The orchid mantis is one of more than 20 animatronic bugs featured in Brookfield Zoo's summerlong exhibit "Xtreme Bugs." | Jim Schulz photo
◆ May 19-Sept. 7
◆ Brookfield Zoo, 31st Street and First Avenue, Brookfield
◆ Admission, $5 for adults and $3 for ages 3-11 in addition to general admission of $15 for adults and $10.50 for children
◆ Parking, $10
◆ (708) 688-8000; czs.org
Updated: June 29, 2012 8:19AM
Small but mighty. That’s the way Brookfield Zoo’s new “Xtreme Bugs” exhibit looks at insects.
Through larger-than-life animatronic animals and live insects, “Xtreme Bugs” spotlights the critical roles these diminutive creatures play in the environment, culture and the global economy.
The temporary exhibit showcasing 22 animatronic arthropods runs May 19 through Sept. 7.
“The main reason we’re doing this animatronic bug exhibit and bringing bugs to guests in larger-than-life form is really to exemplify and show the major impact these animals have on our daily lives, our history, culture as well as their environment,” said Andre Copeland, interpretive programs manager for the zoo.
“When we really take a look at it, if it weren’t for the arthropods of the world, and those are those shelled creatures with jointed appendages such as spiders, insects such as flies, mosquitoes, beetles — even your crustaceans such as shrimp, lobster, crabs — our large vertebrates, our big mega faunas, would not be able to exist without these animals.
“And we would have extremely different lives if you would even have just one of these small creatures out of the environment.”
Visitors to “Xtreme Bugs” will follow a winding path taking them the past gigantic insects — from army ants and a monarch to a ladybug and a cockroach.
Many of the bugs will be displayed in replicas of real-life scenarios featuring other insects and flora to provide a sense of their lives and their purpose.
“The bugs that we chose to feature are some of the largest of their kind or have had huge effects on our society as far as economics and medicine or even pop culture,” Copeland said.
The path leads to “Harry’s Big Adventure: My Bug World!,” a 5,000-square-foot tent featuring live bugs in interactive habitats depicting several ecosystems.
Here visitors will be able to see real water beetles, cockroaches, ants, scorpions, a praying mantis and more, and learn how these bugs affect their surroundings and even people’s homes.
For those who are too squeamish to enter the tent, there are no worries, Copeland said.
One should just tell a zoo staffer that he or she want to bypass “Harry’s Big Adventure” to be diverted around it. But Copeland encourages everyone to explore the tent.
“Remember, the animals are not just roaming free,” he said. “They will all be in their habitats, and anything that’s out of its habitat will be held by trained staff members.”
Children will find plenty to do, from climbing and sliding down an inflatable 10-foot-by-20-foot “spider web climber” and unearthing replica bugs in a dig box to being a bug detective and conducting a pest inspection.
Also on tap are a bug petting zoo (daily), cockroach races and bug cooking demonstrations (weekends only), and an 8-foot-wide-by-4-foot-high ant farm in which 5,000 harvester ants live.
Cirque Shanghai’s “Year of the Dragon” will open May 24 at the Skyline Stage on Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, and run through Sept. 3. The spectacle showcases tumbling, juggling and balancing skills.
Tickets are $15.50 to $29.50. Call (800) 745-3000 or visit ticketmaster.com/shanghai.
Jennifer Burklow is a local freelance writer.