For the Love of Bugs
Well, there is that "ick" factor.
"If you have a grizzly bear or a beautiful bird, many people are engaged right away," Mace Vaughan, director of the Pollinator Conservation Program of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation told Nuwer. The Xerces Society, headquartered in Portland, Ore., protects invertebrates, especially pollinators.
"People think all invertebrates have an ick factor," Vaughn commented, "but in fact almost all don't."
People who don't like bugs sometimes run, stomp or scream--not necessarily in that order.
But at the Bohart Museum of Entomology on the UC Davis campus, there's a sense of awe and wonderment. See, the Bohart Museum is home to a global collection of more than seven million insects but a popular attraction is the "live petting zoo," comprised of assorted Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and the like.
And children do "like."
Bob Dunning of Davis recently brought along three of his children, Molly, 9, Emme, 8, and Mick, 6, to enjoy a Bohart open house.
Emme, especially, was drawn to the Madagascar hissing cockroaches, aka hissers. She watched one crawl up her arm and around her neck. She didn't flinch. Right on cue, brother Mick let his hisser do the same. Molly? She preferred to watch.
Bohart volunteer Ralph Washington, who received his bachelor’s degree in entomology from UC Davis, told them that these cockroaches are native to Madagascar. The Madagascar hissing cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa) is one of the largest cockroach species and can reach two to four inches in length.
“They’re like goodwill ambassadors to the Bohart and the cockroach family,” said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach director, who estimated the museum holds about 40 to 50 Madagascar hissing cockroaches at any given time.
“Some visitors think of them as big beetles, and when we tell them they’re cockroaches sometimes they get a little concerned," she said. "They’re thinking of the pest species.”
An added attraction is that Madagascar hissing cockroaches, aka “hissers,” make a noise—they hiss.
“They hiss for a variety of reasons,” Yang said. “The males hiss at each other over territory and they hiss to attract females. When we pick them up, they do an ‘alarm hiss’ so we will leave them alone and put them down.”
Sometimes they’re so used to being handled that they don’t readily hiss. That’s when the museum staffers raid the personal collection of entomology graduate student Emily Bzdyk, who keeps some in her Bohart office.
The Bohart Museum, located at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive, is directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis. It's open for visits Monday through Thursday.
To draw in folks who can't attend on weekdays, the Bohart Museum offers special weekend open houses.
The next weekend open house is Saturday, Nov. 19 from 1 to 4. The theme: “Thankful for Bugs.” Want to attend? It's free. And, you'll have a buggy good time.
But be sure to bring your camera. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture of a bug on a kid ought to be worth at least 10,000.
Madagascar hissing cockroach crawls up the arm of Mick Dunning, 6, of Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Ralph Washington, who has a bachelor's degree in entomology from UC Davis, talks about the hissers to Mick, Emme and Molly Dunning (right). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Emme Dunning, 8, of Davis, and a hisser. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)