WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Festive games, food and a petting zoo headline two days of a carnival-like celebration at Purdue University this spring, but the theme may make a few folks uneasy because the stars of the show are creepy-crawlies and the entrees are entomological. The ninth annual Purdue University Bug Bowl rears its head April 17 and 18.
Fifteen thousand spectators are expected, many of them repeat customers who welcome the chance to interact with insects up close and personal.
"It's like going to the circus and being invited to hang on the trapeze with the artist," says Tom Turpin, Purdue entomologist and Bug Bowl co-founder. "You don't have to hold the big bugs, but the opportunity is there."
The world-renowned event features cricket spitting, sanctioned by the Guinness Book of Records; cockroach races; an insect menu; and a petting zoo that's purely handle at your own wish. There's also insect-themed arts and crafts and a six-legged race where humans imitate caterpillar locomotion.
Cricket spitting has become the highlighted event. Purdue's senior division men winner, Dan Capps of Madison, Wis., holds the world record of 32 feet, 1 and 1/4 inches. This year, Pennsylvania State University has challenged Purdue to a Big Ten Spit-Off, and the University of Illinois has expressed interest. The rules and eligibility requirements are being developed.
Turpin also has added a youth division for children 7 years old and younger. "We wanted to give them a better chance of winning," he says.
Cockroaches will race at Roachhill Downs for the coveted "Old Open Can," a bronzed garbage can with a cockroach sitting on top. The names of the past winners dangle off the side.
"The 'Old Open Can' is a parody of the Old Oaken Bucket, a traveling football trophy between Indiana University and Purdue," Turpin says.
And what's a carnival without food? There's fried meal worms that take on the taste of whatever they last ate, such as flour. There's chocolate chirpy cricket cookies. There is a honey-tasting exhibit, and a cake-decorating contest using insect shapes and motifs.
"People all over the world eat insects," Turpin says. "Why should we be different at Purdue?"
Bug Bowl started as an extracurricular exercise for students, when Turpin held cockroach races for one of his classes. What began as a small-scale effort to help people appreciate insects and show science can be fun has grown to a major family event. "All of the fun is done with the sincere interest that people will learn about science," Turpin says.
Other institutions such as the Smithsonian have started similar events. Other universities had entomology-related events before Bug Bowl, but have broadened their events since they learned how popular the Purdue event had become.
Bug Bowl is part of Purdue's SpringFest, which includes the 86th annual Horticulture Show, the 36th annual Veterinary Medicine Open House, an Animal Sciences open house with a barnyard petting zoo where people can attempt cow milking, and dozens of other activities based on scientific disciplines and endeavors. SpringFest features departments from the schools of Agriculture, Consumer and Family Sciences, Science, and Veterinary Medicine. All events are free.
For more information about Bug Bowl, call (765) 494-4554; visit the Web site at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/bugbowl/bugbowl.index.html, or send e-mail to email@example.com. For more information about SpringFest, call (888) EXT-INFO (398-4636) or check the SpingFest Web site at http://www.anr.ces.purdue.edu/sfest/sfest99.html or e-mail Dana Neary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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