Bugs in Georgetown? Don't get excited. This is not an infestation. Those bugs are concentrated in the Music Room at the Georgetown Charter School. The Bug Mobile has arrived and here's the assignment. What are the differences between an insect and a spider? A friend of mine told me, "Very simple. The spider is terrifying; the insect is not."
All day long, classroom after classroom hike down three flights of stairs to the Music Room for their hour with Fiona Garvin, of the Colorado University Science Discovery Program.
It was Mrs. Timberlake's First Grade and Mrs. LaGiglia's Kindergarten class that interested me most. Down the stairs, in a line, came the classes to sit down on the floor in orderly three semicircles. At that age, I expected animated ekes and yucks. I was wrong. They sat in rapt attention as Fiona Garvin started talking. After telling them about five groups of arthropods, every time she asked, "How many?" they all knew and returned a chorus of, “five!”
Garvin began by going up and down each row, showing each child a plastic case with a Tiger Centipede (many feet) wreathing within. She tells them, "This bug only sees light and shadow." She warns the group that they are poisonous, “Not that they would kill you, more like a bee sting.” One child pipes up, “I’ve been stung by a bee.” Now all are interested.
Next comes a millipede that she takes out of its cage and it crawls out on her finger looking like a worm with feet. "This bug is a non-poisonous vegetarian," Garvin tells them. When asked what they eat, many volunteers from the audience raise their hands and answer, "plants, grass" - all correct. There were a few wrinkled noses as Garvin continues to tell about the millipedes emitting a stinky gas when threatened by birds. You can almost see them imagining the awful smell. A few perked up when Garvin tells them that these millipedes were around during the Jurassic Park era of dinosaurs and at that time these little bugs were three or four feet long. When asked how big that was, the resulting demonstrations remind me of fish stories from the fishermen in my family.
After reaching in another cage and getting a huge Hermit crab, we are on to crustaceans. I’m not sure that the children really understood that the crab's hard shell was an exoskeleton, a skeleton that is on the outside of the body compared to our skeleton that is on the inside, but maybe. I did like the reference to a suit of armor the crustaceans took off as they got bigger, or molted, and then grew another one. Rounding out the story of the crab and other crustaceans (the lobster, shrimp, crawfish) as the clean-up crew or the garbage men of the sea eating dead plants and fish in the ocean made me smile.
Again Garvin says, “How many arthropods are there?” Boys and girls together respond with a loud clamor, “Five!” “How many have we seen?” she replies. They know, and answer in unison, “Three!”
The insects were next, the largest group. She pulls out a large branch with a huge leaf eater, looking very much like the stick it is sitting on. Pointing to a child with camouflaged pants, she explains that these insects were masters of changing colors to blend in to their surroundings. After looking carefully at his pants, the boy again looks up in amazing attention as Garvin continues to tell them about an insect's three body segments and antennas.
Then out comes a huge Madagascar beetle, making a hissing sound. “These cockroaches are a favorite monkey food on Madagascar Island.” Garvin explains further, “This hissing sound will startle the monkeys into dropping them and they can escape.” My eyes widen when she tells them the sound comes through air holes in their bodies. "That’s how they breathe," she concludes.
Last were the spiders that have a body with two segments, eight legs and no antennas. Garvin starts out by telling about the scorpions with their long poisonous stinger in their tails. Not to kill, but to paralyze its prey.
The grand finale, you guessed it, the Rose Tarantula. It’s huge. She reaches in and it climbs on her hand. Garvin in a hushed voice, kids leaning in to listen, creates sympathy for Rose. “You don’t want the tarantula to get excited and perhaps fall off and get hurt.” Especially when she says, “They could even die from a fall.” With a closing statement about the tarantula’s defense or when it gets angry, how they rise up on their hind legs and show their fangs, Garvin then sits in a tiny chair and asks each child to sit in the chair opposite her. With her larger hand and the smaller one, the tarantula moves quietly around, sometimes touching the small hand resulting in a tiny smile. An unusual connection.
At the end of the hour, the thoughtful children line up at the bottom of the stairs as another group comes in to repeat the magic of the “Bug Mobile.”
Thanks to John Ewers at the library for arranging this wonderful experience on behalf of the Georgetown Library Association; the Butterfly Pavilion for providing the bugs; and especially to Fiona Garvin, CU Science Discovery Program, for touching so many young lives with a hands-on science adventure.