Creepy Crawlers Draw Crowd to Insecta Fiesta

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How would you react if a 6-inch bug, (an Australian Spiny Walking Stick, to be exact) with antennae spinning calculatedly through the air, crawled across your fingers?

“Whooaaa!” was the reaction from a mesmerized group of children, colliding into each other’s tiny bodies for a chance to touch the harmless but rather intimidating specimen. Behind the horde of youngsters, parents clasped their faces in shock at their children’s bravery.

But the Australian Spiny Walking Stick was only one of the 40 live species of insects at the first annual Insecta Fiesta, hosted by UT’s Texas Natural Science Center at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory.

Saturday’s family-friendly event featured a wide range of activities for both kids and adults, including a butterfly garden, an arts and crafts tent, bug-shaped bicycles fitted with giant butterfly wings, informative talks about insect species and preservations, and even a cricket-spitting contest.

Among the event-goers were 150 teachers from across the state of Texas picking up tips and information about incorporating insects into their classroom lessons.

“We want to educate, excite, and inform about insects,” said Dr. John Abbott, the center’s curator of entomology. “We want people to know what we’re all about.”

Though this was the lab’s biggest annual event, it also offers training workshops throughout the year to K-12 teachers in Texas. The Natural Science Center also boasts some of the most expansive paleontology collections in the nation.

On Saturday, though, the bugs were the main attraction. After the kids excitedly observed the Australian Walking Stick, African Emperor scorpions, and gargantuan Southeast Asian grasshoppers, the parents appeared slightly relieved to head over to the butterfly garden, a flowery haven of bugs a little more familiar, and a lot easier on the eyes.

Photos by Jeff Heimsath. 


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