Kids participate in a spider crawl race during Bug Day at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. (Kevin Gullufsen | Juneau Empire)

Kids participate in a spider crawl race during Bug Day at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. (Kevin Gullufsen | Juneau Empire)

Ecosystem ‘glue:’ Kids learn insect ins and outs at Bug Day

Sold-out Arboretum event teaches not to fear bugs

They’re creepy. They’re crawly. And in Alaska, they’re the bane of any fishing expedition.

But bugs — even mosquitos — are also a vital part of the animal kingdom.

That’s something kids learned Saturday at the second annual Bug Day at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum. The event sold out on a sunny day. Thirty-five kids learned not to fear — and even enjoy — the the oft-unappreciated animals.

Some of the smallest members of the animal kingdom have an outsized impact on the environment, explained U.S. Forest Service technician Isaac Davis. Gingerly, Davis held a dragonfly of the libellulidae family by the wings, showing it to interested kids age 6-12.

“(bugs are) ecosystem glue, is how I like to explain it,” Davis said.

They’re a staple food for a host of birds and mammals and pollinate plants, he said.

But kids are socialized to fear them, something that’s not useful in a place like Southeast that lacks species that are a real threat to human health.

“People’s fear of insects is totally learned,” Davis said.

As a result, kids often don’t come to appreciate or learn as much about them as they do mammals or birds. How do you counteract that? By turning insect education into a fun day at the park. The Arboretum’s Bug Day “piggy backs” off Bug Days at venues across the country, said the Arboretum Education Coordinator Michelle Warrenchuk.

The three-hour event included bug hunting, a “spider walk” race, and face painting among its seven stations. Bug Day will happen next year and moving forward into the future, said Arboretum director Merrill Jensen. (Jensen is unrelated to the Arboretum’s namesake.)

“We hope that the kids take away some of the bugology that they’ve learned, or the entomology that they’ve learned and a little bit of local knowledge,” Warrenchuk said.

Somebody who studies insects is called an entomologist. Davis’ boss, Elizabeth Graham, is one of those professionals. She works for the USFS in her Juneau lab, studying bugs around the state with the mission of protecting and improving Alaska’s forest health.

Not only does Southeast Alaska lack bugs that can cause lasting bodily harm, but the wet forests of the Tongass are mostly impervious to threats which plague the rest of the state. Spruce beetles, which have wreaked havoc on trees in other parts of the state, aren’t a huge threat around Juneau.

Spruce beetles are present in Southeast, Graham said, but “the tree-killing insects don’t have as big of an impact because of our wet forests here.”

That’s not to say Southeast doesn’t have its issues with bugs. A warm, dry summer allowed sawfly populations in Southeast to explode. They’re doing damage to forests around Petersburg, Graham said, something she’s currently trying to track and educate people on.

The bugs don’t typically kill trees. They feed on foliage and can cause damage. It’s a natural occurrence, just not one Southeast typically has to deal with.

“We’ve had a pretty extreme summer in terms of drought stress, so we may actually see a little bit more mortality in Southeast, between that and defoliation,” Graham said.

Mellie Violis, 10, already knows she wants to be an entomologist when she grows up, and told Graham as much during Bug Day.

Bugs spark her curiosity. She says her and her twin brother Zack Beebe have seen about 22 beetles of a certain species this summer that’s understood to be native to Asia and Russia. She’s wondering what the “iridescent” bug could be doing here and if scientists are aware of its presence.

What does Violis like most about bugs?

“I think they look cute,” she said.

• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.

U.S. Forest Service technician Isaac Davis shows kids a dragonfly during Bug Day at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. (Kevin Gullufsen | Juneau Empire)

U.S. Forest Service technician Isaac Davis shows kids a dragonfly during Bug Day at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. (Kevin Gullufsen | Juneau Empire)

More in Home

Wreath bearers present wreaths for fallen comrades, brothers and sisters in arms during a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. Laying wreaths on the graves of fallen heroes is a way to honor and remember the sacrifices made. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
Traditional Memorial Day ceremonies offer new ways to ‘never forget’ those who served

New installations at memorial sites, fresh words of reminder shared by hundreds gathering in Juneau.

Thunder Mountain High School graduates celebrate after moving their tassels to the left, their newly received diplomas in hand, at the end of Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
‘Forever a Falcon’: Thunder Mountain High School celebrates final graduating class

147 seniors get soaring sendoff during 16th annual commencement full of heightened emotions.

Seniors at Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé enter the gymnasium for their commencement ceremony on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
JDHS graduates celebrate journey from virtual ‘pajama class’ freshmen to virtuous camaraderie

Resolve in overcoming struggles a lifelong lesson for future, seniors told at commencement ceremony.

Sierra Guerro-Flores (right) listens to her advisor Electra Gardinier after being presented with her diploma at Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduation ceremony Sunday in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Alternatives are vast for Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduating class

31 students take center stage during ceremony revisiting their paths at the school and what’s next.

The LeConte state ferry in 2023. (Lex Treinen / Chilkat Valley News)
Stranded Beerfest travelers scramble to rebook after LeConte ferry breakdown

Loss of 225-passenger ferry leaves many Juneau-bound revelers looking for other ways home.

Thunder Mountain High School pitcher Jack Lovejoy catches a line-drive hit to end the Region V softball championship game against Sitka High School on Saturday at Melvin Park. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Thunder Mountain High School Falcons are conference champs, heading to state softball title tournament

TMHS rebounds from 19-12 loss in back-to-back Saturday games against Sitka, wins finale 9-3.

A Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé player tries to control the ball during a May 3 game at Adair-Kennedy Field. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
JDHS comes up short in state soccer title games

Boys fall behind early in 4-1 loss to Soldotna, girls miss opportunities in 2-0 loss to Kenai.

A photo taken from the terminal roof shows the extent of the first phase of paving to accommodate large aircraft. (Mike Greene / City and Borough of Juneau)
Large-scale repaving project plants itself at Juneau International Airport

Work may take two to three years, schedule seeks to limit impact on operations.

Capital Transit buses wait to depart from the downtown transit center on Thursday. Route number 8 was adjusted this spring. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
More service, visitor information helping Capital Transit to keep up with extra cruise passenger traffic

Remedies made after residents unable to board full buses last year seem to be working, officials say

Most Read