"Most of the world's mammals were described in Darwin's time. But I can go somewhere today and see things that no one else has seen before or identified, doing all kinds of bizarre things."
—Dr. Brian Brown, Entomology Curator, pictured here in Argentina, studying bee-killing flies who attack their hosts on palm flowers.
The Discovery Center is all about a hands-on experience. We have real bones, minerals, furs, and fossils. It's also home to our Dinosaur Encounters puppets and a giant T. rex puzzle. Learn more >
Did you know that if you lined up one each of all the animals and plants in the world side by side, every fifth specimen would be a beetle — not just an insect, but specifically a beetle? There are approximately 1.5 million separate species of known insects on the planet and there are still millions more that have yet to be found and catalogued. And that doesn’t include all the other critters we also group into the informal category known as “bugs," to which people add all sorts of other invertebrates including spiders, centipedes, crabs, slugs and even worms, plus all the many relatives of those creatures. Bugs are all around us and they are an integral part of our world, yet most of us know very little about them. So leave the can of bug spray at home, and come and learn about the mind-boggling diversity of bugs at the Museum’s Insect Zoo. The Insect Zoo, located in the Discovery Center, has been a permanent fixture at the Museum since 1992. Its mission: to educate and inspire wonder about the world of insects and other bugs. With 9 terrariums that are frequently updated with new specimens, there’s always some new and fascinating creature at the Insect Zoo with an intriguing story waiting to be told. Learn about spiders that can spin silk so strong that humans could produce bulletproof vests from the material and meet beetles that create their own waterproof barriers out of wax. Seek out our knowledgeable staff to answer questions. They can introduce you to some of these magnificent bugs up close and in person. You may even get to touch a bug! Or two!
These large assassin bugs are voracious predators that sneak up on their prey and use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to inject a variety of digestive enzymes. The bugs can work as a team to overpower prey that is often much larger than an individual assassin bug. If you are lucky, your visit to the Insect Zoo might coincide with the assassin bugs' lunch plans.
These hairy ants are actually not ants at all -- they are solitary wingless female wasps. In the wild, they seek out bee nests where they are parasites of bee larvae and pupae. The velvet ant sting is reportedly one of the most painful stings you can receive from an insect. Luckily these bugs are known to sting very rarely.
Not all bugs known as walking sticks actually look like sticks. Some southeast Asian species (like this one), look like bark or leaves. Giant spiny sticks typically sit low on the trunks of trees or on the ground itself, where their flat bodies and brown color make them very hard to spot. Males also have a huge spine on their hind leg that they use to defend themselves. Native fishermen often capture these bugs and use their spines as fish hooks.
One of the largest captive bred spiders, this one is commonly placed into the nonscientific group of "bird eating" tarantulas. Luckily for the birds, this tarantula is not overly skilled at capturing and eating birds. However, it can eat remarkably large prey (such as mice) if offered. Catch one of our spider feeding presentations and you may have an opportunity to see this incredible tarantula eat.
These "worm-like" animals are not worms at all. Although no species has a thousand legs, as their name suggests, millipedes have two pair of legs on every one of their body segments. They are excellent burrowers and have the ability to roll into a tight ball when they are disturbed. They are important to many of the ecosystems in which they live due to their incredible habits of nutrient cycling.
Despite the fact that cockroaches are one of the least liked of all the insects, only 20 or so of the over 4000 cockroach species known are considered to be household pests. Most cockroaches are very important to the areas they inhabit and even common pest species are not the dirty and disease carrying insects people think that they are. In fact the $250 million dollars worth of chemicals used to control them each year is far more dangerous to us than the cockroaches themselves.
Stick insects are quite difficult to spot due to their unique camouflage. Walking sticks not only look like parts of the plant on which they feed and rest, but act like these parts as well. Come watch our sticks that hide in plain sight mimicking the twigs on a plant, and marvel at how they can remain perfectly motionless for hours on end. Some walking sticks look like leaves and may even sway gently if a breeze is detected.
There is probably not another bug that instills more fear in people than a spider, yet only 27 of the over 40,000 species are considered to be potentially dangerous to us and even these rarely cause human death. Most information people have heard about these animals is incorrect or completely fabricated. To better understand these fragile, reclusive creatures, take some time to appreciate the variety of spiders in the Insect Zoo and even meet one up close during a spider presentation.
Scorpions represent one of the oldest terrestrial forms of life on our planet. While they can use their infamous venomous sting to defend themselves, their sting's primary function is to help them to catch prey. Scorpions are generally very reclusive and do not often come into contact with people. Out of the known 1,500 worldwide species of scorpions, only about 30 have a sting that can result in anything more than a welt and some local pain (much like that of a bee or wasp).