At Insectropolis in Toms River, N.J, insects large and small are the main attraction, proudly on display (safely behind glass) for kids and their parents to discover, most likely with equal parts of delight and distaste.
Insectropolis, sponsored by Ozone Pest Control, a family-owned and operated exterminating business, is about an hour and 45-minute drive (depending on traffic) from Southern Westchester and is just minutes from the Jersey Shore. Billed as “The Bugseum of New Jersey,” it is located in a very inconspicuous warehouse. However, do not let the exterior deceive you. Inside, colorful and creative exhibits quickly entangle you in their web.
Once you have purchased your tickets, head through to the first room called “Bug University.” In this classroom-themed space you immediately meet some of the interesting creatures that make up the Phylum Arthropoda (the scientific category that includes insects, arachnids and myriapods). Preserved beetles, butterflies, cicadas, moths and more are on display in glass cases, while multiple types of tarantulas, scorpions and cockroaches roam around in glass tanks.
My 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son both let out gasps of “eww” and “yuck,” especially when it came to the roaches, yet they were truly fascinated by what they saw. I bet the bugs are used to it and don’t take any offense!
After brushing up on insect classifications (did you know all bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs?) and spinning the wheels in the interactive display about metamorphosis, you can continue on your journey of learning.
Each room covers a different topic, ranging from how insects eat to how they communicate to how they protect themselves. In the room called “Rock State Prison,” the displays reveal some of the most harmful and most feared insects. Mass murderers such as the flea and mosquito are shown in exaggerated size in “solitary confinement” for spreading disease. You can slide open “cells” to see agricultural pests and there are “wanted posters” for bed bugs, deer ticks and more. There are also pictures and descriptions of the “Top C.O.P.S.” (carnivores of pest species) who help keep the bad bugs in check.
As you move along through the museum, there are more opportunities to see live insects. The “Rubber Tree Power Plant” room has a colony of carpenter ants at work. The “Mud Tube” is all about subterranean termites. Kids can enjoy the chance to crawl (or run) through a couple of tunnels to see what’s happening underground. My personal favorite spot is the “Creepy Tavern,” where you can see alldifferent types of furry tarantulas in a few dozen tanks. They may be scary looking, but they are interesting to study behind glass! And if you see what looks like a dead tarantula in the tank, don’t worry; it’s not what you think. Tarantulas molt and leave behind their shedded exoskeleton.
Once you have had your fill of spiders, you can make your way to see the wonderfully decorated “Hive Airport” complete with some very busy honeybees working hard for their queen.
The “Bugseum” portion of Insectropolis has hundreds of exotic pinned specimens from all over the world and from all different habitats. Take some time to marvel at this collection and the amazing colors, patterns and details that occur naturally in the insect world. The jewel beetles and morpho butterflies are particularly impressive.
If merely looking at insects isn’t enough to satisfy, there are touch presentations that take place at various times of the day. Yes, the bravest visitors can actually touch some of the creatures (under supervision, of course). During our visit, the staff member took out a Madagascar hissing cockroach, a Giant African millipede, a scorpion and a Chilean rose hair tarantula. They all had cute names like Rosie and Pepper. My daughter wasn’t afraid to touch them, but I needed some coaxing.
It’s important to note that food and drinks are not permitted at Insectropolis and there is no place to eat inside, so plan accordingly. You can buy some bugs to eat if that’s your thing. The gift shop has all kinds of bug items, including flavored crickets to taste, specimens to buy and toys.
Insectropolis may not be your typical museum, but it is definitely worth a peek. It will satisfy that childhood fascination with bugs and may even give you a new appreciation for these creatures that have been around for millions of years and will likely be around for millions more!
Andrea White is an Edgemont-based writer. She is pretty scared of bugs but was happy to observe them at a safe distance!
1761 Rte. 9 Toms River, N.J.
Open Year Round. Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Closed Dec. 24 through Jan. 1 and major holidays
$8, children 2 and under are free. Visa & MasterCard are accepted. Group rates are available. Guided tours by appointment.
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