Bugs in abundance draw a crowd at UF

Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 11:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 11:07 p.m.

They're the pits in your paint job. The squeals heard from the other room. The unnerving buzz by your ear.

They are bugs.

But to a crowd of eager students and Gainesville locals, they mean an evening full of pizza, games and learning.

The third annual Bugfest was staged Wednesday at Steinmetz Hall by the University of Florida Entomology and Nematology department.

The free event was aimed to promote entomology -- the study of insects -- to high school and college students to recruit students to the major.

Rebecca Baldwin, undergraduate coordinator, expected between 500 to 600 guests to attend, although the rainy evening could have turned some away. The entomology department, which is currently made up of 43 majors, is eager to recruit interested students. Baldwin explained that in the past, Bugfest has led to an increase in entomology minors.

Lisa Weston and her daughter Brandy Weston attended Bugfest for the first time. Brandy, an 11th-grader at Bronson Middle High School, is interested in studying entomology at UF.

"She wanted to be an entomologist since she was old enough to say bug-e-ologist," Lisa Weston laughed.

Luke Henderson, a third-grade homeschool student, stood in line donning his Backyard Safari Outfitters vest complete with bug net, bug vacuum and microscope. He said he was most excited about the prospect of getting his dad over his fear of spiders.

The halls at Steinmetz Hall were clad in gold, purple and green decorations as the theme for the evening was Mardi Gras -- a choice made by club members. In addition to pizza and beads, guests could watch Gorge, Noah and Logan -- three hissing cockroaches -- race across the finish line.

Other activities were cricket-spitting, which involved dead crickets being spit across a distance and measured, and maggot art, which was made by dipping live maggots into paint and placing them on star-shaped paper to crawl around.

Sophomore Keith Gerber, president of the UF Entomology Club, explained the most popular attraction to be the arthropod petting zoo. In the glass cages on the table were an emperor scorpion, Madagascar hissing cockroach and a Chilean rose hair tarantula named Rosy, which could be petted and viewed up close.

Jade Hilliard, a UF senior studying entomology and specializing in urban pest management, said the first 400 visitors received tickets to the Florida Museum of Natural History's Butterfly Rainforest as well as a food voucher for pizza.

"We want students to come because it's a recruitment tool for us, but we're not going to turn away the public," Hilliard said.

Hilliard explained that in the past, they have had a cockroach momentarily escape and a few kids run out of cricket-spitting screaming, but the evening remains a hit.

"The best part is seeing people react to this event, because they come in kind of unsure, but they always leave with smiles," Hilliard said.

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