Hong Kong Biodiversity Museum looks to counter ‘prejudice’ against spiders as

As their name suggests, they are also noted for their ability to make large jumps which, combined with their exceptional vision, helps them to catch their prey rather than spinning the webs that other spiders rely on.

While spiders are key to ecosystems, they are often underappreciated.

The global spider population eats around 400 to 880 million tonnes of prey every year, regulating the population of many insects and other arthropods, a 2017 study found. By comparison, humans consume about 400 million tonnes of meat and fish every year.

Spiders are also a major food source for birds, frogs, lizards and geckos.

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“It is a great way to engage the public to look at things that sometimes they had no idea even existed or they thought was creepy or not so good, and to change the way they look [at them],” the museum’s founding director Benoit Guenard said.

“If we want to protect biodiversity, that is what we need to start doing – education and changing the way people look at things so that they realise ‘oh, it is interesting – I had a lot of prejudice – they have beautiful colours’.”

Guenard said visitors have told the museum staff that they are now looking out for various species in the wild after learning about them from the museum.

“You open up a new world – before I was afraid, now I am not and I appreciate them.”

The museum was established in May 2021 in a storage room formerly used to store specimens used as teaching materials.

Since then it has received 36,000 visitors, including tourists from mainland China and Macau.

Guenard, also an associate professor at HKU’s school of biological sciences, said he hopes the museum will expand in size to showcase its whole collection of more than 50,000 specimens.

Benoit Guenard said the museum will accept items for old taxidermy collections people no longer wish to keep. Photo: SCMP

“I hope that in the future, we will be able to forge collaborations to develop a larger museum to display more specimens but also to preserve more specimens in the collection so our role as a biobank, preserving the diversity of species encountered in Hong Kong and more broadly within Asia can increase,” he said.

The museum is also benefiting from changing attitudes towards taxidermy collections.

“We get donations from individuals who may have been collectors. They bought things in the early days like in the 1960s or 70s,” the French scientist said, pointing at donated pieces such as muntjacs and sea turtles.

“Sometimes the younger generation does not really want to get them as an inheritance,” he said. “They feel very uncomfortable. But they do not want to throw them away so they contact us.”

He said the museum accepts donations from people who own specimens, “but the last thing we want is for people to go and start hunting things”.

“We see that changing in the living room. Maybe it is going to start changing in their plates as well – the way we approach nature and what we consume.”

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