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Entomology

Reaching out with insects

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24 July 2017

If I approached you holding a large cockroach how would you feel?  You might be disgusted or afraid if you hadn't met one before and if you weren't familiar these creatures.  If you knew however that cockroaches are generally vegetarian and do not attack humans, their skeleton is on the outside of their body and they breathe through holes within this, that they sense the world with antennae as well as eyes, mouth and feet, you might be excited enough to look closer and hold it.

Insects are often misunderstood, but as E O Wilson said they are 'the little things that run the world'.  Outreach to the general public, school and college groups is one way to communicate the importance of insects.  Our take home message with all entomological activities is that insects are one of the most diverse animal groups and that they are really important to learn about.  There are over 1.2 million described species of insects, compared to just over 5400 mammals.  Some insect species spread and cause human, animal and plant diseases, but many others pollinate flowers, break down dead organisms to release nutrients, control levels of harmful organisms by eating them and are themselves food for other animals.

Multi-sensory interaction is vital to engage visitors with insects.  Can you hear the hissing cockroach?  Can you see the video of insect flight in slow motion?  Can you feel the hard wing cases of a beetle?  Can you smell the bumblebee colony?  Sometimes we ask if you would like to taste insects, with pre-prepared snacks made with insects following on from Harper Adams’ Edible Bug Challenge success.

Students and staff at Harper Adams University are involved in a range of outreach activities, from stands at large events like the Big Bang Fair in the National Exhibition Centre with over 75000 visitors, to insect trails at smaller family events such as the Minibeast Adventure in the Dorothy Clive Garden in Shropshire with around 1000 visitors.  We also take part in the National Collaborative Outreach Programme with our local hub Higher Horizons+, running sessions for schools and workshops as part of the regional Big Bang Get Ahead event at Harper Adams.

We don't just do outreach for fun.  Students develop skills such as how to communicate scientific concepts to those with different knowledge levels and backgrounds, they also have opportunities to design resources such as a poster about pollination or a leaflet about life in soil.  For those moving on to jobs such as those in industry, museums, wildlife trusts and to further training on PhD studentships this is excellent preparation.  We also during outreach act as ambassadors for the unique range of entomological courses offered by Harper Adams University: the undergraduate BSc Zoology with Entomology and the postgraduate PgC, PgD, MSc & MRes Entomology.

We look forward to meeting you at an event soon!

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