Curiosity has been building for months.
And starting Saturday, the sub doors will be opened to the Akron Zoo’s latest attraction: Curious Creatures. Visitors will be able to explore a very strange world occupied by some pretty curious creatures.
The new exhibit is tucked inside the Komodo Kingdom and replaces the old Journey to the Reef attraction.
Creatures that scamper across the land and slither and swim in the seas will all call Akron home. The exhibit takes an educational look at the extremes these species go to every day just to survive.
Before you even step into the exhibit, visitors first encounter a steampunk-inspired submarine mural, complete with a giant octopus arm jutting out from the wall.
Inside, the steampunk theme continues with a cool display where you can compare your strength to a mantis shrimp, or listen for an electric eel to, well, burn off some energy, or look down at critters in a pool of water as if you’re in a glass-bottom boat.
Most of the species found in the display are totally new to the zoo and have never been on display here before. A few species holdovers from the Reef attraction are also back, including the squid and the jelly fish.
“The jelly fish and octopus were very popular so we wanted to build on that,” said zoo spokesman David Barnhardt.
But even those are not exactly what visitors encountered inside the Reef attraction before it closed last year. The jellies this time around have been replaced by South American sea nettles that grow much larger than the Pacific sea nettles previously on display.
Pete Mohan, who is in charge of wrangling everything, said the Akron Zoo is among the first to put the South American variety on public display.
“I don’t think anyone around here has ever displayed those before,” he said.
The species of octopus on display is a giant Pacific variety.
Taking up a large wall just inside of the exhibit are two different species that burrow.
A series of tubes will be home to the naked mole rat. Its neighbor will occupy a separate series of clear tubes for visitors to gawk at and will be home to thousands and thousands of leaf cutter ants.
Both species live in colonies with queens to run things.
Take the ants for example. Mohan said if your stomach is not too squeamish, you should get up close and you will notice that within the colony there are varying sizes of ants from the large soldier ants that protect the queen and keep order, to the tiny ones that gather the leaves to create the fungus to feed the colony.
And don’t worry about them escaping, Mohan said: the zoo had to create a specially sealed space.
“This is a tightly sealed room,” he said.
There are cool retro illustrations of each species and even touch screens at many of the exhibits for visitors to learn more.
“We are really celebrating these unique creatures that are out there in the world,” said Autumn Russell, director of education.
One space is dedicated to carnivorous plants like the Venus fly trap.
Walking batfish and mata mata turtles
In all, there are 20 or so tanks that are home to everything from red-eyed tree frogs to walking batfish to chain dogfish to mata mata turtles.
There’s a cool area that is dark with specially lighted tanks where varieties of fish glow and where you can hold up special filters that allow the colors to pop out as the fish swim by.
One particularly darkened tank is home to so-called flashlight fish that resemble fireflies.
Playing on the idea of curiosity, there is a large wall of related quotes from Walt Disney to Stephen Hawking.
“This is what this exhibit is all about,” Barnhardt said.
Those brave enough to take the dive and have a hands-on experience can check out a counter where — with the help of a zoo keeper — they can actually touch some critters and creatures.
“Curious Creatures allows us to engage guests in an exploration of biodiversity unlike anything we have done before,” said Doug Piekarz, president and CEO.
The exhibit hall space changes exhibits every three to four years and Curious Creatures is the fourth exhibit to call it home since Komodo Kingdom opened in 2005. After months of planning and working on the new attraction, Barnhardt said, the zoo is ready to finally open it to the public.
“This is a very different exhibit for us,” he said. “We are excited to open. This is our largest indoor space. There’s been a lot of curiosity about it out in the community.”
Craig Webb can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3547.