Adventuring With Kids Who Love Bugs and Snakes and Other Creepy Crawlies

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A boy holding up a bullfrog to the camera
The first frog we caught!

Much of my motherhood has involved the supervision of, participation in, and the occasional screaming panic of bug and critter hunting {the screaming comes from all large spiders – blech!}. My son LOVES things like bugs, spiders, frogs, and snakes – the weirder the better. Thankfully, I was born with a similar love of these creatures {minus spiders}, although my love is less of a “hands on” approach and more of a “get the camera” approach.

Finding ways to see bugs and strange reptiles can be a bit more challenging than just going to your local petting zoo. We’ve scoured the internet, read books, and crawled through the dirt to find lizards, beetles, and many other creatures. Perhaps one of our favorite trips involved finding our first frog. We hunted all over Denver for frogs and finally saw one at South Platte Park {location information below}. I hit the deck in my capris and large sun hat, crawled guerrilla style, and lunged forward with the net. I was so excited about catching him that I didn’t really think about how that must of looked until I stood up and made eye contact with the fisherman standing about 20 feet away, staring at me. What can I say? A mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do.

After hearing about our successful trips, a couple of my friends came to me for advice on where to take their kids for these kinds of encounters. I’ve broken down our experiences into three categories depending on what people are looking for:

  • Observation only: videos and exhibits
  • Observation with some interaction: caged specimens and supervised handling
  • The full-on wild experience: nets, containers, and a flask for courage {I’m kidding about the flask… kind of}

Observation Only

Library:

If your child is curious about bugs and reptiles, visit your local library! We regularly checked out piles of books from the children’s and young adult sections.

Videos:

We also love good documentaries. Two of our favorites for bugs are Microcosmos, a wonderful documentary of bugs set to background music, and David Attenborough’s Life in the Undergrowth {we love all Attenborough’s nature documentaries}.

Museums:

If your child is interested in bugs but uncomfortable with touching them or being too close to them, your local museum may be in order. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science has a display of preserved insects for close viewing behind glass.

Observation and Some Interaction

Pet Stores:

If you are looking for something simple to do, try the local pet stores! Almost all general pet stores have reptiles and snakes. You can go to specialized stores like Scales ‘N Tales to see more exotic reptiles and insects.

Zoos and Aquariums:

Both the Denver Zoo and the Denver Aquarium have sections dedicated to reptiles and/or insects. The Zoo has a few reptile exhibits and the indoor rainforest exhibit. The Downtown Aquarium has a few insects and some Komodo dragons.

Specialized Visits:

The Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster is a wonderful place for seeing and interacting with insects. They have a tarantula named Rosie that the kids can hold, and they have an open pavilion where you can walk around with several different species of butterflies.

A boy holding a tarantula with help
My son holding Rosie

Stop by the Colorado Gator Farm {about 20 minutes north of Alamosa}! This place borders on a wild experience. You’ll see a large sign by the front door warning you that it is a dangerous place, and they aren’t kidding. You can feed the alligators, hold a baby alligator, and see several other reptiles. It’s worth a visit!

A boy holding up a baby aligator
My little brother holding a baby alligator!

The Wild Experience

If your child is like mine, viewing bugs and reptiles behind glass is not enough. My son started catching bugs as soon as he was mobile. If you have a bug enthusiast, I highly recommend buying the book Pet Bugs by Sally Kneidel. She has great tips for catching bugs and keeping them as pets!

A boy holding a praying mantis
Pete, our praying mantis pet

For us, this lead to many critter-hunting adventures, and here are a few things I learned about laws, safety, and where to go:

Common sense:

Similar to those tips for hiking with kids, dress for getting dirty and wet, keep hydrated, use sunscreen, and bring mosquito repellent {keeping in mind that it may affect other bugs or creatures}. Don’t forget your cell phone and let someone know where you’re going.  Also, if you plan on catching and releasing any frogs or crayfish, be sure to pick up a fishing license, available at most sporting goods stores, and take a moment to familiarize yourself with local laws about reptiles and amphibians {great resources from Colorado Parks and Wildlife: here and here}.

Think Safety:

Obviously these little creatures often come with great defense mechanisms and will bite. So, instigate a “pictures only – no touching” policy for any you are not comfortable handling, bring a mini first aid kit, and do a little upfront research on poisonous wildlife {great resources: spiders and snakes}. Also consider printing and bringing pictures for identifying anything poisonous on the go.

What to Bring:

In addition to your safety supplies, you will want to bring the following: a bug net, a fish net {for water critters}, a container, and a camera. Many toy stores also have fun, little bug gadgets for kids.

A boy and his mom holding a crayfish up for a picture
Catching crayfish at a creek

Where to Find Them:

These critters are everywhere! You can walk out your front door and find something in your yard. Here are some basic areas for some of the bugs and reptiles you can find around you: Rocks {worms, slugs, rolly pollies, snails, spiders, centipedes, millipedes}, tall grassy areas {snakes, lizards, praying mantis, ladybugs, grasshoppers}, creeks {water skippers, crayfish}, lakes & ponds (frogs, turtles, multiple bugs), sandy spots {ants, ant lions}. If you feel like going on a night hunt with a flashlight, you may find large black crickets on the ground and green lacewings on the bushes — listen for their loud chirping!

We often go to nature parks around town. A few great ones for finding critters are Cherry Creek Reservoir, Chatfield Reservoir, and the Red Rocks hiking trails. Our favorite spot {where we find something new every single visit!} is South Platte Park across C-470 from Chatfield Reservoir. Be sure to watch for signs about rules, park closing times, and other important information wherever you go.

Where is your favorite place to spot critters and crawlers?  Share your tips and stories in the comments below!

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Audra is a Colorado mountain girl turned Denver Metro suburbanite. She is wife to her high school sweetheart, mother to a wonderfully unconventional teenager, and servant to a variety of four-legged creatures. She has enjoyed the experience of staying home with her son, loving (and sometimes simply surviving) the many tasks of motherhood. Hand in hand with her husband and kiddo, she’s faced bugs and mud, picky eating wars, teenage challenges, and the many stages of autism. Through it all, she has found strength, love, and a healthy appreciation for good humor (also wine). Currently, she is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, embracing her passion for technology and working towards a career in software development.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Lowell Ponds off of Lowell and 55th in N. Denver, is positively the most “hands on experience” in the metro area for the kids to interact, even catch, frogs, turtles, snakes and all kinds of pond life. The big difference between South Platte Park and Lowell ponds is that the “ponds” at S. Platte Park are more like high mountain lake ponds. They are not “swampy”, there fore, not nearly as many reptiles abound. Lowell ponds are similar to “swampy ponds” I have taken my kids too in central California. We have caught “and released” large and small turtles, dozens of snakes and endless amounts of bull frogs. Lowell Ponds is the only real-deal in the metro area.

  2. My son absolutely LIVES to be outside! The wetter, the muddier, the stickier, the better! Now I know where to take him beyond our backyard!!

    • That’s great, Elizabeth! It’s fun to watch them discover their world. On a side note, I do think someone should make a kid washer device that you could dip little boys in before bringing them back in the house. 🙂

  3. My 5yo is also a critter lover. We love going to South Platte Park. Its our “go to” place for looking for frogs and some fishing and walking around. He’s obsessed with catching bugs or all kinds. We love it!

    • I’m glad you enjoy it, Carla! It really is a great park! I’ve taken friends there to adventure with us, and we always find something cool. We’ve tried fishing too, but sadly, we’ve caught everything BUT fish! 🙂 If you haven’t been there recently, the water levels were truly insane when we visited about a month ago. The dock at the lower Blackrock Lake was completely submerged! It’s still great to go, but all the shorelines are (or, at least, were) higher than usual.

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