Incredible insects: New Florida Museum exhibit opens next week

Interactive experiences showcase how researchers study insects in the field, like a digital light sheet that illustrates how nocturnal bugs are observed and captured.
Interactive experiences showcase how researchers study insects in the field, like a digital light sheet that illustrates how nocturnal bugs are observed and captured.
Courtesy Florida Museum/Kristen Grace

 The Florida Museum of Natural History’s latest special exhibit invites visitors to take an up-close look at the often-hidden world of insects and the researchers that study them.

Opening May 25, “Science Up Close: Incredible Insects” is a collaborative endeavor between the Florida Museum and the University of Florida department of entomology and nematology to offer a rare look at the most diverse group of animals on the planet. The exhibition will feature a rotating cast of researchers from more than a dozen labs during its run, offering guests a chance to learn across a variety of specializations, from honeybees and ants to pest control and pollination.

Visitors can see staff working on projects that usually happen away from the public eye. See what happens behind the scenes in the Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory, check out ant research from the Lucky Lab, or learn about plant-insect interactions with the Mallinger Lab. With different labs rotating through the working lab space, different experiences await with each visit.

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“Our previous iteration of Science Up Close displayed some grand, awe-inspiring skeletons, but insects are inspiring in their own way,” said Jonnie Dietz, Florida Museum exhibit developer. “With millions of species varying dramatically in size, shape, color and behavior, the exhibit offers a rich visual experience, with information about some of Earth’s most bizarre animal behaviors.”

An immersive, 270-degree theater with high-resolution macro images offers an up-close look at the detail, color and diversity that is often overlooked with these tiny creatures. Specimens and objects from the museum and UF collections, including rattles made from cocoons and displays featuring edible insects, highlight their historic connection with human culture.

This is the second iteration of the Science Up Close series that began in 2022 with the “Fantastic Fossils” exhibit. In addition to a changing set of scientists, “Incredible Insects” will also feature varied native live bugs throughout its duration as part of its bug zoo. Collecting trips are being conducted around Alachua County to keep the zoo stocked with a plethora of local wildlife, giving visitors the opportunity to see and learn about different species in the area, from caterpillars to katydids to walkingsticks, depending on when they visit.

“Unfortunately, insects do get a bad rap, being portrayed and often vilified as pests or otherwise undesirable creatures that need to be controlled or eradicated,” said Jaret Daniels, curator of the museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. “I hope people will become inspired to connect or reconnect to nature and take a closer look at the many amazing organisms right outside their door.”

By partnering with the UF department of entomology and nematology, home to the largest undergraduate, graduate and distance-learning entomology programs in the country, the exhibit offers a perspective on the ubiquity and impact of insects in daily life.

Woman holds a clear container with a grasshopper up to her face.
Courtesy Florida Museum/Jeff Gage Live encounters with native insects, like this grasshopper, await guests in the “Science Up Close: Incredible Insects” exhibit.

“One thing I try to point out when discussing entomology is how many ways insects affect our lives,” said Andrew Short, professor and chair of the UF department of entomology and nematology. “There are an almost unthinkable number of different types of insects, and they do just about everything; they keep our world running. From pollinating fruits and vegetables to providing colorful dyes and honey, people interact with insects every day, whether they know it or not.”

The exhibit is split into themed sections covering entomology from a variety of angles, including behavior, misconceptions and insects’ presence in art. In one of the areas, visitors will also be able to take part in interactive, independent learning by making their own insect artwork using recycled materials at the exhibit’s library.

Staff have also partnered up with the Alachua County Library District to bring a little bit of the museum to the Headquarters Library branch. An “Incredible Insects” display featuring live insects will be featured at the downtown location for the entirety of its run, providing a free teaser of the exhibit to library visitors.

Admission to “Incredible Insects” is $7 for adults; $6.50 for Florida residents, seniors and non-University of Florida college students; $4.50 for ages 3 to 17; $3 for Electronic Benefits Transfer recipient cardholders; and free to museum members, children ages 2 and younger and UF students with a valid Gator 1 Card. Complete admission pricing, including online tickets, is available at www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/visit/plan

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