Face your fears and uncover venom, nature's ultimate weapon

23 August 2017

Bullet ant

Explore the visceral fear and ever-lasting fascination that venom evokes, in the Museum's new autumn exhibition, Venom: Killer and cure.

Opening on 10 November, this groundbreaking exhibition will explore venom as the ultimate weapon found in nature occurring throughout the animal kingdom. Unlock the mysteries and the diversity of its world, as we explore how across cultures and time humans have attempted to harness and neutralise this terrible power, approaching it with both fear and fascination.

Venom will take visitors on a journey through the eyes of both predator and prey, exploring the effects caused by venomous attacks and the attempt to scientifically measure the power that venom holds. It will reveal the different biological roles that venom plays - from predation to mating, discuss the development of anti-venom, as well as ranking these venomous animals and the pain they inflict.

From snakes to spiders, wasps to scorpions, and even the duck-billed platypus, Venom will be filled with captivating specimens, each with a different story to tell. The exhibition will also include a live specimen, allowing visitors to get up close to a venomous creature in the flesh.

As well as getting up close to some of the world's most venomous creatures, visitors will also discover how one of nature's most deadly forces provides humans with surprising medical innovations. From diabetes to impotence, scientists hope to reveal the secrets of venom to help combat some of the most serious and common medical conditions affecting our world today.

As we discover more about venom's variety and power, should we embrace or retreat from its potential?

Dr Ronald Jenner, venom evolution expert at the Museum, says: 'Many people associate venom with snakes, spiders and exotic places. While true, venom actually pervades the natural and human world everywhere on earth. Visitors will be surprised to discover that there are ants with venoms stronger than that of cobras, and even when eating squid rings, you're actually eating a venomous predator.'

Highlights include:

  • a gaboon viper head, a snake species with the biggest known venom fangs, which deliver the largest amount of venom amongst all of the snake species
  • an emperor scorpion, which shows an unusual mating behaviour known as 'sexual stingings'
  • a flower urchin, whose claw-like pedicellaria inject venom that causes muscular paralysis in humans lasting up to six hours
  • a tarantula hawk wasp, acknowledged as one of the most painful venomous stings, yet demonstrates that pain does not correlate with lethality 
  • a box jellyfish, known as the sea wasp, whose larger size specimens can cause death to a human in two to five minutes

Professor Ian Owens, Director of Science at the Museum, says:

'We are delighted to be able to present such an innovative autumn exhibition, following on from an exciting summer at the Museum with the re-opening of Hintze Hall. Having brought to life the vital part that venom plays in our daily life, we hope to surprise our visitors with just how relevant it is for all of us. The exhibition will highlight the future potential of venom, especially the answers it may hold to many medical conditions affecting our world today.'

Venom opens to the public on 10 November 2017. Book tickets at nhm.ac.uk


Notes for editors

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