Tarantulas and cockroaches and beetles — oh, my! This is not the start to a new version of “The Wizard of Oz,” but, rather, just some of the arthropods that were present Sunday at the fourth annual Arizona Insect Festival.
3,000 people all across the Tucson community, and even from as far as Phoenix, came to the UA this past Sunday to see all of the creepy-crawly insects and other arthropods that you can find on this planet, according to Kathleen Walker, an assistant professor in the department of entomology and director of the Insect Discovery outreach program.
The department of entomology put on a party to celebrate the diversity of insects with the UA and greater Tucson communities, said Wendy Moore, an assistant professor of insect systematics in the department of entomology and the UA Insect Collection curator.
“[The goal of the Arizona Insect Festival] is to educate and to engage the Tucson community, both about how amazing and important insects are [and] how they have shaped our world and daily life,” Walker said. “[It’s] also to let them know about all of the amazing insect science research that is occurring at the UA and outside the university.”
People that came to the festival were able to touch, see and even eat insects.
“[In the Arthropod Zoo] we had aquatic [arthropods], going with the dragonfly theme,” Moore said. “We even had a crab. We also had out all of our favorites, like Hercules beetles, Horselover grasshoppers, vinegaroons, centipedes, tarantulas, mantids and walking sticks.”
Many at the festival relished in it being a free experience, which Walker explained is one of the many wonderful aspects of the event.
“I would recommend this event because kids are becoming familiar with insects and understanding how we work together with them,” said Janeth Gomez, a UA alumna who brought her family to the event. “It’s not simply, ‘There is an insect — kill it.’ Kids have to understand how we fit into this major puzzle.”
Adults and children alike could be seen enjoying the different booths that were at the festival. Walker said that it was amazing to see graduate students and faculty explain their research — which, at times, may seem esoteric — so even a 7-year-old can understand the world around them.
“We love it,” said Dia Nonaka, a woman attending the festival with her daughter, who was wearing a butterfly costume. “All of the volunteers are really good. [My daughter] is really young, but they talk to her and engage her. … It is great that they are inclusive of the little ones.”
There were about 200 participants volunteering at the festival this year, Walker said. Many of these individuals were students, staff or faculty at the UA. However, there were three middle school teachers from the Sunnyside Unified School District who brought some of their students, who were eager to share their passion for insects with others, Walker added.
“There is just something about bugs,” Walker said. “They capture [everyone’s] imagination. Insects have this special attraction about them … and the world is less scary when you are not afraid of insects.”
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