We’re finally settled into life and Louisiana and starting to explore the Pelican State. I’ve said it before, but I’m so happy to be living somewhere where there are things to DO. Things to see and explore. Culture to experience. And man, the culture here? TOTALLY different than Michigan! But, that’s a whole different post. Today, I want to share with you something the girls and I did one weekend: we took a visit to the Audubon Insectarium and Butterfly House!
Oh, and please forgive the not great photography for this one. I was solo parenting and trying to take pictures. Let’s just say Aaron is the photographer in this family…..
But before we get into that, I have a confession. I hate bugs. All of them. Well, all except for fireflys and butterflys. But all other creepy crawly creatrures, I do not like. I understand their necessity, of course, but that does not change the kneejerk reaction I get when I see a bug in my house. Or flying near my head. Or unknowingly walk through a spiderweb. So why would I take the girls to a special place completely devoted to bugs? Simple: Evelyn is into butterflys and they have a butterfly house, so to fill a Sunday we went.
A day trip to New Orleans is definitely an adventure for us. I’ve only been to the city one other time, and that was for a work conference, so it’s very unfamiliar to me. In Europe, I can rely on fairly extensive public transportation, but this is less common in the US unless you are in the largest of cities, and even then, it’s not a given (Houston, I’m looking at you….). The day we ended up going, the French Quarter Festival was happening. So here I was, solo parenting (Aaron was traveling for work again), taking two kids to a musuem in New Orleans on the edge of the French Quarter, a district during a festival. Thankfully, I have a good carrier and a stroller to get said children from the car to the Insectarium!
The Insectarium is part of the larger Audubon Nature Institute. They maintain a zoo, an aquarium, a nature center, and an insectarium and butterfly house. We opted to purchase a membership, so watch for posts about the other locations in the future. They are not all located together, but the aquarium and insectarium are close to each other. The zoo is also downtown, but the nature center is located quite a bit outside the city center. The insectarium is on the first floor of a Federal building so you’ll have to put your belongings through an x-ray machine and walk through a metal detector, just like in an airport (minus TSA).
Once inside, you’re greeted by a long hallway with a number of biomes set up, showcasing all sorts of different bugs! There are displays of preserved insects, and in one area, they bring out some more interesting ones for visitors to touch and see up close. The day we visited, they had a giant millipede out (that’s not the official name but I can’t remember what it was called). The girls were enthralled, I quietly kept my distance.
We slowly meandered down the hall, stopping to look at most of the displays, and even coming back to a few. They were all at kids’ eye level - which was awesome! The burrowing bugs (worms, roaches, etc.) we’re a hit with my girls. They could see the tunnels they built and watch them scuttle around. Evelyn isn’t a fan of bugs in the wild, but behind glass, she was pretty impressed!
Further down, they had an old Volkswagen Beetle (the irony) stripped down and set up for kids to play in. The windshield was turned into a screen and there was a video loop playing with a bumblebee as the main character. It talked about the importance of bees, but also the tragic story of bugs on windshields. The girls loved climbing in and out of the car and playing with the steering wheel. It took quite a bit of effort to drag them away!
From there, we made a snack stop in the cafe. Cafe isn’t the right word - hot food isn’t offered, and you’re not supposed to eat snacks not purchased from the vending machines - but they do have free samples for you to eat featuring, semi-disgustingly, bugs. I know a lot of cultures eat bugs, but it’s just so strange to me. The day we went, they had tiny chocolate chip cookies with roasted crickets. Evelyn grabbed one and shoved it into her mouth before I could tell her what it was. I mean, she’s a preschooler and what preschooler says no to a cookie?! And once Julie saw Evelyn eating one, she had to have one too. I politely declined. Go ahead and call me a bad mom for letting my kids eat bugs and not partaking myself.
After they were done, I explained to Evelyn what the cookie was. She was only mildly mortified. She was more intrigued by the fact that there was a bug in her tummy. I had to warn her daycare teachers the next day in case she told them she “ate a bug last weekend,” that she was, in fact, telling the truth.
The insectarium does a great job at showcasing the life of bugs - both the native and the exotic. There was an exhibit on cockroaches and flys, both pests that can plague a home but play a vital role in nature.
One of the last exhibits highlighted larger “bugs” native to Louisiana. Designed to represent a bayou, this exhibit had tanks of craw fish (or crayfish, or mud bugs, depending on where you live!) and fish tank, and even a couple of small alligators. The best part was when Evelyn spied the craw fish tank and ran up, exclaiming, “Those are my favorite! I like to eat them!” Yes, we are apparently raising a little German-born Cajun girl.
The final exhibit, the reason we came, was the butterfly house. They have a room where you can watch caterpillars/butterflies in various stages of metamorphosis before entering the Japanese garden-style butterfly house. Stepping through an airlock, you are greeted by warm, humid air. After the air conditioned exhibits, this one felt almost stifling. But gentle, quietly, floating around are butterflies of all shapes, colors, and sizes. The most brilliant ones are the giant blue butterflies from the tropics that were the size of my hand. They drunkenly flitted around, landing on branches, and threatening to land on our heads (Evelyn was not so keen with this idea and kept ducking when one would fly too close for comfort). If you sat still enough, something that would take an act of God to achieve with a toddler and a preschooler, the butterflies would land on you and you’d get an opportunity to examine their stunning beauty up close. Alas, I was unable to do this as I was busy keeping the preschooler from touching everything she wasn’t supposed to, and the toddler from falling into the koi pond. But, I still got the opportunity to view and photograph some of these beauties.
The Insectarium is small, and even going as slowly as we did, only took a few hours to visit. It was actually a great way to spend a Sunday, and would make for a fantastic, family-friendly activity if you’re visiting the Crescent City. Being on the edge of the French Quarter, I contemplated wandering around a bit, but the festival was in full swing and the girls were tired. We did head in a few blocks to get some lunch, but called it a day after that.
Visit the Audobon Insectarium
The Audubon Insectarium is open everyday from 10AM - 4:30PM. Located on Canal Street, on the edge of the French Quarter, admission is $22.95 for adults, and $17.95 for children 2-12. Discounts are available if you purchase online. The cheapest place to park is at the Riverfront Marketplace, near the cruise terminal, and then walk to the Insectarium (about 10 minutes). Once your parking stub is validated at the Insectarium, parking is only $8 for the day. Other lots in the area can charge $10+/hour.
Oh, and here’s a pro tip. You’ll probably be hungry after your visit and there are like a million restaurants in the French Quarter to choose from. We have discovered two in the nearby vicinity that are definitely worth it with kids. The first, and closest to the Insectarium, is Mena’s Palace. They have a great breakfast and delicious lunch. Definitely not touristy - you can tell this is a place for locals. Prices are reaonable too. For a more NOLA flavor, especially some mouth-watering po-boys, check out Mother’s. It’s a little bit further, but is a big larger and easier to navigate with a stroller than Mena’s.
Let us know if you visit and what you think!