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‘Backyard Monsters’ exhibit lets you get up close with giant insects

A giant praying mantiss is part “Backyard Monsters” running Oct. 20 Jan. 22 Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

A giant praying mantiss is part of “Backyard Monsters,” running Oct. 20 to Jan. 22 at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

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‘Backyard Monsters’

♦ Oct. 20-Jan. 22

♦ Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2340 N. Cannon

♦ Admission: $9 for adults, $6 for kids 3-12, $7 for students with ID

♦ (773) 755-5100;

Updated: October 19, 2012 3:48PM

A perfect storm of three events descends on the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Oct. 20: The opening of its new temporary exhibit, “Backyard Monsters,” coincides with the fourth annual “Bugapalooza” and fifth annual Run for Science 5K Run/Walk.

“This is certainly the day to be here,” said Karen Wilson, Notebaert’s invertebrate specialist. “If you’re going to pick a day to go do something great with the family and you want to come to the museum, it’s definitely a day not to be missed. It’ll be a hoot.”

Start the day with the museum’s family/stroller-friendly 5K run/walk, stepping off at 9 a.m. from Diversey Harbor, across from the museum. Registration begins at 7 a.m. and the fee of $45 for adults and $15 for kids 6 to 18 includes museum admission for the day. Proceeds benefit the Notebaert’s science education initiatives.

After the 5K, head to the museum for the unveiling of “Backyard Monsters,” which aims “to take what a lot of people think of as backyard monsters [insects] and really turn them into something that you are curious about and fascinated about,” Wilson said. “You walk out the back of it not being terrified but being fascinated.”

It’s designed to give visitors a bug’s-eye view of a backyard. Visitors enter “Monsters” through a gate and encounter large porch steps, giant blades of grass and other oversized details that allow them to see life from an insect’s perspective. Interactive stations will allow visitors to communicate and move like bugs, and the museum will display specimens from its 100-year-old historic insect collection as well as members of its live insect collections. Larger-than-life robotic insects will give visitors a good look at the physical characteristics of bugs.

“It’s going be like walking into a movie set,” Wilson said. “It’s just really beautiful. It’s a complete immersion into the insect world, which is just awesome.”

Spiders, butterflies, beetles, praying mantises and centipedes are among the stars of the 5,000-square-foot exhibit. Wilson said some of the live insects come from other states or countries because the timing of the exhibit presented a challenge for showcasing regional insects; most of them disappear during fall and winter.

“We’re going to make sure that we make the connection for our guests and show who they would find in their own backyard that’s related to” these animals, she said. “They’re still going to get some clues about when they go back out into their own backyard who they’re going to see right here in the Chicagoland region.”

Making their debut in “Backyard Monsters” is the museum’s new colony of leaf cutter ants. The ants come from Panama, and the new habitat will allow visitors to watch the ants expand the fungal gardens they build in nature by cutting and gathering leaves. Once the exhibit closes the colony will be moved to a permanent location in the museum.

A perfect complement to “Backyard Monsters,” of course, is the Bugapalooza event running from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., (an additional $5 fee to general museum admission). It gives visitors a chance to get up close and personal with bugs of all sorts. Activities include bug drawing, insect pinning and a butterfly release.


♦ Just in time for the presidential election, Lifeline Theatre remounts its popular musical Duck for President, based on the classic children’s book by Doreen Cronin. Freshened up for 2012, it runs Oct. 20-Nov. 25 at 6912 N. Glenwood. Tickets are $15. Call (773) 761-4477 or visit

♦ Fulcrum Point New Music Project celebrates 14 years with Fiesta Latina at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. Featuring performances by students from the Chicago High School for the Arts and Sound Tracks Plus students from Waters Elementary, the event benefits Fulcrum Point’s education programs Sound Tracks and Sound Tracks Plus. Also on tap: flamenco dancer Chiara Mangiameli and Sones de Mexico Ensemble. Tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for students. Call (312) 334-7777 or visit

♦ Chicago Kids Company presents Cinderella through Nov. 21 at the Stahl Family Theater, 5900 W. Belmont. Tickets are $12. Call (773) 205-9600 or visit

Jennifer Burklow is a local free-lance writer.

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