Audubon Insectarium appears tailored to appeal primarily to children

The Audubon Insectarium is evidently the red-headed stepchild of the Audubon Institute family of parks. We visited the facility several weeks ago and simply getting in proved to be more challenging than I anticipated. Because the Institute made the dubious decision to locate this attraction on the premises of a federal building, there is an absurdly high level of security required to enter, including a  metal detector and an x-ray scanner for your personal belongings. We didn’t get to experience any of that at first, of course, because we had pocket knives that we customarily carry on our persons. When Angie apprised one of the guards of this fact, he told us rather pointedly that signs were posted outside the building and that we were breaking the law by standing there. So we walked the four blocks back to the car because I refused to throw my knife away outside the building. When we returned to the facility, we then got to experience the full range of amenities at the security checkpoint, including having to remove EVERYTHING from my pockets and take off my belt. The lady behind me had to remove her shoes because they apparently had some kind of metal component that offended the walk-through detector. It was all fairly humiliating for a simple trip to a zoological feature; I haven’t had that level of scrutiny in any airport I’ve ever travelled through.

After the trial that was getting into the facility, we discovered (not to my great surprise) that the “Insectarium” could probably be more properly referred to as an “Arthropodarium” (although I will concede that this does not roll off the tongue quite as smoothly). We were greeted near the entrance by some fantastic cave roaches, a species I had not seen in person previously. These are quite large organisms, getting as large as 10 centimeters (by comparison the largest roaches you are likely to encounter “in the wild” locally are American cockroaches which only grow to approximately 40 mm). Next we encountered some velvet worms and millipedes. An assortment of leaf- and stick-mimics were on display along with a colony of leafcutter ants, Formosan termites (a huge problem for wooden structures in New Orleans), and curiously, yellow-fever mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti), which have largely been displaced in this area (for decades) by Aedes albopictus.

There were numerous kid-oriented features. These included a “walk underground area” complete with a motion-triggered giant fake spider (fortunately I was able to steer Angie clear of this); a demonstration area with trap-jaw ants and Madagascar hissing roaches; and a “4-D” movie theater with a short, slightly-educational eight-minute animated film. The “4D” is apparently a term that refers to “interactive” features such as a misting spray to simulate pheremones and “jumping” seats to simulate the sensation of something crawling under your butt. William Castle would be proud.

There is also an “insect tasting” where visitors can try prepared edible insects but we were too late for the morning offering.

The tour finishes with a gratuitously Japanese-themed butterfly garden with tortoises, birds, and a koi pond tossed in for good measure. The butterfly garden is interesting enough but it’s fairly small and padded with lots of non-lepidopteran things and thus pales in comparison to the one found at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Unsurprisingly, the butterfly garden exits directly to the gift shop.

A casual trip through the facility will take approximately an hour. Given the extraordinary diversity represented by the Insecta alone, on the whole I found this experience to be somewhat underwhelming. The collection is not terribly large nor does it appear that much effort was made to design this facility with a sufficient scope to give kids or adults an appreciation for insects. There are no apterygotes and no real mention that they exist. There was a larger bee colony at the now-defunct Louisiana Nature Center (and there exists a larger one at the Bluebonnet Swamp BREC park in Baton Rouge). Aside from the economic damage caused by termites, the ecological benefits of ants, and the human costs of yellow fever, there is little discussion of the impact that insects have on the world and on Man. At the end of the day, this is essentially more of a “place to take the kids on the weekend” than a zoological park.

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