Festival fights bug fear

By Whitney Blair Wyckoff

The 23rd annual Insect Fear Film Festival, which works to dispel stereotypes of bugs, was held on Sunday at Foellinger Auditorium. The festival drew a crowd of about 500 people.

The festival featured not only films, but it also boasted a bug petting zoo, a demonstration of a praying mantis-inspired style of kung fu, face painting, an insect art show and a collection of rare bugs.

“(The event) encourages contact with insects in a more personal way,” said Reed Johnson, graduate student and event volunteer.

Every year, May Berenbaum, head of the Department of Entomology and founder of the festival, focuses on one type of bug; this year was the year of the mantis. Past festivals featured insects including cockroaches, mosquitoes, forensic insects and killer bees.

One common misconception about mantises is that the female devours the male after mating, she said. However, Berenbaum said that cannibalism is rare in the wild; it usually only happens in captivity.

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“People won’t let go of this idea because it is so grotesque,” she said.

Before each screening, Berenbaum discussed the film’s bug-related inaccuracies. The films spanned all genres, including old-school science flicks, cartoons and even an episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Other than the films, the petting zoo was one of the most popular exhibits.

“The live insect petting zoo is always my favorite,” said Adam Wallner, a graduate student who has volunteered at the event for three years. “You can see for yourself that (the insects) are not all that menacing.”

Among the attendees were Melissa Kelly, a Champaign mother who works as a computer-assisted instruction specialist in the College of Engineering, and her two sons Frank, 9, and Gallen, 14, both bug fanatics.

“We’ve been here for two and a half, three hours,” she said as she watched Gallen stare at a grasshopper and Frank examine a larva in his hand.

Berenbaum said was happy with the turnout, especially considering the cold weather.

“We have a very insect-friendly community,” she said.