Athletes. Engineers. Architects. Insects are amazing—but their remarkable feats often fly under our radar. Chirp their praises in an exhibition that elevates the brilliance and beauty of bugs.

Bugs closed on January 22, 2023. See where it's headed next!

It’s a bug’s world—we’re just living in it. Accounting for up to 90% of all animal species on Earth, the multi-legged, exoskeleton-encased wonders under our feet and over our heads keep our planet buzzing in more ways than one.

Bugs, an exhibition created by Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand and Weta Workshop (the creative studio behind the Lord of the Rings films’ fantastical sets), reveals the secrets of insects and arthropods in delightful, dazzling ways. From immersive activities that get you thinking to hands-on games that get you moving, Bugs inspires us to be curious about the tiny-but-mighty creatures among us, appreciative of the vital role they play in the natural world, and energized to help them thrive.

Fair warning: You may find yourself metamorphosing into an amateur entomologist after visiting the enchanting realm of insects!

Sensory advisory: This exhibition is a high-sensory environment containing significant lighting effects (including a strobe light located in the dragonfly chamber), sounds and music, and interactive media screens. View our interactive map for a sensory guide to all Academy exhibits and spaces.

Giant prehistoric dragonfly model in Bugs exhibit at the Academy

Mingle with models

You’re probably used to looking down at bugs. Get ready to look up! Bugs boasts an impressive array of extra-large arthropod models, including an orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus), a venomous katipo spider (Lactrodectus katipo), and an ancient dragonfly (Meganeura monyi, pictured here) that cruised the skies 300 million years ago…with 28-inch wings!

Girl looks into a specimen table in Bugs exhibit at the Academy

Your brain on bugs

Everyone has opinions about insects. Bugs has facts! Let your geek flag fly at the exhibition’s multimedia stations, where you can interact with real scientists, test out insect aerodynamics in a wind tunnel, and manually control the speed of insect flight videos to see the beat of every wing in extreme slo-mo.

Man and girl participate in interactive game in Swarms chamber in Bugs exhibit at the Academy

Critter competitions

Honeybees vs. hornets: Who will win? That depends on you. Enter the Swarms chamber and use your hands to heat up a Japanese honeybee hive to repel an invading hornet. Then, catch your breath and compete against a lightning-fast orchid mantis to see whose reflexes are the speediest.

Iridescent blue morpho butterfly specimen in a vitrine with other iridescent objects in Bugs exhibit

Stun and stunner

Eye-catching displays bring the physical beauty, ecological value, and cultural significance of insects into sharper focus. Magnifying lenses highlight the jewel-like details of dozens of insect specimens, while fascinating folklore illustrates the importance of the giant wētā and pūriri moth for New Zealand’s Indigenous Māori people.

Bugs exhibit wordmark with antennae on the "g"
Hours & location

Bugs was on view in the Academy's Forum Gallery from May 27, 2022, through January 22, 2023. 

Unless otherwise noted, all photos on this page by Gayle Laird © California Academy of Sciences.
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    Paper kite butterfly on a flower in Osher Rainforest at the Academy

    Looking for live insects* at the Academy? Swipe right to start your scavenger hunt!

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    2 giant African millipedes in the hand of an Academy biologist

    Giant African millipede

    Archispirostreptus gigas

    Location: Rainforest (level 1)
    Claim to fame: The world's largest millipede species at up to 13 inches long!

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    Golden silk spider in web at the Academy

    Golden silk spider

    Trichonephila clavipes

    Location: Rainforest (ramp)
    Claim to fame: The tensile strength of its silk is 8x stronger than steel.

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    Sun beetles eat raspberries on exhibit in Osher Rainforest

    Sun beetle

    Pachnoda marginata

    Location: Rainforest (level 2)
    Claim to fame: Affectionately known as “taxicab beetles” due to their yellow and black coloring.

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    Dead leaf mantis sits on hand of Academy biologist with head cocked

    Dead leaf mantis

    Deroplatys spp.

    Location: Rainforest (level 2)
    Claim to fame: Mimics decaying leaf matter to sneakily prey on unsuspecting insects.

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    Yellow and black paper kite butterfly chrysalises in the butterfly emergence chamber at the Academy

    Butterfly emergence chamber

    Location: Rainforest (level 3)
    Claim to fame: Colorful butterfly chrysalises and cocoons on view—and maybe even a new hatchling or two.

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    Atlas beetle on a branch in Osher Rainforest

    Atlas beetle

    Chalcosoma atlas

    Location: Rainforest (level 3)
    Claim to fame: Males use their specialized horns in battles to compete for females.

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    Tiger heliconian butterfly on a plant with wings outstretched in Osher Rainforest

    Free-flying butterflies

    Location: Rainforest (everywhere!)
    Claim to fame: 20+ species of tropical butterflies flutter overhead, including birdwings, heliconians, longwings, morphos, owls, and paper kites.

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    Two white-spot assassin bugs come face to face in Venom exhibit

    White spot assassin bug

    Platymeris biguttatus

    Location: Venom
    Claim to fame: When threatened, can spray eye-irritating venom from up to a foot away.

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    A velvet ant with yellow abdomen on a log in Venom exhibit

    Velvet ant

    Dasymutilla spp.

    Location: Venom
    Claim to fame: These “ants” are imposters! They’re actually wingless wasps.

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    Close-up photo of giant leaf insect clinging to a plant in Color of Life exhibit

    Giant leaf insect

    Phyllium giganteum

    Location: Color of Life
    Claim to fame: Claim to fame: Another excellent mimic, they’ll sway like rustling leaves to fool predators.

*While the Bugs exhibit and this webpage use “insects” and “bugs” for simplicity’s sake, we’re sticklers for scientific detail: Many of the creatures on exhibit aren’t true bugs or insects, but arachnids, diplopods, and myriapods. Also, please note that our cast of terrestrial invertebrates is always rotating. Some of the species shown here may no longer be on exhibit during your visit—but you may also see some new (tiny) faces that haven’t gotten their glamour shots yet!

Generously supported by:
The Bernard Osher Foundation logo