When: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Sunday
Where: Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium, 3450 Ortiz Avenue, Fort Myers.
Admission: $9 for adults and $6 for children (ages 3-12), including the museum, trails, and all planetarium shows scheduled that day. There is no charge for children younger than 3 years and admission is free to members.
Information: (239) 275-3435 or calusanature.com.
FORT MYERS — They’re creepy, they’re crawly, and we go to great lengths to keep them out of our homes. Arguably, a fear of bugs is one of the more culturally acceptable phobias. Maybe, though, insects simply suffer from a case of bad PR.
The Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium seeks to right that wrong with its new Insectarium.
“Most insects get a bad rap. We wanted to focus on the good things - why they’re beneficial.” Education Director Carrie Nameth explained att the exhibit’s grand opening last Saturday.
Cages and cookies?
The Insectarium features live insects (safely contained in glass enclosures), butterfly and moth mounts, a demonstration bee hive and plastic busts of insect heads that illustrate the differences between mouth types. Children can play dress-up with a chest full of antennae and wings or hang out in the entomology tent and pretend to be an expert in the field.
If you’re not sympathetic to the perceived image problem, consider the many important roles insects play. These include pollination, decomposition and pest predation. Additionally, according to Nameth, “No matter how big or small they are, they all fit into the food chain.”
On opening day, in fact, “chocolate chirp cookies,” which had crickets baked right in, were available for the taking.
“I didn’t expect them to be whole,” one surprised visitor exclaimed.
Dry roasted crickets were offered for those with more adventurous palates — and yes, there were some takers. The consensus was they were a lot like sunflower seeds, except for the legs. The Insectarium does not take a purist view in its selection of specimens. Arachnid aficionados will delight in a selection of scorpions and spiders.
The bee’s knees
Bees, however, seem to enjoy a favored status among the staff, and with good reason.
“Bees are pollinators,” Nameth said. “Without bees, you wouldn’t have fruits and vegetables and flowers.”
They’re also a species of special concern. The museum had long displayed a working bee hive as part of its regular collection. Recently, however, the bees evidently encountered a larvacidal agent, which destroyed the colony.
Kim Pierce is director of operations at the facility. She said pest control is an unavoidable component of life in Florida.
“It’s necessary,” she said, “but we just need to find a balance.” The larvacide was likely targeted at mosquitoes. But what kills one species will often kill others.
The worst damage, Pierce explained, is done by do-it-yourself types who apply pesticides inappropriately.
“I don’t think people understand how important insects are in our environment,” she said. She acknowledged that with the bee population’s decline, more people are becoming aware of their importance, but “they’re not there yet.”
Start ‘em young
Children who attended the grand opening may have a better chance of getting there.
Tina Williams of Fort Myers brought her two sons. “I have boys, so I have to like bugs,” she said.
Tyler, age 12, enjoyed the grasshoppers the best. His advice to anyone who doesn’t like bugs is, “Come on in to the Insectarium and try it out. You don’t have to touch them if you don’t want to.”
Local biologist Tom Allen was on hand to share his passion for Florida’s insects. Allen, author of the book “Caterpillars in the Field and Garden,” explained to one inquisitive visitor how to tell moths from butterflies: “Moths do not have clubbed antennae, butterflies do.”
Now you know: if the antennae taper to a point, it’s a moth. If they have knobs at the end, it’s a butterfly.
Insects represent 75 percent of all animal species on Earth. With numbers like that, you can bet there’s plenty to learn.
The grand opening celebrated the culmination of a year’s worth of planning. It took a lot of work, Nameth acknowledged. If the exhibit helps people better appreciate the importance of insects, though, it will have been well worth it.
“They are such a huge part of our environment but most people don’t know that,” she concluded.
That is sure to change after they visit the Insectarium.