For the second year in a row, the Southern Research Station (SRS) created a “buzz”at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ Bugfest. The Station’s exhibit, “Most Wanted: Bad Bugs in the Forest,” warned even the cleverest of beetles to beware, since researchers armed with state-of-the-art tracking tools are on a mission to detect and reduce the impacts of invasive species. Each September, the largest insect-related festival in the nation draws more than 30,000 multicultural children and adults to check out the latest news in a bug’s life – all while enjoying crispy-crittered cuisine courtesy of Café Insecta. Yum!
This year, the Raleigh-based free event featured over 100 bug-related exhibits, crafts, games, and activities, and several larger-than-life presentations in the museum’s immersive Daily Planet Theater. Stacy Blomquist, biological science technician with the SRS Insects, Diseases and Invasive Plants unit kicked off the “bug-a-palooza” bevy of presenters, enthralling moviegoers with an FBI roster of “most wanted” critters. Who headed up the pack? The Dendroctonus frontalis of course, whose deep forest, bark munching crew call the southern pine beetle.
Blomquist brought her signature enthusiasm for all things bug, just off the heels of her unit’s highly successful Kent House Bug Day in Alexandria, LA. Blomquist’s knack for bringing bugs up close and personal captivated a near full-house audience. Participants were bug-eyed at the damage created by a creepy cast of characters – hemlock woolly adelgids, emerald ash borers, Asian long-horned beetles, and pine beetles. Blomquist emphasized that these tiny pests do major forest damage. “The whole ecosystem can change, all because of a tiny bug that you can’t even see with your eyes!”
Station and South Atlantic Conservation Cooperative volunteers welcomed wannabe arthropods, their parents, and other bug lovers at the SRS exhibit, sharing researchers’ role in the battle against the bugs. Festival-goers learned how to “slow the spread,” and magnified views of the once illusive southern pine beetle amazed all who could barely fathom such a small insect eating its way through millions of trees.
Children and adults went home with a greater appreciation of Forest Service research. Goodie bags filled with elementary school-aged activity sheets, Natural Inquirer middle school science journals, and SRS-themed bookmarks ensured that forest science conversations continued around the dinner table. SRS Forest Inventory and Analysis volunteer J.T. Vogt looked around and realized, “Our future entomologists are right here!”
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