PHILADELPHIA >> Bugs, bugs and more bugs.
There are more than 4 million bugs on the fourth floor of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia. Don’t worry, though, we aren’t about to be overrun.
Maybe because we already are.“Insects have been here for over 400 millions years,” said Isa Betancourt, who works in the Entomology Department at the museum. “That’s a really hard number for us to wrap our head around. Humans have been domesticated for 10,000 years. That’s amazing.”
It also means bugs have a leg (or four or eight or a thousand) up on us.
“The 400 million years means they’ve been evolving,” said Betancourt.
The museum just opened its newest special exhibit, “Xtreme Bugs.” Where you can find some giant examples of such fun things as ants, bed bugs and butterflies.
“Not only are these enormous, animatronic insects such fun to examine up close,” said Academy President and CEO Scott Cooper, “but we can also learn a lot about their extreme behaviors and the physical characteristics that allow bugs to thrive and survive.”
It’s kind of like a reverse view of the world. Instead of looking down on the bugs, the bugs are looking at you (albeit fake, robot bugs).
If you want to sleep after a visit, stay away from the back corner and extra-large bed bugs.
“Humans tend to think of the negative things,” said Betancourt. “We remember the negative things to avoid them.”
One of the negatives is stink bugs. Who likes stink bugs?
“Actually, I kind of like the smell,” said Greg Cowper, an entomologist and curator of the Academy’s fourth-floor collection.
The fourth floor, which is not part of the exhibit, is where most of the bug work goes on at the museum.
“We essentially function as a University library,” said Jason Weintraub, the collection manager at the academy. “We have [resources] used both here at our museum and by visitors around the country and around the world. People will contact me if they need to see particular specimens for a research project. We’ll literally box up a 100-year-old, very fragile insects and ship them to a colleague in Germany or Australia or Argentina.”
There are shelves and shelves of bugs, including millions of beetles.
“If you lined up every known organism ever discovered throughout the beginning of time, every fourth thing would be a beetle,” said Weintraub.
There are so many, different beetles are still being discovered. When found, the insects are carefully pinned into a box with their cousins and studied, the same way it was done hundreds of years ago.
“The real challenge for preserving most of our natural history collections is keeping bugs from eating our bugs,” said Weintraub. “We have climate control, but we always have to look out.”
From thousands of stink bugs or the giant, scary looking caterpillars hiding in our trees, the academy staff has it all covered.
The discoveries continue.“There’s a golden tortoise beetle here in Philadelphia,” said Betancourt. “It changes colors from gold to red right before your eyes in like 30 seconds. When it gets disturbed it turns from gold into red. You can find them in West Philly, in the school yard and I’ve found some in the fountain.”
It’s the giant bugs, though, which will have the younger ones excited.
“These fantastic models give the visitor the view I get when I look at these insects under the microscope in carrying out my research” said Gelhaus. “Insects are so important to our lives — pollinating most of our food crops, giving us honey and silk, keeping pest insects and plants in check, breaking down leaves into soil. This exhibit gives us a chance to appreciate how bizarrely wonderful they look, but also how important they are in our world’s ecology.”
The exhibit continues through Jan. 21.