Insect Zoo and Museum

A selection of specimens from the Brown Hall of Entomology & Cockrell Butterfly Center

This simulated tropical rainforest is filled with exotic plants and hundreds of gorgeous live butterflies. These beautiful, delicate creatures imported from butterfly farms around the world will delight you as they flutter through the vegetation, stop to sip nectar or fruit juices, and occasionally alight on lucky visitors.

Queen Alexandra's BirdwingHouston Museum of Natural Science

This magnificent butterfly is endemic to New Guinea. Females (left) are the largest butterflies in the world, reaching wingspans of up to 14 inches. Males (right) are smaller, but their dazzling iridescent green and blue markings and bright yellow abdomens function to attract the drabber females, who have have brown wings with white markings and a cream-colored abdomen. Because of its highly endangered status (CITES I), collecting this species in the wild is now illegal.

Atlas Beetle (Chalcosoma atlas)Houston Museum of Natural Science

This spectacular beetle, one of the largest in the world, is native to the rainforests of Southeast Asia. Only males are equipped with three large impressive horns, which they use to battle each other over females. The grubs, or larvae, feed on decaying logs, while the adults prefer rotting fruit or sap.

Dragon-Headed Katydid (Eumegalodon sp.)Houston Museum of Natural Science

Most katydids are herbivores, but this fierce-looking creature, with very large, clipper like mandibles and stout spines along the edge of the thorax, is omnivorous and eats other insects in addition to vegetable matter. It is native to the rainforests of Southeast Asia and Indonesia.

Giant Sphinx MothHouston Museum of Natural Science

This large sphinx moth, which ranges from the southern USA to Brazil, has an extremely long proboscis (tongue) – here seen fully extended as it would be if the moth were sipping nectar from the bottom of a very long-tubed flower. Important pollinators, some sphinx moths have specific, co-evolved relationships with the plants they pollinate. The rare giant sphinx, for example, is the only known pollinator of the equally rare ghost orchid of Florida’s swamps.

Paradise BirdwingHouston Museum of Natural Science

The birdwing swallowtails from tropical Asia are some of the largest, most spectacular, and most endangered butterflies in the world. All show high levels of sexual dimorphism (i.e., males and females are different in size and color). Female birdwings are larger and much duller in color than the males (shown here), which come in glowingly iridescent colors of brilliant sapphire, emerald, and topaz.

Located in the Brown Hall of Entomology, visitors can witness butterflies emerging at the Chrysalis Corner. This unique exhibit showcases the remarkable transformation of many species of butterfly. Watch them break out of their chrysalids and begin to expand their wings.

Giant Asian Mantis (Hierodula membranacea)Houston Museum of Natural Science

This mantis from Southeast Asia is one of the largest species in the world. They inhabit trees and shrubs and prey on small insects that wander too close to them. Their camouflage helps them to ambush their prey. This species come in a variety of pretty colors and is very intelligent and inquisitive.

Blue MorphoHouston Museum of Natural Science

Only a few hundred specimens of this spectacular butterfly, all collected in the 1920s and 30s, exist in collections. Hailing from the Orinoco delta region of Venezuela, this species could well have been one of the butterflies collected by Henri Charriere, on whose life “Papillon” was based. Because the Diana morpho has not been collected in over 50 years, it is very possible that it is now extinct.

Morpho CyprisHouston Museum of Natural Science

Although not considered endangered, this Morpho species is relatively rare in collections. As it flies along river beds in its native rainforest habitat and sunlight hits its wings, the ethereal, iridescent blue of the male blazes like a flashing mirror. The females, much less commonly seen, occur in two color forms: one reflective blue, the other muted yellow, tan and brown. The caterpillars are covered with yellow and red hairs, and eat the leaves of trees in the legume family. Morpho cypris is found from Nicaragua to Ecuador.

Orchid Mantis (Hymenopus coronatus)Houston Museum of Natural Science

Insects visiting flowers for pollen or nectar are easy prey for this lovely mantis, which resembles an orchid flower petal. Individuals may be white or pink. This species is native to tropical southeast Asia.

Mexican Redknee Tarantula (Brachypelma smithi)Houston Museum of Natural Science

An endangered species in Mexico, this spider cannot be legally collected in the wild. It is often bred in captivity and sold in pet stores in the U.S.

AgriasHouston Museum of Natural Science

Brilliantly hued in primary colors, members of the genus Agrias are perhaps the most highly coveted butterflies by collectors around the world. The upper wing surface bears dramatic patches of blue, red, green, or yellow, while the underside shows an elaborate design of swirling lines and dots. Agrias caterpillars eat the leaves of Erythroxylon (coca) plants; the adults do not visit flowers but sip the juices of fallen, rotten fruits. Agrias spp. are native to Central and South America.

Hissing Cockroaches (Gromphadorina portenosa)Houston Museum of Natural Science

Featured in the hit “reality” TV show Fear Factor and in many movies, these wingless giants from Madagascar are slow-moving and harmless. Like all cockroaches, they are scavengers, important in the breakdown of decaying vegetation. This species does not co-exist with humans but lives in the rainforest understory. Unlike most other cockroaches, this species is ovoviviparous: the egg cases hatch inside the female’s reproductive tract, so she appears to give live birth. Ovovivipary is also seen in some sharks and snakes.

Luzon Peacock SwallowtailHouston Museum of Natural Science

One of the beautiful “peacock” swallowtails, this species has a very limited distribution. Endemic to the mountains of Luzon in the Philippines, it was only discovered about 40 years ago. Highly sought after by collectors and not well-protected in its native habitat, the Luzon Peacock is endangered enough to be listed in CITES Appendix I (collecting or trading wild-caught CITES I species is prohibited by international agreement).

Moving Leaf InsectHouston Museum of Natural Science

These highly camouflaged insects from Southeast Asian rainforests belong to the walking stick family. Their amazing resemblance to leaves protects them from predators including birds, monkeys, reptiles, and other arthropods. When full grown, their wings exactly resemble leaves, veins and all!

Teinopalpus ImperialisHouston Museum of Natural Science

This stunning swallowtail is very rare, threatened both by over-collecting and by increasing destruction of its habitat. Found in small pockets in northeastern India, Nepal, and Bhutan at 6,000 to 10,000 feet in the Himalayan mountains, it is today protected by Indian law but is still hunted illegally by collectors. Luckily, its strong, rapid, irregular flight and habit of perching high up in trees make it difficult to capture.

Madagascar Sunset MothHouston Museum of Natural Science

This spectacular, iridescently colored moth is considered by many to be the most beautiful of all Lepidoptera (the order of “scaly winged” insects, i.e., butterflies and moths). A day-flying moth endemic to Madagascar, it was originally described as a butterfly due to its resemblance to the swallowtails. The rainbow of colors on both upper and lower wing surfaces that make this species so sought after by collectors are not due to pigments, but result from the scattering and reflecting of light by microscopic ridges and pits on the highly curved scales covering the wings.

Bhutan Glory (Bhutanitis lidderdalii)Houston Museum of Natural Science

The Bhutan Glory swallowtail is one of the most dramatically and uniquely colored of all butterflies. Found in Bhutan, northeast India, and parts of southeast Asia, it is highly sought after by collectors. Today it is considered a rare species CITES II (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Appendix II).

Giant African MillipedeHouston Museum of Natural Science

This is one of the largest millipedes in the world, sometimes reaching 15 inches in length. It is relatively common in the lowland forests and coastal areas of east Africa, where it is native. Like all millipedes, this species is a harmless, slow-moving scavenger that eats decaying vegetation. Because of its size and relatively long life span (5-7 years), this millipede is often found in the pet trade.

Cave Cockroach (Blaberus giganteus)Houston Museum of Natural Science

These giant cockroaches from tropical American rainforests are almost identical to those that lived 300 million years ago. The nymphs have an uncanny resemblance to trilobites. In their native habitat they cluster between tree buttresses or in grottos or caves.

Giant KatydidHouston Museum of Natural Science

This native of Malaysia and Thailand is believed to be the largest katydid species in the world. By day it sits still among the leaves of the rainforest canopy, protected from predators by its incredible leaf-mimic camouflage. At night, it uses its extremely long antennae (up to 2 to 3 times the length of the body) to feel its way among the leaves on which it feeds. The bizarrely long legs are used for walking, not jumping.

Comet MothHouston Museum of Natural Science

This spectacular Madagascan moth is one of the largest members of the family Saturniidae, or giant silk moths. Other members of this family include the Luna moth and Polyphemus moth in North America, and the giant Atlas moth from Southeast Asia. Adult giant silk moths have no mouthparts so live only a few days, just long enough to mate and produce the next generation.

Velvet AntHouston Museum of Natural Science

Despite the common name, these fuzzy insects are not ants but wasps. Only the females are wingless; however, the smaller, winged males are rarely seen. Many velvet ants are brightly colored, warning of their painful sting. Velvet ants can be found all over the world, especially in tropical climates. The species shown here is native to the southwestern United States.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Natural History
The beautiful, the dangerous, the endangered. Up close.
View theme
Google apps