Insects infest Downtown Riverside for 2nd annual Insect Fair

By Alexis Naucler
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Riverside Metropolitan Museum and UCR’s Entomology Graduate Student Association hosted Riverside’s 2nd Annual Insect Fair on April 30. Alexis Naucler | Viewpoints

Tarantulas, millipedes, stick bugs and a 1,000 dollar beetle named “Hercules” infested downtown Riverside.

Riverside’s 2nd annual Insect Fair  took place on Mission Inn Avenue between Lime Street and Orange Street from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 30.

UC Riverside’s Entomology Graduate Student Association teamed up with the Riverside Metropolitan Museum to bring a wide array of activities, animals, presentations and insects to the community in hopes of educating people young and old of Earth’s different insects, as mentioned by UCR  student Amy Murillo. She is Ph.D student in UCR’s Entomology Department and a part of EGSA.

“Not all insects are bad and sometimes what you hear in the news is not the whole story,” Murillo said. “We’re just trying to get people a little more familiar with science and literacy so they can know a little bit more about insects as a base level. There are dangerous insects but for the most part there’s something you can learn from and you don’t have to be afraid of them.”

UCR’s Entomology Department was the primary host for Riverside’s inaugural Insect Fair in 2015 and due to the success and amount of interest from the community, the RMM decided to assist UCR students by taking the lead in hosting the event to bring in more vendors, promotion and people.

“It’s great that they have it,” said ISCA Technologies Biology Manager Jesse Salari. “It’s a really good idea to get everyone out here and it looks like there’s a lot of interest,”

As mentioned by Murillo, the students have been able to focus more on the education aspect of the fair since the RMM has taken over.

“We’re more just helping out with the educational boost and what not so it’s very much a collaboration,” Murillo said.

The effort put in by UCR students to incorporate more educational activities, such as “A-to-Zika,” a presentation aimed to teach people about mosquitoes and diseases and a demonstration by Smithsonian Entomologist Nate Erwin and volunteers to learn more about the sounds crickets make and why, was noticed by Eddy Atamian, an attendee of the event who displayed his collection of butterflies, moths and other insects.

“I see a lot more educational stuff this year than last year and a lot more vendors and a lot more people,” Atamian said. “I think they did a really good job promoting it.”

Atamian has been collecting insects from both local and tropical areas, such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Peru, as a hobby for 25 years. He mentioned he enjoys raising them and seeing their unique, colorful beauty.

In order to display the different winged insects, Atamian must hydrate the wings to be able to open and display them, then they go through a week long drying period where he can then stick the small needles through the body of the insect to display in a box, which must be done very carefully as they are very delicate, according to him. Atamian mentioned the process of displaying them takes 10-15 minutes.

This year’s fair included tye-dying shirts, not with regular dye, but with dye made from ground-up Cochineal insects.

“I think it’s a novelty factor of being able to dye with bugs and not everyone can say that they’ve done that before and it just fits really well with the theme of today,” said Teresa Woodard, RMM curator of education. “I think it’s a great souvenir from the festival.”

These insects are usually found on cacti and are considered a pest to the plants. They’re scraped off of cacti, ground up into a powder and boiled until a red pulp is left over. Water is then poured through a filter filled with the pulp and voila! Red dye used to make unique, novelty t-shirts.

With presentations, over 50 booths and well over 200 people in attendance, there is no question that this year’s Insect Fair was a success.

“It’s crazy that little tiny insects can create this kind of excitement amongst people,” Woodard said.

It’s events like the Insect Fair and places like the RMM that can bring the community together and prove Riverside is a city of arts and innovation.