Philadelphia police

FBI Involved in Hunt for Thousands of Rare Insects Stolen from Philadelphia Museum

Five former staff are believed to have taken 80 species of insects and reptiles from the Northeast Philadelphia museum

What to Know

  • Rare insects and reptiles, some 7,000 of 80 species, were stolen from a Northeast Philadelphia insectarium in late August.
  • Five former staff members have been identified as suspects, the museum's CEO said, but so far no arrests have been made.
  • The insects stolen include a number of tarantulas, other venomous spiders and giant cockroaches.

The FBI has joined the investigation into the theft of thousands of rare insects and reptiles from a Northeast Philadelphia museum.

Over the course of at least four days in late August, five former employees of the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion in the city's Holmesburg section swiped 7,000 creatures of 80 species from their enclosures. They account for 90 percent of the museum's specimens.

Surveillance video captured the thieves — dressed in staff uniforms — packaging up the animals in plastic totes and walking them out of the front door and loading them into cars.

Dr. John Cambridge, the insectarium's CEO, said the museum regularly brings insects to schools and camps for educational programs so it would not be unusual to see staff taking creatures off-site.

"I'm astonished because the scale of it is just unprecedented and it was on video camera, they knew there was cameras, how dumb do you have to be," he said.

Cambridge believes the creatures, which included more than 100 venomous spiders and rhinoceros cockroaches, were taken to be sold to exotic animal collectors.

Getty Images
A Mexican fireleg tarantula sits in its enclosure at the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion. This spider was stolen in a brazen several days long heist from the Northeast Philadelphia museum. | See Larger

The arthropods require significant, special care, according to Cambridge, so he fears many may have perished if they weren't sold quickly.

"They would have to have a staff and the resources of a museum, so they either already sold them, or there’s been some serious die off, and I’m not sure what the other option would be," Cambridge said.

In all, the animals are valued at $41,000 on the black market.

Philadelphia police have searched the homes of at least three suspects, but no arrests have been made.

Several stolen Old World tarantulas were evidence in FBI investigations prompting the federal agency to join the case. Cambridge said authorities will be attending exotic animal sales to try and track down the missing animals.

At least one tarantula, a Mexican fireleg, has been recovered. A number of new specimens have been donated to the insectarium from other museums and bug collectors since news of the theft became public.

Cambridge plans to reopen the museum this fall once new animals are purchased, recovered or bred.

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