7 Creepy-Crawly Museums for Insect Lovers
See live and preserved specimens at these United States insectariums.
Looking for a different kind of museum or zoo experience for your family? How about a visit to an insectarium? Bugs may be creepy or repulsive to some but they are also fascinating and play an essential and beneficial role in our world.
Insects are generally described as small living creatures with a well-defined head, thorax and abdomen, three pairs of legs and one or two pairs of wings. Of course, the classification of insect breaks down into subclasses such as wingless (Apterous) or winged (Pterygota) and within those categories you get into specific divisions such as cockroaches (Order: Blattodea), ants (Order: Hymenoptera) and butterflies (Order: Lepidoptera).
Spiders, ticks, mites, scorpions and other invertebrate animals are often included in bug collections and displays but are not insects. They are classified as arachnids because they have eight legs and two main body parts (a fused head and thorax and an abdomen).
The best way to learn the major differences between say, a praying mantis and a daddy longlegs, is to visit an insect zoo or collection where you can observe these wonders of nature up close and get a crash course in entomology from the resident experts. Here are some of the best places in the U.S. to get to know our fellow residents on planet Earth.
The Harrell House Bug Museum
Located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Harrell House first started as a mall kiosk in 2012 where Wade Harrell sold nature and science toys. Since then, the operation has expanded to include the Crawlywood Collection, Oliver Greer’s display of 2,400 mounted insects from around the world, as well as over 150 live specimens such as spiders, scorpions, millipedes and other critters. If you’re nice, the museum staff may even let you hold or pet one of the friendlier bugs.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science
If you are planning a family trip to Houston, you should definitely add this amazing museum in Hermann Park to your sightseeing list. It includes an insect zoo and museum and the Cockerel Butterfly Center which is designed as a walk-through butterfly habitat. The insect collection in the Brown Hall of Entomology is presented on three different levels. Insects and Us! on the lower level is an interactive learning center featuring interviews with entomology experts and close-up views of specimens, The Land of Beeyond on the main level is a child-friendly immersive insect environment and The Amazing World of Anthropods on the upper level is where you can view some amazing live insects. Among these are leaf cutter ants (pictured above), the angle winged katydid, the Peruvian Jumping Stick, the whipscorpion and giant cockroaches.
Monsanto Insectarium at Saint Louis Zoo
Hosting more than 20 exhibition areas, the Monsanto Insectarium features more than 100 species of live insects in an educational environment where you can learn all about their unique qualities. Take a glimpse inside a working beehive, pose for a selfie in front of the eight foot sculpture of a Centaurus beetle, and marvel at the dragonflies, moths and other winged invertebrates in the domed Mary Ann Lee Butterfly Wing. Whether it is the endangered American burying beetle (pictured above) or an exotic Peruvian fire stick, you’re bound to discover some amazing lifeforms you never knew existed.
The Bug Museum
This unique operation in Bremington, Washington is a combination bug and reptile museum with a nature gift store. The Bug Museum displays include an eight foot long ant farm, familiar favorites like the praying mantis and tarantula (pictured above) and less well known critters like the milkweed bug, the blue death-feigning beetle or fiery searchers (aka caterpillar hunters). During your visit you can also watch bug videos, study insects under the microscope and opt to start your own collection with a live butterfly or ladybug kit from the gift shop.
Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion
Since it first opened in 1992, the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion has become a popular family attraction due to a multifaceted exhibition space which includes a butterfly pavilion (thousands of butterflies in a 7,000 foot tropical ecosphere), a chrysalis chamber, a tropical plant area, a honey bee center and a showcase for insects and arachnids where you can observe tarantulas, praying mantis, scorpions and other arthropods at play.
The O. Orkin Insect Zoo at the National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.
Smithsonian National Museum of History
In the O. Orkin Insect Zoo, located on the second floor of the Smithsonian NMNH, visitors can observe more than 300 live insects and even touch or hold a few under the supervision of the exhibition staff. You can learn about their lives and behavior by exploring several on-site habitats such as their recreated Sonoran Desert, Mangrove Swamp and Tropical Rain Forest. There is also a towering African Termite Mound and if you time your visit accordingly you can witness tarantula feeding demonstrations. Don’t forget to visit their amazing Butterfly Pavilion while you’re there.
Insectarium at Audubon Nature Institute
Located inside a 170 year old U.S. Custom House in downtown New Orleans, the Insectarium is one of the most popular attractions at the Audubon Nature Institute. Within the spacious complex, there are a multitude of attractions including a termite gallery, a recreated wetlands habitat with aquatic insects and reptiles, an underground installation where you can experience what it is like to be the size of an ant and a room dedicated to the insects of New Orleans. There is even a Bug Appetit exhibit where chefs extol the nutritional qualites of insects and serve them up in exotic dishes for tasting.