Take a close look at the giant tarantula at “A Bug’s Eye View.” Credit: Natasha Dillinger
Small, frequently underestimated and often underfoot — am I talking about kids or the surprising stars of Woodland Park Zoo’s new temporary exhibit, “A Bug’s Eye View”?
This special summer exhibit showcases giant-size animatronic bugs and all kinds of fascinating facts about them.
The superhero bugs on display play a critical role in maintaining our environment (though I’m still not convinced of the purpose of mosquitoes), and we took advantage of a glorious sunny weekend to get a sneak peek at the exhibit, which opened May 1 and runs through Labor Day.
Time flies when you’re having fun
Somehow two years have passed since the zoo’s popular “Dinosaur Discovery” exhibit graced the Habitat Discovery Loop. My kids loved those dinos so much that we went back multiple times over that summer. They chattered as we walked over and were excited to see how the bugs would compare.
While you might expect this exhibit’s insects to suffer by comparison to their formidable Mesozoic-era relatives, there’s still plenty of wow factor.
One big difference I noticed between the bugs and dinos was the sound — or rather, the lack thereof. I’d heard from friends that their young kids were intimidated by the dinosaurs’ loud roars and grand movements.
The 15 animatronic bugs in this exhibit are quiet. I could actually hear birds chirping in the trees — probably wondering how they could eat one of the larger-than-life bugs for dinner!
Inspect the insect
The bugs’ magnified size and motions gave us a unique opportunity to study their special abilities up close. Tiny black garden ants tap their antennae together to send messages, while the stag beetle can pick up a rival beetle overhead with its superstrong mandibles.
Perhaps the most exciting bug is the bombardier beetle that sprays attackers with a scalding blend of acid and enzymes from its rear end, simulated safely with a fun spray of water in the giant version. Somebody get this guy a comic book contract!
Some bugs’ superpowers include the ability to camouflage, so we saw lots of muted tones, but also touches of color that serve to warn a predator or dazzle a potential mate.
Excellent signage explains all of the various bugs’ characteristics and attributes with simple wording and lots of visuals. When my kids weren’t racing down the path exclaiming over the next bug, my 7-year-old enjoyed stopping to read about each insect’s special features and discovering its real-life size.
If you can get your kids to slow down, especially on a less busy day at the zoo, I highly recommend lying down on the pavement under the blue-eyed darner dragonfly and looking up at the sky through its lacy wings.
Buzz around the zoo for more buggy fun
We spent about 25 minutes touring “A Bug’s Eye View” before my kids were ready to move on. The zoo has plenty of opportunities to learn more without overtaxing kids’ attention spans.
After popping into the mobile gift shop so my kids could spend some of their allowance on a home butterfly garden, we found a docent cart with even more fun bug facts. Shout-out to the volunteers who run these pop-up learning stations!
The man we spoke with had volunteered at the zoo for six years, and he managed to juggle the vastly different questions of a serious solo adult and a mom with two wiggly kids, sharing information that wasn’t even on his info sheets.
Fun fact: If the tiny spiders and beetles around your house give you the willies, just be glad you weren’t around during the Carboniferous Period. Bugs were much, much bigger around 300 million years ago, when the atmosphere contained 35 percent oxygen.
The zoo’s Bug World display, part of the Temperate Rainforest area, has been closed for maintenance since January. It is scheduled to reopen in the next month or two. Get ready to compare and contrast insects at their real-life size with their giant robotic cousins outside.
Starting Memorial Day weekend, the pollinators in Molbak’s Butterfly Garden will emerge from their cocoons for visitors to admire their colorful wings.
If you visit on a Wednesday morning, don’t miss the Look, Listen and Feel story time. My 4-year-old and I went to a recent indoor version at Basecamp Northwest, but this fun learning opportunity for younger guests moves to the Alvord Broadleaf Theater now that nicer weather has arrived.
The zoo is like a second home for our family and we go often, but the addition of special exhibits and interactive spaces like “A Bug’s Eye View” makes each visit special. I’m sure we’ll return multiple times over the summer to visit our new buggy friends.
If you go ...
When: This special exhibit is open now and runs through Labor Day, Sept. 4, 2023
Tickets: Entry to see the bugs costs $5 ($4 for members) in addition to regular zoo admission or current membership. Children ages 2 and younger enter free. Purchase timed tickets online or at the exhibit entrance if capacity allows. Members can even purchase a $10 “season pass” for unlimited admission to “A Bug’s Eye View.”
Zoo entry: Book regular admission online in advance or purchase at the gate (members do not need to reserve a time slot). Regular zoo admission costs $27 for teens and adults (ages 13–64); youths ages 3–12 cost $16.50; and babies and tots ages 2 and younger enter free.
Hours: The zoo just switched to summer hours; it’s open daily, 9:30 a.m.–6 p.m. “A Bug’s Eye View” is open 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Parking: Parking in the zoo’s lots costs $6 for the first 2 hours and $2 for each additional hour (plus taxes and fees). Members receive $1 off parking with an emailed promo code (contact the zoo for yours). We typically look for free street parking nearby or take the bus (the #5 stops near the westside entrance).
More at the zoo: