The Philadelphia Insectarium & Butterfly Pavilion opened last year to highlight the diversity of exotic creepy creatures including fireleg tarantulas, rainforest mantises, two-spotted assassin bugs and one extremely venomous 6-eyed sand spider. But last week, around 7,000 of the creatures (an estimated 80 and 90 percent of the museum’s residents) — disappeared.
Surveillance footage showed the thieves carrying the creatures out of the museum in plastic containers in broad daylight. The bugs were smuggled out likely over a few days. When the thieves were done, they left a bizarre message behind: two bright blue staff uniforms, stabbed into the wall with knives.
In a statement, the Philadelphia Police Department said three current or former employees are the suspects, though there have been no arrests yet. Also, tracking down the stolen insects, arachnids and lizards is proving difficult.
“They are extremely easy to hide,” John Cambridge, the chief executive of the insectarium, told the New York Times. “We want to make sure that these creatures are treated with respect.” He added that he believes they were taken for the purpose of resale.
The critters could be worth as much as $50,000, but it’s an estimate because some of the creatures are very rare.
Adding to the severity of the crime, several of the creatures are legal evidence and therefore the thefts could be considered a federal crime. (The insectarium cared for the creatures while cases were heard before the courts.)
Although Cambridge is hoping for the specimens’ safe return, he doesn’t want the thieves harshly punished. “They are young, and I really hope that this isn’t something that follows them for the rest of their life,” he said. “Everybody does dumb stuff when they’re young.”
Staff member Trisha Nichols said she is just hoping the suspects bring back the critters, Fox29 reported. She said “they are like part of the family, you know?”