Photo right: UNL Extension educator Jonathan Larson instructs a group of BugMasters volunteers during a training session held in late July.
Pam Galus, a retired science teacher from Omaha, has always been fascinated by how amazingly intricate insects can be. The creepy crawly things that frighten many leave her awestruck. BugMasters, a new program from Nebraska Extension and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Department of Entomology, is helping Galus explore her interest in insects.
The BugMasters volunteer program, held in late July, was a two-day training camp that covered topics such as basic insect biology, pollinators, pests and how to teach insect programs. Following the training, participants are now prepared to conduct outreach programs in collaboration with UNL for various audiences as part of one or more teams: educating youth through outreach, protecting pollinators, emerald ash borer education and bedbug mythbusters.
Galus spends time volunteering at Heron Haven Nature Center, a wetland sanctuary in Omaha. She has noticed that urban youth tend to be afraid of insects.
“The only interaction that many urban youth have with insects is when they find them in their home,” she said. “They’re left with the impression that all insects are bad. We need to be encouraging them to explore their interest, as they could become entomologists in training.”
To guide youth down that path, the Department of Entomology has a number of outreach kits available to educators for checkout. The kits can be used to teach a variety of entomological related topics to children of all ages. The cockroach tractor pull kit has become very popular; it is designed to show how some insects are capable of lifting and moving many times their body weight. The kit includes an activity that demonstrates how Madagascar hissing cockroaches can carry more than their weight. Cockroach “athletes” are provided with the kit.
Along with youth outreach, BugMasters training also covered pest issues that people face daily, such as unwelcome pests in the home, bedbugs and emerald ash borer.
“BugMasters is an important entomology outreach opportunity that will not only help garner interest in insects, but also keep Nebraskans informed about emerging pest issues that may affect them, said Erin Bauer, an entomology lecturer at UNL and BugMasters instructor.
A few of the topics covered during training include how to identify structural pests such as termites or cockroaches, control methods for bedbugs and how one should prepare for emerald ash borer.
Bauer, along with Extension Entomology Educator Jonathan Larson and Extension Urban Entomologist Jody Green led the BugMasters training sessions. There were over 30 attendees at each of the first two sessions. Strong attendance and excited attendees mean the instructors hope to offer more trainings in the future, according to Bauer.
“The BugMasters trainees have been so energetic and eager to volunteer,” she said.
For Galus, that means sharing what she learned in training with youth in Omaha, including a unique way to determine the species of an ant.
“Did you know you can smash the abdomen of an ant, and the smell on your hands can help you identify which species it is?”
For more information about outreach kits and other materials, visit this site.