It’s mid March and almost Spring here in Columbus. The 2015 Museum Open House happened more than a month ago, but here at the Triplehorn Insect Collection we’re still not quite done with it yet. It usually takes our staff several weeks to prepare the collection to welcome the Open House crowd and several more weeks after the event to return the place to its regular state. In order to create a safe and spacious exhibit area for Open House visitors, we move all our computers, microscopes, and other equipment out of the way. Our work tables and counters become stands for display and activities. This year the final set-up of the displays (partial view below) took a solid week. But we were pleased with the results.
We started planning our displays and activities for the 2015 event back in November 2014. We prepared several new display drawers, including one with colorful flower chafers, another with exotic rhinoceros beetles, another with an amazing diversity of cicadas, plus a totally revamped “Oh, My!” drawer.
On the theme-specific front – this year the theme was “Toxic!” – we had various drawers with venomous and poisonous insects, such as bullet ants, hornets, bees, bombardier beetles, and monarch butterflies, each coupled with large color prints of representative specimens, plus information on their chemical weaponry. Hymenoptera (the bees, wasps, & ants) venom and the pain associated with their sting generated a lot of questions for our expert volunteers. Visitors were introduced to the Schmidt Pain Index, a ranking system for insect stings developed by our friend and fellow entomologist Justin Schmidt. A greatly magnified bee sting displayed on a computer screen, was also a topic of much discussion and questions.
Also new this year was a display of live aquatic insects, organized by Jon Bossley, a PhD candidate in the Environmental Sciences Graduate Program at Ohio State, with support throughout the day from his fellow graduate students in the Department of Entomology. Jon collected samples from the creek at nearby Waterman Farm early that frigid February morning. Visitors had the very exciting opportunity to look through the samples (a mix of snow, water, soil, and vegetation placed in plastic trays) in search of insects and to examine their live “catch” (yes, live!) under the microscope.
Besides our treasured pinned insect display drawers, we are always looking for ways to provide our visitors with engaging and fulfilling experiences. Hands-on activities allow for visitors to have fun while learning about nature and biodiversity. However, in an insect collection, hands-on can be very tricky: dry insect specimens are too fragile to be handled, and let’s not even talk about specimens in glass jars. To find a way around that, in 2007 we started putting specimens in clear plastic vials filled with sanitizing gel so visitors could pick up insect specimens, move them around, see them from all angles, and even drop them on the floor without major consequences. That was a total hit! The next year, *Bugs in Goo*, where visitors can add their own specimen to gel and take it home, became an official regular Open House hands-on activity.
At the insect collection, we doodle a lot, for work and for fun. It’s part of our mode of communication. To us, art and science make natural partners. So in 2009 we introduced the *Bug Drawing Station* to our Open House activities. From the get-go bug drawing was a super hit with visitors of all ages, an opportunity for families to exchange impressions about what they were seeing at Open House. Some people take their drawings home, but the majority graciously leave the drawings on our wall, as a gift. As a result, each year we have a collection of beautiful insect drawings that are scanned and archived. Here are some of the most striking insect drawings of 2015.
This year we introduced another artistic activity: origami butterflies. To our delight, visitors embraced it. From the moment the doors were open, our volunteers worked one-on-one with visitors, helping them with their paper folding creations. By the end of the event more than 600 origami butterflies had been produced (not counting the ones in our origami butterfly mobile) and taken home as souvenirs by proud visitors. Many parents (and teachers!) tell us they engage in the artistic activities and ask lots of questions, so they can later try it with their children (or class). A win-win situation! Thanks and hugs to the talented and adorable group of volunteers who kept the bug drawing and the origami activities lively and fun the whole day!
For the people who unfortunately could not be here on the day of the event, but wanted to connect with us, we kept social media outlets, like Twitter, alive with photos and commentary. Our unique, hand-painted, plastic jewel-encrusted ‘selfie’ masks (below) were a blast to play with and were crowd favorites!!
Over the years our audience has expanded significantly. This year 2,812 people came to visit the Museum Open House, an increase of about 25% over the previous record-setting year. A large number of our visitors are young children. This is a great pleasure and also a great responsibility. We at the Triplehorn Insect Collection want to continue providing exciting experiences to our visitors, while fostering curiosity and learning. That’s our challenge. Suggestions on how we can improve our offerings would be greatly appreciated. Drop us a note here! Otherwise, we look forward to meeting you at Open House next year. Thank you for your interest and support!
Last, but not least, a big shout-out to all the volunteers who joined us this year, particularly the young people, the students (from middle school to grad school!) and the young professionals who lent us their energy and passion for science, education, and service to the community. You made the day a success, but more than that, you are awesome role models for our young visitors. In alphabetical order by last name: Elizabeth Alvarez, Carol Anelli, Katherine Beigel, Amber Bellamy, Wendy Bethel, Jon Bossley, Travis Calkins, Huayan Chen, Sylvia Chordas, Joe Cora, Brian Crenshaw, Molly Dieterich, Matt Elder, Carlos Esquivel, Kelsey Fultz, Josh Gibson, Riley Gott, Sara Hemly, Dave Horn, Zach Hurley, Norman Johnson, Andrea Kautz, Kim Landsbergen, Luciana Musetti, Katherine Nesheim, Erin O’Brien, Jared Palazza, Chris Riley, Issac Rockwell, MaLisa Spring, Chuck Triplehorn, Liv Vincent, Liu Yang, August Young, Tyler Zeller. Volunteers, you’re amazing! Final word: THANKS!