Insect Petting Zoo

The Insect Petting Zoo is a core activity of BugBowl. The Insect Petting Zoo is the place to teach the public more than they would otherwise know about insects. The ideal Petting Zoo insect is large, doesn’t sting or bite, doesn’t get stressed when handled and moves slowly. Some of the more popular arthropods are hornworm caterpillars, Madagascar hissing roaches, bess beetles, stick insects, giant millipedes, monarch butterflies and large spiders.

Our petting zoo has lines of people waiting to enter. We require a crew of about 15 people to man two sets of six stations over a six hour period. We have one or two seasoned veterans who can oversee the operation, answer the really off the wall questions and make corrections if trouble occurs. The bulk of the “zookeepers” are students who have signed up for Insect Petting Zoo as one of their class projects. The students are from a variety of backgrounds, but they all love insects and enjoy interacting with the public. The students must specialize in at least one insect, research and commit to memory 20 fun facts and be able to answer a barrage of questions.

Prior to the day, students attend a session to practice handling the pets. Students must ensure that the pets don’t become defensive, fall or get injured in the course of the event. We offer tips on how to entice the public to hold a pet, how to prevent an anxious visitor from jerking their hand away when the pet is passed to them and how to speed up the process when the lines get too long. Students make posters to decorate the room and provide additional information.

It is a long day that starts at 10 am and goes until 4 pm, when we close the doors. Lines form quickly and students get a few minutes break here and there. Questions range from the mundane, “What does it eat? Where is it from? Do we have these in Indiana?” to the sublime, “Do insects go to heaven when they die?” and everything in between. Visitors have an opportunity to hold the arthropods (the squeamish may only go so far as to touch one with their finger tip). The public can view arthropods up close, admire the wonders of nature, ask questions and perhaps overcome a fear of insects.

Insect Petting Zoo has several important educational features. When students are responsible for teaching others and answering their questions, the students must learn the material well themselves. If they don’t know an answer at the beginning, six hours of answering the same question repeatedly will enhance learning. When students research facts about their pet, a need to know and a goal in mind enhances learning. Students also learn about being part of a team, planning and how to interact with the public. The public has a chance to learn from the students. Young children get first hand experience with insects which is invaluable for learning information later in the schooling. Overall, an Insect Petting Zoo is a great educational offering for students and the public.

Time Lapse of Insect Petting Zoo

Videography: John Obermeyer
1 h 30 minutes compressed into 40 seconds

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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