NCSU Insect Museum at Bugfest 2011, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh
Raleigh’s annual insect event, Bugfest, has once again come and gone, and though it was a cold and rainy day the turnout was great (~27,000 people!) and full of lots of arthropod-related fun. This year’s theme was spiders (Araneae), which was great for some (like me), but probably not for all that attended. Based on that theme we split our table: one section was devoted to spider-related insects, while the other displayed some of our (mostly István Mikó’s) work on the internal anatomy of insects, especially wasps. We also had posters about our GigaPans and collecting/curation tools, some of which we brought to show (slam trap, lights, yellow pans, etc.).
Lab members discussing spider-related insects from our collection, including wasps (Pompilidae, Ichneumonidae, Scelionidae), flies (Acroceridae, Chloropidae) and others (Mantispidae, Reduviidae)
For the first section of the table (above) we decided to show a sampling of the types of insects that are closely associated with spiders. Being a wasp lab, we were inspired by the many types that hunt or parasitize spiders. We had a full drawer of spider wasps (Pompilidae) including some impressively-large tarantula hawks (Pepsis spp.), and explained how these wasps stalk and paralyze spiders, to later bury as food for their young. We also showed some tiny spider egg wasps (amazingly-cute parasitoids in the genus Baeus) to both give a feeling for their minute size and the fact that spider eggs are also attacked. Other insects that we featured included thread-legged bugs (Reduviidae: Emesinae) that hunt spiders out of their webs, mantispids (Neuroptera: Mantispidae) that parasitize the egg sacs of spiders, and some flies including small-headed flies (Acroceridae) that are internal parasites of spiders.
Part of our display showing some internal structures of wasps, particularly the musculature of the eastern cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus)
The second section (above) was devoted to wasp internal anatomy, and we set up a microscope to show an actual specimen and its internal structures. Because of their size and popularity, we had dissections of the eastern cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus) showing the muscles and other structures. We explained that insects aren’t just filled with brown goo or jelly (nor magic!), but with muscles and organs just like in humans. Something about microscopes really draws people in and we had a lot of visitors view the wasp with variable degrees of interest or disgust. Many people commented on how the muscles looked, some making the analogy that they looked like chicken, leading us to explain how muscles are very similar between insects and vertebrates.
Cicada killer cut in half to reveal the internal musculature under the microscope
One of the visiting youngsters observing what most people never see – the inside of an insect!
All in all we had a great time (as usual) and hope that the public had fun and learned some new things about insects and other arthropods, as well as became informed about the NCSU Insect Museum!