Hordes of insects descended upon downtown Raleigh last weekend, and, paradoxically, drew scores of human admirers. Could this mean the winds are changing for our beloved exoskeleton-clad creatures? Thanks to the efforts of several Frank Lab folks and their helpers, the answer is…perhaps.
Bugfest, Raleigh’s annual festival dedicated to all things arthropod was again a huge success in its 19th year, drawing 31,898 visitors. Held by the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, the event featured over 100 booths with arthropod-related displays, activities, food, and specimens.
The Frank Lab crew and helpers from the North Carolina Botanical Garden manned an outdoor booth called “Your Backyard Jungle: Lions, Tigers, and Bees in the Trees,” which focused on native pollinators and parasitoids.
Visitors to the pollinator table were treated to a live bumblebee display and an array of pinned and preserved specimens showcasing the diversity of NC’s native bees. The favorite activity for booth volunteers and visitors alike was an ingenious puppet-esque demonstration of how bees pollinate flowers, created by Elsa Youngsteadt. Visitors could use a popsicle stick “bee leg,” dip it in the “pollen” of the male flower, and transfer it to the female flower, which then transformed into a fruit!
Visitors to the booth may have even gotten a few plant lessons sprinkled in with their insect info. Johnny Randall from the North Carolina Botanical Garden contributed his expertise and some beautiful bouquets of different flowers pollinated by bumble bees, hawkmoths, hummingbirds, and other important native pollinators.
The parasitoids had their own table too, complete with microscopes to bring the world of these tiny monsters to life. PhD student Emily Meineke was on hand to share how this important group of insects provides control of unwanted pests—by eating them from the inside out. A poster put together by Kristi Backe showed the who-eats-whom among insects that are found in a typical tree canopy, a surprisingly complex miniature jungle.
Bugfest happens only one mealworm-fried-rice-fueled day a year, but fortunately for us and the plants we depend on, the jungle remains in every back yard for those who know where to look.