Buggin’ Out at the Insectarium!

By Sam Olson

You saw right! It’s an insect, not a twig! Amazing how things of the world reflect the world. This Vietnamese Walking Stick has survived to pass on its genes because it’s been confused for a twig; in some predator’s eyes, it IS a twig! How we represent the world and how the world represents us was the question that drove me to intern at the Missoula Insectarium.

Opened in 2015, the Missoula Insectarium provides a space for Montanans to hang out with insects from across the world- they’ve got walking sticks from Vietnam and Malaysia, beetles from Africa and the United States, scorpions and fiddler crabs, and even a bird-eating tarantula. Part of their mission is to provide environmental education and exposure to those who aren’t acquainted with some of the most diverse and populous species on earth.

To assist in this mission, the insectarium offers a space for classroom field-trips, but it’s also open to the public. If you go to the insectarium, you might get to see a live arthropod or arachnid feeding; at the encounter cart, you can even hold some of the residents, such as their Blue Death Feigning beetles and Domino Cockroaches. This spot is perfect for young ones.

After finding the insectarium online, I decided to visit and ask if they needed volunteer help. I was struck by the diversity of species there- I’d never seen anything like most of those critters. I chatted with Carolyn, who manages the volunteer coordinating, and starting building a list of their needs and how I could help.

We set up the internship to cover two bases: help in and out of the insectarium. In my free hours I’d be at the encounter cart, hanging out with insects and visitors, as well as helping out with the field trips. Off hours, I’d be building curriculum, such as lessons and experiments that the insectarium could use for their summer camps.

It’s been a treat sitting at the encounter cart over these last few weeks. I love seeing how people interact with these insects- most are curious but pretty scared of them. Helping People trust these critters and also develop a sense of wonder has been a goal. Insects have a lot to teach us.

Despite being active in volunteering with the insectarium, I haven’t jumped into it like I thought I would. It has been a weekly routine, working there, and I was hoping for a more supporting role. I’be talked about this with Carolyn, and we’ve carved out more time for me to volunteer. My work there, while it’s been limited, has been meaningful to me.

Anything to remind humans that there is a world beyond the human, one that affects us and builds us, is valuable!

So, bring your folks to the Missoula insectarium. It’s a place with a whole lot to offer, and anybody can find something wild here.

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