On September 17, more than 35,000 insect enthusiasts gathered at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, NC.
U.S. Forest Service employees were among them. As in years past, the Southern Research Station had a table at BugFest. Hundreds of children and adults stopped by to learn about SRS research and to see insects up close.
SRS research entomologists Bud Mayfield, Dan Miller, and JT Vogt provided insect specimens – and digital microscopes so participants could get a closer look. Most of the specimens were biocontrol agents, which means that they eat destructive insects.
“Events like BugFest are great ways to teach children about beneficial insects,” says Mayfield. “Of course, some insects are destructive, but there are many more that help us.”
Last year, Mayfield and his colleagues – with the help of Boy Scout volunteers – planted 88 young hemlock trees. The trees are for a biocontrol insectary, and Laricobius osakensis beetles will be raised there. Eventually, the beetles will be released on hemlock trees in national forests and other public lands.
BugFest attendees learned about the insectary while looking at Laricobius nigrinus beetles, which are close relatives of Laricobius osakensis. Both species can help control hemlock woolly adelgid populations.
Children also saw a number of beetles that prey on the southern pine beetle. The southern pine beetle is the most destructive native insect in the South.
Is the southern pine beetle a bad bug? It depends on who you ask.
“My favorite interaction at BugFest was with an eight year old boy,” says SRS resource information specialist Erika Mack. Mack, along with SRS research ecologist Frank Koch, co-organized SRS participation.
“We talked about how destructive the southern pine beetle is, and why we call it a bad bug,” says Mack. “The child didn’t agree. He pointed out that beetles eat pine trees because they’re hungry, and how does that make them bad bugs?” Further dialogue did not sway the young insect enthusiast.
“Sharing our research with the public is important,” says Koch. “I think many of the folks who stopped by will remember us and retain what they learned about Forest Service research.”
In addition to the conversations and the insect specimens, children enjoyed a hands-on dragonfly craft — dragonflies were the mascot for BugFest’s arthropod theme. They also appreciated the goody bags, which contained copies of the Forest Service science journal, the Natural Inquirer.
For more information, email Erika Mack at firstname.lastname@example.org.