Children Discover Native Pollinators at BugFest

Stacy Blomquist and a young visitor admire the microscopic scales on a butterfly’s wings. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.
Stacy Blomquist and a young visitor admire the microscopic scales on a butterfly’s wings. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

On September 19, 2015, almost 32,000 kids and adults gathered at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh to celebrate BugFest.

The free event featured over 100 bug-related exhibits, crafts, games, and activities, and a number of presentations. The U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station’s (SRS) booth “Buggy About Pollinators” was a big hit with the kids, and Stacy Blomquist, biological science technician at the SRS Insects, Diseases and Invasive Plants unit gave a presentation called “What’s All the Buzz about Pollinators?”

Native bees were the primary focus of Blomquist’s talk, and of the SRS booth. “There are 4,000 native bee species in the United States,” says Blomquist. “A lot of the children didn’t know there were any bees other than honeybees.” Blomquist demonstrated pollination by showing grains of pollen – which were represented by pompoms – and explaining that they had to reach the ovule – or glass flower vase. “I had kids in the audience act like an insect or wind to force the ‘pollen’ into the vase,” says Blomquist. She also discussed the life cycles and biology of bees as well as their food and habitat requirements. Many native bee species live in existing holes in wood or in hollow plant stems, and Blomquist showed participants how they could build native bee houses. “Not everyone can keep honeybees,” says Blomquist. “However, most people can have a native bee house.”

Twenty-five children and adults attended Blomquist’s presentation and hundreds more stopped by the SRS booth. One of the biggest attractions at the booth was the close-up look at the scales on butterfly wings, which could be seen through a computer microscope. “Their faces lit up with amazement when they saw the microscopic scales,” says Janice Lowe, a BugFest volunteer and acting public affairs specialist with the Forest Service Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives group.

“Kids were constantly arriving at the booth,” says Jeff Prestemon, a BugFest volunteer and project leader at the SRS Forest Economics and Policy unit. “They left with souvenirs in their hands and good memories in their minds.” One of the activities at the booth let kids make a miniature pot out of newspaper and plant a sunflower seed in it. Another activity let children guess which foods were pollinated by insect pollinators. Volunteers like Erika Mack, a resource information specialist at the SRS Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, showed kids foods such as coffee, apples, chocolate, cucumber, and other fruits, nuts and vegetables and asked which were pollinated by insects. “When kids and parents learned that we need an insect pollinator for chocolate, we got the response ‘save the pollinators!’” says Mack.

Children went home with activity bags that included the Forest Service’s popular middle school science journal, the Natural Inquirer. And many kids went home with a greater appreciation for pollinators, perhaps even a desire to study pollinators and their role in the ecosystem.

For more information, contact Stacy Blomquist at sblomquist@fs.fed.us.

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