Postcards from Winter Camp: Invasion of the Invertebrates

Posted at 9:51 am December 29, 2005 by Lisa Townsend

 Dr. Zoolittle and bugs Campers were buggin’ today, kickin’ it at the bottom of the food chain. Camp was all about invertebrates, the itty-bitty beasts that rule the world. We started the day with some cool”“n-creepy foreign creatures: the dead leaf mantis from Malaysia and the giant millipedes from Africa. Delia, the dead leaf mantis, has a perfect form of camouflage for her jungle habitat ““ a dried, unsavory dead leaf. To catch a meal she would wait on a branch for something to move by and then WHACK, her lightening quick reflexes would catch her unsuspecting prey in her trap-like front legs. Pretty impressive- she has the ability to eat other insects, reptiles (like lizards), and even small mammals. Next we saw the after dinner clean-up crew ““ the millipedes. Decomposers extraordinaire! The millipedes eat dead and rotting material making the world a much cleaner place.

After snack the world-famous Dr. Zoolittle treated us to a special bug show. We saw stick insects, Madagascar hissing-cockroaches, and Jumbalani the jumping (spring-loaded) invertebrate. Some of the campers provided crawling space for Dr. Zoolittle’s bugs and some bugs were snacks for campers. No really, campers ate bugs! Specially cooked and seasoned beetle larvae (mealworms) were a tasty treat for Paul, Michelle, and Tyler (see photo above). Everyone agreed, yummy. Mealworms are a great addition to any meal and they even stay crunchy in milk!

After lunch we visited Wegeforth Bowl and met two other animals that enjoy dining on bugs ““ opossums. Given the opportunity, Obie and Yoda, the Virginia opossums, will snack on bugs like snails, slugs, worms, grasshoppers, and crickets; bad news for the invertebrates but great news for our gardens. We even got to pet the brothers on their backs and tails.

When we returned to the Otto Center we had a special presentation by the Zoo’s resident entomologist, Paige. She brought two unusual and very different invertebrates for show and tell. The beautiful (and delicious) leaf insect looks just like a leaf (the size of a human hand) to fool birds that may want to prey on it. They are found in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Paige also brought two emperor scorpions from Africa. They were impressive with their pinchers and stingers but when the lights went out they were awesome. Paige held up a blacklight and in the dark the scorpions glowed green. We don’t know why, but it sure was cool!

Well, good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite”¦ Lisa

Lisa Townsend is an educator at the San Diego Zoo.

Children in grades K to 5 can register for Spring Camp!

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