Insect festival provides fun and learning for all

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A young girl reaches towards a monarch butterfly during Insecta Fiesta at the UT Texas Natural Science Center’s Breckenridge Field Lab Saturday. The event offered people of all ages the chance to learn about insects and interact with them.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

All kinds of insects, creepy-crawlers and bugs were on display for people to see, touch and learn about on Saturday.

Insecta Fiesta, which was held at the UT Texas Natural Science Center’s Breckenridge Field Lab, offered the chance to learn about insects in various ways, such as an insect petting zoo, arts and crafts and a competition to see who could spit a dead cricket the farthest distance. In attendance were many UT students, faculty, Austinites and children.

John Abbott, curator of entomology and integrative biology professor, organized the event. Abbott said the goal of Insecta Fiesta was to cultivate an interest in insects for the general public.

“We wanted to educate, excite and inform about insects,” Abbott said. “There are more insects on the planet than any others group of animals, and we want to get people as excited about them as we are.”

Abbott said although many people view insects as strange, he hoped the fun activities being offered would spark an interest and understanding of the creatures.

“If they don’t have an outright interest in something, they certainly have a curiosity,” Abbott said. “Our goal through lots of different mechanisms, from arts and crafts to talks to holding live insects, is just to get them excited and over their fears in some cases.”

Abbott said he hoped the event grabbed people’s attention and excited them about insects.

“I just want everybody to appreciate them for the amazing group of organisms that they are,” Abbott said. “Sure, there’s some that are pests, but most of them are not, and they’re so amazing in so many different ways.”

Christina Cid, director of education at the Texas Natural Science Center, said Insecta Fiesta offered several teacher workshops to help integrate insect studies into grade school curriculum. Cid said 151 teachers from throughout the state traveled to attend the workshops.

“The idea behind the teacher workshops is for teachers to learn how to directly integrate insect-related curriculum into their teaching,” Cid said. “That way, they’re getting the content and the teaching skills to incorporate it.”

Cid said it’s important for teachers to integrate insects into their teachings, because it allows for more practical lessons.

“These teachers can go into their back yards and collect grasshoppers for their classes,” Cid said. “It’s really something that’s accessible to them, and easy to integrate into their curriculum for hands-on learning.”

Cid said this type of hands-on learning is critical in order to engage children in the world around them.

“It’s vital,” Cid said. “Science is around us, and we need to engage kids in getting hands on and getting outside.”

Sam Shook, a junior at the Liberal Arts Science Academy and a volunteer at the event, said insects have interested him since he was a child.

“I’ve been collecting insects for a while now, ever since I was a kid,” Shook said. “I love insects. There’s just a massive variety of different kinds to look at, which you don’t really get with many of types of living things.”

Shook said events like Insecta Fiesta are important in helping people truly understand insects.

“This kind of thing is really helpful, because most people don’t have a whole lot of interaction with insects,” Shook said. “These kinds of displays help lessen some of the fear factor for them. It makes them less unknown.”

Shook said he hopes the event will breed a positive attitude toward insects.

“Insects aren’t just scary, weird pest creatures,” he said. “They can be really cool and interesting looking. They’re something you should study and learn more about.”

Printed on Monday, April 23, 2012 as: Insecta Fiesta helps people appreciate bugs