The Bug Chicks

You know you’re living an extraordinary life when you get to the end of the day and realize you’ve had a meaningful conversation with a friend, heard great live music, and gotten to pet a Madagascan giant hissing cockroach. 

The hissing cockroach was only one of the exotic creatures I got to see and touch, thanks to Bug Chick Kristie Reddick, MS, an entomologist who brought a small collection of Amazing Arthropods to the Kenton Library here in Portland.  She’s an expert on solifuge arachnids, or camel spiders, also known as jumping spiders or wind scorpions. 
from wikipedia
The Bug Chicks teach about the world of insects and try to instill a sense of respect for these little creatures that are a vital part of our Earth’s ecosystem.  Reddick and her partner, Jessica Honaker, M.S., create fun, accurate science media.  Their sci-comm articles can be seen on NPR’s Science Friday website and their videos are teaching the next generation of entomologists and bugdorks. Throughout the year they teach in every venue imaginable- from schools and libraries to camps, museums and festivals.  Their business is located in Portland, Oregon, but they travel all over the world to film, photograph and teach about insects, spiders and other arthropods.
I had planned to take one of my young friends from BridgeMeadows to their program, but none were available, so I went by myself.  I may have been the oldest person there.  
My attitude toward bugs has changed a lot over the years as I’ve learned more about how interrelated and interdependent all beings on this planet are.  There was a time when I thought slugs (because they’re gross) and mosquitoes (because their bites itch & they carry diseases) were some kind of evolutionary mistake. 
I’ve always loved beetles, butterflies, dragonflies and moths, though. 
From Biophilia by Christoper Marley reviewed here

Then a few years ago I was given a book called The Sound of A Wild Snail Eatingby Elizabeth Tova Bailey.  It was a memoir of Bailey’s struggle with “a mysterious viral or bacterial pathogen, resulting in severe neurological symptoms…”  While the illness kept her bedridden, she observed a wild snail that had taken up residence in a pot of violets on her nightstand.  By observing the snail’s “molluscan anatomy, cryptic defenses, clear decision making, hydraulic locomotion, and mysterious courtship activities, Bailey becomes an astute and amused observer, offering a candid and engaging look at the curious life of this under-appreciated small animal.”
It’s lovely book.  I keep it on my anti-depressant bookshelf.  Life brims with amazing creatures and beings.  Even when we’re at our most powerless, if we are observant, we can glimpse the miraculous in the ordinary.  Nature is the ultimate teacher, and now I don’t think any living thing, even the ones that try to kills us, are a mistake.  It’s more that I haven’t yet learned enough about them and the mysteries of life and death.
That said, I don’t actually want to touch a slug, which isn’t an arthropod, but a gastropod, but falls under my personal definition of a bug.  I still swat mosquitos, and I deeply dislike cockroaches.  I lived in too many squalid infested places to ever have any respect for them.  I always hope that it’s beetles, not roaches, that will inherit the earth.
According to Reddick, though, only about 30 of the 4,000 species of roaches are associated with human habitats and only 4 of those are considered pests.  They’re probably pests more because of our own living conditions and diseases than anything they are doing by being roaches.  Still, they can’t live in my house.
I always love it when my mind is pried open a little.  That’s one reason I loved the Bug Chick’s presentation.  She was funny (you should see her imitation of a crab or a cicada) and helped us understand exactly what an arthropod is. She had us pet our own fingernails.  That’s what most bugs feel like, the smooth hard skin of our fingernails.
What impressed me the most, however, was how Reddick recognized and addressed fear.  She was great at getting control of a room of rambunctious children and took their fears very seriously.  She told us about her own fear of bugs when she was a child, but she made a conscious decision to not live in fear.  She was told she was no good at science, now she’s an award winning scientist who has discovered a new species of solifuge. 
Saying things like it’s gross, I’m afraid, and I can’t just put limits on your life.  When a child was afraid to touch the specimens Reddick gently passed around (“stroke them don’t poke them”), she would ask that child to put his or her hand under her own.  “We’re holding it together.  It’s not so scary now, is it?”
One child was absolutely resistant and said she wasn’t going to touch a bug under any circumstances. She had “a thing” about bugs.  Her eyes were wide with a deep fear, but after some gentle education from Reddick, she became enthusiastic and petted the giant hissing cockroach.
And so did I. 
When Reddick was closing the presentation, she told us not to limit ourselves and to be proud of overcoming our fears.  For a brief moment I wondered what would happen if, when I was kid, I went home and told my mom I pet a giant cockroach at the library.  She probably would have sprayed me with disinfectant and called the doctor for a thorough examination of my crazy little head.  I don’t know what she would have made of my description of the vinegar spraying uropygi. 
Kristie Reddick and her uropygi
Interested in learning more about the insect world?  Check out The Bug Chicks and their fun videos here.  They have a great blog with craft ideas and they also have an arthropod coloring book.
If you’re interested in learning more about the world around you, you can also look at my review of this gorgeous book on Beetles, some of the more beautiful bugs on Earth.  You can also check out books on botanists and botanical art here, the brain here, and images of the cosmos here

Whether you’re big or small, it’s an amazing planet.
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