Kids and bugs connect at Mississippi State

October 2, 2013

Education

They are creepy and crawly, but it seems kids just can’t get enough bugs in their lives.

The seventh annual Bugfest was held Sept. 27-28 at Mississippi State University, and drew around 1,000 visitors — almost twice as many as last year, said Pat Drackett, arboretum director.

The hands-on event is designed to introduce children and adults to insects and their various roles in nature. Participants have the opportunity to collect and identify insects, visit information booths, make crafts and play games.

John Guyton, Extension entomology specialist in MSU’s Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, said he wants people, especially children, to get excited about insects.

”Insects are a child’s most common encounter with wildlife in everyday life,” Guyton said. “They should learn the beneficial insects from the harmful. They are all going to be chasing insects out of their homes and cars for the rest of their lives.”

For many, Bugfest is the only positive meeting kids have with insects, Guyton said.

“Too often children have negative experiences with insects,” he said. “A parent or teacher will have them shoo away insects that really aren’t harmful. Although it is unintentional, it could start a life-long phobia of insects for them.”

Insects offer opportunities for learning, and not just about science, Guyton said.

“There are absolutely dozens and dozens of concepts that teachers can teach using insects,” Guyton said. “Butterfly migration can help students learn cardinal directions. I do a demonstration with termites, which are blind, to illustrate their use of scent as a means of communication.”

Just learning to tell the difference between a fly and wasp is a useful skill that young people need, Guyton said. However, many children discover that they are interested in insects and their behaviors, which might not be covered extensively in the classroom.

“Schools really don’t teach the things kids learn during Bugfest,” Guyton said. “Most teachers don’t know a lot about insects, but insects are great teaching tools.”

After a short orientation from Guyton about which insects to look for and how to capture them properly, attendees journeyed through the arboretum looking for insects, such as butterflies, bees and walking sticks. They could study them and then release them or keep them. For those who chose to keep them, volunteers, including MSU Bug Camp attendees and entomology department graduate students, helped pin each insect to boards and described its life cycle and habits.

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