I am not a bug person. The last time there was a cockroach in my house, I crouched in a corner trying not to hyperventilate while my husband chased it around our living room.
So you can imagine my delight that my 4-year-old daughter Avery’s hands-down favorite place in the city is the “bug museum” — the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium.
We go about once a week, and our path is almost always the same.
First, we race over to the leaf-cutter ants and spend some time watching them haul bits of leaf up a large stick and into their underground homes.
From there, it’s off to the human-size underground insect burrow where Avery has fallen in love with the giant robotic spider that periodically springs from its burrow.
Our next stop is to crawl into an actual Volkswagen Bug and learn a bit about the real insect version of “love bugs” before catching the next showing at the multisensory Terminix Immersion Theater.
Finally, we end our trip with some quality time chasing butterflies and, of course, a good amount of begging in the gift shop.
This week’s visit, however, was different in two big ways.
The first was that we came on a Tuesday during the third week of the Insectarium’s new “Two Dollar Tuesday” promotion. Through the end of December, Louisiana residents pay $2 dollars for admission (regular admission is $12 for kids and $16.50 for adults). The idea, of course, is to increase attendance.
It is definitely working. I’ve never seen the place so busy.
The second difference was that on this day, instead of darting around wildly, we were going to stop and actually look at the bugs with Zack Lemann, an entymologist who has worked with Audubon since 1992.
A New Orleans native who’s been playing with bugs since he was 7, Lemann has an enthusiasm about his work that is immediately apparent. Upon meeting Avery he eagerly rushed us off to begin our tour of the Insectarium’s 70 live animal exhibits.
While my daughter was definitely alone in jumping at the chance to pet a Giant Cave Cockroach, the Walking Leaf Insects fascinated us both.
Indistinguishable from beautiful green leaves except for their spindly legs, Lemann explained that they are one of many species bred in a 1,400-square-foot lab located on-site. He estimates an additional 20 percent of the insects on display at the 23,000 square-foot facility have been caught by Audubon personnel.
And then there are the insects, like the very unique bright pink katydid, that are occasionally found by locals and given to the Insectarium. Lemann said he’s received about half a dozen so far this year.
An ever-evolving creation, the Insectarium rotates bugs on and off exhibit daily and makes a constant effort to enhance the visitor experience.
In just the last few months, they’ve added a new frog and toad exhibit and installed an interactive touch screen in the swamp exhibit that allows you to watch videos of different spiders in action.
Avery immediately took to the device and thoroughly enjoyed watching local spiders expertly prepare their bee and dragonfly cuisines.
Even I had to admit it was pretty cool.
Our visit was full of surprises — from the shockingly loud mating call of the giant Malaysian katydid the size of a man’s hand, to the jewel scarab beetle, whose emerald iridescent body is so alluring you forget for a moment that it’s a bug, not a piece of fine jewelry.
The Insectarium is full of beetles, both gorgeous and ... less so. They even have their own party, Beetlemania, scheduled for Sept. 6-7.
Among the highlights of the annual weekend event are a total of six beetle races, each promising “30 minutes of scurrying fun,” and the opportunity to pin a beetle and take it home to start your own collection.
Our final stop was the butterfly exhibit. Although it’s a favorite with many who delight in meandering through the foliage, admiring the colors flittering by, my preschooler is usually finished with the garden in less than two minutes.
That’s OK with me, since those two minutes are typically spent trying to keep her from touching the butterflies or jumping in the water with the fish.
Today was no different.
But at the end of the day, I had a very happily worn out preschooler who had spent the day learning a bit more about the world around her.
Well, I’m definitely still a long way from petting a millipede or eating a grasshopper (both options if you’re up for it), but during the weekend of Sept. 6, I know where we’ll be, and I have to say, I’m kind of excited about it.