This is a guest post by postdoc Nora Lahr
The Museum of Natural Sciences held another magnificent BugFest, with the dragonfly as the main feature of 2017. This annual event brings 35,000 insect enthusiasts to downtown Raleigh, where more than 100 stations with arthropod related displays, educational activities, and specimens are set up. As usual, the Frank Lab manned a table, this year with the theme of “Your Backyard Jungle: Meet the Six-legged Neighbors.”
While the stars of last year’s table were undoubtedly the azalea caterpillars—which were very resilient during a long day of being picked up, and dropped, by visitors of all ages—the azalea bushes were empty when it came time to collect this year. We think that azalea caterpillars may have squeezed in a second generation at the end of summer in 2016, while in 2017, some late-summer storms made for (relatively!) cooler days in North Carolina.
Instead, the six-legged neighbors of 2017 were represented by wheel bugs (also known as assassin bugs), a male and female praying mantis, pine sawfly larvae, katydids, a beautiful yellow garden spider (also known as a writing spider), and lots of caterpillars: swallowtails, silver-spotted skippers, a fat tomato hornworm, and this year’s favorite—the curve-lined owlet moth caterpillars which look just like dried leaves dangling and trembling in a breeze. Kids and adults enjoyed asking questions about these common insects that are easily collected in a backyard or park.
With Steve on sabbatical, Kristi studying in France, and Elsa at the Predatory Plants table, this year’s Backyard Jungle was organized by graduate student Christina Mitchell and manned by almost the entire Frank Lab over the course of the day. Later that evening, the stars of the show were released by an extremely excited 5-year-old, back where they belonged…even the tomato hornworm.