This summer the Entomology Teaching Lab played host once more to UMD’s Bug Camp: Insect, Science, and Society. The two single-week sessions of camp were bursting with activity ranging from: collecting trips; field trips; aquatic insect hunts; apiary visits; art; crafts; inhouse experiments; and more. Days were exciting, adventurous, creative and educational. The icing on this cake was the genuine energy and enthusiasm the campers brought in each day.
For four consecutive years, I have been fortunate to be a member of Bug Camp. One thing I never tire of year after year is listening to the extensive knowledge and vast passion campers harbor for insects. Calling several of our campers “walking encyclopedias” is not an exaggeration. Here at camp, they find themselves immersed in an environment full of people sharing their same appreciation and curiosity for these small but mighty arthropods. You’ll need a pair of sunglasses just to dim the glow of entomological joy they continuously radiate, even after a long (“torturing”) walk to Comcast Field in the heat of July.
Camp would not be nearly as spectacular without the involvement of several department partnerships. Todd Waters artistically sets up and maintains the insect zoo in the teaching lab. He ensured that campers were greeted with a variety of insects the moment they arrived at camp.
Amy Yaich, in the main office, triple (and likely quadruple) checked all incoming paperwork, forms, required trainings, bus scheduling, and so much more. Without this detail-oriented and time-consuming work, camp simply would not be able to operate. Dr. Jeff Shultz is jokingly known as the guy we blame should things go horribly awry, but is better known as the Director of Bug Camp. Shultz ensures camp is stocked, keeps camp preparations happening in a timely manner, and is willing to fill in any other role the camp might need. Department labs also play a big role each year. One day per session, The Hamby Lab visits. Dr. Hamby and her lab guide lessons on insect traps, lead pest management experiments with Colorado Potato Beetles, and teach campers how larva can survive in fruit, leading into the infamous Painting with Maggots activity. The Lamp Lab folks visit us as well. They set up various aquatic arthropod stations, give brief lessons, and take the campers out to Paint Branch Stream for hands on aquatic insect collecting. The VanEnglesdorp Lab welcomes campers into the hives at the apiary. They discuss bee species, hive behavior, labor, and more all while trying not to laugh at the young campers waddling like penguins in adult size bee suits. The sight is actually really, really adorable. These partners within the department go above and beyond each year, contributing to the overwhelming success of Bug Camp. What they do has an important and positive impact on these campers and we are exceptionally grateful that they are willing to volunteer their time and resources to be a part of camp.
Each year at camp generates a new list of “firsts”. This is the list of first-time things that have never happened at camp before and usually have not been well planned for. The first “first” is highlighting this year for its immediate creative and on the fly (pun intended) thinking. The week of July 7, we had not one, not two, but three days of rain. Some days caught us with surprise storms, while others carried on with perpetual drizzle. In any case, a crowd of 24 elementary aged kids with hearts set on going collecting need to be smoothly diverted and adequately occupied on new activities to wait out the thunder. Have you ever heard of Fly, Fly, Spider? It’s like Duck, Duck, Goose only way better. This is the first year in my four years that it rained during camp.
I think my top "first" from this year’s list however, was during the last hour on the last day of Week 1. Counselors; hot and tired, were doing their best to rally the campers into packing up their belongings and prepare for pick-up. One child was unusually sulky for this final hour and unwilling to discuss what was going on. Eventually, as bottled emotions tend to do, his moody silence broke and the tears began flowing. I quickly went to him frantically wondering what tragedy had struck. Is he hurt? Did someone say something mean? Is he just tired like the rest of us?
My mind raced. What I didn’t expect was him to say was, “I just don’t want to leave. I love it here. I don’t want to go!” I was taken aback. Surprised. And secretly thrilled this wouldn’t require incident report paperwork. The sobs turned to uncontrollable heaves and he asked to go to the bathroom so he could clean his face and calm down. We had a good chat upon his return and sent him home a little more settled than before. Later that evening, his mom sent a quick email saying:
Christopher loved Bug Camp. He told me he loved being a scientist. We will definitely return next year.
The email was a perfect reminder that some of the greatest scientists in the world are still nine years old, still growing up, still learning, and still exploring. Things that encourage them to remain curious, keep learning, and inspire them to pursue their interests into adulthood are exposures to things that might be as simple as Bug Camp. So to everyone in the department: thank you for letting us use the teaching lab to mold young minds, thank you for holding the door for our long and slow moving line of campers entering and leaving the building, and thank you for volunteering your time to teach and inspire each child that came to camp this year. These services are just some of the many things that make the Entomology Department a truly magnificent place.