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'What's Bugging Belva?' exhibit explores the wonderful world of insects

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(Courtesy of the Purdue Agriculture Exhibit Design Center)

It’s not easy being a bug, according to a box elder bug featured in the “What’s Bugging Belva?” exhibit coming to Plum Creek Nature Center.

“We look strange,” young Belva says to her Grandpa Belvedere. “No one likes us. And humans are always trying to squish us. I hate being an insect.”

But Belvedere knows best and he leads Belva on a tour of the backyard garden to show her “our amazing world.”

This journey has been captured in the form of a book that allows Belva to jump off the pages and into three gardens that include models of the insects being explored and information about their attributes. 

The free, all-ages “What’s Bugging Belva?” exhibit will lead visitors into that same amazing world when it opens on Sunday, September 1, and runs through Saturday, November 30, at the nature center. Exhibit hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and noon-4 p.m. Sundays. 

The exhibit is designed to transport visitors into the world of insects. 

“People will experience walking through a super-size children’s book which reveals Belva’s home and her garden,” said Kate Caldwell, an interpretive naturalist for the Forest Preserve. “As you walk through pages 1, 2 and 3, you see her grandfather showing her the beauty of being a box elder bug.”

The exhibit was organized by the Purdue Agriculture Exhibit Design Center, Purdue University, in collaboration with Purdue's Department of Entomology and is brought to the Forest Preserve through funding provided by The Nature Foundation of Will County.

Hands-on activities related to the exhibit include: peering through lenses to see what it’s like to look through an insect’s compound eyes, playing iPad insect games, searching with microscopes for soil critters, examining a real worm bin and a live bee hive, completing bug puzzles, and hiking to find insects around Spots Clubhouse, the native garden, Snapper Pond and the trail that leads to the 40-foot bridge. 

Related programs include: 

Hello Belva! – Incredible Insects!, 1-3 p.m. Sunday, September 8. After touring the exhibit, explore the hidden world of insects with a naturalist outside the nature center. Free; all ages. 
Paint a Bug!, 1-3 p.m. Saturday, September 14. Strap on antennae and get crafty with some finger paints after a short hike around the nature center. Free; ages 5 or older. Register by Thursday, September 12; 708.946.2216.
Pond Bugs, 1-3 p.m. Saturday, September 21. Hike to Snapper Pond to take a look at Belva’s pond relatives. Free; all ages. Register by Thursday, September 19; 708.946.2216.
Moth Mania!, 7-9 p.m. Saturday, September 28. Take a night hike to find out what makes moths special. Free; ages 6 or older. Register by Thursday, September 26. 708.946.2216.

The exhibit and related programs will help children and their families understand the vital part insects play in the ecosystem at large, Caldwell said. Insects play important roles in the growth of plants and the creation of healthy soil and clean water and air.

“They are everywhere and yet, they are the most unappreciated critters around,” she said. 

Belva’s belief that she is not that special reflects the common perception of the public and their view of insects, Caldwell added. 

“If mom and dad show wonder at the world of insects instead of fear or disgust, their children will too,” she said. "Insects open up a wonderful way to learn about science, math, shapes, colors and patterns.”

Insects also connect kids to creativity and play when they observe insect flight patterns, artistic leaf designs, mounds of dirt, and zipping, buzzing, clicking and chirping noises, Caldwell said.

Caldwell said she hopes that after viewing the exhibit and attending related programs, visitors learn from Belva and will consider beefing up the number of bugs in their own backyards. 

“Attract insects by buying native plants,” Caldwell urged. “It’s good for kids, and it’s good for the planet."


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