Insectropolis learning center invites visitors to go buggy

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

They all live under one roof — millipedes, tarantulas, cockroaches and more — in their own city of sorts: Insectropolis.

“They’re so cool. They can crawl around and they’re little and can fly and stuff,” said 6-year-old Eliza Compton.

“Bugs rule the world, so there’s really no avoiding them. You’re going to see them,” said Insectropolis bug keeper Jesse Herdman.

The museum, an insect learning center in Toms River, has hundreds of live bugs and thousands of pinned specimens, like butterflies and beetles. Herdman wants people to have a greater appreciation for these creatures.

“I feel like they are misunderstood, and that the more people learn about these bugs the less scary they become,” he said.

There are over 40 different species of tarantulas at the museum. The spider isn’t actually an insect, and neither is the millipede.

“The name is Archispirostreptus gigas,” said Herdman. “We call ours Pepper. It’s the African Giant Millipede and it is the largest millipede in the world. They can be a foot long. Here we feed them fresh veggies — they’re on a raw vegan diet.”

Nearly all the residents are arthropods.

“Most of the animals on this planet are some sort of arthropod,” Herdman said. “An arthropod is an animal with segmented legs, a segmented body and a hard outer shell called the exoskeleton.”

Which the animal sheds as it grows. It’s called molting, says Herdman. Not far from the spiders are the busy bees.

“Bees are pollinators, and all across the country there are orchards and giant farms, big agricultural operations that rely on bees to pollinate their crops,” Herdman said. “If all the bees disappeared overnight we would likely run out of food.”

At the museum’s observation hive, the bees are the only tenants that aren’t fed regularly.

“They forage for food, they find their own food, they take care of themselves. They build the honeycomb, the queen lays all the eggs. We don’t really have to do much,” Herdman said. “They really do take care of themselves.”

Herdman’s favorite thing about the bugs?

“Even observing them indoors in a contained environment you can still see raw nature. You can see their instincts,” Herdman said.

He’s hoping people see a living animal, and stop getting bugged by bugs.