Forget watching caged critters from afar. These days, zoos and aquariums are bringing you into exhibits for in-your-face encounters and letting you touch and feed some of the exotic creatures in their care. Whether you're stroking a stingray in a touch tank or letting a giraffe nibble lettuce from your hand, getting that close can open your eyes and spark your imagination. With that in mind, here we offer a few of the coolest new animal (mammal, fish, fowl, and reptile) encounters, from an outdoor room where parakeets fly free to an mirrored gallery of otherworldly jellyfish. We think you'll love discovering what's new at the zoo -- and maybe you'll emerge feeling renewed yourself.
Lair (Living Amphibians, Invertebrates, and Reptiles)
Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens Los Angeles, California
You're staring into a mountain stream, catching a glimpse of the world's largest amphibian, the Chinese giant salamander, which can reach more than seven feet in length. Or maybe you're peering through the forest canopy at the reclusive bushmaster, at upwards of six feet, the longest venomous snake in the Americas. Or you're engulfed in the sights and sounds of a monsoon in the California desert (thanks to the immersive acoustics of AstoundSound), as scorpions and Gila monsters scurry for cover. You must be at LAIR, the Los Angeles Zoo's newest attraction, featuring some of the rarest species of amphibians, invertebrates, and reptiles. The two new and spectacular buildings?and their outdoor habitats?house 49 exhibits in six themed areas. In addition to viewing the animals in their element (from damp forests to croc-infested swamps), you can watch zookeepers preparing food, storing reptile eggs, and tending animal babies in the Behind the Glass exhibit. In the Care and Conservation Room, you'll learn about the zoo's efforts to save such rare and endangered species as the Gray's monitor lizard.
The Jellies Experience
Monterey bay aquarium Monterey, California
If your kids refuse to believe that the jellyfish in this eye-popping exhibit really belong to the animal kingdom, who can blame them? From Mediterranean jellies that look like iridescent floating crystals to colorful flower-hat jellies that could pass for weird outer space Easter bonnets, these pulsing, dancing, undulating creatures look like they sprang from the wild imagination of a master animator. The exhibit, which features 1960s-style psychedelic images and music, showcases 16 species from around the world, but it doesn't stop there. At the Light Show, you can gape at fluorescent, bioluminescent, and iridescent jellies and corals and trigger a light show of your own with a wave of your arm. In the Jellies Explosion gallery, mirrored walls reflect cylinders filled with moon jellies, making you feel as if you're swimming through a massive swarm. And if you're curious about how jellyfish sting and eat their prey, the gallery known as Delicate Danger will make it all too clear.