This summer, the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans celebrated the reopening of its Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium, featuring its first renovation in 30 years, plus 17,000 square feet of new exhibits. A rare white alligator with steely blue eyes is among the most popular denizens of the aquarium, along with poison dart frogs, freshwater stingrays, and a yellow spotted anaconda. Overlooking the Mississippi River, the lush new Butterfly Garden nearly 700 tropical butterflies that delight guests by occasionally landing on a shoulder or arm for close observation. But the most is the Insectarium, dedicated to a fascinating array of that creep and crawl throughout 70 live animal exhibits. Visitors can gawk over creatures such as a venomous Indian ornamental tarantula and stop by the Bug Appétit cafe, where can taste treats made from insects. Chief entomologist Jayme Necaise reveals his favorite bug, the most tempting bug snacks, and which high-profile guest once took home a cricket cake.
Beetles and Builders
“We’ve got lots of exotic insects, but there’s one beetle that is my favorite: the notched-mouth ground beetle. It’s this color—a stunningly beautiful animal. I’m also partial to the leafcutter ants; I can stand there for hours and watch them go up and down their vines and build their fungus gardens.”
“People come in and say, ‘Where can I eat bugs?’ Some of our standbys in the Bug Appétit area are fried waxworms (caterpillar larvae of wax moths) in different flavors. The Southwest waxworms taste like spicy Doritos. The Cinnamon Bug Crunch flavor tastes like those twists from Taco Bell. Of course, the crowd favorite is the Chocolate Chirp Cookies, with crickets inside. Chocolate Covered Insect Day is in October, when we set up a chocolate fountain and everyone can dip crickets or mealworms in a river of chocolate. And in November, we have a “Hoppy Thanksgiving” event, where we have samples of cricket pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce with waxworms, and a mealworm stuffing for guests to try.”
“Nicholas Cage has visited the Insectarium a few times over the years, and he really wanted to buy one of our cricket king cakes that we make during Carnival season. He wanted to pay for it, but we insisted on giving him the cake as a gift.”
More To Explore
“Don’t miss the Amazon Rainforest over in the aquarium. It has a waterfall, lush foliage, and a squawking macaw. It’s very immersive, and you really feel like you’re walking through the rainforest. It’s beautiful. And literally right outside is Woldenberg Park, on the Mississippi River waterfront. You can sit and watch tankers and cruise ships go by. It’s one of my favorite spots to get a breath of fresh air.”
As told to Jennifer Green
This article appears in the Fall 2023 issue of Southbound.