Xtreme BUGS at Brookfield Zoo | Exhibit review
No doubt the big draw to Brookfield Zoo's world-premiere "Xtreme BUGS" exhibit—a winner, despite the questionable spelling and capitalization—are the enormous animatronic insects on display. Created exclusively for the zoo, these 20 gargantuan moving statues might be creepy, but they're cool. Crawly? No way. They're much too large to be described that way—starting with the 16' X 33' Japanese hornet displayed near the zoo's fountain, which entices you toward the rest of the exhibit, situated in its own area near the children's zoo.
While kids get wide-eyed, we adults can't avoid thoughts of a sci-fi B-movie: It's impossible to traverse the winding sidewalk of this outdoor exhibit without feeling like you're an extra in a remake of Mothra or Them! or Starship Troopers. All that's missing is the dramatic soundtrack and an appearance by The Rock.
But there's an educational component mixed in with the campiness: Signs and graphics throughout the exhibit offer loads of interesting facts about the bugs. (Dragonflies eyes have as many as 50,000 lenses! Peruvian giant centipedes are capable of eating mice, rats and reptiles! Eeek!). Scannable QR codes along the way allow you to learn even more with the help of your smart phone.
The unexpected surprise to the "Xtreme" gauntlet is a component that takes it down to a relatable human scale: Brookfield has folded in a mini exhibit. In "Harry's Big Adventure: My Bug World!", an educational and entertaining experience housed in a huge tent (which will give your family a chance to escape sweltering sun or a sudden downpour), you'll meet real live tarantulas, scorpions, roaches, centipedes and millipedes, with docents around to answer questions, provide comic relief and, sometimes, handle the bugs for a rapt (and grossed-out) audience.
There are loads of other interactive elements, too, including stations to create bug art and learn about insects in different habitats. For brave types, a "bug chef" from the New Orleans-based Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium will be there on weekends to treat visitors to delicacies such as Chocolate Chirp Cookies and Crispy Cajun Crickets (actually pretty tasty—and with a great nutritional breakdown too). Tip: Don't miss the awesome cockroach races, complete with horse-race commentary (also a weekend-only feature). "My Bug World" is created by Terminix, the most ironic sponsor possible for a bug exhibit.
In all, the two-pronged exhibit offers a fun and interesting look at insects we're apt to squeal and run from. It's a chance to gain some knowledge—and respect—for creatures that outnumber all other animals on the planet 4:1.
"Xtreme BUGS" opens Saturday, May 19, and runs through September 7 at Brookfield Zoo ( 8400 31st Street, Brookfield; 708-688-8400). The exhibit requires an additional ticket ($5 adults, $3 children 3–11) in addition to standard zoo admission ($15 adults, $10.50 children 3–11). Discounted combo tickets can be purchased at Dominick's grocery stores.