Wednesday, November 29, 2023
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Great Insect Fair Returns for First Time Since 2019

The buzz in the air must mean the Great Insect Fair is finally back in town. 

After years in hibernation following a pause at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fair returns 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Snider Agricultural Arena on the University Park campus. The last fair was in 2019. 

The fair sponsored by Penn State’s Department of Entomology will be celebrating its 30th anniversary with a technology theme, “Bugs in the System.”  

Visitors this year will be treated to exhibits featuring an insect zoo, bumblebee keeping, honey tasting, a nocturnal insect tent, tick bite prevention and an educational program featuring Ryan “The Bug Man” Bridge.

The fair will have booths and craft-making that will allow guests to create art projects like dragonfly helicopters and pasta butterfly life cycles. University Libraries will also be on hand with an insect reading corner. 

While the theme this year is technology, it does not mean you will see nano spy flies or anything of that sort. Instead, guests will find high tech information booths and learn about new technologies that are used in the entomology field. 

Michael Skvarla, the director of Penn State’s Insect Identification Laboratory, hopes the fair will give people an inside view on what entomologists do and use every day. 

“In my experience, people love to learn about the things professionals take for granted because we see them daily,” he said. “We decided to focus on technology to highlight the tools and tech entomologists use but that the public might not see.” 

Visitors will have the opportunity to learn about how ink is made from insect galls and a DNA lab that will offer a chance to collect and enter DNA samples, according to Skvarla. But people shouldn’t expect to see an instant result pop up on a screen. 

“It’s not like on TV or ‘CSI’ where they can (insert) a sample and immediately get results,” he said. 

Anne Johnson, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Entomology who specializes in the invasive spotted lantern fly, said it has been interesting how the technology theme is being interpreted. But advances in strategies other than pesticides to control insects and modifications to stop hurting non-targets will be examples of the new kind of technology being shown. 

“At the spotted lantern table, they will be talking about circle traps versus the outward facing sticky bands that were first used but birds and bats were getting caught on them,” Johnson said. “Circle traps theoretically can be a no kill trap at all.” 

Tarantulas on display at the insect zoo will also play a part in how far technology in entomology has come.

“A lot of medicines are actually based on compounds found in tarantula venom,” Johnson said.  

Map of the 2023 Great Insect Fair at Snider Ag Arena. Image provided

While visitors will get an opportunity to learn about all kinds of creatures big and small, popular past attractions featuring monarch butterflies will not be on display. The monarchs are due to fly south for the winter, and researchers found that having the monarchs inside can be detrimental to their travels. 

“We were rearing them out of growth chambers and those conditions in the growth chambers don’t have the natural signals that they would get outside,” Johnson explained. 

While live butterflies will not be seen, live bees are coming back to the fair due to the differences concerning migration.

“Bees, on the other hand, are not migratory,” said Johnson. “Honeybees are really cool because they maintain a certain temperature in their hives so they can survive the winter.

“We’ll have lots of critters for people to come and play with.” 

Johnson, who is also the student outreach coordinator, is excited for the Great Insect Fair and can’t wait to share her passion. 

“I love the outreach part of the job. It’s so much fun,” Johnson said. “The kids just love seeing all the bugs and playing with them and it’s great.” 

Admission and parking are free but donations can be made. T-shirts featuring the design for this year’s fair will be for sale at the entrance and the Entomology Graduate Student Association is selling merchandise including insect crafts to help support the department. 

Other vendors will offer insect displays for sale as well as a booth featuring Penn State honey. The Sunset Slush truck will also be at the fair offering icy treats for purchase. 

And while there are many different festivals and events happening this weekend, the Great Insect Fair is where Johnson hopes people will be. 

“Free admission, free parking and so many bugs,” she said. “Please come!” 

For more information visit the Great Insect Fair’s website