- Associated Press - Monday, October 17, 2016

McALLEN, Texas (AP) - There is a 6,000-square-foot bug infestation inside the International Museum of Arts and Science. Hundreds of people are flocking to have a look.

The Monitor (https://bit.ly/2disbdb ) reports some of those invaders are more than 1,000 times larger than usual, including crawling tarantulas, biting ants and fluttering butterflies. But each and every one is more than welcome at the museum as a part of its newest exhibition: Xtreme Bugs.

There are 22 animatronic insects in the museum’s largest-ever exhibit as well as about 100 smaller, static ones. Their movements and real-life sounds are triggered by passing guests, bringing the area to life. Each giant bug also has its own informational plaque to educate visitors about what they are seeing and hearing.

Julie Johnson, president of IMAS, had the idea to bring the half-a-million-dollar exhibit to the Rio Grande Valley after meeting with one of her friends who is involved with the project.

“She started telling me about it and I thought, ‘What a wonderful thing to do,’ because (for one), we’re the butterfly migration center. All the butterflies migrate down this way through the Rio Grande. What a great way to incorporate what they already see,” she said. “And almost every single one of those bugs lives down here, so why not let people get a better understanding of why the bugs are here, what they do for us, how they help us?”

Since its premiere Sunday, Oct. 9, attendance at the museum has doubled, she said. There were about 215 guests who went to see the larger than life bugs its opening day.

This is a Texas debut for Xtreme Bugs, which will remain at IMAS through March 21, 2017. Before then, it was mostly shown around Canada and the northern United States. Because of its origins, the exhibits textual information was in English and French. To accommodate the local population, Johnson said the museum translated the information into Spanish so guests could learn in either language.

Manuel Ibarra, who was visiting from Reynosa, Mexico, on Sunday afternoon with his wife, two sons and newborn daughter, appreciated the translation.

“We sort of understand English and (the kids) are in the process of learning, but this is very nice,” he said in Spanish. “It opens the exhibit up to a wider audience.”

His sons, 4 and 2 years old, were working together to piece together a puzzle found between giant bug stations. That is one of five interactive features included with the experience, one of many things Ibarra enjoyed.

“We like the way this is set up, how the bugs work and the information that’s provided,” he said. “The size of the bugs is very cool. We also like that there are many ways for the kids to interact with the exhibit to a certain degree. That is all good.”

Further down the exhibit’s path were two more little boys, brushing sand off of fossilized prehistoric insects inside a sand box. Their mother, Leslie Chavez, said they were enticed just by the sound of the opportunity.

“With boys particularly, they’re into gross things,” the McAllen resident said. “We mentioned insects and they were excited.”

While she is not a fan of bugs herself, there were certain aspects of Xtreme Bugs that she liked.

“When you learn about them and how nature is so perfect and crazy, I was a shocked by so much,” she said. “There are bugs that I didn’t know about. I read the facts; it is intriguing and there is so much we can learn.”

Education was one factor of Johnson’s decision to bring the exhibit to the Rio Grande Valley. She said it features all five categories of STEAM: Science, technology, engineering, art and math in various ways. And, she said, it was introduced to shake things up at IMAS.

“It’s something different. It’s something that people wanted. They’re very much into the animatronics, the robotics side of things. And again, it’s unique; it’s never been here,” she said. “We’ve never had an exhibit quite like this and people are really coming out and we’re very, very appreciative that they’re coming to see it.”

The museum will also offer a night especially for adults called Bug Eyed on Oct. 22. Guests 21 years and older can bring their own drinks, go through the exhibit and learn how to draw one of the bugs from an artist during the evening event. Admission for non-IMAS members is $25 each and $20 for members for the three-hour workshop.


Information from: The Monitor, https://www.themonitor.com

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