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‘Dinosaurs,’ ‘Bugs’ invade Chicago area

The Dinosaur Petting Zoo from Australia’s Erth Theater company will be performing through May 27.

The Dinosaur Petting Zoo from Australia’s Erth Theater company will be performing in through May 27.

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‘Erth’s Dinosaur Petting Zoo’

♦ 7 p.m. May 24 North Park Village Nature Center, 5801 N. Pulaski

♦ Free

♦ 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. May 25-27 with 5 p.m. “Dinosaur Parade” through the park

♦ Millennium Park’s Wrigley Square, 205 W. Randolph

♦ Free

♦ (312) 744-3316;

David Rogers’ ‘Big Bugs’

♦ Through Sept. 8
♦ Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle

♦ Open daily 7 a.m. through sunset

♦ Admission, $9-$12

♦ (630) 968-0074;

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Dinosaurs are big, bugs are small, right? Think again.

This Memorial Day weekend, two separate family-friendly events upend the conventional wisdom about some of history’s most fearsome and fascinating creatures.

“Dinosaur Petting Zoo,” by Australia theater company Erth, allows children to interact with a variety of realistic looking puppet dinosaurs as an Australian actor guides visitors through the “zoo.”

In the suburbs, the Morton Arboretum in Lisle is hosting artist David Rogers’ “Big Bugs,” a 10-creature show that is part-art installation, part-science lesson.

It’s a weekend to welcome summer by getting outside and touching some creepy crawlers.

“Big Bugs” was first shown at the Arboretum in 2008. It features a dozen enormous bugs, some more than 10 feet tall, including a lady bug, speaker, dragon fly, grasshopper and praying mantis, all made out of wood and other natural materials.

“Trees and bugs have a relationship with each other, that when we had the opportunity to bring (“Big Bugs”) back again, we jumped on that,” said Mary Samerdyke, the arboretum’s manager of interpretation. “It’s such a great exhibit. The bugs themselves are so beautiful and so well executed. They are (anatomically) correct and beautiful works of art.”

The Arboretum is spread out over 1,700 acres but the “Big Bugs” are all within walking distance of each other in the core area, near the visitor’s center. The oversize bugs are stroller and wheelchair-accessible. There’s rotating programming throughout the length of the exhibition, which runs through September 8, and children are invited daily to pick up an “Official Bug Detective Guide” to help them explore what makes these bugs tick.

Not all bugs have the pretty look and sweet reputation of the lady bug, but that’s part of the appeal.

“I think a lot of it is there is kind of a creep factor,” Samerdyke said. “They live in the basement, some of them bite. But for a number of bugs ­­— the lady bugs for instance — they are super healthful. They eat insects that are not great for plants and at the Morton Arboretum, we are all about what is great for the plants.”

Also herbivorous were many of the dinosaurs that roamed Australia hundreds of millions of years ago. A few are brought to life in a creative show called “Dinosaur Petting Zoo,” a free theatrical production where the dinosaurs are presented by an actor playing an Australian Jack Hanna-type of guide. The guide teaches young audience members how to feed, wash and care for the dinosaurs.

“The dinosaurs are precious,” said Mary May, spokesman for the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events. They’re also shockingly lifelike.

“Dinosaur Petting Zoo” will be at North Park Village Nature Center on the Northwest Side on Friday, May 24, before moving into Millennium Park’s Wrigley Square Saturday, May 25 through Monday, May 27.

Erth, which was founded in 1990, has toured the show internationally and will lead the dinosaurs and their young friends in a 5 p.m. parade each night the show is in Millennium Park.

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