Insectarium: Largest Bug Museum in U.S.
New Orleans, Louisiana
After 17 years of planning and setbacks, the Insectarium finally kicked its way out of its chrysalis in June 2008.
Operated by a local non-profit named the Audubon Nature Institute, the self-described "largest freestanding bug museum in the United States" is "a shrine to insects," according to its president and CEO, Ron Forman. Its presentation, if not its focus, will be familiar to anyone who's visited a kids' science center: lots of hands-on exhibits and loud, wacky edutainment displays. "You'll be infested with fun," is its tag line.
Highlights include an over-sized "den" where you are shrunk to the size of a bug and are threatened by a bird and a trapdoor spider; an "immersion theater" where things pop out at you and mist sprays in your face; a replica swamp and an indoor butterfly garden. "Girls love butterflies," said Sarah Burnette, the public relations director. "And if you're a little boy, you can sit around poking one of those swallowtail caterpillars all morning long and watch the antennae stick out."
Despite all the bug love, three different bug-killing companies are among Insectarium's sponsors. One paid for a kitchen cabinet sealed with plexiglass that's infested with roaches, another exhibits a jar filled with over than 400,000 dead Formosan termites. Ron Forman calls New Orleans "the ideal place" for a bug museum, and Sarah agrees. "Insects have shaped much of the history of the city, from the cockroaches to the termites to the malaria epidemics."
With so much raw material on hand, everyone who visits the Insectarium will be encouraged to eat a bug, prepared by the staff chefs. "Insects are a really efficient source of protein," Sarah told us, confident that visitors would sample the mealworm minestrone and chocolate-covered crickets. "We might be a little more flexible when it comes to that kind of thing," she said. "We eat a lot of weird things down here."