Apr. 22, 2013

Law & Order (Insect Edition)

by The Bug Chicks

Click to enlarge images
In the fall, we taught an insect/film-making class at the Renaissance School for Arts and Sciences (Ren) in Portland, Oregon. We worked with four groups of students ranging from 8-12 years of age. You can see the video on scorpions, the videos on vinegaroons, and the video on millipedes from our previous SciFri posts. 
Today we're going to highlight the walking stick video. Before we get to it, there's a back story and a bit of "Law & Order" to get through. Deh deh. (Get it? That's the sound from the TV show. Deh Deh.)
We do not own walking sticks or phasmids—insects in the order Phasmida, which includes walking sticks—of any kind. The reason for this is quite simple. In the U.S., there are very strict USDA permit laws pertaining to these animals. Unfortunately, word of this has not gotten out to many elementary school teachers in America. There are so many times that we visit a school and a teacher will tell us that they have walking sticks in their classrooms. We've been told that some get released to "eat the blackberries," or some go home to students. Who knows what happens to the insects then? We understand why teachers want these animals in classrooms—they're gentle, large, and handleable (and sweet, adorable, quirky, etc.). They're what we call a great "gateway bug": Since they're slow and non-threatening, they are a fantastic ambassador to help squeamish people gain repsect for arthropods. 
But because many walking stick species are parthenogenic (meaning females can reproduce without a mate by cloning) and all species are herbivorous, they are an incredible risk as potential invasives. States around the country are having problems with local defoliation due to one common pet species in particular—the Indian walking stick, Carausius morosus. 
So back in August, when a family brought us six phasmids during a public workshop as a gift, we were agonizing over what to do. Kill them by putting them and all of their substrate in the freezer, which is the recommended course of action? Keep them?** 
We decided to do both while using our Bug Chicks position to teach! We helped the kids at the Ren School create a video that talked about the amazing abilities of these animals. We also taught them why we needed to dispose of them at the end of filming. In the middle of this short film, the students at the Ren School speak in a public service announcement about why you can't keep these insects. 
**For those of you who are wondering what happened to our walking sticks, luckily for us softies they all died of natural causes during the filming. We then bagged up the substrate and put everything into the freezer for six months. 
We're happy that for a short time we shared our lives with these incredible insects and that they are forever preserved in this charming video:

About The Bug Chicks

Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker are The Bug Chicks. They each have Masters Degrees in Entomology and love to teach people about insects and spiders.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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