The zoo’s new insectarium houses beetles, ants, roaches and even a giant scorpion. Although many of the species in the “Bug House” come from other countries, there are some native insects, like the Blue Death Feigning Beetle, which inhabits the more arid parts of Texas.
My first interview inside the new insectarium was short, decidedly to the point, and pretty creepy. In fact, the subject seemed unwilling, scrabbling and flicking his legs around on top of my microphone.
It was a large and dramatic-looking red-spotted longhorn beetle from Malaysia. Sharp pincers, brilliant orange and green coloring, agitated antennae – this gentleman had it all.
And the high-pitched squeaks were just as irritating as you’d predict. And effective.
“He was just telling me ‘Put me down,’” said the children’s zoo curator, Kevin Hodge. “Not only do they have really sharp mandibles in the front but they make that squeaking sound to try to alarm you and get you to put them down.”
We put him down. The other insects in the exhibit were even less media-friendly.
Like the white-eyed assassin bug, also from southeast Asia. At first glance, they’re rather cute, even dapper: black and compact, with sharp white spots on their backs. But you can’t handle them without goggles.
“This is a venomous insect,” Hodge explained. “Not only can they spray venom towards your eyes, but they will catch things like other insects and crickets. They grab them, they pierce the cricket, and they inject this venom and emulsify the inside. And then they slurp out all the inside, leaving the carcass behind.”
The new insectarium boasts 30 different species, although some share a home together inside the boxlike vitrines.
There’s plenty of exotica to give you a satisfying shiver– like the giant cave cockroaches from South America, with their flat silver bodies and black heads. And a giant katydid the size of a small purse, if a purse looked like a giant green leaf with legs.
Children and adults will also be able to learn about all the ways insects help us and the planet, Hodge said. They’re not just producers, making materials like honey and silk, but they’re also predators and decomposers, breaking down dead leaves, trash and animals to refresh the soil.
Hodge said the zoo worked over two years to select and import the insects. Each one required a special handling permit from the United States Department of Agriculture.
“A lot of these really big beetles or the giant katydids or some of these tarantulas are something you’ll never see,” Hodge said. “Even if you’re in the right country, they’re active at night, or very high up in the trees. So we’ve taken those animals you’ll probably never see in the wild and given you an opportunity to see them here at the Houston Zoo.”
The exhibit is located in a new building in the Children’s Zoo.