Even though the pandemic has forced the cancellation of in-person visits, the Insect Zoo at Iowa State University is still hosting hundreds of curious kids — and adults — through the wonders of the internet.
Ginny Mitchell, the zoo’s education program coordinator, says they’re offering virtual “Live with Bugs” programs via Zoom, Google Classroom and other online platforms.
“We started it by doing it for Girl Scout troops and we have reached people in New York, California, Texas, all over the country,” Mitchell says. “It’s really been an opportunity for the Insect Zoo to expand outside of our Iowa borders.”
The hour-long programs are entertaining and educational, she says, and they include very close-up views of all kinds of creepy-crawling critters, including scorpions, tarantulas and even hissing cockroaches.
“We talk about millipedes, which are important decomposers, and of course, have hundreds of legs,” Mitchell says. “We watch them walk and we talk about their defense mechanisms — they secrete a liquid that makes them smell and taste bad — and then we talk about the difference between a millipede and a centipede.”
The zoo’s long list of residents even includes seven species of walking sticks, along with a host of other insects, spiders and arthropods. Mitchell says the virtual classes are versatile, allowing students in a classroom or those on laptops or tablets at home to enjoy the tour.
“We encourage the kids to get outside. That is one of the main points of the Insect Zoo, to get outside and to look for bugs yourself,” she says. “I always issue a challenge to the kids to go outside and find some bugs that are like the ones that we looked at — and to send me a picture of it.”
With advance planning, the ISU Insect Zoo can even send a selection of live bugs to the classroom to provide actual hands-on learning.