Wild Wonders has plan to potentially expand and open a butterfly garden in three to four years time.
To learn more check out Wild Wonders’s website at www.wildwondersinsectarium.com, call 250 341 8098, or stop by the insectarium at its downtown location on 7th Avenue, between Spice Hut and the Invermere Bakery.