Insectapalooza explores wild world of bugs Oct. 22

Peter Borst, a technician in biomedical sciences at the College of Veterinary Medicine, mans the Bee Exhibit at Insectapalooza 2015.

Whip scorpions that shoot acid from their tails. Butterflies with wings like dead leaves on the outside that flash a brilliant blue on the inside. Massive tarantulas, quick and agile enough to race up trees and take down lizards.

Sound like CGI creations from a sci-fi flick?

No, these are real bugs, which can be seen in all their creepy-crawly glory for one day at Cornell.

Insectapalooza, an annual event hosted by the Department of Entomology, is an interactive, hands-on experience for all ages. Now in its 13th year, the fair draws upward of 2,500 people to Cornell to witness hundreds of live insects, spiders and other fascinating arthropods.

A celebration of bizarre, bad and beneficial bugs, Insectapalooza will be held in Comstock Hall on Saturday, Oct. 22, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Laura Harrington, professor of entomology and department chair, says Insectapalooza is a unique way to engage the public with creatures that people often fear, don’t understand or take for granted.

“This is a wonderful way to spend a fall afternoon with family and friends – our entomology family wants to show you the amazing life of insects,” said Harrington, adding there is something for everyone at the event.

Insectapalooza favorites include the Butterfly Room; the “Battle of the Bugs” display showing off the diverse, resourceful and just plain weird ways some insects prey on other bugs; and the Arthropod Zoo, featuring an impressive collection of creatures that most people never have the chance to see.

“The department spends an incredible effort to share their love, knowledge and respect of insects with the public,” Harrington said. “Yes, some bugs make people squeamish, but this event helps people overcome the ‘ick’ reaction and see up close the fascinating ways these bugs impact our lives.”

Linda Rayor, senior lecturer research associate in entomology and director of the Naturalist Outreach Program, says the event is an exciting way to communicate science to the public.

“We have worked hard to make Insectapalooza a community outreach event where we can engage the public of all ages in not only the wonders of arthropods, but also the value of current research in entomology,” Rayor said. “We aim for a mix of infotainment for the younger set with giving people access to the amazing diversity and value of insects.”

John Sanderson, associate professor of entomology and an expert in biological control, will host the popular “Battle of the Bugs” display. Through evolution, insects have developed many strategies for feeding and reproduction, and Sanderson and others will show some of the tactics deployed by insect predators.

Those familiar with the 1979 science-fiction classic “Alien” will be aware of the strategy used by insect parasitoids: These creatures lay their eggs inside other insects, and eventually their spawn chew their way out of the host to start the process again.

Other insects hunt prey in a manner familiar to us but at a size far below our usual awareness. Visitors can watch predation unfold at human scale, as a camera attached to a microscope will show orange predaceous mites hunt and eat another species of mites that are pests of plant leaves.

“Visitors will see projected on a big screen the equivalent of a lion hunting a gazelle on the Serengeti, but the hunt takes place in less than a quarter of an inch,” said Sanderson.

The cost of entry to Insectapalooza 2016 is $3 per person, and free for children age 3 and younger. For more information, visit the Cornell Entomology website.

Matt Hayes is managing editor and social media officer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

This story originally appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.