KIDS CAN CHEER ON their favorite Madagascar hissing cockroaches Saturday during races at BugFest 2005, a one-day event at the National Museum of Natural History designed to give visitors a close-up look at insects and the people who study them. After the races, fearless visitors young and old can hold, pet or kiss the competitors.
Designed for families with children of any age and for amateur entomologists, BugFest will allow kids to peer into microscopes while talking with Smithsonian staff members or pose for photos as giant beetles by poking their heads through a cutout board and donning props such as antennae.
The museum's first-floor special exhibition hall will be a beehive of activity from 10 to 4, featuring interactive presentations and displays designed to allow the public to meet the people working behind the scenes "in one of the world's great insect collections," says Ted Schultz, department chair and research entomologist with the Smithsonian Institution's Department of Entomology.
Most of the more than 70 scientists, technicians and scientific illustrators who work in the building will be at BugFest, says Schultz, curator of Hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps) who specializes in studying the behavior of fungus-growing ants, a BugFest topic. The specialists will be ready to answer questions, explain what they do and introduce guests to the collection.
The festival also will bring in experts from the National Zoo, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the Department of Agriculture Systematic Entomology Laboratory, says Virginia Power, event coordinator.
Participants can drop in at four themed stations. "With the help of scientists, children will be invited to explore old tree logs, leaf litter and pond water to discover local insects and spiders" in the collecting tent, Power says.
They can learn about preservation techniques at a station showing how entomologists prepare collected bugs for scientific display.
Other stations focus on how scientists look at bugs and study them to capture data, and on how specialists apply their research findings to a variety of topics.
"Smithsonian entomologists use the insect collection to address research areas such as biological diversity, ecosystem structure, extinction rates, invasive species, pollinator conservation and the like," Power says. "Large collections like the U.S. National Insect Collection are critical tools for addressing conservation issues."
Visitors can take behind-the-scenes tours of the National Insect Collection and the Scanning Electron Microscopy Laboratory, where they can check out the differences between moths and butterflies and look at the anatomical features of disease-carrying mosquitoes.
BugFest also will include activities geared more toward fun and games than scholarly pursuits. Performers from the New York-based Alice Farley Dance Theater, clad in grasshopper, butterfly and beetle costumes, will walk around on stilts.
Other highlights include Chinese weaving using drinking straws to create models of crickets or grasshoppers; roving entomologists dressed as a tobacco hornworm and Mediterranean fruit fly; butterfly drawing; and presentations on such topics as spiders, insect-borne diseases, backyard insect surveys and fossilized insects.
Power says she expects the festival to draw thousands of visitors, including, she hopes, members of the area's Latino community. "We have a lot of bilingual signs in Spanish and English for this year's BugFest," she says. "The Web site is in Spanish and English, and we will have a brochure written in Spanish and English. There are many scientists that are bilingual also."
"We have planned an event that the whole family will enjoy -- there is something in BugFest for every age," Schultz says.
Children, however, may express more fascination with bugs than their parents.
"I think it's because kids haven't yet inherited the fear-of-nature phobias and neuroses that infect their parents," Schultz says. "To kids, bugs are fascinating flying, jumping, moving animals with beautiful colors and fantastic shapes. Somehow, some grown-ups have picked up the crazy idea, somewhere along the way, that bugs are creepy, slimy things only good for smashing with a rolled-up newspaper.
"I hope grown-ups can bring their kids to BugFest and learn to think like a kid again."
BUGFEST 2005 -- THE ART AND SCIENCE OF ENTOMOLOGY -- National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW (Metro: Smithsonian, Federal Triangle). 202-633-1000 (TTY: 202-357-1729). www.nmnh.si.edu/entomology/bugfest2005/index.htm. Festival hours are Saturday from 10 to 4; museum hours are 10 to 5:30. Free. Most events take place in Hall 11 on the first floor. Thirty-minute behind-the-scenes tours of the National Insect Collection inside the Department of Entomology are at 10:30, 11:15, noon, 1:15, 2, 2:45 and 3:30. Fifty-minute tours of the Scanning Electron Microscopy Laboratory start on the hour from 11 to 3. Tours are recommended for ages 10 and older. Reservations are not required. "BUGS! 3D," a live-action nature drama, featuring insects magnified up to 250,000 times their normal size, screens at 11:10 and 1 on the six-story screen of the Johnson Imax Theater. $8 adults, $6.50 children and $7 seniors. Bug-loving visitors also may want to explore the museum's O. Orkin Insect Zoo on the second floor and the Butterfly Habitat Garden outside on the museum's east side.