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Bugs among us

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Kids swarm library to meet entomologist (that’s a bug guy)

By Robert Villanueva

By ROBERT VILLANUEVA

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rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com

ELIZABETHTOWN — The presentation drew people in like flies.

Walking sticks, millipedes and other crawly critters attracted about 125 people — most of them children — to the Hardin County Public Library  on Thursday for “A Visit With Bugs.”

Some of the children — from just a few years old to teen-aged — sat in chairs, but most of them sat on the floor in front of the speaker, filling the community meeting room so that some parents and children had to stand outside the doors.

Loud gasps and murmurs rose from the crowd when Blake Newton produced a tarantula in a clear plastic container.

“They’re usually not the best pets in the world,” Newton, entomologist with the University of Kentucky, said of the spider he held before his audience. Newton explained tarantulas don’t move much.

Hands shot up to ask Newton questions about how long tarantulas live (10-30 years), how many eyes that particular tarantula had (six or eight, probably six) and what tarantulas eat (anything smaller than themselves that they can catch such as mice, frogs and other insects).

The tarantula, which Blake identified as a Rose Hair Tarantula, was just one of the live critters the entomologist brought with him for the presentation. Newton also made his presentation — which was developed for libraries across the country to promote literacy and the “Catch the Reading Bug” summer reading campaign — at the north branch of the library in Radcliff later in the day.

During one part of the presentation, Newton held out an open plastic container that seemed to be full of only twigs and leaves. From the jar he produced one of three walking sticks, a 3-inch-long brown critter called a Spiny Devil Walking Stick found in Southeast Asia. The insect scooted along the lip of the enclosure as Newton spoke.

Children and adults alike questioned the entomologist about the various insects and bugs he brought. Or they made comments about what they saw.

“Ew!”

“Cool!”

“If a poison spider bit you you’d be dead,” one boy said.

“Hopefully, not,” Newton replied.

Another container — this one taped shut — held a brown recluse spider and a black widow spider in separate compartments. They are the two most dangerous spiders that live in Kentucky, Newton said.

A praying mantis, 4-inch North American millipede and the larva and pupa of the Hercules Beetle also caught the interest of the crowd.

Kristen Jeffrey of Vine Grove held her two daughters — Kayla, 5, and Grace, 3 — close at the end of the presentation, when the crowd swarmed around two tables where the entomologist stood.

Blake had invited the crowd to the tables where the containers of live and dead bugs were on display in order to get a closer look and to touch the walking stick.

“I really, really like the big spider,” Kayla told her mother, who said her daughters had caught and named a butterfly and grasshopper before releasing them.

Matthew Sedlak, 14, attended the presentation because of his general interest in insects. His own bug collection contains about 15 or 20 insects, he said, but he’s most interested in just one type of bug.

“I just like spiders,” the Elizabethtown teen said.

Kathy Francis of Elizabethtown watched her 7-year-old son, Ian, as he stood at the front of the crowd at the display tables. Ian, she said, has told her he wants to be a zoologist and pet store owner.

“He has no fear, either,” she said, describing his curious nature about insects he finds.

Ian, like some of the other children at the presentation, did not hesitate to touch the walking stick. He said it felt “poky.”

For Ian, the tarantula and the praying mantis were his favorite critters from the show. He explained his interest in bugs.

“They’re pretty nice to touch,” he said.

Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743.