In winter, a New York City parent’s fancy turns to thoughts of indoor entertainment.  Lots of it.  Preferably all under one roof.  And open to strollers.  One always popular destination is the American Museum of Natural History.  Cold weather brings with it a slew of returning favorite exhibits, as well as some brand new ones for those who simply cannot handle another morning spent under the blue whale or with the 4th floor dinosaurs.

Butterflies are Free
Well, not exactly.  The majority of them have been taken from their natural habitats in South America and Australia and locked in a small room on the Upper West Side.  But, within those parameters, the colorful creatures ranging in size from your thumb to your whole hand are free to flutter about, landing on plants, special feeding dishes, warming lights, and even the families who come in to see them.  Housed within a deliberately humid vivarium, they offer a living, breathing demonstration of the life cycle from chrysalis to full adulthood to death from old age.  Knowledgeable docents are available to answer questions and bring various species up close for viewing, as well as to reassure parents that their periodically crying and terrified child is perfectly normal.  Seems many human being’s brains are just wired to recoil at the sensation of something charging at them from out of nowhere, and no amount of cooing, “It’s just a butterfly, it can’t hurt you,” will change that.  This exhibit opened in early October and will run through Memorial Day 2013.  Tickets must be purchased in addition to regular admissions.

Fun With Moth Facts
One of the things a Museum volunteer will be happy to explain to you about butterflies is that while they may look alike, butterflies are not moths – and vice versa.  To see for yourself, walk the hallway of the Winged Tapestries: Moths at Large display, featuring more than 30 large-format prints by Canadian photographer Jim des Rivières.  For those whose only knowledge of these particular winged creatures is the grayish-brown versions who fly into your bug zapper in the summertime, the series is an eye-opener.  Moths apparently come in a variety of colors and patterns that give even butterflies a run for their money (and, since they’re not moving, they’re less scary, too).  This exhibit will run through September 2013 and is free with Museum admission.

Monster Mash
Children possess limitless energy.  You do not.  Not to mention, all of that energy visible inside the museum has a tendency to mysteriously evaporate as soon as it’s time to make that long, tiring, cold walk home.  As a result, it’s best to break up your visit with a nice, sedentary activity.  Like, say, watching an IMAX movie about flying reptiles.  Or, in kiddo parlance: Moooooonsters!  Observe multi-feet high scientifically-based animations on the largest creatures to ever take to the sky (oh, and there’s a scene where they eat a dinosaur, too)!  This National Geographic film hosted by Sir David Attenborough will only screen though January 4, 2013, and requires separate tickets for everyone over the age of 2.  Ticket price does however, include admission to the museum.

Lights, Camera, Jellyfish!
Also closing in January is Creatures of Light, an in-depth view of bioluminescence (a.k.a. Living Things That Glow)!  From undersea coral, to fireflies who share bug zapper space with the moths and butterflies, to the very accurately named Flashlight Fish who literally have a light hanging off the fronts of their heads, this is a chance to get up close and personal through a series of recreated environments with creatures most human are never lucky enough to so much as lay eyes on.  Tickets are required.

Does Whatever a Spider Can
Grab a web and swing over as fast as you can to this creepy, crawly Spiders Alive display, only on  view through December 2, 2012.  Even kids who might have been frightened inside the Butterfly Conservatory will summon up courage to peruse these eight-legged prehistoric wonders… from the safety of behind glass.  Venomous spiders and scorpions are on view here, but they are securely locked up.  Budding arachnologists, however, can get their live fix with regular demos where tarantulas, black widows and more are brought out to meet their admiring public, and kids can ask questions, look… but not touch.  The closest this exhibit comes to offering tactile fun is a spider statue 50 times bigger than regular size which beckons, “Please climb me!”  Tickets are required.

A majority of the above exhibits offer timed entry every hour on the half hour.  So, if you want to see them all, plan for a very long, full day.  On the other hand, you can set out to explore only one specialty area per visit, stretching out the fun indefinitely.  After all, it’s promising to be a very long, cold winter.

Share stories from your family’s visit to AMNH! We’d love to hear them! 

— Alina Adams (Thanks for the photos!)