Big Bugs

Reema Alnuaimat, 4, holds Noah, a Madagascar hissing cockroach, as her sister, Salma, 3, looks on. The cockroaches were pulling toy tractors at BugFest Open House, an event put on by the entomology and nematology department, on Wednesday evening.

UF’s Entomology Club gave people something to buzz about Wednesday night with its second annual BugFest Open House.

About 500 students and Gainesville-area residents gathered at Charles Steinmetz Hall on the south side of campus.

The event aimed to promote entomology — the study of insects — and to recruit students to the major.

“It’s a showcasing of the entomology department to get people to understand what entomology is and how it actually plays a great role in their lives,” said Alyssa Porter, the event’s coordinator and a 22-year-old entomology senior.

Visitors were able to tour the department’s research facilities, talk to entomology advisers and professors, participate in Hollywood-themed games and competitions, and witness a live butterfly release.

Games included cricket-spitting competitions, a cockroach race to the Oscars and Hollywood Walk of Fame maggot art.

Live arthropods drew in visitors who held Madagascar hissing cockroaches and millipedes that can grow up to 2 feet long.

Emperor scorpions and Chilean rosehair tarantulas were on display, but visitors were not allowed to handle them.

Chris Thomas, a 20-year-old graphic design junior, said the cockroach races were his favorite part.

“You have your cockroach on the table, and you just guide them in the right direction,” he said. “I ended cutting the other cockroach off and came in for the win.”

The maggot art display maintained a crowd of about 20 people throughout the night.

Attendees were able to dip live fruit-eating maggots into paint, then watch them crawl around on star-shaped paper.

The first 400 visitors to the free event received tickets to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Butterfly Rainforest as well as a food voucher for pizza.

Academic information was available to students and highlighted the degree tracks within the entomology major, such as ecotourism, basic science, preprofessional and urban pest management.

Thomas said one of his friends was able to get advice from a graduate student about what entomology class she should take next semester.

Porter said the pre-professional degree track is a good option for students who want to go to medical, dental or veterinary school.

“It meets application requirements and can help make your application stand out from the hundreds of biology majors applying,” she said.