This past Sunday, Jim and I went (along with our friends Michael and Chip) to the Botanical Gardens. Our specific goal was to see the new Bugarium, an enclosed display featuring various kinds of insects. The Bugarium offered a really interesting selection, including local insects most people never see, as well as various exotic selections from around the globe. The displays included both subterranean and subaqueous types.
Additionally, besides the daylight section, there was a small but well-arranged jungle-at-night exhibit.
Not all of the insects were locked behind glass. The leafcutter ants had an enclosure (surrounded by water, to keep them in) that extended up to the ceiling where an artificial vine enabled them to carry off their finds – on the day we were visiting, they had miniature roses, as well as leaves – to their nest.
Another “open” exhibit was a small outside pond, alongside which was a sign discussing the various types of dragonflies that one might see. Jim and I particularly enjoyed this because our own small pond attracts at least three different types of dragonflies and now we could put names to them.
The Bugarium featured a great deal of educational material, but managed to make learning about bugs fun. I very much enjoyed the hand puppet selection, including the very large spider that used all five fingers to create some realistic spidery motions.
In the name of diversity – or maybe only available display space – the Bugarium included one non-insect exhibit. These were the naked mole rats from the Zoo (which is the Botanical Garden’s sibling within the Biopark system). Naked mole rats have never been on my “favorites list.” In fact, if asked if I wanted to hold a tarantula or a naked mole rat, I’d opt for the spider.
Ridiculous reaction, I know, especially for someone who, in general, likes rodents. I don’t think my reaction to the naked mole rats is due so much the naked part, as the squinched up eyes. Even when in a luxurious enclosure with plenty of food, the naked mole rats always just look uncomfortable…
By contrast, many of the insects appeared positively smug, especially those who specialized in various sorts of camouflage. The Bugarium offered a wide variety of “walking stick” insects. These came in shades from dark brown to pale green. Most were rather twiggy, but a couple gave the impression of having bark.
I was interested to learn that the praying mantis family includes – in addition to the sleek green creatures I am familiar with from my yard – a wide range of colors. There were even some dark brown types with rough protrusions that looked as if they had bark. These were hard enough to find in a small tank. If they’d been on the trunk of a tree, they’d have been completely invisible.
I didn’t write down the name of my favorite insect of the day, but it was called something like a “walking leaf.” As with the walking stick insects, these insects had decided that the best way to get through life was to look very much like what they were not. These didn’t stop with looking like a cluster of green leaves, they’d taken the art of camouflage to the point that some of the “leaves” were “nibbled” or “browning” around the edges, just like natural leaves.
Although visiting the Bugarium had been our main reason for going to the Botanical Gardens, we did walk around the entire facility. We’ve been going to the facility since it opened, but one of the great things about gardens is how they change from year to year, even without anything “new” being added.
The Bugarium was this year’s new exhibit, but we enjoyed seeing how well last year’s new addition – the desert rose garden – is developing. Last year it looked more like a construction site with some pathetic rose plants dotted around it. This year it promises to start developing. Definitely a return is in order later this summer.
We finished by visiting the aquarium. It’s small but choice. The big tanks include various types of sharks, rays, and even a couple of sea turtles. The smaller exhibits include sea horses, squid, and jellyfish. My personal favorite were some blue jellyfish with light yellow dots. They looked more like swimming mushrooms than anything aquatic.
I was delighted to read that our Botanical Gardens have begun to get national attention, having been chosen by several travel sites as worth making the trip to visit. Pretty nice having them within a short drive from my own home.
Now… Time to go see the zoo. I hear the new carousel is open and I love carousels!
But first, a mystery trip. If all goes well, I’ll be telling you about that next week.