The Buzz on the Bug House

Spring is just around the corner, and you know what that means – bugs, and lots of them! Last May, the Houston Zoo unveiled its Bug House with the new wombat exhibit as part of the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo. With more than 30 different species of invertebrates living in the Bug House and less than a year old, our bug zookeepers are thrilled to educate the general public about these important species.

Beetle-cactus
Check out our cactus longhorn beetles, one of over 50 species featured at the Bug House!

“I learned pretty early on that bug education stops at around the second grade, so at around eight years old, you’re no long being taught about bugs in school,” bug zookeeper and “bug guru” Julie LaTurner said. “I think part of the misperception that bugs are bad and gross kind of come from kids not learning about them. So I think the good thing about bug houses, especially now that more zoos have them, is that it breaks down that misperception. And we have to take on that role of the education from where it stopped.”

At first, people may seem squeamish or afraid at the very idea of bugs. However, bugs and spiders play important roles in our ecosystem! From decomposition of dead plants, pollinating our fruit and vegetables and even acting as “pest control” – we have a lot to be thankful for what invertebrates do for us!

“Bugs help break down vegetative matter,” LaTurner. “For example, 99 percent of the world’s cockroaches are ‘good.’  The ones we have out on exhibit are good cockroaches. If we didn’t have insects like cockroaches, we’d be up to our eyeballs in dead plant material lilke fruits and vegetables. Because they break down so much biomass, it in turn helps fertilize the soil so new plants can grow.”

Stick
LaTurner handles a young giant wingless phasmid. There are 1.5 billion insects for every human!

People may think handling and caring for all the insects and arachnids comes as an easy task, but there is a lot of work that goes into feeding, breeding and housing these different kinds of species behind-the-scenes.  For instance, almost all invertebrates (with the exception of species native to desert climates) need to have their enclosures misted daily to replicate humidity levels in the wild. Also, all the invertebrates have specific dietary needs since some are carnivorous and others are herbivores.

Cricket
LaTurner hand-feeds this juvenile giant Asian mantid a cricket. Mantids are the only animals that can turn its head 360 degrees!

“We don’t really have a slow day in here,” LaTurner said. “So if we’re not feeding our herbivores, we have to feed our assassins and mantids. Back here, we have to hand mist a lot of these enclosures, and we have to clean the exhibits to make them look nice, such as cleaning tank fronts, watering plants inside the exhibits and changing out different parts of the exhibit like the dirt. We also have aquatic insects that need daily care.”

Because most of the insects at the Bug House only live up to about a year or two, carefully monitoring the breeding process is also a high priority for bug zookeepers. For example, for two beetles to successfully mate, a male and female need to be enclosed in their mini-habitats with plenty of layers of substrate, or dirt. Mating will not occur if the substrate is too shallow.

Beetle-hand
Rhino beetles are considered the strongest creatures in the world, with the ability to lift over 850 times its own weight! Pictured above is a male Hercules beetle, a type of rhino beetle.

LaTurner said since the Bug House is still relatively new, the breeding program is not only a way to ensure and maintain a population of certain species the Zoo offers on exhibit, but also to someday have the ability to trade insects with other zoos in the future.

One way for people to actively help the insect population is to learn how to sustainably garden. To find out more information about sustainable gardening, check out one of our past blog posts for tips like using garlic and planting marigolds.

“A lot of times when people start seeing pests, like roaches and fire ants, they tend to use a broad spectrum of pesticides,” Kevin Hodge said, the curator for carnivores & Children’s Zoo. “Not only will it wipe out the nuisance pests, but it’ll wipe out the beneficial insects as well. So it’s all about learning how to live with them.”

Also, every time you visit the Houston Zoo you help save animals in the wild. Don’t forget to stop by the Bug House!



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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam. Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.

The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/
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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam.  Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years. 
 
The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: https://www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/

 

Comment on Facebook

Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur; happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr #RIP #bigbangtheory

Is this the one that had the limp?

Rest in peace, thanks Zoo for the great care! 20 years wow

My thoughts of sympathy are with you all. I can't even imagine the sadness you feel today.

Thank you to you and your staff for the years of quality care given this magnificant creature.

Hugs to all of you keepers that took special care of Kan Balam.

I know he lived a lot longer due to the excellent care he got at the Zoo.

Heartfelt condolences to the veterinary and keeper staff. Thank you for taking care of him

Katie Wilson did you see this?

My condolences to the keepers and staff. He was a beautiful animal, and we enjoyed seeing him.

Thank you for providing him with a caring and enriched life. So sorry for your loss!

I am so very sorry for all of you that loved and cared for him.

So sorry to read this. It is always a hard decision. RIP and run free sweet boy.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for taking such great care of him so he was able to live a long life. My thoughts are with his keepers and all who adored him. <3

Condolences to the carnivore keepers and veterinary staff.

RIP Kan & run free - condolences to the Houston zoo carnivore team 😥

RIP Kan. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

What a long, love filled life. Rest in Peace Kan💖

So sorry. He was one beautiful animal.

RIP ... My condolences to the staff ... 😥 ...

Awe :( RIP Kan Balam!! You were a beautiful soul for sure!!!

I am so so sorry, Katie Rose Buckley-Jones and sending you lots of love hugs and prayers. ❤️🙏🏻

Katie Rose Buckley-Jones I won’t ever forget the time you asked him to bring something and he ripped off a piece of cardboard and tried to hand it to you ❤️ thank you for introducing me to him. Sending you guys many hugs

Sorry to hear about your loss Katie ❤️

Carmen, Cynthia, Claudia was he out when y’all went?

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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: I'm still using this.
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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: Im still using this.

 

Comment on Facebook

Are there some zoo animals that enjoy this weather?

SMG is another reason why Houston Zoo is the best Zoo!

Happy New Year “sea lion keeper “ 💖💖

More snow for TJ and Max ❤️ lucky them!

Are we positive that’s the statue rather than it really just being that cold? 😛

That’s my best friend Sophie for ya! 😂

Brrrrr

Omg the Zoo is so awesome 😂😂😂 Alana Berry

Omg be warm sweetoe

Haha!! Good one!

Sweetie 💞

Ashley Jucker 😂

Mike DePope

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We've heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing? ... See MoreSee Less

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Weve heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing?

 

Comment on Facebook

Ok, it took me a minute to get this. I was literally zooming in to try to find the mouse. 🤦🏻‍♀️🙄😂

Cindy Christina Angela Ramirez see I told y’all! Lol

Andrew Kaufmann Look its Richard Jr! 😂

Wow ... good photo shot ... show the world that you need to protect your pipe ... if not, freezing water will expand the pipe and crack the pipe !!!

“Baby it’s cold outside!”

I fell for the mouse thing too..

That's nothing! Talk to keepers from the northern states or Canada!

i was honestly looking for a mouse lol

Johnnie R. Summerlin, cool, see the "stalagm ice"?

Wow,that is so neat!

Annecia Wesley but where is the ice bacon? Lol

Two words. Pipe insulation.

That’s awesome!

Ana Rivers Smith cool!

Cortez

Pauline Ervin

Denise Daigre

Ashley Nguyen

Vicente Gonzalez

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