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The Best Giant Robot Bugs in Houston

When I was a kid my favorite thing every year was the Houston Museum of Natural Science's annual Dinomation. This was long before we had the amazing Morian Hall of Paleontology, and our dinosaur offerings were far more meager. Once a year, though, the museum turned into forest full of jerky, but still convincing prehistoric beasts brought to life as animatronic statues.

It was pretty much the best thing ever.

The Houston Zoo is offering something similar through the end of August in the form of Extreme Bugs. The difference is that instead of showing us behemoths from before the time of man, the robots are common insects and arachnids. Bascially, the Zoo decided to recreate Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and while there are a few flaws, it's still an impressive sight.

The animatronics themselves are fantastic in their scope and majesty. An Emperor Scorpion is one of the very first of the robots to be encountered, and it is terrifying even for a grown person than can spot the pneumatics under the plastic. The poisonous tail towers easily twenty feet in the air, maybe more, and the front claws are the size of a motorcycle.

It's like a '50s horror movie come to life. A Madagascan Sunset Moth looms huge, flapping it's beautifully colored wings slowly and elegantly (The bright, diurnal moth is often mistaken for a butterfly according to the plaque in front of the giant). You're even allowed to control the movement of the giant Stag Beetle, which I encourage everyone to do while cackling madly and screaming, "Nothing in the world can stop me now!"

Aside from the weird schlockiness of enormous bugs, it is really interesting to see things which are usually a fraction of our size up close. You get a new kind of appreciation for the complexities of the life forms seeing them in somewhat the same scale that they see us. At the very least, it makes you think twice about getting a rolled-up newspaper after you a tarantula the size of a tank.

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Scale is the only hiccup in the Extreme Bugs exhibit. There's a fair amount of effort that's gone into trying to craft a world where we are tiny invaders in a garden of giant insects, but it's all very haphazard. Oversized beach balls are dwarfed by fireflies, toy Army Men are nowhere near the size they'd be compared to the bugs, and then there's the weird clothesline full big old underpants. Amusing? Yes, but it does take away from the detail. If I find an orb spider big than my boxer briefs that's just about more disturbing than the horror movie titans on display.

Scale aside, it's a fun way to kill half an hour in one of the shadiest and nicest parts of the Zoo, and you don't really want to get to the end of your life saying you didn't make time to go play with bugs built like battle mechs.

Extreme Bugs runs until September 1.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

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