Change, and the Power of Language

Marble Mantis looking winsome.

Greetings and Salutations my bug-friendly friends! Welcome and do come in! It is I, your devoted Monarch Lady, here to chat again. Thank you to Tony for letting me take over his blog once more.

As you may recall my personal specialty, when it comes to insects, is Monarch Butterflies. However, I am a massive fan of all things creepy crawly and often raise other kinds of insects in the long winter months when Monarchs have long since flown for warmer climes. Mantises are among my favorites and this past winter I raised Chinese Mantises and a Dead Leaf Mantis and a couple Marbled Mantises. Gorgeous!

Out in the world, mantises eat a varied carnivorous diet of basically whatever insects they can catch, and they can catch a lot. They are one of the fastest hunters on Earth and have both excellent eyesight and reflexes. Anyway, in my house in the dead of winter their diet tends to be a little more restricted. Well, very restricted to mostly store bought crickets. The occasional spider if I can find one in the basement. But, really, if I find a spider in the basement, I’m more likely to box it up and raise it than feed it to another bug.

So, to give my babies some extra nutrition, I ordered some housefly larvae so that when they “hatched” I would have juicy, delicious houseflies to feed the mantises. So pudgy! So cute! So yummy! Now, I am accustomed to dealing with a number of flying feeder insects, so I’m pretty good at getting fruit flies and house flies and all sorts of small squiggly and squirmy things to behave long enough to get into the tank of whatever other insect I am currently raising and sacrifice themselves in a nutritional way. Thank you for your service, little flies.

Occasionally one or two of them get away. This is where our story actually begins.

So there I am on a Sunday evening surrounded by my dear family enjoying a pleasant meal. Chatting, laughing, and occasionally swatting away one of the house flies that had gotten loose. My intention was to recapture the little dear and pop it into a mantis tank, but dinner preparation meant putting it off until later. A fly lands on the table. Someone slams their hand down in an attempt to squash it.

We do not kill bugs in this house. Ever. And what happened next is why.

“Hey!” I exclaim. My dear brother immediately puts his hands up and says “Sorry! Sorry!” because he knows, he really does, how I feel about killing insects and why. But he said THE THING. Here’s THE THING.

“But, come on, it’s just a fly.”

“It’s JUST a fly.”

This is me, your sweet, happy-go-lucky, nerdy, science-loving, hippy-chick butterfly lady when someone says it’s “just” a bug. “Just” an anything really. I mean, sometimes the word means things like fairness and equality and that’s super cool, obvs. But, for the most part, that’s not how we use it, is it? For the most part we use it to mean something totally different and it really makes me crazy. So, most of the time,  I kind of HAAAAAATE the word “just”. let me explain. 

WORDS ARE POWERFUL

Words are so powerful! And the way we use the word “just” most of the time is intended to diminish, to make small, to imply unimportance, to remove power. And throughout our human history we have used it in the worst possible ways to treat each other as badly as possible and take away power from other human beings.

“He’s just a kid” or “she’s just a girl” or “it’s just a bug” are some of the most tame. But when we say that we are saying that kids are not capable of great things, that girls are not as capable as boys, that bugs are not playing an integral part in keeping the world, as we humans enjoy it, going every single day.

I know that you know already why bees are important. Pollination! Honey! Yay! But what about our little house fly friends? Did you know that they pollinate too? They also play an important part in recycling! You see them hanging around garbage because one of their jobs is to help break down food waste. If it weren’t for house flies and other waste reducers, we’d be buried in rotting food.

Our planet is a finely balanced web of interconnectedness and insects are basically the threads of that web. They create so much of the food we rely on through pollination, and there are more pollinator insects out there than you think. They break down and compost our waste, creating the healthy soil we need to grow more food and ridding us of our garbage. They even effect the migration of mammal groups which has influenced our ability to hunt and historically could make or break a community’s ability to survive. Insects and their behaviors are the foundation for all the rest of the natural world, and its time we took that seriously.

Because the bugs are disappearing.

To all my grown-ups out there, do you remember when you were young and you’d go on a long drive and the windshield would get absolutely gross and covered with bugs? Have you noticed how that doesn’t really happen anymore? It seems funny, but that’s actually a thing scientists are calling The Windshield Effect. Based on this and other indicators, citizen scientists all around the world starting counting the bugs in the areas. The rough estimation over the last 30 years is that insect populations world wide are down about 80%.

THIS IS A BIG DEAL AND WE SHOULD BE VERY CONCERNED.

Where did they go? The largest culprits seems to be habitat loss and climate change. When we build and don’t make efforts to replace the habitat we removed, the insect populations suffer. They have fewer and fewer spaces to breed and less and less room to find food and avoid predation. Climate change means that the cold weather is colder and the hot weather is hotter and there are more and fiercer storms and insects are extremely delicate when it comes to habitat changes.

Honestly? Real change starts with the way we think, and the way we think is intrinsically tied to the way we speak. When you see a spider in your home, don’t kill it. Don’t let yourself think “it’s just one spider”, because it’s really not. It’s not “just” a house fly, or a centipede, or a bee , or a potato bug, or a moth, or anything else. Those insects and all the others are the tiniest yet most crucial parts of a delicate network in which they are the very foundation for life as we know it. Stick up for our buggy friends when and where you can. Create spaces in your lives for them to live and thrive. Stop using pesticides at home and in the garden. Get educated on the bugs you share your space with so you no longer fear them. Contact your representatives, churches, and schools to encourage insect and climate friendly initiatives. Teach your kids how they can help. Encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same. Use your words.

Your words are powerful and so are you. Just as one tiny insect is a big part of our lives, we as individuals can make a big difference. You are not “just” one person. You can be a member of a growing group of concerned people who, through their small individual actions, make a huge impact.

Change your words, change some minds, change the world.

Until next time!

Blog: Pets Not Pests!

Pests? How About Pets!

Hello all! It is I, your friendly neighborhood guest blogger, Monarch Lady!  I am so very glad to have the chance to spend some time with all of you once again!

 

As you may have noticed, winter has arrived in Wisconsin with a vengeance! This is the time of year, when we are buried under mounds of frozen snow and it looks outside like Spring will never come, that I start missing the insects in a big, big way. (Or is it a bug bug way? HA!)

Anyway, every winter that comes and goes seems longer and harder than the one before, at least when it comes to my longing for all things creepy-crawly. I spend many hours pouring over all the pictures of insects that I took on my summer bug-hunting ventures, and obsessively clean my Monarch Butterfly raising gear just awaiting their fluttery return.

I also, much to the consternation of my dear family, start appearing at the dinner table covered in cobwebs and dust after I have spent the afternoon on my knees crawling around in the basement and attic in search of spiders to bring into my bug room to care for.

I. Need. Bugs.

I am happiest when I get to rear little bugs into bigger bugs, when I can watch them feeding or digging or building or whatever it is they do best. The best part, really, is how very easy it is to care for many of them. Which is when it occurred to me: insects make great pets!

For those of you reading this blog, I am assuming you also love bugs. If you can’t help but watch closely all the insects you come across outside, if you come to Tony’s Creepy Crawly Zoo shows just to have the chance to hold and interact with bugs, you too don’t have to suffer all winter long waiting for bugs!

So let’s talk about insects as pets!

 

Keeping insects does not have to be difficult, and it does not have to involve spending a lot of money. Meet Pider! Pider is the spider I found this year in the basement. When I found Pider, Pider was tiny. Pider is not tiny anymore. I captured Pider in a jar and brought him upstairs to my bug room and put him in a bug box, where he has lived ever since.

All Pider really needs in a piece of wood to hide behind, and a few sticks to make his web on. I also have some woodchips on the bottom of the box for being pretty. I got all thst stuff from my very own yard. Once a day, I spritz Piders habitat with a little water, and shake in a few fruit flies for his dinner. You can get jars of fruit flies at a number of pet supply stores, and they are not terribly expensive. They also last a long time.

Meet Tick and Tock! Tick and Tock are Blue Death Feigning Beetles. Native to the deserts of Arizona and such, they are adorable little blue beetles that pretend to be dead when they get frightened. They are extremely docile, and very easy to care for. They get all their water from the foods they eat, and they eat just about anything. Scavengers in the wild, I feed them carrot, lettuce, dried oat meal, blueberries, barley, and the occasional freshly dead bug.

If we lived in Arizona we could just go outisde and roll over a log and find these guys everywhere. Alas, we do not reside in Arizona. So, these two I did purchase online for a very inexpensive sum. They live in a bigger bug box with sand and a place to hide and a branch to climb and are very comfy and content. So content, in fact, that they recently became parents, so I am hoping for baby Blue Death Feigning Beetles very soon. Congratulations Tick and Tock!

Meet Larry! Larry is part of a trio of Vietnamese Stick Insects that were given to me by a friend. (Only bug people give each other insects the way other people trade Poke Mon). But, there are many, many varieties of stick insects out there for sale for a not very high price, and they are extremely easy to care for. 

These particular stick bugs (Larry, Curly, and Moe) live in a large mesh box with a number of sticks and branches of fake leaves for them to blend into. Every day, I spritz their entire enclosure, and every other day I take out their old Romaine lettuce leaves and give them fresh ones. That’s it. They are super fun to watch, easily handled (with care), and very low-maintenance.

My friends here, Larry and Tick/Tock and Pider, are literally just the tip of the easy-to-care for insects you can own. You can get butterflies and lady bugs and so many kinds of beetles and mantids and spiders and all of them are entirely enjoyable to be with, and do not require walking on even the coldest days.

Owning insects as companions and pets is also a FANTASTIC way to introduce kids to science! Taking care of bugs is completely different than taking care of mammals (our usual pets) and requires a bit of research to truly understand their unique care requirements. Learning what you need to do for a mantid verses a beetle opens you up to a whole world of science you may never otherwise get to experience. There are many long-lived insects out there, but many are not. Which means you also get to have more companions over all, and learn more each time you do.

If you want the chance to meet some very cool, friendly insects for yourself, you know what to do! Come to Tony’s show this Saturday, February 2nd, at Discovery World and see for yourself how fascinating and satisfying interacting with insects can be! and, as always, spread the word! Help Tony and all of his team bring these experiences to everyone through the Gateway Science Center!

THE GATEWAY SCIENCE PROJECT

2019 promises to be a year of big – BIG change. This is the year we will begin fundraising for our permanent location… somewhere in the area of Waukesha.  If you’re not familiar with our vision please click here to watch our videos.

If you want to help our vision become a reality, here is what you can do:

    • SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel.  In July we will release a new series of videos in the Tales from the Bug Whisperer series. Right now you can watch our award-winning pilot episode, Who Wants to be an Entomologist? For free.
    • Tell your schools about our live show.  While we don’t have our science park yet, we do have a spectacular outreach program!  For 2019 we will have new animals every month! SHARE the below promo video.

  • Volunteer: If you want to help let us know.  We can always use new talent. Bloggers, fundraisers, grant writers, photographers, videographers, graphic designers, and just enthusiastic science lovers welcome.

As a nonprofit, we depend on you.  You can donate by clicking the “DONATE” button or purchase something from our Shopify store.  We have some of the most spectacular t-shirts, hoodies and more.

We look forward to seeing you!

Did you win a T-shirt?  Well, if you’re the first person to respond to this newsletter (you must be subscribed) then yes, you did!  I will announce the winner on Facebook. Hurry! bugwhisperer@creepycrawlyzoo.com

 

As always, thanks for visiting the website, and for letting me hang out with you. See you soon!

August 2018 Newsletter – Creepy Crawly Zoo

Greetings all you bug lovers out there and welcome to the latest Creepy Crawly Newsletter! We’ve got lots to share with you today including new friends, old friends, and chances for you to catch Tony and his buggy menagerie, so let’s dive in!

WE HAVE A NEW SPONSOR!!!

We are thrilled to announce a new sponsor, partner, and Bug BFF, Animal House Pet Supplies! I, your intrepid Bloggess and finder of all things bug-tastically fun, visited the shop and owner, Dan (pictured here sweet talking a cranky sugar glider) to get the scoop on our new pal and his mission.

You guys. Go visit Dan! Dan grew up around lots of animals and got his start as a small animal expert with birds. He has since branched out to reptiles, amphibians, insects, arachnids, and small mammals. After spending some time doing trade shows for reptile supplies, he decided what he really wanted to do was own his own shop that catered to small animal and creepy crawly lovers eveywhere.

And cater it does! At any given time you might find inside the many tidy cages and tanks sugar gliders, hedge hogs, gerbils, hamsters, tarantulas, millipedes, beetles, orchid mantises, roaches, dart frogs, iguanas, geckos, and dragons, just to name a few of his furry and scaly friends!

Don’t see the small companion your heart longs for? No problem! Dan’s many years cultivating relationships with trusted suppliers means he can procure for you any number of exotic and domestic small animals buddies. He likes to keep his stock interesting and often carries new and unusual critters, as well as breeding many himself.

As an avid animal supply shopper (you didn’t really think all I housed were butterflies, did you?) I can attest first hand to Dan’s excellent stock and really great prices. he has things on his shelves that I would otherwise have had to order, and you can’t put a price on his friendly demeanor and thorough knowledge.

Wait! Did I mention that he offers small animal boarding as well? If you are leaving town and your dear relatives or neighbors balk at caring for your millipede/boa constrictor/hamster, Dan will take care of them for you. For an incredibly reasonable fee, you can rest easy that your slithery/hoppy/burrowing family members will be as well cared for as if they were home with you. Probably better. Dan’s an expert.

You can visit Dan for yourself at his lovely store at 100 Fox Street in Mukwonago, or like him on Facebook, here. We look forward to partnering with Dan for a long time to come!

SHOW TOMORROW AT DISCOVERY WORLD!!!

As summer draws to a close, you still have one chance for this season to see Tony’s Creepy Crawly Zoo at Discovery World TOMORROW! Saturday, August 18th, join Tony and all his creepy crawly companions for one last Discovery World hurrah!

But wait! You can’t make it tomorrow, you say? You want nothing more than to spend time with Tony and his incredible insects but can’t possibly shirk your responsibilities to go play with bugs? Well, first off, just come out and play with the bugs. You know you want to. Secondly, DISCOVERY WORLD AND THE CREEPY CRAWLY ZOO WILL BE WORKING TOGETHER FOR ANOTHER YEAR!!! YAAAAAY!

That’s right! Starting in October, you will still be able to catch Tony’s show and zoo at Discovery World for another fabulous year! We are thrilled to keep working with such an incredible institution and so many great people.

You should still totally come to the show tomorrow, though.

BRING THE CREEPY CRAWLY ZOO TO  SCHOOL NEAR YOU!!!

Aagh! Did I just say that summer was ending?!? I did, but that doesn’t mean the Creepy Crawly Zoo can’t keep educating and entertaining through the long winter months! Back-to-School is actually a great opportunity to have Tony’s show visit your school or classroom! As we all know, the Creepy Crawly Zoo and the Gateway Science Tour are a great way to get kids fired up about science and learning! Spread the word to your kids’ teachers and any educators that you may know that Tony would love to bring his show and Zoo to your school!

BUG DAY AT WEHR NATURE CENTER!!!

Last, but certainly not least, The Bug Whisperer will be live and in person at this year’s BUG DAY at the Wehr Nature Center!

Sunday, September 16th, from 1-4pm, come to the Wehr Nature Center to celebrate all things bug! From Tony’s show at 1:30, to eating bugs with Chef Emily’s Creepy Crawly Cuisine, from the Bug Discovery Walk to the chance to see one of the largest butterfly collections in Wisconsin, it promises to be a thoroughly wonderful insect-filled afternoon. You can find all the details here, and be sure to put the date on your calendars!

As always, thank you for spending time with us here at www.creepycrawlyzoo.com. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog, news updates, and, as always, spread the word to friends and family about the continuing progress on The Gateway Science Center. Info for sharing can be found here, and donations can be made here. Until next time!

Let’s Talk About Ticks, Baby!

Greetings and salutations once again my fellow insect fanatics!

So, it might be because I spend a silly amount of time wading through prairies and smashing my face up against trees and pawing through piles of rotting wood and crawling into the dark corners of basements, but I find a lot of insects on my body. Like, daily. Spiders, flies, ladybugs, inch worms, crickets, caterpillars…like, every day. Normally, I don’t mind these little six and eight legged visitors warming themselves on my skin or hitching a ride to a better hunting spot, but there is one visitor in particular that I just cannot cotton to and must expel from my epidermis immediately!

What ever could it be, you may wonder?

Today let’s have a discussion about some thing buggy that bugs me and you, namely, TICKS! Itty, bitty, bitey, blood-suckers just laying in wait for a tasty morsel to wander by. Deer, racoons, and YOU!

Look at this adorable little tick! Look how cute and round and smiley…awwww, sweet little tick, right? Wrong! Ticks are not sweet and not smiley and not adorably round and purple like a grape. In reality, ticks are often seed-shaped with eight specialized legs and some pretty awesomely terrifying mouth parts.

Their legs are truly amazing. They are designed to make them very clingy. First, as they hang out on the tips of tall grasses or tree leaves, bouncing in the breeze until something exuding some warm and fuzzy body heat happens by. As our warm-blooded body brushes said grass or leaf, the tick grabs onto them, going along for the ride. This is where their special feet come in and are grossly cool.

Their little feet are designed just so their prey can’t feel them! Creepy, right? But such a good design! They have tiny little ‘u’ shaped feet that are so fine and good at their job, even the sensitive hairs on your arms can’t detect them. This means they can wander all over their prey totally unbeknownst to them until they find a really soft, tender spot to sink their little mouth parts into.

Now that is what a tick looks like! Okay, so the disgustingly cool thing about tick mouths is the way they bite. They don’t plunge in all-of-a-sudden like a mosquito, oh no. Instead, they have to work just a little bit harder to get to your juicy, delicious blood beneath your many layers of tough skin. The ticks have specialized parts on their mouths that they use to sweep and sweep (kind of like rowing a boat with your arms looks) and brush their way down and through the layers of your skin until they reach blood. Gross! Amazing! I love it!

Once they manage to brush their way through all those pesky layers they can bite into you, but even then their mouth parts are so small it takes a while for them to actually get a good sucking flow going. So much effort for the tick!

As you know, tick bites can carry a host of diseases, among them Lyme’s Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. So we worry, don’t we, when we play outside or go hiking or camping? But there is good news!

From the time you brush against that tall grass and pick up your unwelcome hitchhiker, to the time the little bugger has finally managed to pick a sweet spot and sink in, actually takes a little time. Up to a couple of hours, in fact. So tick bites are super preventable! Yay!

So what do you do?

Bug spray! Woohoo! We clever humans have long since invented aerosol prevention that is extremely effective. Just make sure it’s got some Deet in it. After using your bug spray there’s one more possibly even more important thing you can do to keep yourself safe and healthy.

TICK CHECKS! Sometimes sweat or swimming or rain can wash away our bug spray, but a good and thorough tick check can save the day. Don’t be shy about it. Many ticks can be easy to see, but some nymphs (young ticks) and particularly the dreaded Deer Tick can be virtually impossible to tell apart from a freckle. Poppy seed sized! So tiny! So use your eyes, use your hands, use the buddy system, and check everywhere, every day. It really takes so little time and is well worth it.

I’m a big proponent of tick checks. So much so that I have composed an actual tick-check-themed poem just to help you remember what to do and how important it is! So here goes…

An Ode to Checking for Ticks

Finally the time is here!
The sun is warm, the sky is clear!
It’s time for hiking and biking too,
Rowing and fishing in a canoe.
Parties and picnics ‘til well after dark,
Day after day we’ll play in the park.
Crickets are chirping and birdies they sing,
But please remember this one thing:
Amongst the ladybugs and bees
Is a nasty pest causing some unease.
She makes no sound of any kind,
And her tiny size makes her hard to find.
Her feet are designed so you don’t even feel
When she’s grabbed your knee, elbow, or heel.
And when you find one in your hair….
It means she CRAWLED all the way up there!
Mosquito bites itch, bee stings hurt a lot,
But that’s nothing compared to the bite this girl’s got!
She’ll bury her head way down into your skin,
And hang out for hours before she begins
By sweeping her barbed little fangs forth and back
Again and again in slow-motion attack.
She buries them further with every brush,
(You can’t feel this at all so she knows there’s no rush).
Finally, when she’s totally stuck,
Her feeding mouth plunges and she starts to suck.
Your blood flows into her and she into you.
For multiple days, exchanging of goo,
Germs and bacteria, saliva and blood,
Her body engorged now, the color of mud.
Finally full she drops off with no fear.
You may not even know she ever was near
Until you get fever, joint pain, or a cough,
Rashes, fatigue, body aches….had enough?
All of this is so easy to skip!
After being outside simply go in and strip!
Get all the way down to your birthday suit
And check every inch from your hair to your foot.
Use your mirrors and fingers, don’t skip a pore.
It doesn’t take long and you know what it’s for.
Your health and safety are important to all,
So in spring, through summer, and well into fall
When you go outside put on your bug spray
And do your tick check at the end of the day!

Until next time, my insect oriented friends, have fun, be safe, wear your bug spray, and check for ticks! And don’t forget to come back frequently for updates on Tony’s shows and the progress of the Gateway Science Center. As always, you can lend your support here, at the Go Fund Me site, or just by spreading the word!

June 2018 Newsletter

Welcome to the Creepy Crawly Zoo June Newsletter!

We apologize for missing the May Newsletter, there was just so much going on! Namely…

THE BUG WHISPERER GOT MARRIED! In a lovely outdoor ceremony and surrounded by loved ones, Tony and his beautiful fiance’ Jennifer tied the knot. We couldn’t be happier for them both, and wish them all the best!

The Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! show at Discovery World on May 12th was a huge success! The unveiling of the half-million dollars in displayed insects and the Creepy Crawly Zoo show was attended by 1,400 people!

A special thanks to Dan Capps for his amazing and generous donation of one of the premier insect collections in the world. Channel 12 News came out in the morning and did a very nice piece on Tony and the event. Check it out here!

UPDATE ON THE GATEWAY SCIENCE CENTER!!!

As Tony continues to work towards realizing his dream of building the Gateway Science Center, he has gained some recognition through a recent JS Online article which you can read here.

This Friday afternoon, June 8th at 4:00pm,  you have the opportunity to hear Tony and long-time friend and bug donor extraordinaire talk about the Gateway Science Center on live on WPR! Tune in and be inspired!

Between the recent insect collection donation, the huge success of Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!, and these most recent pieces of good publicity, the Gateway Science Center is really gaining some momentum! Stay tuned here for updates! And if you want to help make this dream a reality, you can contribute to the Gateway Science Center project through the Go Fund Me page here. Be a part of science in the making! Education! Fun! Make a donation or simply spread the word

Schiele Museum Show 2018

The recent Creepy Crawly Zoo show at the Schiele Museum featured a bug eating contest which was a huge success as well as a milestone for Tony as it marks the first time his presentation made a kid puke! Now that is in-your-face science happening up close and personal! He presented some new milipedes which proved alsmost as popular as the bug eating, and enjoyed the event very much.

Welcoming A New Guest Blogger, Monarch Lady!

Oh wait, that’s me!

I am honored and excited to be helping Tony out by guest-blogging on his page. I am a Monarch maeven and an insect fan-girl through and through.I look forward to bringing you more bug fun, caterpillar weirdness, and Creepy Crawly news updates!

Gateway Science Project Receives Half Million Dollar Donation… In Insects!

May, 2018 Discovery World Science Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
By Lindsay Maruszewski (Guest Blogger)

Can bonding with bugs inspire the next Einstein? Two entomologists think a half million dollars worth of insects should do the trick. Together, they are on the verge of realizing a dream 25 years in the making: a permanent center serving as a gateway to science exploration for curious youngsters.

In 1994, then entomology student, Antonio Gustin (Tony) had an idea to start a traveling live insect exhibit for kids. The problem was, he didn’t know how to do that. Fortunately, there were those that did and offered help. One of those was world-renowned insect collector, Dan Capps. Capps has, what was once, the world’s largest private insect collection. “I knew of him and that he traveled to exhibit his collection. I called him up and half expected him to be less than receptive. Some collectors can be… unapproachable, and this was “The Dan Capps.” But instead he invited me over for a beer. He showed me how to connect with schools and how to put together a brochure. He literally helped me get the Creepy Crawly Zoo show on the road.” said Gustin.

Twenty-five years later, Gustin and Capps are still friends. Gustin and his Creepy Crawly Zoo went on to travel the country for the next two decades and excited, inspired and terrified over a million kids – and parents. In 2007, he produced a pilot episode to a series called Tales from the Bug Whisperer, which received five international film festival awards. “The last 25 years have been an adventure to say the least.” Gustin, the ‘Bug Whisperer,’ said. “It’s crazy to me how kids I visited early on are now coming to my shows with their kids,”

After seeing the sparkle in hundreds of thousands of kids’ eyes while holding a scorpion or hearing the hiss of a cockroach, in 2017, Gustin decided to actively pursue an idea he had been developing for years – the creation of an insect-themed natural science park he calls, The Gateway Science Project. The idea is to use kids’ natural fascination and curiosity for insects as a gateway into science exploration. The project is an indoor insect and reptile zoo, where budding knowledge seekers can touch, feed, and interact with live animals. What separates it from other such endeavors is that it will have acres of botanically designed areas outdoors, with shallow ponds where kids can run, explore and catch bugs, frogs, tadpoles, turtles and just experience the natural world via play. A place where a kid will hear, “Here’s a net, here is a jar, now go explore and have fun!

Gustin has created several videos on his website (www.creepycrawlyzoo.com) to explain the elaborate vision. It is a community science center that is designed to light a fire of scientific curiosity. There is one overall theme: “Here, we science.” At the Gateway Science Center, science is a verb, an attitude and a way of life. “It is the starship Enterprise, and all who visit are its crew!” laughs Gustin. Even the trails are based on the Fibonacci sequence. Gustin’s goal isn’t to get them interested in science as subjects but science as a way of thinking. “The very foundation of science is observation skills. Before kids go out to explore we tell them we need their help to find out what is here and what they are doing. Then kids do what kids do naturally, they play, they explore, and they ask questions. That my friends, is how science starts.”

“While insects are my tool of choice to connect with kids, my true love is science more broadly! There is a recurring theme from COSMOS that has always inspired me. When you look at the scientists who made the influential discoveries shaping our understanding of the universe and ourselves, most of them got their start when a single stranger inspired them to better themselves with science. While we are fortunate to now stand on the shoulders of their discoveries, these children could have easily missed this opportunity if it had not been for that nudge.”

“Whenever I do my show, I look at the excited faces before me. I often wonder to myself, which one of these little nosepickers is going to change the world because of what I do here today? Which one is the next Newton, Faraday, Einstein, Lamarr, Leavitt, Curie?” Gustin said.

Gustin has observed children’s reactions to and interactions with insects for decades. “Children are born scientists. They are naturally, insanely, curious about their world and over the last 25 years I’ve learned how perfect insects are to reach them. Insects are everywhere and affect everything. They are the most dominant life form on the planet. They are exciting, mysterious, alien and abundantly available to kids. Insects are almost every child’s first fascination with the natural world. No child has to do anything more than step outside to find them. Once they are introduced to them, curiosity and questions follow effortlessly. That is the very foundation of what science is – curiosity. Insects are so diverse in their form and functions that the questions kids ask about insects can lead to every science you can think of. Entomology IS a gateway science.” Gustin said.

Antonio Gustin & Dan Capps

Capps agrees. He agrees so wholeheartedly and thinks the concept is so powerful that he has offered to donate his collection, valued at nearly half a million dollars, to the Gateway Science Project!

When asked why he is donating his collection Capps said, “I have spent my entire life creating this collection. I was obsessed with insects when I was young. I was passionate about nature in general, but insects were the most fascinating thing to me. I did not amass this collection to horde specimens. I collected insects because I was passionate about them. I wanted to share my passion with the world. A lifetime of collecting and learning about all these fascinating creatures has led me to pay attention to my world in a way that would have never happened without them. I mean, what good would all this do if it just sat in my basement?”

“Tony and I met over 20 years ago when he had this idea to start a traveling live insect exhibit for kids. He was an entomology student in college and came to me for advice. What he did with that idea was amazing! Have you ever seen his show for kids? He lights them on fire! Our mutual passions have kept us friends ever since. It is my fondest wish that my collection be seen by the public. I can’t take it with me. I don’t know if you’re familiar with what Tony is out to create, but the Gateway Science Project is an unbelievably wonderful concept. A concept that I have personally witnessed in my own life. I wish something like this had been around when I was a kid. Entomology IS a gateway science and I can think of no better way for my collection to be used than to inspire generations of new scientists.”

When asked how he reacted to this, Gustin said, “I am absolutely beyond words. This was an act of faith in me that I am terrified to live up to. The Gateway Science Project just went from a dream to a full-blown reality with one selfless gesture. Now, I just need a Gateway Science facility to put it all in.”

The Capps exhibit was once one of the largest private collections in the world and can has been described as absolutely breathtaking. Capps himself, is a very unassuming retired mechanic from Oscar Meyer who enjoys riding his Harley (another of his passions). He only collected insects as a hobby. A hobby he started in 1958 at the ripe old age of …8. The young Capps developed a passionate fascination with insects. A passionate fascination that continues to this day and has led him to lead an extraordinary life.

That very simple childhood curiosity has led Capps all over the planet in pursuit of insects. His incredible expeditions have taken him to Australia, Cuba, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, and Jamaica just to name a few. He is respected throughout the entomology community and has given hundreds of lectures. His vast collection has been featured at events all around the country, most notably Disney World’s Epcot Center, Chicago’s Museum of Science and industry, The Detroit Science Center and Purdue’s Bug Bowl. An interesting side note, Capps even holds a Guinness World’s Record for “cricket spitting” and discovered himself on a Trivial Pursuit card because of it.

So, what do two friends who share a mutual childhood passion do when they grow up? They join forces to light the world on fire and inspire new generations of scientists to find their passion! While the Gateway Science Project is still a project in the making, there is no better place for kids to science than Discovery World Children’s Science Center, in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Tony’s Creepy Crawly Zoo and Discovery World have had a long-standing partnership and share a mutual mission of inspiring kids to science. On May 12th, 2018 that is exactly where Gustin and Capps will be, exhibiting together, for the first time in 25 years! “I am absolutely thrilled that Dan will be joining me at Discovery World. In all my years of doing this show, I have never ever seen anything like his collection. It is not just some pinned specimens; Dan’s collection is a work of art! It is the culmination of a lifelong passion for entomology. Milwaukee is in for a really awesome experience.” Gustin exclaimed.

For more information about the Gateway Science Project and Discovery World shows, visit: www.creepycrawlyzoo.com! 

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