Oklahoma’s only live bug petting zoo can be found just over a mile west of the Oklahoma State University campus.
Insect Adventure includes a live petting zoo and is held every first and third Saturday of the month. The organization also travels around Oklahoma giving presentations in schools, churches and libraries.
An OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources program created in 1996 under the supervision of the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, coordinator Andrine Shufran has expanded Insect Adventure from giving 200 presentations in 2008 to almost 600 last year, allowing nearly 300,000 people in the state to enhance their knowledge through the interactive educational experience.
“Bugs make up 85 percent of animal life on the planet, and people know almost nothing about them,” Shufran said. “They have misconceptions about the bugs; they say they’re unimportant. But the reality is they give us our food and soil.”
Shufran said she always had a fascination with bugs, and began increasing the numbers of presentations given across the state to not only bring attention to the program, but also increase scientific literacy through physical interaction.
“We’re pushing to teacher education recently,” she said. “When we’re growing up, we’re taught to avoid bugs and to fear them. People think spiders are dangerous, but it’s actually mosquitos we should be afraid of. More people are killed by Christmas trees every year than by the black widow. It almost never happens. But mosquitos and ticks? They carry all of the diseases that are harmful and even deadly to humans.”
Insect Adventure is open on the first and third Saturdays of the month and costs $2 per person. There are more than 80 different species of bugs in the zoo, including some Oklahoma-native species.
“We have so many cool species from all over the world,” Shufran said. “We have 18 types of tarantulas. We have some of the world’s largest millipedes. We have centipedes that are bright blue, literally. And if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll appreciate the African amblypygid, the species of arachnid used to demonstrate the Unforgiveable Curses in the films.”
The building was built in the 1940s to the nation’s standards of quarantine and still meets those standards today, with minor repairs and renovations over the years. Shufran said it isn’t easy for places to get permits, which is partially why Insect Adventure is the only facility of its kind in Oklahoma and one of only 100 facilities in the nation.
“Bringing bugs from other countries is dangerous, and that’s why there are so many regulations,” she said. “But it’s worth it to go through the process because there is so much to learn.”
With the millions of species of bugs there are on the planet, Shufran said it is impossible for her to learn about them all. But it hasn’t stopped her from trying. Her favorite thing about working at Insect Adventure is working with the kids and showing them the excitement.
“We’re the face of entomology for normal people,” she said. “We’re always learning. We’re always meeting new people. It’s never boring.
“Researchers have found bugs that eat Styrofoam, so now the Styrofoam problem is solved. They’ve found the technology to make bulletproof vests out of spider silk. How cool is that? I can keep learning all my life, and that’s amazing.”
For more information, visit insectadventure.okstate.edu.