Insectariums Around The World

During the 19th century, expanding empires, increased trade, and improved transportation and communication stimulated interest in exotic wildlife. European powers sent expeditions to bring back specimens for potential domestication and commercial use. Illustrated publications on biological subjects appeared, and books recounting the adventures of naturalist—explorers allowed the public the vicarious thrill of discovery. With the emergence of modern systematics, the number of described genera rose. This was a fertile time of new discoveries and new theories. Darwin,

Wallace, and others pondered the origin of species. From 1828 through 1914, each year an average of two zoological institutions opened throughout the world; the total was 168, with 86 in Europe alone. Themes of metamorphosis and evolution permeated art and literature. The Industrial Revolution transformed commercial production and altered attitudes toward nature as reflected in the diverse philosophies encompassed by the Art Nouveau movement (~1870—1914). Menageries toured, zoological gardens sprang up, and exotic nature became a source of fashionable urban pleasure and scientific study.

Europe france Loisel's 1912 history of zoos documents the early development of zoos in general and includes some interesting details about a few insect exhibits. In France, the Jardin des Plantes was created in 1793 adjacent to the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle and the Ménagerie d'Observation Zoologique. A chair of Insects and Worms was created, and its first occupant was Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. The Jardin's mission was exploration to find species of plants and animals for utility or ornament, with instruction of the public as a minor goal. In 1797 the visitors could view silkworms and stroll through the grounds past honey bees, which were housed in a large glass hexagonal structure. In the middle of the 19th century a disease killed almost all the silkworms in France. In 1860 the Jardin Zoologique d'Acclimatisation was created on the western fringe of Paris to focus on the study of animals of economic utility. New species of silkworm were imported from China and India and kept at the Jardin d'Acclimatisation. Two of these species were acclimatized, and a fertile hybrid was produced. French scientist Louis Pasteur, in 1870, rescued the silk industry by discovering that the then epidemic "pebrine disease" of silkworms, now known to be borne by Nosema bombycis, could be prevented through microscopic examination of adult moths and isolation of uninfected stock. These advances set the trend for a more scientific approach to silk production.

In France today, a handful of butterfly houses have appeared as independent facilities. In 2000, a new theme park called Micropolis opened in the town Saint-Léon-en Lévezou, which was home to the famous French entomologist JeanHenri Fabre.

england and the netherlands In 1828 the Zoological Society of London (London Zoo) opened, and visiting it became a popular recreational pastime. Commercial butterfly farms appeared as early as 1865 in Colchester, England. In 1881, a mere 53 years after its debut, the London Zoo opened the first major public insect house. In what had been a refreshment room, a series of terrariums on tables along the wall and in the center of the room displayed live specimens of silkworms, aquatic insects, and other invertebrates. Display tanks were well labeled, and mounted specimens enhanced the exhibit.

Seventeen years after the opening of London's insect zoo, in 1898, the Artis Zoo in Amsterdam opened the Insectarium founded by schoolteacher Rudolph A. Polak, who feared that the urban population was becoming alienated from nature. Polak was part of the "Biologisch Reveil" (reveil means wake-up call) movement—to remind people of their connection to the natural world. His goal was to use insects to bring children into close contact with nature, and this tradition is still carried on today at Artis Zoo. Amazingly, Polak continued to work as a teacher and ran the Insectarium as a hobby.

In the early 1900s, other insect-viewing opportunities existed as well. In 1900 a businessman operated a butterfly farm in Kent, where he bred various species to sell to collectors, museums, and universities in England and America. In 1908 Londoners could pay 6 pence (equivalent to perhaps $10 today) to visit the storefront menagerie display of an enterprising optician, filled with display cases of live bees and ants. The London Zoo, where the formal display of live insects really began, celebrated the new millennium by creating the Web of Life facility in 1999, boasting 65 live displays, 156 invertebrate species, a room-sized enclosure for desert locusts, Schistocerca gregaria (including a half-buried jeep for atmosphere), and a giant anteater.

Long involvement with the silk industry and an active amateur naturalist community seemed to make England fertile ground for the birth of modern-day butterfly houses. Businessman David Lowe, who created the Guernsey Butterfly Farm in 1977, went on to create seven other facilities in England by 1984. The London Butterfly House in Syon Park opened in 1981, and Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm, which followed in 1985, includes an extensive insect zoo exhibit adjoining the free-flight butterfly display. In 1986 there were approximately 40 butterfly houses in England. They number closer to 20 today.

germany and eastern europe The Frankfurt Zoo opened its first insect house in 1904 as a seasonal exhibit in the summer (in the winter it was used for storks). In 1957 Frankfurt Zoo built a new large insectarium on top floor above the renovated aquarium. The Zoologischer Garten Koln (Cologne Zoo) opened an insect house in 1905 and maintained it through 1929. A new insectarium was built in 1971, with a butterfly room at its entrance on the first floor of the new aquarium-terrarium, with approximately 60 species maintained in this facility. The Budapest Zoo in Hungary opened its first insect exhibit in 1907 and renovated the vivarium in 1970, exhibiting 68 species. In 2000, a butterfly exhibit was added to the zoo. In 1913 the Berlin Zoo opened a large insect exhibit on the third floor of the new aquarium, as did the Zoologischer Garten Leipzig. The Berlin Zoo's building, destroyed during World War II, was rebuilt after 1945. The exhibit was renovated again in 1978 through 1983

and maintains over 35 species. An insect section was opened in Gruga Park in Essen in 1956, and in 1970 the Lobbecke Museum in Düsseldorf built a large insect exhibit associated with its aquarium. In 1987 the new Lobbecke Museum and Aquazoo opened an insectarium as the centerpiece of the whole new building. In 1980 the Zoological-Botanic Garden Wilhelma in Stuttgart built an insectarium exhibiting 35 species. The Dortmund Zoo and the Krefeld Zoo built butterfly exhibits in 1991 and 1998, respectively. The Noorder Zoo in the Netherlands, the Zoologicka Zaharada Praha in Czechoslovakia, and the Tiergarten Schonbrunn in Austria also have insect zoo exhibits.


Although no records have been found to document the early exhibition of live insects in China, the Chinese have long had a complex appreciation of the insect world. The development of silkworm culture and silk production, the development of bee culture, the early and extensive use of insects in traditional medicine, and the use of crickets as pets in the Táng dynasty (618-906) suggests an advanced appreciation of the utility and aesthetics of insect life.

Yajima describes the development of insectariums in Japan. The Insectarium at the Takarazuka Zoological and Botanical Garden opened in 1954 and was expanded in 1967. The Toshima-en Insectarium, at the Toshima-en Amusement Park in Tokyo, opened in the late 1950s. In 1961, Yajima went on to design the first incarnation of the Insectarium at the Tama Zoo. In 1966 Tama Zoo's Insectarium opened a walk-through grasshopper greenhouse filled with 6000 grasshoppers in addition to a walk-through butterfly house. A firefly building was added in 1975. In 1988 a new insectarium was built at Tama Zoo, which mixed traditional terrarium-type exhibits with walk-through exhibits without guardrails of Orthoptera, fireflies, butterflies, beetles, ants, and aquatic insects. Insect Ecological Land had a construction cost of over $5 million and increased attendance to the zoo by 20%. At its opening, 94 species were maintained by a staff of 12. As of 1995, there were 30 live insect exhibits in Japan alone.

A few other insectariums and butterfly houses can be found throughout Asia. The Penang Butterfly House in Malaysia was founded in 1986. Attached to the butterfly display is an exhibit of Malaysian insects and arthropods. The Fragile Forest exhibit, which opened at the Singapore Zoo in 1998, displays butterflies and other insects.

North America

Insectariums developed more slowly in the United States. Though the early entomologist Thomas Say contributed to bringing respect to the science of entomology in the early part of the 19 th century, the zoological gardens in the United States remained focused on the display of vertebrates and the natural history museums focused on nonliving exhibits. Interest in representing invertebrate biodiversity either taxonomically or zoogeographically in these institutions lagged behind that shown by their European counterparts. Enduring insectariums did not take hold in America until the late 1970s.

However, a number of early successful experiments at both zoos and museums proved extremely popular with the public. The New York Zoological Society Bulletin chronicles several early attempts. Raymond L. Ditmars, Curator of Reptiles at the Bronx Zoo and world-renowned herpetologist, actually began his career in science as an entomologist working as an assistant curator in the Entomology Department at the American Museum of Natural History. Throughout his tenure, he maintained a keen interest in insects. In 1910, under his direction, a live arthropod exhibit consisting of 56 cages and containing silk moths in various life stages, lubber grasshoppers, Hercules beetles, and tarantulas was set up as an experiment. A portion of the moths that emerged from the silk moth collections were mounted and sold as souvenirs by the Bureau of Information in the Lion House. The exhibit was so popular with visitors that plans were made to make it a permanent feature at the zoo. The permanent facility was never built, but Ditmars persevered and in 1940, a Department of Insects was created with Ditmars as curator. Ditmars died in 1942, however, without having brought the plan to fruition. Brayton Eddy, an entomologist for the state of Rhode Island, was hired as the new curator of insects in 1945. Eddy's experience included the development of a seasonal live insect zoo at Goddard State Park in Providence, housed in the first floor of the stately mansion on the property from 1934 to 1937. Then Eddy died unexpectedly in 1950, and again a planned permanent insect exhibit never got started. The new exhibit was to have featured local insects and tropical imports sent by Dr. William Beebe from his research station in Venezuela.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the Chicago Zoo (later renamed the Brookfield Zoo) was planning and experimenting with its own invertebrate exhibit. Construction on the Insect House (also called the Invertebrate House or the Special Exhibit and Demonstration Building) was completed between 1934 and 1938. Grace Olive Riley, acting as curator of reptiles and invertebrates, was succeeded by Robert Snediger as reptile curator. Snediger organized the "Animals Without Backbones" exhibit, which ran from 1947 into the early 1950s. Bees, cockroaches, aquatic insects, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, leeches, and other invertebrates were displayed, along with amoebas. Though planned as a permanent feature by Brookfield Zoo's early designers, the Insect Building was later converted into the zoo's library. The exhibits developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were not very different from the exhibits of today. Glass terrariums with screened lids displayed on tables containing local and exotic insect life were the state of the art in 1881, 1910, the 1940s, 1970s and 1990s.

Worth mentioning is the arthropod exhibit that was included as a permanent feature in the Arizona-Sonoran

Desert Museum from its opening date in 1952. Although not large, either in species number or in size of tanks, this collection was innovative in that it included invertebrates in the interpretation of an ecosystem. Then 20 years passed during which the early invertebrate exhibits seem to have vanished from the consciousness of zoo administrators.

Another period of experimentation with short-lived insect exhibitions emerged. An insect zoo was created at the Flushing Meadows Zoo from 1969 to 1970, and another was assembled at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in 1971. The immense popularity of the exhibit at the Smithsonian resulted in the opening of the museum's permanent insect zoo in 1976, in time to greet the International Congress of Entomology, which held its meeting that year in Washington, D.C. A natural history museum had now stepped permanently into the world of live insect display, an endeavor formerly restricted to zoological gardens or commercial rearing facilities staffed by persons used to dealing with the challenges and demands of live animals. From the start, the Smithsonian staff interacted with visitors daily with informal hands-on demonstrations, and the species inventory included both local and exotic specimens collected by Smithsonian entomologists in the field.

Cincinnati Zoo followed the Smithsonian in 1978 and opened a new building containing 68 live displays and housing 70 to 100 species. This facility, the World of the Insect, set a new standard for insectariums in the United States. It also set a new standard for monetary commitment to insect exhibits, with a price tag of one million dollars, including the cost of the new stand-alone building, custom-made terrariums, colorful graphics, and educational interactive exhibits borrowed from museum methodology.

The Insect Zoo at the San Francisco Zoo opened in 1979 as a temporary summer exhibit in an unused auditorium building in the children's zoo section. Zoo attendance instantly increased by 50%, and the collection became a permanent facility, the second largest in the United States for two decades, containing 35 displays and maintaining 70 species.

In the United States, these three permanent insectariums created in the 1970s (at the Smithsonian, the Cincinnati Zoo, and the San Francisco Zoo) were really "arthropod zoos," with an occasional mollusk, leech, or annelid thrown in. These exhibits became models for many subsequent projects that followed throughout the country. Emphasis was placed on the development of year-round breeding colonies and use of native and exotic species.

The only other invertebrate exhibit to open in the following decade excluding the butterfly houses, was the Invertebrate Exhibit, which opened in 1987 on the lower floor of the Reptile House of the National Zoo, showing tropical insects alongside marine invertebrates such as cephalopods. A pollinarium exhibit was added in 1996.

The only nonbutterfly insect exhibit to emerge in the 1990s was the Ralph K. Parsons Insect Zoo at the Natural

History Museum of Los Angeles County. Modest at its opening in 1992, it has grown to 40 live displays.

New walk-through butterfly exhibits dominated the late 1980s and early 1990s modeled on free-flight greenhouse exhibits in England. In 1988 the $3 million Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center at Callaway Gardens opened in Georgia. Two for-profit Florida endeavors, Butterfly World and the butterfly house at Cypress Gardens, opened in 1988 and 1992, respectively. Back in the zoo world, the San Diego Wild Animal Park's Butterfly Encounter debuted in 1993. In 1994, the Houston Museum of Natural Science opened the Cockerell Butterfly Center, a three-story immersion butterfly glasshouse attached to the museum, attracting 700,000 visitors during its first year of operation. A live arthropod exhibit room was later added to this facility. In 1995, the Butterfly Pavilion and Insect Center, became the first standalone nonprofit insect facility in the United States.

In the 1990s at least 20 seasonal butterfly houses emerged, including several supported by universities such as Michigan State University and Kansas State University under the auspices of their respective Departments of Entomology. The insectarium at the St. Louis Zoo opened in 2000. Costing $4 million and maintaining 80 to 100 species in addition to a butterfly display, it became the most significant facility to open in over a decade.

Parallel developments have occurred in Canada, but the most notable was the development of the Insectarium de Montreal founded by Georges Brossard in 1990. This $8 million exhibit mixed classic European museum design with multimedia interactive displays and challenged the live animal exhibit community to set a higher standard for the construction of new insectariums to educate the public about insects, which represent 80 to 95% of the animal species on terrestrial earth.


In Australia, the Melbourne Zoo was the first to get into the invertebrate business by opening a butterfly house in 1985. The Insectarium of Victoria and the Victorian Institute of Invertebrate Sciences opened at Heathcote in 1993, moving in 1998 to a permanent home in Woodend. On display is Astacopsis gouldi, or the giant yabby or crayfish, one of the largest freshwater invertebrates on earth.

Latin America and Africa

Butterfly exhibit houses in Latin America are most commonly derived from commercial butterfly ranching and farming operations. The Butterfly Farm in La Guacima de Alajuela, Costa Rica, founded in 1990, and Spirogyra Butterfly Garden in San Jose, Costa Rica, established in 1992, typify these facilities. The Green Hills Butterfly Ranch in Belmopan, Belize, is a display as well as commercial supplier, as is the La Selva Butterfly Farm in Ecuador. Butterfly World in Klapmuts, South Africa, opened in 1996.

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