The UA Mall was a hive of activity on Saturday, thanks in part to a research showcase from the Department of Entomology.
The department held its first-ever Arizona Insect Festival, which exhibited the university’s extensive insect collection being studied by more than 200 scientists on campus, including students and faculty. The collection included many live insects that are native to Arizona, as well as many mounted on display that can be found all over the world.
Although the Department of Entomology maintains this collection as a tool for teaching and research, scientists in the Department of Neuroscience and the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, which use the insects as model systems, also use it extensively. The Department of Neuroscience ran a booth that explained just how complex insect brains are.
Wendy Moore, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology who also serves as the UA insect collection curator, said the purpose of the festival was to educate people about insects, and to explain that not all insects are pests.
“We feel like insects need a public relations person,” Moore said. “Over 75 percent of all animals are insects, and they perform very important ecosystem functioning, including pollination and litter decomposition.”
Aside from the educational aspect of the festival, Moore also wanted to highlight the lighter side of the experience.
“Everyone has a child inside them, and that child loved insects,” Moore said. “When they hold one in their hand and look at it really closely, they become a child again.”
Moore said she hopes the festival can include more insect art in the future.
A popular attraction at the festival was the Western Hercules beetle, a winged insect measuring about two to three inches long, with a hard outer shell and horn, reminiscent of a rhinoceros. The herbivorous beetle is found throughout Arizona.
Rory Tibbals, a Tucsonan who lives near the university, said he decided to stop by the festival during a walk with his wife and son.
“We were just out for a walk and noticed this was going on, and thought it was about the coolest thing we’d ever seen,” Tibbals said.
He said he found the centipedes and the scorpions to be the most interesting, but made sure not to leave without visiting the edible insects booth, where they were serving chocolate-covered crickets.
“I’ve eaten crickets before in military training,” Tibbals said. “But they’re way better covered in chocolate.”