Chocolate Chip (and Cricket) Cookies Are on the Menu at New Orleans' Revamped Aquarium

The newly renovated space features a butterfly garden, insect cafe, and a whole lot more.

Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium
Photo courtesy of the Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium
Photo courtesy of the Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium

For the past seven months, stingrays have coasted across the touch tank floor and African penguins have dipped into the water at the Audubon Aquarium, but the gaggle of visitors usually snapping photos were nowhere to be found.

That’s because the space has been closed since November to undergo a $41 million dollar renovation to unite the aquarium and nearby insectarium under one roof along the New Orleans Riverfront. With the ambitious project now complete, the result is a massive nature playground that draws locals and tourists alike.

The biggest change to the space was transplanting the Audubon Insectarium from its previous location in the US Customs House in the French Quarter to the aquarium’s home along the Mississippi River. The insectarium houses more than 50 species, from Madagascar hissing cockroaches and honey bees to frog beetles, and features exhibits on topics like how insects use camouflage as defense and why these creatures are so important to their ecosystems.

Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium
Photo by Susan Poag

There are plenty of chances to get up-close-and-personal with the bugs, including six spaces where guests can get close to the insects and a brand-new, stunning garden overlooking the river with hundreds of butterflies representing 20 different species flying around in the open air.

But perhaps the biggest draw is a cafe dubbed Bug Appetit where guests can taste waxworms, crickets, and other edible species that are eaten around the world. Along with educational stations about the eco-friendly benefits of eating bugs and cookbooks that visitors can flip through, the cafe offers samples of insect-laden food like chocolate chip (and cricket) cookies, a sweet spiced apple chutney with poached waxworms, and snackable crispy cajun crickets that taste like a barbecue sunflower seed. If you’re brave enough to down a few creepy crawlies, you’ll leave with bragging rights and a stamp proclaiming your bravery.

Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium Bug Appetit
Photo courtesy of Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium

On the aquarium side, the space is split up by habitats around the world, from the Louisiana bayous right in the aquarium’s backyard to the Amazon River basin and Gulf of Mexico. Guests will still be able to visit old favorites like the aquarium’s 300-pound green sea turtle named King Midas and a rare white alligator known as Chompitoulas, along with sand tiger sharks, South American sea nettles, and more.

The interactive elements aren’t just in the insectarium. The aquarium features a 60-foot-long touch pool with sharks and stingrays and a free-flying bird exhibit with 60 birds representing 15 different species flying overhead.

Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium
Photo courtesy of Digital Roux Photography LLC

The Audubon Aquarium & Insectarium is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. Single attraction tickets for the aquarium or insectarium start at $30 for adults and $25 for kids. The Audubon Nature Institute also offers two- and three-attraction combination passes that start at $50 for adults and $45 for kids. Tickets can be purchased online.

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Liz Provencher is an editor at Thrillist. You can get in touch at lprovencher@thrillist.comor see what she eats on Instagram.