Friday 5: A Trip to the Museum of Life and Science

A few weeks ago, my coworkers and I made a trip to the Museum of Life and Sciences in Durham, NC.  The grounds are really quite remarkable, with several designated children’s play areas and several highly entertaining and interactive educational exhibits.  I particularly liked the “gopher holes” made of culvert piping in a play area featuring mist, a display where you could make little metal fish attached to wires swim in a pool of water (surprisingly life-like!), and an exhibit demonstrating how insect wings work by swinging these enormous 6 foot wings around like a giant rowing machine.  Super cool!

My very favorite part, though, was the insect building.  (Bet you didn’t see that coming, did you?)  It was quite warm that day, so it was lovely to duck inside the insect building for a bit to cool down and explore.  The building is divided into three main exhibits.  Off to the left is the Insectarium, a sort of insect zoo that housed quite a few different species of insects and other arthropods.  They included this crayfish:



Not sure if it was native or not, but I must admit that I’m enjoying living in a place that actually HAS native crayfish.  There were no native crayfish at all in Arizona, so every single crayfish in the state was an invasive species.  In contrast, there are 43 species of native crayfishes in North Carolina, but there are also three invasives.  Of course the invasives are doing what invasives do and are pushing the natives out, but there’s a lot of research being done on crayfish in the Carolinas and I’m hoping someone will figure out a way to control the “bad guys” and protect the “good guys.”  Someone should really look into the ethics of shipping live crayfish as food at some point too.  The practice is supposed to be partly responsible for the spread of invasive crayfish and it really should stop.

On a happier note, these bugs were in the Insectarium:



Adorable, no?  These were a little less adorable, but still really cool:



Emperor scorpions are amazing!  If you haven’t seen the video of one of these animals eating that I posted over a year ago, I really encourage you to do so.  They’ve got some wild mouthparts and it’s absolutely fascinating to watch!

One of the things I loved best about the Insectarium was the number of insects there from Arizona.  It was like walking back out into the desert!  My favorite aquatic beetles, the sunburst beetles, were there in a tank with some water scorpions (didn’t get close enough to see if they were one of the local species or Ranatra quadridentata from Arizona).  There were several other Arizona natives there.  I have a feeling this is because the Invertebrates in Education and Conservation Conference (often called Insects in Captivity conference) is held in southern Arizona each year and the people running the Insectarium almost surely attend that meeting and bring stuff back.  Still, it was really nice to see some old insect friends again!

The Insectarium was only a rather small part of the building though.  Off to the right was the butterfly exhibit.  Like so many others, I’m a total sucker for the big, bright tropical butterflies and they were in abundance in the Magic Wings Butterfly House.  I especially liked seeing the newly emerged adults in the chrysalis viewing area, including this paper white butterfly:


Paper white butterfly

This is the best butterfly photo I got in the tropical exhibit because I had the entirely wrong camera with me and couldn’t get close enough to most of the butterflies to get any good photos.  Oh well.  This little guy (or gal) was absolutely perfect and perfectly beautiful.

The butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Life and Sciences was better than any of the other butterfly exhibits I’ve seen, and there was one reason for this.  If you pass all the way through the tropical butterfly house and go through the door at the back, you leave the tropical butterfly area and head into an outdoor (though enclosed) native butterfly exhibit.  Now I’ll admit that it’s a tiny bit of a letdown to see paper whites and postmen and owl butterflies and then wander out into the heat to see the same stuff I can see in the garden at work, but I was still impressed.  I’ve never been to a butterfly exhibit that included both a tropical area and a native area!  Super cool.  My favorite find in the native butterfly enclosure wasn’t a butterfly at all, but a Cecropia moth caterpillar:

Cecropia caterpillar

Cecropia caterpillar

Look how wild that is!  They’re big gaudy caterpillars that turn into big gaudy moths.  Fabulous critters!

Overall, I was quite thrilled with my experience at the Museum of Life and Science.  The outdoor exhibits were really fun and I got to see lots of bugs.  Any day that involves those two things is a-ok in my book!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

11 thoughts on “Friday 5: A Trip to the Museum of Life and Science

    • You should! It’s a lot of fun. I feel I should also plug the museum where I work though too – NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. It’s very different than the Museum of Life and Sciences, but it’s also super cool! :)

  1. What a great post. The Insects in Captivity conference sounds intriguing, and I’ve often thought that we should be much more responsible about shipping or accidentally shipping non-native invasive species to different areas as it can cause so much harm.

    Will return to the scorpion video later – it’s a little too soon after breakfast to watch now!

    • I think that it’s only recently that we’ve really started to understand how moving live animals around can be problematic, but there have been great strides made in preventing the movement of species from one area to another where they don’t belong. For example, there are restrictions on where people can ship firewood now because it spreads forest pests. You can no longer buy monarch larvae from east of the Rockies and have them shipped west of the Rockies because the monarchs on either side of the mountains are different. Things like zebra and quagga mussels are spread by boaters who transfer them between bodies of water, so there are requirements that boaters clean their boats before moving it from one bodt of water to another now. I hope this trend continues because I think it’s going to become increasingly important to protect native species, though there are still species that really need to be controlled more carefully.

      Crayfish are my big pet peeve because people like to eat them live, so they are shipped live into places they shouldn’t be, but they can absolutely destroy aquatic habitats if they are accidentally released. No one ever imagines that they’ll get loose, but it seems they do all the time. There are some nasty loopholes in the restrictions in shipping live crayfish that people can take advantage of too, if they’re willing to lie about what they’re using the crayfish for. It’s a nightmare, and one that has massive ecological repercussions.

      • Yes, we’ve come a long way from when every part of the country had a “Nature Improvement Society” looking to “fix” the flaws in the local flora and fauna by importing new, more interesting species.

      • Hopefully we’ve realised the potential dangers in time, it’s a shame people don’t want to be more responsible for changing the environment.

        My biggest fear is imports of small hive beetle and asian hornet (also helped to travel across Europe by wood imports) which would prove devastating to our native bee populations!

    • I am very fond of paper whites! They’re rather plain compared to most butterflies in butterfly exhibits like this, but I absolutely love the look of black on white. They’re so pretty!

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