Do you have a critter-loving kid? Does your toddler trot off to the backyard and come back clutching nightcrawlers, crickets, snails, rolly-pollies and detached lizard tails? If yes, then your little kid is the perfect candidate for a visit to the Los Angeles Zoo’s new LAIR (Living Amphibians, Invertebrates, and Reptiles) facility! The creatures at the LAIR are supersize, superscary wild things, and now’s the perfect time of year to visit them all.

If you grew up in L.A., you might remember the old reptile house as a dark and gloomy warren of tiny aquariums that were hard for both kids and adults to see into. The new LAIR, however, has solved this issue with cleverly designed floor-to-ceiling glass viewing windows that allow zoo visitors of all sizes to see eye-to-eye with everything from high-climbing tree snakes to sand-dwelling lizards.

Even if you hit the zoo a lot, the extensive LAIR is worth a separate trip! The zoo’s LAIR area is divided between two buildings–one for dryland creatures, the other space devoted to tropical animals–and a handful of outdoor enclosures. (The intriguing exterior exhibits include some surprisingly spry desert tortoises and a cartoonish-looking crocodilian called a gharial.)

In the main space, expect special enthusiasm from your kids for the floor-level aquarium, featuring the clever archer fish (which can shoot their prey out of the air!), and for the Care & Conservation Room, which features umpteen baby rattlesnakes and a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how zoo herpetologists manage the facility’s population of marquee creepy-crawlies. Expect to shudder at the lethal green mamba snake and marvel at the zippy skittering of the Mexican giant horned lizards.

In the Desert LAIR building, you’ll learn all about the many varieties of reptiles you could encounter in our very own local Southwestern desert ecosystem; especially appealing creatures include the chunky, stubby-tailed Gila monsters and the uniquely rattle-less Santa Catalina Island rattlesnakes.

Insider’s tip: On many days, if there is a line out the door of the main LAIR, you can always skirt around the building and enter through the back door or just start your tour with the outdoor enclosures or the smaller Desert LAIR. Zoo administrators are hip to this trick and sometimes set up cordons for crowd control, but your chances on any given fall weekday are going to be good!

The entire LAIR zone is thoughtfully designed with families in mind: stroller parking is available outside and every area includes a rest area where parents can take a load off while their little critters crawl around.

Los Angeles Zoo and Botanic Gardens LAIR
5333 Zoo Drive
Los Angeles, Ca 90027
Hours: Open daily, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Admission: Adult tickets $17; children ages 2 to 12, $12

Online: http://www.lazoo.org/lair/

Have you already entered the LAIR or are you clinging to herpetophobia for the time being? What’s your favorite L.A. Zoo critter? Hit the comments with your take on the best attraction at the Griffith Park facility!

–Jennifer Arrow (thanks to Jen for the photos!)