I have always loved zoos. Although there are certainly ethical considerations to consider when thinking about how wild animals are held captive for display, I think a lot of zoos do a great job of helping preserve species, protect animals that have been injured and are unable to return to the wild, and educating the public. I of course also love insect zoos! I am not terribly well-traveled, but I go to insect zoos whenever I go somewhere that has one. Granted, most of the exhibits involve butterflies, which are far from my favorite insects, but they’re still fun anyway. These are five of my favorites so far:
The Butterfly Pavillion
This opened in Colorado a few years after I decided I wanted to be an entomologist and I was ecstatic when my parents finally took me. It was the first butterfly enclosure I visited, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. The site includes a large tropical butterfly enclosure and several exhibits of both live and preserved insects. They’ve got a lot of interpretive presentations as well where kids and adults can interact with tarantulas, walking sticks, and other insects to get an up close and personal look at a live arthropod. Want insect themed gifts? Their gift shop is pretty awesome. If you’re ever in the Denver area, this is a really great zoo and well worth a visit. If you want to have a wedding in Denver, you should consider the Butterfly Pavillion too! Apparently you can get married INSIDE the butterfly enclosure. How awesome would that be?!
This is my local butterfly exhibit, housed at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. It’s only open during the cooler months, but it’s pretty spectacular considering the limited space they have to work with. This is another tropical butterfly exhibit, so lots of big and showy butterflies and atlas moths flutter about the place. The other thing I love about this exhibit is the large collection of carnivorous plants! Carnivorous plants are just so cool. You’ll pay a little extra to visit the butterfly exhibit in addition to the rest of the gardens, but I’ve been several times and I enjoy it every time.
Marshall Butterfly Pavillion
I wrote a whole post on this seasonal butterfly exhibit at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix in March, so I won’t go into great detail here. What makes this particular exhibit stand out in my mind is that it features North American naive butterflies rather than the tropical butterflies most butterfly exhibits favor. We have some really great native butterflies, so it was nice to see them highlighted in this butterfly zoo.
Tropical Butterfly House
This exhibit is located in Seattle’s fabulous Pacific Science Center, my favorite science museum I’ve been to so far. I went shortly after the butterfly house first opened (when I was 19 or so) and I’m sure it’s different now, but it was great then! They have tropical butterflies like so many other insect zoos, but there’s something incredibly serene about wandering around a re-created rainforest with colorful butterflies flying around your head. My favorite part was the demonstration of camouflage I am modeling in the photo. My sister still thinks this is the funniest photos of me she has ever taken. Sadly, this also seems to be the only photo I have of this particular exhibit…
O. Orkin Insect Zoo
When I was in 10th grade, my sister (a 9th grader at a different high school) and I got to go to National History Day in Washington D.C. to compete with a video we made about a railroad war in Colorado. Something like 11 other people from my school competed at the event, so we all went together and made a big adventure out of it and toured a lot of D.C. Because it was a history oriented event, most of us started our Smithsonian excursion at the National History Museum. My sister and I are both biologists though, so we soon ditched the group and went to the National Museum of Natural History instead. I was so happy we did! My favorite part was the O. Orkin Insect Zoo (oddly enough), my very first insect zoo. It was filled with a variety of live and preserved insects, including my first introduction to aquatic insects: a big aquarium filled with live aquatic beetles, bugs, and other pond insects. I was so excited! I snapped a photo of the “pond,” but the resulting green blur in the appallingly bad photo isn’t recognizable even to me! Instead, you get another cruddy photo of the entrance to the exhibit as it looked in 1995. Wonder if it still looks like this…
Yea for insect zoos! They bring people into contact with insects in non-threatening ways and educate the public about the role that insects play on our planet. As an entomologist, I mostly just like getting to see a whole bunch of live insects in one place. I’ve started a list of insect zoos I want to visit in the future, including the Insectarium in New Orleans and the Insectarium in Montreal. Anyone want to recommend other insect zoos for me to visit? If so, leave a comment below!
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