Summertime visitors to the Milwaukee County Zoo are used to seeing more than regular zoo animals. For several of the past summers, gigantic, robotic dinosaurs fascinated zoo-goers in a special exhibit made by Billings Productions.
But this year, the Milwaukee County Zoo is changing things up with Bugs! Larger than Life, featuring 13 giant animatronic bugs, including the Madagascan Sunset Moth, an Orb Web Spider with a web and a blue-eyed Darner Dragonfly. Each of the bugs have parts that move, and noises are piped in that make the forested area feel even more authentic.
The traveling exhibit, which will be at the zoo from May 28 through Sept. 5 behind the Small Mammals Building, also is made by Billings Productions.
“I've been here 18 years, and we've had the dinosaurs here at least six times, and I'm sure they'll be back, but it's nice to have something different that's so educational,' said Jennifer Diliberti-Shea, public relations coordinator at the zoo.
The cool factor remains high with the bugs. Here are some of the coolest things kids will enjoy:
1. Everything is huge! The bugs are giant – they're 200 times the size they would normally be. Because of the larger-than-life size, zoo employees thought it would be fun to make visitors feel like they themselves have shrunk. The zoo's horticultural department crafted some props to make visitors feel like they've gotten tiny, including huge army men toys and an overhead clothesline that will have giant socks and a T-shirt hanging from it.
Some of the props, such as a water feature made to look like a gigantic bucket, were made by National Rock & Sculpture, a Wausau-based company.
“Who knew you could buy a 12-foot beach ball on Amazon? I saw that on the internet, and that's what sparked the whole 'Honey, I Shrunk the Kids' idea,' said Jourdain LaFrombois, the zoo's special programs coordinator.
2. You can get wet. One of the bugs, the Bombardier Beetle, sprays the kids with water as they walk by. Real Bombardier Beetles emit a stream of poison from, yes, their rear ends, and LaFrombois expects these details will make the beetle a fan favorite. “The kids will love it. They'll flock to it!”
3. You can get up and close personal to the bugs – well, some of them. Although most of the bugs are just to look at, there are two photo opportunities. Kids are invited to climb all over a set of ladybugs, as well as a caterpillar while their parents grab some snapshots.
4. There are some crazy huge carnivores! Two of the bugs seem especially larger than life. The first is an Emperor Scorpion, whose claws will move side to side and make pinching motions, while its tail goes up and down. The scorpion towers over the exhibit.
“It's so ginormous, it'll probably be a favorite,” Diliberti-Shea said.
The second is the Mexican Red Knee Tarantula. The tarantula is at first hidden from view as guests walk along the path through the exhibit. As they turn the corner, they will be suddenly confronted by the giant spider.
Bugs! Larger Than Life at the Milwaukee County Zoo features 12 creatures who are more than 200 times their actual size.
Diliberti-Shea explained, “In the dinosaur exhibit, when you're coming around this corner, you would see the giant T-Rex. We wanted something big here for the bugs too, so we decided on the giant tarantula.”
Although coolness is nothing to take lightly, the zoo's goal is to educate as much as entertain.
“Kids will be learning through this exhibit. But it's so cool that they won't know they're learning!” Diliberti-Shea said.
And there's plenty to learn!
1. Bugs are vital to the ecosystem. Kids will learn some of the roles bugs play in maintaining life on earth. One of those roles, that of pollinator, is depicted by the Red-Tailed Bumblebee that is perched on a flower. The zoo is also doing something new to drive that lesson home – they're moving the Kohl's Wild Theater, which is usually set up in the Family Farm, right across from the giant bumblebee. The actors, whose performances will take place daily at 11 and 2:30, will put on a show about pollinators.
2. Bugs have cultural significance. Bugs are important for more than the roles they play in maintaining our ecosystem. Just by looking at the colors of the giant bugs, guests will be struck by their beauty. When looking at the gorgeous wings of the Blue-Eyed Darner Dragonfly, Diliberti-Shea spoke of the cultural impact bugs have: “There are groups of people who have taken some of the wing parts and used them as jewelry.”
3. Even super-cool exhibits can be environmentally friendly. The zoo likes to talk about conservation and sustainability, and in this exhibit, they walk the walk too. Before entering the exhibit walkway, guests are welcome to look through the windows of the “bug shack” where they will see many types of live bugs. The zoo's maintenance department built the shack from wood that was re-purposed from different exhibits throughout the zoo.
4. Bugs are vital to the circle of life. Speaking of the bug shack, guests will have the chance to look at and learn about several live bugs, such as Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, Dung Beetles, and ladybugs. Kids will also learn about how important bugs are in the life cycle, as crickets and meal worms are part of the display, insects that are fed to the other animals in the zoo – the zoo's other residents eat 22,500 crickets per week, and 30,000 meal worms per week!
The folks at the zoo hope that the cool factors of the Bugs! Larger than Life exhibit will help guests to learn a thing or two.
“Maybe the exhibit will make people think twice before squishing a bug the next time they see one in their house. Hopefully, we'll be teaching them to be a little more responsible,' Diliberti-Shea said.
Bugs! Larger than Life will be on display behind the Small Mammals Building May 28 through Sept. 5. Admission is $2.50 per person after regular zoo admission. Guests can buy their tickets outside the exhibit, and receive a hand stamp to return throughout the day.