Discover Chicago’s backyard monsters at Notebaert

When you see a bug, your first reaction probably is to swat at it, run away, or-admit it-look for the nearest shoe.

But the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s latest exhibit is hoping to quash that instinct to squash bugs whenever they invade our turf. Because in reality, we rely on insects more than we may realize.

“(People) have this idea that insects are monsters,” says Karen Kramer Wilson, living invertebrates specialist at the museum. “Our hope is that they realize they’re cool and interesting, but they’re also doing a lot of things that are beneficial and absolutely essential to our world as we know it.”

“Backyard Monsters” is a play on that concept, creating what Wilson calls an “insect’s-eye view of your backyard,” thanks to larger-than-life robotic insects, interactive elements and lots and lots of bugs, both living and dead.

Wilson is particularly excited about the museum’s new Leafcutter ants, brought in from Panama, which will become part of the permanent collection.

The exhibit is broken into three main sections: Monsters, which focuses on the crazy insects like scorpions and tarantulas; A Bug’s Life, exploring the ways that bugs live; and Up-Close and Personal, where kids can see insects in detail.

Along the way, nine interactive elements let visitors explore how bugs see, fly and eat.

“I don’t think anyone will be bored,” Wilson says. She thinks even parents will engage with the exhibit and maybe learn something new.

Backyard Monsters, which will be at Notebaert through January, comes at a perfect time, especially for kids who are craving an outdoor connection. Wilson hopes it will get people thinking about where the bugs go when the ground is covered with snow and ice-and keep an eye out for them when spring finally rolls around.

Wilson says we have started to move away from a time when everyone wanted the world to be bug-free, but it’s still important to reinforce how important insects are to our daily lives.

So the main purpose of the exhibit is to awaken kids’ curiosity about bugs, rather than being paralyzed by fear-or grossed out.

“Curiosity inspires them to get educated, and to gain respect,” Wilson says. “You realize they’re not a monster, they’re your best friend in your garden.”

And the next time you see a creepy-crawly, just put that killer shoe down.

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