Plymouth University is holding a hands-on event for people who are interested in creepy-crawlies. People will be able to handle micro beasts, watch films about bugs, make toy insects, and even eat some of the crazy critters.
It’s all part of the country’s first Insect Film Festival, run by Peninsula Arts, which takes place later this month.
The event aims to raise understanding about insects, ranging from the essential role they play in food chains to their use in helping clean infected wounds, as well as highlighting their beauty. It will also debunk some of the myths around these creatures, which can lead to phobias.
The films being screened include: Bugs Life, a Disney animation; While Darwin Sleeps – about insects in museums; Small talk diaries – a series of humorous insect encounters, THEM – a 1950s ant horror; and, Bug, a tale of insect phobias.
Giant hissing cockroaches, tarantulas, stick insects, mantids and giant millipedes are among the insects which Dartmoor Zoo will be letting people get up close and personal with at the event.
Wildlife expert and television presenter Nick Baker will also be on hand to pass on insect advice, along with the university’s resident bug expert Peter Smithers, in the Roland Levinsky Building from noon-10pm on Saturday, January 29.
Peter, a scientific officer in Terrestrial Ecology, said: “Cinema is an excellent litmus of society’s attitude to a subject and insects are not immune. Most movies portray insects as terrifying monsters bent on the destruction of comical characters of little importance. We hope to persuade people that these perspectives are incorrect and provide a fresh viewpoint on future films and the natural world.
“Insects are the largest group of creatures on earth and are continuously evolving and adapting to the changing climates. The number of species, the variety of forms and behaviours, and the sheer beauty displayed by many of them is fascinating.
“People’s lives would be very different without the benefits provided by insects, and it is unlikely that we could survive on earth without them. They are a vital part of the biological mechanism that keeps the biosphere running.
“Insects are the cleaners, caretakers and bin men of the natural world. For example, they clean up and recycle rubbish produced by plants and larger animals, play a crucial role in breaking down dead vegetation and the bodies of animals, and they self-regulate their own populations by preying on and parasitizing each other.”
There will be an opportunity for people to tickle their taste buds and try a range of insect food at the event, from curry-flavoured crickets to barbecued mealworms.
Peter said: “Eighty per cent of the world’s population eat insects as a regular part of their diet and we want to make people aware that they are an important source of food for people living in the tropics.
“Our European attitudes to eating them are down to cultural differences, generated by our lack of large insects and their relatively low levels. It’s just not worth spending time trying to collect enough to eat here in temperate regions, but in the tropics it really pays off.
“However, as human populations increase and food becomes more difficult to produce, insects will come into their own, as they are rich in proteins and fats, and a greater mass of insects can be raised on land than any of the vertebrates we currently farm.”
There will also be face-painting for children at the event and opportunities to get involved in protecting insects by signing up for membership of Buglife, the Butterfly Conservation, Bug Club and the Royal Entomological Society.
The university provides courses that introduce students to the range of invertebrates that share the biosphere with humans – and is one of the few institutions offering an introductory course in invertebrate taxonomy and natural history, which is the basis of all good biological research.