The K-State Insect Zoo: So fly

Insect Zoo Enclosure
The K-State Insect Zoo is located within the K-State Gardens in the limestone barn. Visitors can experience the sights and sounds of live insects. The zoo is open Tuesday to Saturday and admission is $3. (Avery Johnson | Collegian Media Group)

The limestone barn at 1500 Denison Ave. is usually buzzing with activity as curious and antsy bug enthusiasts check out the K-State Insect Zoo. Upon entry, you’ll find visitors hovering over live critter cages and lingering at the informational displays.

Lidia Ragland, senior in kinesiology, said the unassuming limestone barn is well-organized and easy to walk through.

“It seems like a little cottage that they kind of flipped and turned into a zoo,” Ragland said. “It’s very homey right when you walk in. You can see the whole interior, and there’s just enclosures that line the walls. You just walk through in a U-shaped loop and look at all the insects.”

Ragland said she doesn’t think the term “zoo” exactly describes the exhibit. Rather, “observation area” is more accurate because of its size. Still, Ragland said she was impressed with the spread of insects and was excited to see some of her favorites.

“I went because I really like praying mantis bugs and I saw on TikTok that one of the employees — she’s kind of famous on TikTok — had posted that they had new hatchlings of praying mantises,” Ragland said.

The TikTok account in question has almost half a million followers and 12.7 million video likes. The account, run by a student affiliated with the Insect Zoo, showcases the variety of creatures in the exhibition. The student requested anonymity.

Ragland said the Insect Zoo enlightened her.

“I learned a lot about different species that I had originally thought were just gross, like cockroaches,” Ragland said. “I got to grow an appreciation for different species besides the praying mantis that I had come for, even ants. I came away thinking they were a lot more interesting and useful in the environment.”

Kiffnie Holt, director and zookeeper of the Insect Zoo, said critters at the zoo are there for education purposes only; the animals are not there for research. Members within Holt’s department are excited about President Linton, who promised to focus on the three pillars of Kansas State’s mission: teaching, research and extension. Holt said the extension component is important for the university. 

“We think about undergraduate degrees and we think about the research and we think about the football team, but public education and the extension service is still a big part of what we do,” Holt said. 

Interacting with the community and helping the public better understand entomology and home pest control is a big part of what the Insect Zoo does, and interestingly, very little traffic comes from campus.

Ragland said her visit wasn’t what she expected, especially since she didn’t know any fellow students who had been to the zoo. After seeing the Kansas City Zoo, Ragland said she was hoping for more of a hands-on experience.

“I thought there were going to be, like, butterflies flying around,” Ragland said. “I thought that there would be a lot more interaction available with the insects, but it was a lot different.”

In previous years, the vision for the Insect Zoo was to create a large butterfly garden, but a donor did not come forward and the project did not proceed.

Ragland said she thinks improvements could be made to the Insect Zoo by making insects more accessible to general visitors. The exhibit does offer a bug-handling opportunity at a $28 cost for up to eight people. 

General admission to the Insect Zoo costs $3 per person. The barn is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 1-6 p.m. More information can be found on the K-State Insect Zoo’s website.

Ragland said she hopes students check it out.

“In Manhattan, there’s not a lot of things,” Ragland said. “It gives you a more adventurous, fun activity. If you are adventurous, I think it would be a really good thing to do with your friends.”

Time is ticking as the end of the semester approaches. Grab your friends and scuttle over to the Insect Zoo before you leave for summer break.