Entomologist Ruud Kleinpaste lives by the motto, "We did not inherit this planet from our grandparents. We borrowed this planet from our kids." By hanging out with creepy crawlies and explaining the wonder of them, he hopes, people -- particularly kids -- will learn not to fear the fascinating creatures that they usually run from, or worse, stomp on.
After watching a spider crawl into The Bugman's mouth and emerge with no harm to either human or arachnid, Bridget Byrne thought it was safe to let a huge, hairy, rose-colored Chilean tarantula walk across her hand -- a very, very soft and gentle sensation. She also asked Ruud questions about himself, his new Animal Planet show and his co-stars, which include army ants, corpulent caterpillars, beautiful butterflies, shy spiders, belligerent beetles and chirping cicadas.
How did you get interested in bugs?
A friend at university had a father who was an entomologist and he opened my eyes. My big hobby since I was 7 was bird watching, so I was almost born with a pair of binoculars in my eyes. So making the transition from birds to bugs was no big deal.
Are there any bugs you don't like?
I'm not too keen on mosquitoes. . . . I think they are a real nuisance and, of course, can cause serious diseases. . . . If kids know mosquitoes like to breed in stagnant water then they can help make sure that there's none lying around -- in saucers under plants, for example -- in their gardens or homes.
What's the most beautiful insect you've ever seen?
In Papua, New Guinea, there's the rarest and most beautiful butterfly in the world [the Queen Alexandra birdwing butterfly]. It flies to the top of the canopy of the jungle, so you have to climb up there. One . . . landed on my head, the silly thing. It's iridescent, aquamarine blue with elegant black stripes, a bright yellow-and-black abdomen with bright red patches under its wing covers.
What should we do when insects land on us?
Don't panic and swat at them because if you handle them roughly that's when they become aggressive. Anything that lands on you does not automatically bite, so just try to coax it away.
Have you been stung or bitten a lot?
Many times . . . but it was more often my own fault. There's a bullet ant in Venezuela, about an inch in length, that spends all day in the canopy of the jungle in full view of birds, lizards and other predators. Somebody told me it was the most painful sting in the animal kingdom. The little boy in me took over: Oh yeah, I said, and put it on my arm . . . it was like a sharp laser -- the swelling has been described as like having your hand slammed in a car door for 24 hours. I learned my lesson.