Activity: Free Bugs!
Difficulty Rating: Once-a-Year!
The Smithsonian Magazine was doing some kind of museum awareness day which just happened to fall into my free month. They offered two free tickets to participating museums for anyone who filled in an application online. One of the museums on offer was the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, with creepy crawly live exhibits! We put the word out and got a whole team of friends to come. Free bugs? Who can say no!?
The place was packed to the brim with scroungers like me, so it took a long time to get inside. The first stop after passing through the metal detector was a photo booth they set up so they could try to get us to buy the photos later. They got us to pose on a green screen, first happy so they could paste butterflies all over us, then scared so they could paste bugs on us. Of course, they messed this up and the results were hilarious (and available free online.)
The exhibits were mostly tiny habitat boxes at kiddy eye level, complete with the kind of pun titles that arthopologists find hilarious – “That sting you do!” “What’s eating you?” “How I learned to stop worrying and love the Bombadier Beetle.” Etc etc. Some of the exhibits were more interactive though. I got to feel a giant centipede walk on my arm and I ate a cinnamon covered wood worm, which tasted even more disgusting than it sounds. There was also a weird little ten minute cartoon, hosted by a moth version of Jay Leno, in a dark room where they spray water on you and shake your seat in time with the screen action. It was the stupidest ten minutes I spent all day.
The jewel in the crown was the butterfly house at the end. It’s much, much smaller than the one in Melbourne Zoo but it had a big Japanese koi pond and a smoke machine. There were signs everywhere saying “don’t touch the butterflies!!” but American tourists want to get their money’s worth (free entry!) so lots of people were bothering the insects and grabbing for them as they passed. Even parents were encouraging their kids to disobey the signs and try to catch the poor things. Lots of people had butterflies land on them naturally though. Our friend Leah wore a bright green shirt and had three on her shoulder at once! The whole thing ended with a forced walk through a colour-saturated but banal gift shop. Overall the place was fun but aimed at kids and being an adult in there felt kinda dumb. There were enough scary bugs in there to make it cool though.
Here’s a phot of Leah covered in butterflies.