Spiders and roaches and dragonfliesâoh my! By Ellen Nordberg
Audubon Nature Institute
Would you bug out if a tarantula crawled up your arm? Could you eat a fried dragonfly or a cicada kabob? Have you ever seen a fist-sized butterfly take a bite of an orange? Kids have a natural fascination with creepy crawlies and we should nurture that; after all, insects make up 97 percent of the animals on our planet and outnumber humans by 200 million to 1. Step inside five of the nationâs top insectariums, where spiders, roaches, and beetles take center stage.
Audubon Nature Institute: New Orleans
Americaâs largest insectarium takes up 23,000 square feet of New Orleansâs 170-year-old U.S. Customs House building. Cutting-edge exhibits let you wander through a mysterious swamp, get a zoom-lens view of cockroaches and leafcutter ants, and experience the world from a bugâs perspective. Adventurous eaters can head to Bug AppÃ©tit, where the menu includes âsix-legged salsa,â âchocolate chirp cookies,â and other delicacies from cultures where insects are considered a viable source of protein. If that scares you, chill out in the Japanese-style butterfly garden thatâs home to more than 30 exotic species. Mood lighting and koi ponds are used to facilitate feeding, proving that butterflies are indeed as zen as youâd always imagined.
(MORE: Find a parent-approved, kid-friendly hotel in New Orleans.)
Of course youâll want to visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, but save time for Phillyâs insectariumâone of the countryâs largest and coolestâand its three floors of arthropods. Be sure to visit âArachnid Alleyâ and its giant, man-made spider web, check out the water bug exhibit, and search for cool residents such as the gold metallic beetle and the 12-inch walking stick.
Butterfly Pavilion: Denver
Inside the Crawl-A-See-Um at this Denver-area invertebrate zoo, you can join the 1.5 million visitors who have pet and held Rosie the Chilean rose tarantula, take peek into the cross-section of an active beehive, or watch the more than 1,600 butterflies in the âWings of the Tropicsâ exhibit. Come for one of the frequent âInsectival Festivals,â which include cockroach races and the ever-popular âCrawdad Catch and Release.â In keeping with Coloradoâs outdoorsy vibe, thereâs an 11-acre garden and nature trail for bug safaris.
(MORE: See recommendations by parents for kid-friendly Denver hotels.)
Smithsonian Butterfly Pavilion: Washington D.C.
Head to the second floor of the massive National Museum of Natural History, where you can attend tarantula feedings in the O. Orkin Insect Zoo or watch clippers, morphos, monarchs, and blue glassy tigers float around inside the Smithsonian Butterfly Pavilion. The new âButterflies+PlantsâPartners in Evolutionâ exhibit traces the co-evolution of butterflies and plants over millions of years through video and photographs.
Monsanto Insectarium: St. Louis
Itâs always free to visit the wonderful Saint Louis Zoo, where youâll find a bug house with over 20 exhibits and more than 100 species of insects from red-kneed tarantulas and giant hissing cockroaches to scorpions and exotic Peruvian fire sticks. Not for the faint of heart, the âNot Home Aloneâ exhibit: a typical kitchen, porch, front yard, and garden that deliver a shocking look at the everyday bugs that live inside our homes. The geodesic butterfly dome houses hundreds of butterflies, tropical flowers, rock outcroppings, a pool, and waterfall. Be sure to allow time to explore outside, where thereâs a Missouri meadow with native plants, local bees, and butterflies.
Ellen Nordberg of Treading the Twin Tsunami contributed this to www.MiniTime.com.