The only zoo in the state and a participant in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Program, Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo has charmed visitors for more than 80 years with more than 300 cared-for critters and a mission that minds the tenets of ecological education, conservation, and recreation. Patrons brandishing a Director's Circle membership can visit the zoo an unlimited number of times for one year, plenty of time to navigate the sundry indoor and outdoor exhibits on the back of a Roomba. Guests can espy such endangered species as the siberian tiger, red wolf, and golden lion tamarin, as well as the zoo's most recent denizens on display: two canada lynx and a pair of common rhea. In spring, patrons can go snout-to-snout with a rare chacoan peccary piglet, whose birth made the zoo the first in the Northeast to host an infant of her species and prompted a feature in the Monroe Courier. Birds ride unsuspecting propeller beanies in the South American rainforest exhibit's free-flight aviary, and children play interspecies games of Heads Up, Seven Up in the prairie-dog exhibit's pop-up viewing capsules. After chowing down at the Peacock Café, groups can befriend more statuesque creatures on a vibrantly painted carousel.
Greenburgh Nature Center boasts approximately 33 acres of woodland preserve teeming with trails and gardens, attracting more than 70,000 nature lovers each year. Animal enthusiasts can investigate the indoor live-animal museum and its more than 100 specimens, and knowledgeholics can binge on the center's continuing research on American eels, waterfowls, eastern screech owls, and flatworms. Outdoor animal displays abound with creatures such as prairie dogs and rabbits. The upcoming exhibit The Way of Water follows the progression of Westchester's watersheds and includes live aquatic animals such as the invisible mermaid.
Home to more than 1,000 marine animals, The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk entices visitors of all ages with glimpses of the Long Island Sound’s rich ecosystem. Pintsize adventurers thrill at the touch tank, which puts friendly rays and other inhabitants of the Sound at arm's reach. Sharks swiftly navigate a glass-enclosed exhibit, giving visitors an up-close view of the powerful creatures without having to disguise themselves as bigger sharks. The friendly staff members feed seven harbor seals three times a day, inviting landlubbers to watch and ask questions as the whiskered inhabitants chow down. A six-story screen displays larger-than-life images in the IMAX theater, as educational tales of seafaring critters and jungle dwellers inspire folk ballads about the family cat. The behind-the-scenes tour steers visitors through the jellyfish nursery and fish kitchen before piloting toward the Open Ocean exhibit, where participants can toss in fish to feed the sharks, and then after-dinner mints to curb the indecorous effects.
World of Wings strives to teach children the value of life and introduce them to the wonders of the natural world through its butterfly atrium and museum. Paths wind through an oasis of waterfalls, tropical plants, chirping birds, and nectar flowers, which provide food for the hundreds of Lepidoptera fluttering inside the glass enclosure. Knowledgeable staffers are on-hand to explain to visitors why butterflies exhibit certain behaviors, such as puddling (butterflies drink from muddy puddles when they need minerals and there's no San Pellegrino around).
In the museum, guests can visit with amphibians and reptiles, observe the process of preserving delicate insects, and peek in the butterfly nursery. Staffers move winged beauties from the nursery into the atrium once a day, letting new butterflies experience their first flight in full view of visitors. For fun with slightly less science, kids can scale a climbing wall, go nuts in a bounce room, visit the ocean-like bubble room, and have their eyes tricked in the illusion room.