BUGS! Larger than Life and Invading the Zoo!

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There’s no question that the subject of insects & arachnids is a divisive one. Just mention the word “spider” in front of your average group of people and count how many of them start twitching. In rarer instances, you might even encounter someone like my mom who adopts the more regal approach of hopping on a chair and screaming bloody murder. Personally, I’ve always found them fascinating and probably have vintage “monster movies” to thank for it. Back in the ‘50s, Hollywood seized the Atomic age by the proverbial antennae by serving up a bevy of super-sized bugs with a penchant for leveling cities. I couldn’t get enough of these gems when they re-played during my youth in the ‘70s and was delighted to relive some of that glee via the Milwaukee County Zoo. Many zoos around the country offer seasonal attractions such as these mega-sized, animatronic bugs. With the summer drawing to a close, my friend and I headed north from our native Chicago to catch their 2016 “Bugs! Larger than Life” exhibit! Although the weather wasn’t very co-operative, we’d be far from disappointed!
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When we left the Windy City it was a beautiful, clear morning but that all changed shortly after crossing the Wisconsin border. Apparently the predicted rain forecasted for that evening decided to arrive eight hours ahead of schedule. Undeterred, we arrived at the zoo and went straight for the special exhibit on its opposite end. It wasn’t hard to find thanks to large dinosaur prints leading from the zoo’s entrance directly to it. That’s because the zoo usually features dinosaurs as their seasonal attraction at the same spot before deciding to mix things up a bit this year.

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After purchasing our tickets we saw a small building with the sign “Bug Shack” on it. It featured a few real specimens though the only one visible this day was a tarantula.

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When we walked into the exhibit itself we were greeted by a big chubby caterpillar. It kind of reminded me of the one in Alice in Wonderland and I half expected it to pull out a hookah pipe and blow smoke rings.

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The first moving bugs we encountered were a small colony of black ants. One of the things I really liked about this exhibit was its comic book style signage which included basic factoids along with some “Wow” info which, in this case, was how black ants use aphids as their own sort of cattle; protecting them from predators while “milking” them for honeydew.

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My friend held the umbrella over my camera while I snapped away. The inclement weather gave us the advantage of having the entire exhibit to ourselves and the zoo had outdone themselves in terms of the setup. My favorite was a giant emperor scorpion.

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Winged wonders were also represented, including a stunning Dragonfly!

10Example of the Exhibit’s Sensationalistic Signage!

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I also appreciated how they focused on lesser known species such as the Madagascar Sunset Moth. This insect was originally believed to be a butterfly due to its colorful appearance and daytime activities until scientific scrutiny proved otherwise.

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Another rarity was the Devil’s Flower Mantis which looked alien even by bug standards!

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The Brachypelma smithi (Mexican Red knee) tarantula may not be a rare species but was no less impressive here.

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Naturally it stopped raining mere minutes after we finished viewing the exhibit. With Labor Day weekend behind us, the attraction is gone for good though will perhaps reappear at zoo near YOU!

If you’d like to get an idea of what they were like in person, check out the video footage below…

~Dave Fuentes

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