Other campuses: Insect Zoo offers unique gift ideas

(U-WIRE) AMES, Iowa – What to get for the friend who has everything? A mounted and framed straight-tail emperor scorpion, of course.

The Iowa State University entomology department is selling rare bugs – both live and dead – from its insect zoo via the Internet.

Gregory Courtney, associate professor of entomology, said some of the more popular items are millipedes, tarantulas and Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

“Madagascar hissing cockroaches are docile and tend not to scare,” Courtney said. “People aren’t afraid to pet them, and they are often sold in pet stores.”

The site was founded last year by former Insect Zoo director Nanette Heginger. Mary Harris, who took the position of interim director and outreach coordinator when Heginger resigned late last summer, said she believes the online sales are an asset to the entomology department.

“People just stumble onto the site, and any of them can buy,” Harris said. “It’s a great way to fully utilize the animals – first for educational programs, then as specimens.”

Prices range from $5 for a variety of roaches to $100 for two New Guinea walking sticks and $140 for a mounted-insect variety.

Proceeds from online insect sales go to support the Insect Zoo. The zoo was established in 1998 and provides a place for students to view approximately 30 insect species, including millipedes, tarantulas and walking sticks.

“The animals require feeding and cleaning, which is done by mostly student labor,” Harris said. “The sale of insects pays for some of those expenses.”

Because many of the insects are considered exotic, the zoo must follow federal regulations in order to sell them.

They are not permitted to sell females of many species, and the zoo has many structural requirements – like double doors at the entrance and mesh-covered ceiling vents.

Courtney said he hopes that online sales will help recuperate the costs of zoo operations.

“This program is a part of budget recovery,” Courtney said. “If people are concerned that we are making a profit, I assure you that’s not the case.”

-Jill Mclain