For a little more than 10 years, a creepy-crawly program has been housed in a white cinderblock building west of OSU’s Stillwater campus.
Here scientists and children meet up with a variety of arthropods, arachnids and insects — you know, bugs. Children are safely introduced to everything from a pinktoe tarantula to a giant red-headed centipede, all in the name of teaching science.
The Insect Adventure program has been open by appointment only, but starting in September will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the first and third Saturdays each month. And the staff is very flexible when it comes to presentations.
“If you can dream it, we can bug it,” said Andrine Shufran, the coordinator of the program. She has been with OSU’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology since 2003 and is well versed in all things related to bugs.
Shufran is an associate extension specialist. She is involved in husbandry of many arthropod species, supervises student entomologists, maintains U.S. Department of Agriculture quarantine regulations and annually provides more than 300 educational programs to children.
Insect Adventure is much more fun for children than normal classroom lectures. It is an insect petting zoo that yearly brings more than 300,000 Oklahomans in contact with the planet's most numerous and diverse animals.
Insect Adventure houses more than 75 species of arthropods. It is the only facility in Oklahoma for the public to explore insect science.
“Arthropods account for 84 percent of all animal species, contrasted with vertebrates that make up 5 percent of animal species,” Shufran said.
There may be up to 30 million different insect species on Earth, but only about 1 million are known, she said.
Shufran said insects are an easy way to get children interested in studying biology and science, mostly because of the creep factor. But once they get to see and handle some of the bugs, they learn how important they are in the world.
“Insects are vital to all life on Earth,” Shufran said. “If they suddenly disappeared, our planet could not sustain life as we know it. They are the foundation for food webs. Plants depend on them for pollination and soil health.”
Even with their good qualities, she said, humans need to understand they also negatively impact agricultural plants, spread diseases to livestock and animals, and damage human structures.
“Insects are interesting and fun creatures to learn about. People have a strong emotional reaction to insects, either attractive or repulsive,” Shufran said.
The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension program is one way OSU fulfills its land-grant mission of teaching, research and outreach.
“Insect Adventure engenders a passion for science and biology to Oklahomans of all ages and supports 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, FFA and other youth organizations,” Shufran said.
Shufran also said Insect Adventure schedules visits to schools around the state, going directly to classrooms.
For more information on setting up an Insect Adventure, visit insectadventure.okstate.edu. Presentations can be made in classroom-size groups at the OSU facility, at large events or at birthday parties.