Insects invade Student Union for annual festival

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Kyle Hansen and Kyle Hansen / The Daily Wildcat | The Daily Wildcat Kyle Hansen / The Daily Wildcat Dr. Tanya Renner shows off a tarantula in the Forbes Building on Wednesday, Sept. 16 2014. The tarantula is among a number of bugs that will be shown at the Arizona Insect Fair on Sunday, Sept. 21 2014.

Buzz, buzz, buzzzzzz. Most people run at the slightest detection of a buzzing bug, but people will be flocking to them this Sunday at the Student Union Memorial Center Grand Ballroom to attend the fourth annual Arizona Insect Festival.

According to its website, the 2014 Arizona Insect Festival will feature over 20 booths with a large diversity of activities. Attendees will be able to learn about the complexity of these small organisms at booths like “Bug Brains!”

“Arthropods literally make our work go ‘round,” said Tanya Renner, a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of entomology. Attendees will have the opportunity to pet and hold a variety of critters. “The Joy of Roaches” exhibit allows participants to become intimately involved with our cockroach friends. The brave can even eat a bug at the “Insects as Food” booth.

“The most exciting thing about the insect festival is that it brings in so many people who are terrified of insects,” said Amanda Romaine, a nursing junior. “They leave with so much more knowledge.”

The festival is fun for the entire family and has great booths geared towards children. The “Build-a-Bug” and “Build a Butterfly!” exhibits allow kids to take home fun souvenirs that will remind them of the wonders of the insect world long after the festival has ended.

“It’s the best thing ever to come to campus,” said Nicole Bui, a biosystems engineering junior. “I had so much fun last year that I’m volunteering at the festival this year.”

The largest exhibit at the festival is “Arthropod Zoo: Hall of Biodiversity,” and it allows visitors to learn about the evolutionary innovations that make arthropods unique.

“Depending on the monsoon season, we can have hundreds of live specimens,” Renner said. “It’s always a surprise what shows up on the day of the festival, and we gratefully thank and acknowledge our volunteers that have spent a considerable amount of time finding our arthropod ambassadors.”

Renner’s research focuses on how organisms, like arthropods, interact with each other on the molecular level. She studies how “ant-loving” bombardier beetles are able to sniff out ants and attract ants using chemicals they secrete.

“[Arthropods] are an integral part of the food web and serve as important predators, pests, pollinators and decomposers,” Renner said. “They have a huge economic impact and without them, we wouldn’t have many of the foods we eat or products we wear on a daily basis.”

The fourth annual insect festival is hosted by the department of entomology. Booths will also be sponsored by other organizations such as the Tucson Botanical Gardens and the Southeast Arizona Butterfly Association.

“[The festival] is important because we are able to present the importance of arthropods to the general public,” Renner said. “Many of the species at the festival can be found right in your backyard, so this is a great way to introduce U of A students, children and adults alike to the amazing world of arthropods.”
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Follow Patrick O’Connor on Twitter @tachyzoite


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