Monday, October 13, 2014

A Naturalist at the Hokie "Bug Fest" at Virginia Tech


                                             Tarantula in a container at the annual "bug fest"

      From my standpoint, the  annual "bug fest" at the Virginia Tech Conference Center was fascinating, totally noisy, maybe a little too much for the real little ones. One parent complained to me his six year old got scared in the haunted house, and it was a lot of stimulation for preschoolers. But it was really a great event, conveniently held inside as it did rain on Saturday, October 11. I even got to hold a praying mantis!
      All kinds of natural interactions awaited kids and adults alike at this conference with a little bit of everything: bee dancing, holding bugs, eyeing glow in the dark scorpions and juvenile fireflies in a "luminescent cave" upstairs, even nature games on a row of ipads. Kids could even use a remote control so that robotic metal and plastic colored "bugs" could move around on a little platform, or see monsters in a haunted house.
      The haunted house, according to one parent of a six year old, had creepy monsters that scared his son --- maybe they should have designated that for the older kids, or teens. It was definitely an event attracting very little kids, up to those in middle school. I suppose teenagers consider bugs to be just creepy and uncool, so that may be why I didn't see too many there from my spot manning the "Master Naturalist" information booth. Dr. Fell, the bee expert, pointed out (at this 10- 5 event) that by 11 a.m. they had 1,100 people pass through. 
      Fell, who's taught bee keeping at Virginia Tech, engaged kids and others in some "bee dancing," or what he called the bee waggle. He told the kids to follow the customed "Hokie bird" . "Are you ready, Hokie bird?" he asked at the beginning of the bee waggling dance.
      There was an entomology table with a question sheet kids and adults could fill out, based on information from displays and just talking to exhibitors. I had a game, a sorting of insect and non insect pictures, and some people asked me about the insect questions. Specifically, insects have three body parts -- head, thorax, abdomen -- and three pairs of legs. This includes bees, butterflies, ladybugs, mosquitoes. Non insects, in a different bug grouping, include spiders, slugs (long snails without a shell), earth worms and others. Non insects, like ticks, can have four pairs of legs and two body sections.
     Virtual bees on the computer screen flew in and out of a bee hive section and were pretty noisy, along with kids and adults looking over all the bug fest had to offer, from a bug wizard question wheel to beeswax candles to a bug zoo with different kinds of hairy tarantulas and giant cockroaches, the latter maybe four inches long!
      Not all adults were enthused about bugs, though. One parent was encouraging her son as he tried to maneuver the robotic blue bug that looked like a mechanical spider. "Too bad we couldn't control all bugs," I told her. She replied, "Yeah, have them go to the river and drown."
I meant have them leave the house; that's all, but many adults don't realize we need bugs. They provide food for bats and song birds; they pollinate most of our fruits and vegetables. E. O. Wilson says we couldn't live without them.

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