Eat a Bug: Audubon Insectarium, New OrleansMay 19, 2011 No Comments
The Audubon Nature Institute has been a part of the New Orleans family since 1914, when the Audubon Commission was established by state law. The Commission’s first project was the development of Audubon Park, an urban green space on the site of the United States’ first commercial sugar plantation. The park, originally named Upper City Park, was built by the City of New Orleans for the 1884 World’s Industrial Centennial and Cotton Exposition. The Audubon Commission added a flight cage in 1916, and by 1929 the park was home to a full zoo.
Audubon continued to grow and expand, adding facilities across the city. Today Audubon owns 10 parks and attractions in New Orleans. The newest addition is Audubon Insectarium, which opened in 2008. Dad and I had our first chance to visit on a recent trip to New Orleans.
Visiting the Museum
The Audubon Insectarium is on Canal Street in New Orleans’ Central Business District (CBD). Parking is available in paid lots nearby, some of which offer a discount with paid museum admission. If you are staying in the French Quarter or along one of the streetcar lines, however, we strongly suggest walking or taking public transportation. Traffic ranges from difficult to horrific depending on the day of the week and time of day, while parking is notoriously expensive.
The Insectarium is in the old U.S. Custom House, making it the only Audubon facility that requires guests to go through a metal detector. Although the process is quick and easy, make sure you clean out your pockets! Dad had a pocket full of loose change and several other metal items, and there is not much room provided to step out of line and remove your metal objects. Also, there is no re-admission to the museum, so be sure you have everything you need for the day.
As of 2011, individual admission to the Audubon Insectarium is $15.95 for adults, $12.95 for seniors over age 65 and $10.95 for children ages 2 to 12. If you plan to visit the other Audubon properties, though, combination tickets offer a significant savings. If you will be in town for awhile, Audubon offers annual memberships that provide numerous discounts and benefits.
The museum is open from 10-5 Tuesday through Saturday, but the Eat a Bug program is offered only during select hours. On the day of our visit, bug tastings were offered from 10 to 12, but the times change frequently. If you want to participate, check the official website for details.
We arrived at approximately 10:30 and went straight to the Eat a Bug café. It is located behind the main cafeteria at the far end of the building. Tastings are included with your admission fee and there is no limit on how much you may eat. The menu changes daily. Crickets and worms were featured on the day we visited–ground up in a variety of dips and roasted in several ways. The cinnamon roasted super worm tasted exactly like cinnamon cereal! All the dishes were surprisingly tasty, and we went back for seconds on a few things. You can even get a hand stamp afterwards telling the world that you ate a bug!
The museum consists of a series of connected galleries lining both sides of the main hall. The Louisiana Swamp gallery is particularly intriguing for its realistic depiction of the swamp, including a small alligator. The Termite gallery is a stomach-churning but all-too-real look at the ongoing Formosa termite problem in New Orleans and across the country.
Unless your child is scared of the dark, don’t miss the Underground gallery. This dimly-lit exhibit makes it appear that you have shrunk to the size of an insect as you explore the recreation of a subterranean habitat. Watch out for the giant spider!
Awards Night is a short but hilarious 4-D film featuring insects on the red carpet. In-seat and in-theater effects add a bit of realism. Very sensitive children might be scared by the seat effects, so hold them in your lap if it is a concern. All of the kids in the theater with us, however, were amused rather than afraid.
My favorite exhibit was the expansive butterfly garden. Designed as an Asian-style retreat, the area offers benches for you to relax and enjoy the free-ranging butterflies, as well as a koi pond. You are asked not to touch the butterflies, although they frequently land on visitors. Check your clothes before you leave to ensure that you don’t have a hitchhiker attached.
Tips for Parents
We spent approximately three hours at the Insectarium including lunch at the (bug-free!) café. We could have spent another hour taking things in a bit more slowly, but this is definitely a half-day museum. If your child is particularly afraid of insects you may want to pass this one up, but overall the Insectarium seems carefully designed to appeal to both kids and adults.
The signage is excellent for those who want to learn more, and educators are stationed throughout the museum to give demonstrations and answer questions. We even had the opportunity to pet a Madagascar hissing cockroach! All on one level and small enough not to overwhelm, this is a particularly good choice for a day when you are feeling overwhelmed by New Orleans’ constant barrage of sights and sounds.
The Insectarium is fully accessible, and a small number of wheelchairs are available free of charge at the Information Desk. Small strollers are permitted throughout the museum.