Friday, August 08, 2008

Patiently Waiting

***Updated with a video from National Geographic.***

And, probably wondering why I have a camera stuck in its face. This praying mantis turned its head to and fro to look at either me or my eldest daughter. We spotted it while on vacation at my mother's house in northwest Florida.

I admit that I am a bug novice. I know enough about insects to classify a critter as one (three body parts, six legs, two antennae, compound eyes), but as to their stunning diversity . . . Well, ignorant is the best word. Sure, I know that insects come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. You probably do, too, as someone, somewhere told you. Hopefully, that person was a science teacher.

About a month ago, we visited the Audubon Institute's Insectarium, which is located just on Canal Street and S. Peters. I felt crammed in the main hallway, but as we traversed its length, the crowds parted to different rooms or stopped in the cafe to indulge in cooked bugs. We didn't, though. Seeing a kid toss his cookies on the floor was enough to keep my kids from tasting a food eaten in many countries.

The cockroach exhibit creeped me out, while the maggots wigged out my middle child. The little boy didn't like the underground world, where you felt like a subterranean insect. The reach in holes were the best. It's like a scene from Indiana Jones: Would you stick your hand in there? That took some convincing for any of my children to venture a hand to the hole.

Each exhibit is nicely done and informative, from mosquitoes to the Formosan termites that plague this area. There's a swamp exhibit, with a water feature that includes a small alligator. Near that room is a theater that features a film of "greats", such as largest, fastest, or some -est of an insect. The seats buzz and blow air and tickle your legs. My six year old? Freaked out in a major way. The rest of the crowd? Laughing, giggling, calling out in fun.

From there we moved to my favorite display. Insects artfully pegged to show their disparity in sizes, their vibrancy of colors, and diversity of body accoutrements. The praying mantis I photographed above is plain compared to the mantises that I saw in the Hall of Fame room. That one room had me understanding why biologists specialize in insects. They are beautiful, functional, and, at time, stranger looking than any alien we have ever imagined.

The last few rooms of the Insectarium are Metamorphosis and the Butterfly Garden. These won over the children as they got to watch a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis as another waited for its wings to dry. They watched a few caterpillars build cocoons, too, as others ate on the substrate provided. The Japanese inspired Butterfly Garden is a place that I could sit for hours. The winged insects flit from plant to plant and decorate the walls and windows.

If you want to experience a place with air conditioning in New Orleans, visit the Insectarium. I'm sure you'll find something to enjoy. Just possibly it will be the meal worm salsa.

(I'll put in links later. It's late. I should be sleeping.)
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Liz Self said...

That sounds like something Wes would LOVE. I'll have to remember it should we ever venture south.

Sarabeth said...

Liz, we have a guest room (well, two) and the crib awaits the little boy. You and Wes and the baby are welcome anytime.

Elle said...

This is somewhere we've been saying we must go. We've just not gotten there this whole summer, and now school is starting. I guess it will be an autumn insect weekend!