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Where were all the bugs kept before the opening of the new Missoula Insectarium?

“That would be my house,” said Jen Marangelo.

In 2009, Marangelo founded the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium, and is now its executive director.

For years, the organization didn’t have a home to call its own, but would bring its insects to special events, classrooms and even birthday parties.

While the long-term goal is to have a year-round butterfly house in Missoula, a far more expensive proposition, the group decided two years ago to take the first step and open an insectarium.

“We needed to show the community what we could do,” Marangelo said.

The goal is to use the insects, which Marangelo and the staff refer to as their “bug ambassadors,” to increase understanding and appreciation for the roles of arthropods, focusing the exhibit on “The Little Things That Run the World.”

Arthropods encompass a wide variety of creatures.

On one wall of the exhibit space, Marangelo, a biologist, has a display describing everything that falls under the invertebrates category, from a trilobite fossil to millipedes, centipedes, crustaceans, arachnids and other insects, along with live examples of each.

She’s even given each of them names, like Arthur the lobster and an atlas beetle named Brutus.

“The public seems to love that,” she said.

Not all of the bugs are coming from her house.

Some, like the walking stick and the lubber grasshoppers, as big as an adult’s thumb, needed to have a secure enclosure like the ones at the insectarium before Marangelo’s nonprofit was allowed to have them.

“Anything that could affect the plants or crops we had to get a permit with the USDA for,” she said.

On Thursday at 11 a.m., the Missoula Insectarium will have its grand opening celebration at 218 E. Front St., on the second floor. The mayor will be on hand, as will insectarium staff and board members, Monte the University of Montana mascot, and a class of students from Trout Creek.

Admission will be free until 2 p.m. 

Special events and giveaways also will be held throughout Friday and Saturday, including face-painting at 11 a.m. Friday and a spider demonstration at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Hours for this weekend's festivities will be from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

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Not all of the bugs at the insectarium are live, and one station has a set of microscopes where visitors can look at preserved specimens in greater detail.

The Missoula Insectarium also has a strong focus on education, with displays about the important jobs bugs do for the world, like helping in decomposition and pollination.

A few months before the exhibit area opened, Marangelo’s organization started holding events in a classroom space down the hall, and she said more than 20 local school groups have already come for the bug-related programs.

The insectarium will remain at its current location, above spectrUM, for the next four to five years. Marangelo’s hope is to find a new location during that time, and begin a capital campaign to fund the full butterfly house.

The Missoula Insectarium will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays, with an admission of $4 per person and membership packages available. More information about the insectarium is available at missoulabutterflyhouse.org.

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