I used to run screaming when I came across bugs, spiders and bees. However, something recently happened that made me look at these creepy crawlies in a whole new way: my 7-year-old son became fascinated by them. He started spending hours hunting for ants in our backyard, digging for worms in our garden and researching different types of spiders on the Internet. Convinced he will one day be an award-winning entomologist, I set out to find ways to encourage his new hobby and discovered the perfect destination for bug lovin' NJ kids: Insectropolis in Toms River. This cozy museum is housed in an unassuming warehouse, and it's filled with insects and spiders from around the globe. If your child (or you!) is as obsessed with insects as mine, this bugseum makes for an awesome and relatively inexpensive outing for the entire family.
As my son and I entered Insectropolis, we were greeted by the friendly staff who told us where to begin our self-guided tour. The first thing I noticed was the colorful decor. The interior of the building has been decorated beautifully with bright colors and great lighting. It's also extremely clean and well kept. The place is laid out quite nicely, and offers plenty of information for those who want to learn all about the intricacies of the bug world. For visitors with less of an interest, there are plenty of fun, interactive exhibits in each room to go along with the live residents. Keep in mind that every live bug and spider is safely confined in behind glass. Nothing is running free (phew!).
Each room has a theme. We started our tour in Bug University, where visitors learn what insects actually are. My son immediately ran to the wall of glass enclosures that featured various insects and spiders, including tarantulas and hissing cockroaches. The place has a nice mix of live and dead (but nicely displayed) critters. As we traveled through the first few rooms, we stopped to admire walking sticks, grasshoppers and enormous beetles. It's amazing how beautiful these small creatures appear when you have time to really check them out.
We paused in the Caterpillar Cafe to play a few bug-themed computer games. My son particularly enjoyed playing Bug Shots, an interactive game where the player has to guess which bug is responsible for the described "criminal" act. Also in this room were some small aquariums that displayed live water bugs and diving beetles.
There are plenty of other cool rooms on the tour. The Rock, a room decorated like a jail, features some unpleasant critters that really should be behind bars. Wanted posters and an interactive "inmate" display teach all about chiggers, mosquitoes and ticks. The Hive Airport is all about honeybees and features a live bee colony. The Weapons & Camouflage room is home to live African millipedes as well as some great information on how certain insects defend themselves from predators. The impressive Spider Room has wall-to-wall tarantulas, some as big as my hand. There's even a life-size Mud Tube, where kids can crawl around and pretend to be termites.
The highlight of our visit was a live presentation given by Melissa, one of the knowledgeable insect handlers. She introduced us to Spike the hissing cockroach, Pepper the black African millipede, Julius the emperor scorpion and Rosie the Chilean rose hair tarantula. Melissa shared some cool facts about each species (who knew scorpions turn a rainbow of colors under a black light?). She even walked around with each one, letting the audience members touch them.
I was surprised by how much both my son and I enjoyed our visit to Insectropolis. If you or your children truly have a fear of bugs, then this is probably not the place for you. However, if you have even a passing interest in the insect world, you will find this little bug zoo to be a pretty fun destination. Hardcore bug enthusiasts could spend hours here, but most families with smaller children will probably get through the bugseum in about an hour. My young entomologist definitely approved of our outing. He even asked to have his next birthday party here! I hope his friends aren't too skittish.
Insectropolis is located at 1761 U.S. 9 in Toms River, NJ. It's open year-round Tuesday-Saturday from 10am-3pm. During July and August, it is also open on Monday. Birthday party packages, sleepover adventures and guided group tours are also offered. For more information, including admission prices, visit the insectropolis.com.
Looking for more bug fun? Philadelphia's similar Insectarium makes for a great day trip!