Purdue Bug Zoo

leaf insect observation

The Boiler Bug Zoo features many species of live insects, spiders, and other spineless relatives. You’ll also find educational exhibits on insect products and the ecosystem services provided by insects and spiders.

The Bug Zoo is wheelchair accessible, and we welcome service dogs.

Can’t make it to campus? We have a virtual version of our Zoo tour available!

What’s in the Bug Barn?

The Purdue Bug Barn has members of all four major groups of arthropods alive today. Arthropods are animals with a hard outer skeleton (exoskeleton), jointed legs, and segmented bodies. Hard on the outside, and squishy on the inside, they are the majority of animal species on Earth.

Arthropods have 4 main groups:

Look Inside the Bug Zoo on Google 360


Insects are the most diverse and numerous creatures on the planet. There are about one million known species of living insects, but estimates are that we have at least 5 million more species yet to be described.

Although a few are considered pests, insects provide many important services for people through pollination, decomposition of dead plants and animals, and as a food source for people and wild animals.

The insects we have in the Bug Barn vary seasonally, but you can usually see:

Hissing Roach
  • Tobacco Hornworm Caterpillars and Moths (Manduca sexta)
  • Jungle Nymphs (Heteropteryx dilatata)
  • Leaf Insects (Phyllium philippinicum)
  • Australian Stick Insects (Extatosoma tiaratum)
  • Taxicab or Sun Beetles (Pachnoda marginata)
  • White Spotted Assassin Bugs (Platymeris biguttatus)
  • Madagascar Hissing Cockroach (Gromophadorhina portentosa)
  • Death-feigning Beetles (Asbolus verrucosus)Question Mark Roaches (Therea olegrandjeani)
  • Mealworms (Tenebrio molitor)
  • Carpenter Ants (Camponotus pennsylvanicus)


Arachnids vary widely, but they all have one thing in common: 8 legs.


Most of the spiders we have in the Bug Barn are tarantulas. These large hairy spiders can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Tarantulas usually hunt at night, and live in a burrow in the ground. Like other spiders, they make silk, and use their silk to make webs to catch prey. A tarantula web looks different than webs you might see in an Indiana garden. The silk lines their burrow, and alerts them when a tasty insect is walking by.

The tarantulas in the Bug Barn are big, and might be a little scary looking, but they are harmless to humans. They do have fangs and venom, but use those to eat their prey: insects and other small animals.

The Bug Barn is home to several species of tarantula:

  • Rose Hair Tarantula (Gramastola rosea)
  • Salmon “Bird Eater” Tarantula (Lasiodora parahybana) 
  • Brazilian White Knee (Acanthoscurria geniculata)
  • Golden Red Rump Tarantula (Brachypelma albiceps)
  • Curly Hair Tarantula (Brachypelma albopilosum)
  • Arizona Blonde Tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes)
  • Arboreal Tarantula (Avicularia versicolor)

Some of our tarantulas are rescued smuggled animals. You can read more about their path to Purdue in this National Geographic article, Finding a Forever home for Trafficked Tarantulas.


Scorpions, a largely solitary nocturnal arachnid, glow a bright cyan-green under UV light. (Purdue University/ Mark Simons)

Scorpions are one of the oldest living land arthropods. Since they are nocturnal, they hide in their burrows during the day. You might not see our scorpion, but you can use the UV flashlight to find it—scorpions glow!

These predators are known for their stinging tail— they use it to subdue insects they eat as prey.

  • Asian Forest Scorpion (Heterometrus spinifer)

Tailless Whip Scorpions

These strange animals aren’t scorpions, or spiders. Their official name “amblypygid” means “blunt tail”. Their first pair of legs are long, thin, and whip-like. They are used as antennae-like feelers, since these animals usually live in damp leaf litter, caves, or underneath bark. They are predators that mostly eat small insects.

Tailless whip scorpions are not harmful to humans, and have no venom.

Whip Scorpions

Whip scorpions (vinegaroons), are not really scorpions at all. They got their name from the tail at the end of their abdomen that looks like a whip. It’s not a stinger; it sprays vinegar! If you’ve ever smelled vinegar you know it’s a stinky acid. That’s usually enough to convince a mouse or bigger animal to leave a whip scorpion alone.

Whip scorpions are nocturnal and hide under rocks or logs during the day. They feel around in the dark using their thin front legs. Once they find an insect, they use their large pedipalps (pincers) to catch and kill their prey. Whip Scorpions are harmless to humans and have no venom.


Mites are tiny little relatives of ticks that live all around you. You’ve probably heard of dust mites, but you also have mites living in your eyelashes! The hissing cockroaches in our collection have mites living on them. You might see them when you’re holding the roaches.

Those mites are harmless to both us and the roaches. They are like “cleaner fish” on a roach; they live on the saliva and food crumbs that messy roaches drop. They keep the roaches clean, and the roaches provide the mites with a mobile home. It’s a win-win!


Myriapods are animals with lots of legs! This includes centipedes and millipedes.



The word millipede is Latin for “one thousand feet”, but the average millipede only has 100 to 300 legs. Millipedes have the unusual trait of two pairs of legs per body segment.

Millipedes need a moist habitat to survive. You can usually find them in leaf litter in the forest. Millipedes are vegetarians; they mostly eat dead or decomposing plant material. They are harmless to humans.

If a millipede feels threatened, it simply curls up, using the hard outer plates of its exoskeleton as armor. A few millipedes also ooze stinky chemicals as protection, so you should never lick a millipede.

  • Striped Florida Millipede (Chicobolus springerus)
  • American Millipede (Narceus americanus)
  • Giant Asian Millipede (Thyropygus spirobolinae)


Centipede means “one hundred legs” in Latin. Usually they have between 30 to 200 legs, depending on the size of the centipede.

Unlike millipedes, centipedes have one pair of legs per segment, not two. And, centipedes are predators. Centipedes are nocturnal and feed upon a variety of prey such as spiders, insects, and worms. They find their prey with the help of long antennae and once captured, inject it with venom with its poison jaw.

Centipedes need a moist habitat to survive, so are usually found in damp places: under rocks or logs.



Isopods are crustaceans that can be found in the ocean, streams and rivers. A few of them can also be found on land! Those are commonly called “roly polys” or pill bugs. Pill bugs live in the same sorts of habitats as millipedes, and also eat decomposing plant materials.


Because they are crustaceans, these animals still breathe through gills! They have to have a damp environment to survive.

  • Dwarf White Isopod (Trichorhina tomentosa)
  • Grey Isopod (Porcellio scaber)
  • Zebra Isopods (Armadillidium maculatum)