Caring for the Arthropods

By: Brenda, Director of Education and Volunteers, Audubon Zoo
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Today is the day of the week that I look forward to all week-my day to care for the Zoo’s arthropods. I have been caring for the Operation Full Stop’s Bugmobile creatures for over 10 years. I once had to share an office with them, but they have had their own USDA approved containment facility for the last 7 years. It is a grand name for a small, smelly room. People hear me talk about going to “feed the bugs” and ask if they can come in and see the bugs.   I try to discourage them, but if they persist I let them in. They walk two feet in, smell a few whiffs of rotting vegetation , swipe at fruit flies circling their faces, see spiders and fast brown critters (they are locals) scurrying in corners and they soon have had enough. Few people enjoy the bug room as much as I do.
The various insects, spiders, crustaceans, millipedes and centipedes get fed twice a week. I pick up the vegetables at the commissary and enter my tiny sanctuary. I crank the radio loud to country music. (That’s another thing I love about the arthropods, they are not bothered by noise. “Birders” hate bug people. We are quite loud when we collect because the insects don’t care and the “birders” are constantly shushing us.) I cut up the romaine, peel the carrots, and slice the apples. The Madagascar Hissing Roaches and the Eastern Horse Lubber grasshoppers are voracious eaters so they get the bulk of the food. A slice of banana or apple to some beetles, a little bit of everything to the hermit crabs, a mist of water to everyone.  There is even a tiny bit of danger when I feed the tarantulas, Emperor Scorpions and black widows their crickets. I am not afraid, these are my animals. 
This is a very calming duty in my day. The bugs are quiet, they don’t really poop, (The exception is the lubbers and the crawfish-they are very messy!) and I am for one hour a week a “zoo keeper” of sorts; a person who cares for a collection of animals that I really love.   These little 6 legged or 8 legged or 244 legged creatures are wonderful teaching tools. A child’s expression is priceless the first time they hold that big, slow lubber grasshopper all by themselves. I will always remember the time a little boy whispered in awe “I wish she was my mom” when he saw me juggling a handful of hissing roaches. 
This beloved collection of beetles, roaches, tarantulas, crawfish and millipedes hit the road five to six times a week in the Bugmobile. Curtis, the bug guy, does a great job of teaching children the wonders of the bug world. His job as the bug educator is harder than mine as the bug caretaker and he is great at it.
You can see our collection of arthropods on the Operation Full Stop Bugmobile or go to that giant shrine to the world of arthropods, the Audubon Insectarium, and learn more about the creatures like the ones that I get the privilege of caring for every week. They are tiny and not quite the charismatic megafauna that people rally about, but they are just as important to the health of our world and really, really interesting. I promise.