Jun 13, 2011 9:15 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Three years after it opened, the largest free-standing bug museum in the United States is getting fewer visitors than predicted. But Audubon Insectarium officials say visitors get a great experience.
The museum drew 141,000 visitors for the seven months it was open in 2008, 247,000 in 2009 and 215,000 last year. That's considerably lower than the projection, made after Hurricane Katrina, of 300,000 to 350,000 visitors a year, let alone the 428,000 a year envisioned in a study years before its opening.
Still, museum officials say they are more than satisfied with what they have created.
"I feel like we already overdeliver on the visitor
experience," said entomologist Jayme Necaise, director of animal and visitor programs at the 23,000-square-foot, $25 million museum devoted to explaining the history, life stories, economic importance and occasional threats to humans of creatures that represent nearly 90 percent of all the animals on Earth and outnumber humans more than a million to one.
And, indeed, there's wide-eyed wonder on the faces of children and adults confronted with white-eyed assassin bugs, Texas leafcutter ants or metallic frog beetles, not to mention a 2-inch-long horsefly or a 3.25-inch giant burrowing cockroach.
The Audubon Nature Institute's 2011 budget projected the insectarium would lose $84,000 this year, down sharply from $408,000 in 2010. Like the Audubon Zoo and Audubon Park, it relies on money from the institute's "cash cow," the Aquarium of the Americas, to break even.
Karyn Kearney, who oversees the insectarium as an Audubon executive vice president and managing director of the aquarium, said she is not discouraged. She said insectarium attendance was expected to drop in 2010, even before the Gulf oil spill and a sluggish national economy, hurt regional tourism.
Kearney said she reads every comment card filled out by visitors and is satisfied that the insectarium is "a quality attraction" with "unique, world-class appeal to adults and children," as well as being "another anchor for Canal Street revitalization."
The butterfly exhibit, a re-creation of a Japanese garden, remains the most popular exhibit with visitors, Necaise said, followed by the museum's specially commissioned movie, an insect version of the Academy Awards featuring the voices of stars such as Jay Leno and Joan Rivers.
Taking third place, he said, is the Bug Appetit cafe, where visitors can sample crispy Cajun crickets, chocolate chirp cookies, hoppin' herb dip and other delicacies featuring crickets, mealworms and the like.
Kearney said some further enhancements to the butterfly garden are planned, but otherwise no major changes to the insectarium are contemplated in the near future.