Portland has its very own bug petting zoo that just relocated to Northeast Portland.
The Portland Insectarium is part museum and part petting zoo, but the fuzzy critters may seem less snuggly to some than your average zoo animal.
But not to owner and founder Jessica Szabo, who has settled into her new location as part of a maker’s space located at 7836 S.E. 13th Ave.
She wants people to understand how important bugs can be to our local ecology, and she also wants to dispel myths about bugs we were all taught and likely carried with us into adulthood.
“I really wanna expose people to how bugs actually are,” said Szabo. “You know, even the ones that bite like tarantulas or scorpions, if you treat them gently and respectfully, they will not attack you.” She emphasized that she doesn’t encourage people to go pick up bugs or arachnids that have the ability to hurt you willy nilly. “I’ve never been bitten by a spider.”
Being exposed to bugs in a controlled environment that offers education can teach of kindness and consent.
“Kids learn to touch the cockroach just with one finger. You don’t go grab it, you just touch it with one finger,” she said. “And a lot of kids are really receptive to that. I think that that’s a good way for them to learn how to interact with other living creatures in their life, including humans.”
The Portland Insectarium came about after Szabo took a museum curation class. She realized Portland didn’t have its own natural history museum.
“I can’t really start a natural history museum myself, but I’ve already got bugs.”
It began as an educational tool that traveled to classrooms and elsewhere to spread the beneficial bug gospel before it moved into a permanent space. As a small business that required people to gather to see her wares, Szabo struggled during the height COVID.
She moved into a smaller space more suited to her needs in September.
“There is a big bug community here and there’s been no place for those people to congregate,” said Szabo. “And so, I want them to all come here and meet each other and make it into a community.”
Szabo has grand plans for the future of the Portland Insectarium. She hopes to host a space where people can conduct wildlife surveys to help the ecological study of the area, a citizen science program where she hopes to help people learn to identify native bugs and more. More than just a bug petting zoo, Szabo hopes the Portland Insectarium will continue to grow as a part of the community.
She will host a tea party with tarantulas event on Oct. 29 to teach people about arachnids and just how unlikely they are to hurt us.
Destiny Johnson; twitter: @hello_destiny; email@example.com