Every second Saturday in September we invite experts in their fields to share with our visiting guests their various interests. Paul Landkamer, a entomophagy (a big fancy word for someone who enjoys eating bugs) enthusiast brings LOTS, and LOTS of bugs that he has lovingly sauteed, fried, baked, and otherwise prepared for those brave enough to sample some. Over the years I've tried many insects, including June bugs, grasshoppers, cicadas, wheel bugs, mealworms, and even a hornworm. My all time favorite, believe it or not, are the stink bugs! They are crunchy, tasty, little treats that surprised even me with their yummyness!
The worst, by far, was the hornworm. This rubbery, abomination was about as palatable as an old shoe and equally as chewy. I could not drink enough water to wash that thing down and must say most of it ended up in the trash!!! That aside, everything else I've tried was quite good, and certainly healthy. This is a great way to teach people that protein comes in all forms, not just steak and eggs.
Several people I know from the Kansas City area, including Betsy Betros (who wrote an amazing Butterfly book, for the link to order, see the side bar on my blog), Linda Williams, Joyce Bollman, Patty Schulenberg, Lyn & Tom Fry and their daughter Tammy have shared their love of butterflies and moths. Each of these individuals collect eggs, or capture caterpillars and adults to rear in their homes. They use these butterflies and moths, in their various stages of development to set up at events like ours, and also Butterfly festivals at Powell Gardens.
This is one of the most popular exhibits at our event and the tables are always surrounded by individuals in awe of the diversity of these winged creatures. Even in the caterpillar stage they generate a lot of ooooohs and awes, maybe more so!
In years past our local Health Department has set up a wonderful, educational booth on insects that can impact human health. In recent years we've seen a surge in bedbug infestations, and many people have questions about them. Their display includes information on those pesky night time, bloodsucking visitors that have plagued mankind since we first appeared. Do they pose serious health risks to humans? Or are they just a nuisance? They also provided valuable information on mosquitoes and ticks.....all the bugs we love to hate.
In conjunction with the health department, a local pest control company, Preferred Pest Control, sets up a booth to guide homeowners on the options available for household pests that none of us wants to deal with. This includes, bedbugs, termites and cockroaches, among others. Their booth is always interesting, interactive, and educational and often geared towards children. No fear tactics here! They recognize that not all bugs are bad and enjoy celebrating the good side of insects without spreading "all bugs are bad" misinformation. We love the Cooperiders!They even have a cute termite mascot!!! It doesn't get any better!
The local university, MWSU, gets in on all the fun when their professor of biology/entomology brings numerous students. These awesome young people assist our guests with aquatic dip netting in the pond or lagoon, with microscopes and even an exciting game of cockroach races.
Many of our insects begin life in the water, and later emerge in their adult form, this includes dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, as well as others. This is a great way to introduce children to the diversity of insect life around them and how important it is to keep our water sources pollution free.
Microscopes offer guests the opportunity to experience minuscule life forms in all their weirdness and awesomeness. They learn how many insects are truly living around them that they will never see with the naked eye. It has been said that every square inch of soil holds some sort of insect life....most we just never see. Cockroach races, face it, are just plain fun! Giant hissing cockroaches are placed in PVC racing troughs and coached and encouraged by our guests to see who will reach the finish line. We've only had a few roaches make a break for it!
For decades insects have invaded our country from other nations. They make their way to U.S. soil in various ways. Some accidentally and others are purposely brought here with the idea they will control other insects we view as noxious or injurious. Often what happens is these insects wreck havoc on our environment. Several such bugs are destroying trees by the millions all across the Eastern United States. Emerald Ash Borers, Asian Longhorn Beetles, and Gypsy Moths are running amok and taking their toll on ash trees and various other species of trees and plant life. Each year we try to educate our public about the importance of being responsible and not moving firewood. If you cut wood at home, don't transport it too your camping destination in another county or state. Buy your firewood locally. This helps tremendously to cut back on the level of infestation these insects are capable of.
We borrow a Emerald Ash Borer costume from the USFS and coerce one of our university students with free pizza to dress up and spread the message "Don't move FIREWOOD!"
The Honey Bee is Missouri's state insect and no insect event would be complete without beekeepers. Our local "Swarm Chasers" bee group set up every year and answer the many questions people have about bees. "How do we become beekeepers?" "How much does it cost?" "How difficult is it?" "Where have all the bee gone?" Without bees our ecosystem would collapse and we would have to get used to not having many of the foods we enjoy or depend on. Beekeeping as a hobby has surged in recent years and our local keepers are fantastic at sharing their passion for these important pollinators.
Spiders, Spiders, Spiders.....not everyone's favorite to be sure, but love em' or hate em' they are important members of the ecosystem. They provide free pest control and gobble up hundreds of tons of insects each year. I had arachnophobia for most of my life. A little over a decade ago I became determined to conquer that fear. I spent four years overcoming my phobia and now I am in love with these 8-legged creatures and own 5 tarantulas! Fears can be managed or even conquered with the right motivation and determination. We've had numerous individuals over the years come into our event with the express purpose of facing a spider and moving one inch closer to getting over a lifelong fear! These are some of my favorite moments, to watch someone go from frozen in fear, to fascination!
Exploration, discovery and education are key to teaching our young people to love and respect nature. Hands-on activities are necessary to make lifelong connections. We can talk, and preach until we are blue in the face, but nothing breaks down barriers faster or more thoroughly than actually holding a tarantula for the first time, or sticking your fingers in pond muck and finding an alien-looking creature that turns out to be a dragonfly baby.
Laughter, as they race cockroaches or, sample some insect fare will stay with them for a lifetime as they look back and say "remember when....?"
Let me encourage you to make your own discoveries. Get outside and explore, get dirty and make memories to last a lifetime.