Afraid of creepy crawlies? New bug zoo would like to change your mind

Oct 20, 2014

Cyndie Bobier (left) points out butterflies to young visitors.
Credit Aaron Selbig

A new zoo opened this month in Williamsburg but visitors won’t find elephants, giraffes or gorillas there.

What the Grand Traverse Butterfly House and Bug Zoo does have is a South American cave roach named “Chaz.” 

Chaz lives in the bug zoo with dozens of his creepy, crawly friends – including a collection of tarantulas, a ghost mantis from Africa named “Casper” and a hive of Michigan bees.

Cyndie Bobier opened the bug zoo earlier this month. The project took more than two years to get off the ground. 

Inspired by a visit to a butterfly garden at Niagara Falls, Bobier soon found what she says is the perfect spot here in northern Michigan – an abandoned Williamsburg pole barn that used to be a mattress store.

At around the same time, she started dating a guy named Rob Roach.

“And lo and behold, three months into our dating, I let him know my secret, (that) I wanted to start a bug zoo and a butterfly house,” said Bobier.

Roach says he never thought of himself as a bug zoo proprietor but he’s taken to the work pretty quickly.

“I’ve always been around bugs,” he said. “I loved them when I was a kid … catching crayfish and chasing bugs around outside. This is an awesome job.”

Monarch butterflies gather near a pool of "butterfly Gatorade."
Credit Aaron Selbig

Kids love the bug zoo, of course, and there’s a steady stream of them visiting throughout the day. The highlight for the kids appears to be the butterfly garden – large greenhouse that is kept at a steamy 84 degrees all the time.

The garden is like a jungle, filled with carefully landscaped beds of flowers – like Asian lilacs – that produce a lot of nectar.

And everywhere you look, there are dozens of butterflies.

Some flit around the flowers. Others are perched near dishes of “butterfly food” – a concoction of sugar and electrolytes that Bobier describes as “butterfly Gatorade.”

Perched near a stone fountain in the back is the Atlas moth.

The Atlas moth can grow to over 10 inches wide.
Credit Aaron Selbig

“We don’t have a lot of moths on display but we couldn’t resist having the largest moth in the world to bring to northern Michigan,” said Bobier. “The downside to having an Atlas moth is they don’t live very long. They only live about five to seven days. Our Atlas moths emerge without even having a mouth. Their number one job when they emerge is to find a mate, lay eggs and then they die.”

Like Casper the ghost mantis and the tarantulas, the 10-inch-wide Atlas moth can be a little intimidating, especially if you’re already a little squeamish about bugs.

But that, said Bobier, is part of the mission of the bug zoo.

“I don’t think a child comes into the world automatically being afraid of spiders or afraid of cockroaches,” she said. “We really try to work with families to try to change the conceptions about what bugs are and how they can help people. That’s really something that we want to call attention to.”

The Grand Traverse Butterfly House and Bug Zoo will be open through the end of October before shutting down for the winter. It will open again next May.