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 kgullufsen@juneauempire.com. 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 News

Even as coronavirus numbers are going down and vaccines are being distributed, pandemic-related facilities like the testing site at Juneau International Airport, seen here in this Oct. 12 file photo, are scheduled to remain for some time, according to city health officials. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)
Vaccines are coming, but pandemic facilities will remain

Testing sites and other COVID-19 operations will continue, officials say, but infections are trending down.

After violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol today, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, left, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., join other senators as they return to the House chamber to continue the joint session of the House and Senate and count the Electoral College votes cast in November's election, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Murkowski on impeachment: ‘I will listen carefully’ to both sides

As for timing, the senator said, “our priority this week must be to ensure safety in Washington, D.C.”

Juneau City Hall. The City and Borough of Juneau has distributed nearly $5 million in household and individual assistance grants since October. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
All housing and most personal assistance grants processed

About $5 million in aid is flowing to households and individuals in Juneau.

A child plays at Capital School Park. The park is in line for a remodel that will fix the crumbling retaining wall, visible in the background. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)
A new life is in store for Capital School Park

Public input is helping craft a vision for the park’s voter-approved facelift.

Expected heavy snow and high winds Thursday evening prompted Alaska’s Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to issue a warning of increased avalanche hazard along Thane Road. (File photo)
Avalanche risk increasing along Thane Road

Be careful and plan for the possibility of an extended road closure.

White House, tribes joined to deliver Alaska Native vaccines

The initiative has treated Indigenous tribes as sovereign governments and set aside special vaccine shipments.

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. On Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, the top U.S. public health agency said that coronavirus can spread greater distances through the air than 6 feet, particularly in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces. But agency officials continued to say such spread is uncommon, and current social distancing guidelines still make sense. (NIAID-RML via AP)
COVID at a glance for Friday, Jan. 8

The most recent state and local numbers.

Federal report says pandemic hit seafood industry hard

Catch brought to the docks fell 29% over the course of the first seven months of the year.

The Juneau Police Department and other law enforcement agencies say they are prepared for the possibility of political violence at the Capitol building on the day of the presidential inauguration. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
No known threats of violence, but police say they’re prepared

“The Juneau Police Department and our partners have not received any specific threats,” the agency said.

Most Read