Ever heard the word “entomophobia”? It means fear of bugs, and my grandchildren have it. I convinced them that a visit to Insectropolis, The Bugseum of New Jersey, in Toms River, New Jersey, might be a cure for it. If nothing else, I knew it would be educational and fun.

Upon entering, we were drawn to the attractive, hand-painted murals and were pleased that self-guided tours are the norm (although guided tours can be arranged). Our first stop was Bug University to learn bug basics, the metamorphosis process, and how scientists classify and name all living things.

As we wandered through numerous rooms, we found one devoted to the unique physics of insects, with explanations of how wing size can increase flight mobility. One exhibit showed the mouthparts of various insects; how they siphon and chew; their methods of attack; how they find their meals; and their art of disguise—fascinating to all ages. Nearby, several children had gathered in front of the aquatic tanks where they hoped to spot a diving beetle devour a small fish.

Criminals & Carnivores

The Mud Tube was a hit among smaller children, who could crawl through it while imitating the behavior of subterranean termites. At Rock State Prison, “Wanted” posters showed photos of bugs you don’t want near you: the “outlaws” of the insect world. Opposite the prison were photos of Top Cops, the carnivores of pest species.

At Hive Airport, clear indoor tubes provided close-up views of bees scurrying through a hole to the outside, as well as those returning carrying nectar. At the Ant Exhibit, we saw ants build new tunnels while carrying food back and forth.

There were hundreds of colorful butterflies to hold our attention, and we were excited by the Touch Presentations. There, a staff member held and talked about a live Chilean Rosehair Tarantula; we were invited to touch it. Although my grandchildren felt their entomophobia kick in, I couldn’t resist and was surprised by its furry feel.

Did our visit accomplish its goals? Ben, age 9, said, “I liked it here, except some parts were really icky and a few bugs were scary looking. But they have a lot of stuff for kids, they tell you which bugs are which, and there are some funny things to see, too. I liked the demonstrations, and the people who work here were nice to let kids touch a few of the bugs.”

Zoe, 15, said, “I don’t like bugs, but it was pretty interesting because I could explore the entire museum and found interesting things.”

The museum, the only one of its kind in New Jersey, opened in 2005. Hours are 10 am to 3 pm Tuesday to Saturday; closed Dec. 24 thru Jan. 1 and major holidays. Staff members are available to answer questions. Scheduled events, held year-round, are listed at Insectropolis, along with fees and information about birthday parties.

Arline Zatz, from Metuchen, is the author of Best Hikes with Children in New Jersey (The Mountaineers).