Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center hosts Bug Night Out

Jenny Schlauch

Last Friday, UT’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center hosted Bug Night Out, the kickoff event for the first annual Texas Pollinator BioBlitz. 

The BioBlitz is a two-week long event created by the Texas State Parks and Wildlife Department to raise awareness for the importance of pollinators such as bees and butterflies in an engaging and competitive way.

Dozens of families from across Austin and beyond attended, many of whom had young children.

During the event, visitors explored after-dark wildlife, and over the course of the night, educational booths showcased living and preserved insect specimens, professionals gave talks about how to become citizen scientists and guides led tours around the Wildflower Center’s trails.

Retired professional photographer Joel Craig led the first talk, which was about how to properly take, edit and present photos with a cell phone. Craig said he chose to cover cell phone photography instead of normal camera instruction because of its accessibility and practicality.

“Everyone has a camera in their pocket,” Craig said. “It’s available, it’s a family activity. Not everybody has a DSLR [camera] or can afford one, but they usually have a cell phone.”

Over the past year, Craig has become serious about cell phone photography, largely because of the technological advances that have improved iPhone and Android cameras.

“[Taking pictures is now] so much easier, and the quality is finally where I want it to be,” Craig said. “The editing tools that I like to use are available. I used to spend hours and hours in a dark room, and I don’t have to do that anymore.”

While Craig has experience with nature and landscape photography, this was his first time demonstrating how to take pictures of insects in the field. He said he found the practice challenging and exciting, and enjoyed working with the Wildflower Center.

“What amazes me is how many interesting things are out there that I walk by every day and never knew were there,” Craig said.

Along with the presentations, children and families visited insect education booths, manned by volunteers from the UT Insect Collection and other local groups.

Ninfa Bradbury, a retired teacher from Houston, came to Austin for the weekend to visit relatives. She heard about the event and brought her grandchildren for the kid-friendly activities. As a teacher, Bradbury said kinesthetic learning activities, like the ones available at Bug Night Out, are important.

“[There is something special about] hands-on learning, and being able to see it up close and not on a computer,” Bradbury said. “[These activities are] really good not just for kids, but for adults too. As adults, we live in this world where we have to be so hurried all the time. To actually be able to take time and see nature … the opportunity is important.”

Rumi Buya, an Austin resident, heard about Bug Night Out through her monthly book club and decided to take her two children, Leah and Ryan, ages 5 and 3.

“We took a tour!” Leah said. “And we hit a branch and saw how many bugs we could find!”

Leah was referring to one of several trail tours led by UT Insect Collection Curator Alex Wild. He showed families a method of insect collection that involves a “beat sheet”: A white cloth is placed under a branch or bush, which is then shaken, revealing insects otherwise difficult to find. Wild encouraged children and guests to find their own bugs and learn how scientists study insects. 

“I like butterflies and flowers,” Leah said. “We learned a lot of new things about bugs.”