Discover different insects and butterflies at the Museum of Natural History. Learn about a bug that hisses, how butterflies eat and why some grasshoppers don't hop.

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Insect Zoo and Butterfly Pavilion

Date: July 25, 2013
Place: Museum of Natuaral History, Washington DC
Interview: Dan Babbitt, Manager of the Insect Zoo and Butterfly Pavilion, Student Interns; Karim and Santiago

Dan Babbitt, Manager of the Insect Zoo and Butterfly Pavilion, Museum of Natural History: This is the first permanent insect zoo in the country.  We opened in 1976.  We have over 70 species of insects in the Insect Zoo and well over a hundred species of butterflies in the pavilion that we take care of.  So we have to know what all the animals eat and what they need to survive and do well and then be able to share that information with the public.

Karim, YES Intern at the Museum of Natural History:  Everyday we have an interactive portion with the visitors [to the Museum of Natural History].  You can hold an insect. You can ask questions and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability.

This is a madagascar hissing cockroach and they’re famous, as per the name, because they hiss.  If they feel threatened, they will let out a hissing noise. So that’s to trick predators [animal that naturally hunts others] to think, they’ll trick predators into thinking that they’re a larger animal.

Santiago, YES Intern at the Museum of Natural History: We have here a pair of female eastern lubber grasshoppers. A common question I get asked is why they don’t hop away from my hand and that’s actually because it’s a natural habit for them not to hop. Also their wings are too small and under developed for them to fly on their own weight, so they don’t fly.

One the reasons here that we have these animals specifically on this cart is they’re relatively harmless, in comparison to some of the other animals and insects that we have in this zoo. So when we’re trying to reach our goal of communicating Science to the public, one of the best ways obviously is hands-on experience.

Butterfly Pavilion

Dan: We have hundreds of butterflies, probably close to 400 flying around and there are butterflies from all over the world.  So you can see huge moths that are this big to monarchs that you will see in your backyard.

Butterflies have a really long proboscis [mouth parts of a butterfly] that reaches in and can get nectar [sugary fluid in plants] from a flower. And then during that time, it’s picking up pollen [powder from a flower] and it helps pollinate [put pollen on] other flowers.  And so we’re looking at that relationship between butterflies and plants in that exhibit. And what that means is over millions of years, how plants and butterflies have evolved or changed in order to suit each other, help each other out.

Advice for kids

Get out and explore.  So get out in the woods, go in your backyard, go in your garden and just watch. It’s using observation skills [inspecting or watching skills and taking notes].  So it’s looking at plants and seeing what might be eating them.  You might not be able to find an insect right away, but you’d be able to find evidence of an insect being there.  Then you can come back and watch that plant and find out what’s eating it.

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