Thursday, February 22, 2007

Two Ways to Appreciate Insects: Gilbert Waldbauer’s A Walk Around the Pond and the 2007 Insect Fear Film Festival

Note: I am still researching and writing EA each week, but other people will be voicing the spots until April 17, 2007. I'm running for a seat on the Park District board in Champaign, so my voice can't be on the radio without opening up the same amount of time for other candidates.

Dee Breeding from WILL-AM 580 narrates this week's installment.


Listen to the commentary
Real Audio : MP3 download

In this part of the world, at this time of year, it’s easy to forget that insects rule the earth. There’s no whirring of cicadas during the day, no chirp of crickets at night, no immediate anxiety about pests on the farm or in the garden. But they’re still out there. They outnumber us and they outweigh us. Fortunately only a miniscule percentage of them threaten us at all; indeed, as a group, they make life as we know it possible.

This week’s Environmental Almanac offers two suggestions for appreciating insects.

First, if you would prefer to contemplate insects from the comfort of your chair by the fire, check out the book, A Walk around the Pond, by University of Illinois Professor Emeritus Gilbert Waldbauer, published by in 2006. Subtitled “Insects in and over the Water,” this book introduces readers to the many insects that spend part or all of their lives in aquatic habitats.

As in his many other enjoyable books written for a general audience, Waldbauer helps readers appreciate the fascinating diversity of insect life by weaving together stories from the research of entomologists around the world with tales from his own experience. There are outlandish creatures here, like the oil fly maggot, which thrives in puddles of petroleum waste, and the predaceous diving beetle, which supplies itself with oxygen underwater by bringing along an air bubble. But there are also down-to-earth stories of discovery; for example, when the author, as a boy, figures out that dragonfly nymphs eat small fish, by putting one in his own aquarium.

If you would like to get out among other people to celebrate insects, make plans to catch the 24th annual Insect Fear Film Festival on the U of I campus this Saturday evening.

This year’s festival features insect movies from Japan. Festival founder May Berenbaum notes, “in general, insects are not regarded with as much knee-jerk fear and revulsion [in Japan] . . . as they are here.”

Berenbaum cites the example of the well-meaning title character from the 1961 movie Mothra, which will be shown at the festival. [Link to Wikipedia entry on Mothra.] Mothra is a gigantic silkworm caterpillar that comes to Tokyo in order to rescue two little girls who have been kidnapped from their Pacific island home. “Mothra doesn’t set out to destroy Tokyo,” says Berenbaum. “She does so only as a consequence of being the size of a Boeing 747.”

As always, the Insect Fear Festival will also feature exhibits and activities that encourage people, especially children, to understand and enjoy insects. There will be a live insect petting zoo, as well as insect related art, t-shirts, and face painting. New to this year’s festival is Bugscope which projects the image from a microscope onto a computer screen, giving kids (and parents) the ability to zoom in for a close up look at various insect parts.

The Insect Fear Film Festival takes place this Saturday, February 24th, in the Foellinger Auditorium on the U of I main quad. Doors open for exhibits at 6:00 p.m., and the program begins at 7:00. Admission is free.