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MSU's plant, bug camp turns learning into fun
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Some people want nothing to do with the insect world, but 26 adults, teenagers and kids paid money to spend a week catching, examining and learning about bugs.
The 20th annual Bug and Plant Camp was underway at Mississippi State University from June 16 to 20. Campers, ranging from veteran teachers to 10-year-olds, participated in five full days and nights of insect work.
John Guyton, MSU Extension Service entomology specialist, organized the event. Retired MSU entomologist Mike Williams started the event and continues to be a vital part of it each year.
“Most of the campers are a little different from their classmates because they’re interested in biological sciences, and they’re interested in insects,” Guyton said. “They have nowhere else to go for a camp like this, so we have some who repeat several times.
“Twelve to 15 of our former campers have received advanced degrees in entomology, and many have said participating in this camp helped them realize this field is truly for them,” he said.
The camp is intergenerational, and Guyton said he wouldn’t have it any other way. Some campers attend with parents, others come through their teen years, and some teachers take the class for continuing education credits.
“Learning is just plain fun,” Guyton said. “It’s fun for young people, and it’s fun for old-timers. It’s spectacular when you have an 11- or 12-year-old showing a 40-year-old how to pin an insect or telling an adult an insect’s scientific name. You also have the younger campers looking up to the older campers and emulating them.”
Emmett King, 10, is one of the youngest campers, but this is the third time he has attended with his mother.
“She likes pinning the bugs, and I like catching them,” King said. “I think camp is really fun and a really good experience.”
He said he has been very interested in insects for a few years, and the skills he learned in bug camp allowed him to make a personal collection. His favorites are the stag beetles he’s collected.
“When I see a cool bug, I just catch it, put it in a kill jar and then pin it,” King said.
His interests in insects led him to begin beekeeping this year. He started with a small hive and next year will harvest his first batch of honey.
King is from Louisville, Ky., but is not the only camper from out of state. While most campers come from Mississippi, others come from Iowa and Georgia. One is attending this year from Panama.
In addition to day and night insect collection, campers learned about necropsy, honey extraction, insect diseases, biochemistry investigations, insect rearing, cocoons and silk, medical and forensic entomology, edible insects and wild salad, and more. Last year was the first year campers got to use MSU’s scanning electron microscopes to see greatly magnified details of the plants and insects they collected.
Breanna Lyle is a junior studying zoology at MSU and a six-time former camper. She is now an assistant helping make the camp possible for others interested in insects.
“It’s the best week of the year for me, better even than Christmas,” Lyle said. “Before I came to bug camp, I never found anybody who understood why I like bugs so much. With the people who come here, it’s just unspoken that everyone likes bugs.”
MSU’s Bug and Plant Camp is the oldest bug camp in the nation. Faculty and staff in the MSU Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology contribute to the camp’s success.