Asheboro, NC — The North Carolina Zoo celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2014 and is launching the festivities with a weekend of special events and the opening of two new exhibits on Saturday and Sunday, March 29-30.

“Bugs: An Epic Adventure” is a new zoo attraction opening this weekend and continuing through the end of October. The exhibit features 13 giant, animatronic bugs created by Billings Productions of Allen, Texas--the same company that produced the extremely popular “Dinosaurs” exhibit featured at the zoo over the past two years.

Perhaps the star of the “Bugs” show is a Mexican redknee tarantula measuring nearly 30 feet across with its striking black and gold coloration and long hairy legs. Other large animatronic critters in the “Bugs“ collection include the giant devil’s flower mantis, stag beetle, blue-eyed darner dragonfly, black ant, seven spot ladybug, emperor scorpion, bombardier beetle, orb web spider, Madagascar sunset moth, red tailed bumblebee, Says’ firefly and grasshopper.

Visitors will view the bugs by traveling along a winding, wooded pathway expertly landscaped by the zoo’s Horticulture staff. Located near the zoo’s R.J. Reynolds Forest Aviary, the site was previously home for the “Dinosaurs” exhibit.

But the animatronic bugs are only part of the attraction. A bio-dome staffed by education presenters will feature a variety of live invertebrates from around the world to help teach visitors about the important roles that bugs play in nature.

Nearly 20 different species will be part of the bio-dome exhibit at different times through the season, including the Chinese mantis, patent leather beetle, Madagascar hissing cockroach, Texas giant millepede, Vietnamese giant centipede, emperor scorpion, giant vinegaroon, rose hair tarantula, giant bird eating spider and more.

Following more than two years and $1 million in renovations, the other exhibit opening for the 40th Anniversary weekend is the “kidZone” (sic). Designed to  help connect children to nature, kidZone provides a stream, mud café, rope bridge treetop experience, stone maze, live animal presentations and other educational programs designed especially for children.

The 40th Anniversary weekend also provides a wide variety of entertainment for zoo visitors. The lineup includes Big Bang Boom, a high energy pop/rock musical group that plays kids-friendly music, the Paper Hand Puppet Intervention, presenting puppet shows and a puppet parade, the Zoopendous Show Chorus, a 30-member women’s choral group, the Healing Force, an African music and dance group, Sugarfoote Productions, an African dance troop, Unite, an African drum group from Asheboro’s Charles McCrary Elementary School and the Scrap Exchange, which uses recycled materials to produce games and activities for kids.

Times and locations for the various entertainers will be posted at the zoo entrances. In honor of the 40th Anniversary, the zoo will also begin summer operating hours this weekend, opening from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Winter hours, which normally remain in effect through March, are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Finally, the zoo’s SimEx-Iwerks theater will unveil a new 4-D movie starting this weekend. “Rio” tells the story of the adventures of two lovable blue parrots.

Live entertainment for the 40th Anniversary weekend is included in the zoo’s regular admission price of $12 for adults, $8 for children 2-12 and $10 for seniors 62-plus. “Bugs: An Epic Adventure,” “Rio,” the 4-D movie, the giraffe feeding experience and the endangered species carousel are extra cost attractions. A “combo ticket” available at zoo admissions offers discounts for the extra-cost attractions.

The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, John E. Skvara, III, Secretary; Pat McCrory, Governor.