Ginny Mitchell and a millipede.

Ginny Mitchell and a millipede.

While many Iowa communities have tractor pulls, only Ames will be holding a cockroach pull this week, in addition to roach races. The Insect Zoo at Iowa State University is hosting its first open house tomorrow. Zoo coordinator Ginny Mitchell says a wide assortment of multi-legged creatures — from crabs to walking sticks to scorpions — will be on display and some will crawl right up your arm, if you let them.

“We’ll be displaying about 50 different tarantulas,” Mitchell says. “We’ll also have giant Malaysian katydids which are about the size of my hand. We will have African giant millipedes, hissing cockroaches along with about 15 other species of cockroaches that are not pests.”

The zoo is an educational outreach effort by ISU, so it travels all over the state to introduce insects to Iowans of all ages in daycare centers, schools and nursing homes. Mitchell says elementary students are often fascinated by the insects while other people may have just the opposite sentiment.

“People do visit to try and get over their fear of bugs, specifically tarantulas and other spiders,” Mitchell says. “We have a lot of older folks who, for the first time ever, are getting up close with a tarantula and are braving their fears and actually touching them.” The zoo’s event will include insect-themed artwork and a close-up look at a honeybee hive.

This is a dream job for Mitchell, who’s had a lifelong curiosity about critters that slither. “I have no fear,” Mitchell says, laughing. “I have never been afraid of any of the creepy crawlies that instill fear in people. I’ve always loved all animals, no matter how many legs they had or even if they’re completely lacking legs. I love my job. I get to play with bugs all day long and kids, there’s nothing better.”

The open house theme is “Come Get Your Bug On” and it will be held Wednesday from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. on the 1st and 4th floors of Science Hall II, across from the Insectary on Pammel Drive. Admission is free.