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For the love of bugs!


WORLD Radio - For the love of bugs!

The Hokie BugFest in Blacksburg, Va., draws kids and collectors to celebrate creepy crawlies

Lautaro Federico/iStock/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, October 31st. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: a bug festival in Blacksburg, Virginia.

At this creepy crawly fair, exhibits feature both educational presentations and live bugs. It also displays one of the largest insect collections in the country.

EICHER: Festivals like these help encourage kids to explore the wonder of nature…and maybe hold a few millipedes in the process.

WORLD intern Emma Perley has the story.

EMMA PERLEY, INTERN: Children pull their parents by the hand to crowd around the dozens folding tables in the auditorium at Virginia Tech. At the front of one makeshift aisle is a microscope connected to a monitor. Maire gives her spiel to anyone who will listen.

MAIRE: These are nematodes, which are like really small worms. And then this is a piece of hair. So they're way smaller than a single piece of hair.

SOUND: [Bug fest activity]

A young boy named Azmi is particularly fascinated with one type of bug.

AZMI: The bees.

EMMA: You like the bees? What do you like about the bees?

AZMI: They make honey for us.

In one hand, Azmi happily waves around a little certificate for Junior Entomologist. The goal is to answer the questions about bug facts and anatomy as you explore the exhibits. His older brother, Ahmed, clutches the same certificate.

AHMED: I like learning new things about different bugs.

EMMA: What's something that you learned today?

AHMED: That there's a thing called the ant lion. It's like this thing that has a shell like Roly Poly and it has these big jaws and it's as small as a one of those small ants.

For twelve consecutive years, the Hokie BugFest has hoped to get visitors interested in the world of insects—and other creatures. From educational exhibits about bumblebee life cycles to live skinks and crawdads, the BugFest celebrates all living things.

This year, the BugFest also displayed one of the largest insect collections in the country. Its owner—73 year old Dan Capps—is a lifelong bug collector and informal entomologist.

CAPPS: Here's a chance for people to actually see for themselves, the real thing. How big it is, is exactly what you see. Put your hand next to it.

About 30 display cases, each three feet long, fill tables in the middle half of the auditorium. Each is overflowing with pinned insects: from butterflies the size of dinner plates to treehoppers as tiny as a thumbtack. Some cases have themes, such as mimicry and camouflage.

CAPPS: These three insects, which look like bees, are actually flies. The group that you see right here, all look like bees, but they are in fact moths.

For Capps, it all started in elementary school when the principal called him into his office.

CAPPS: I got down there and he opened a cigar box.

The principal had seen Capps in the schoolyard with a butterfly net.

CAPPS: And he showed me inside the cigar box, a luna moth, and a Cecropia moth, two of the biggest things any child in that area could ever imagine. And they looked huge, they impressed me so much. And so he said, ‘you know, keep on doing what you're doing.’ And that little bit of encouragement is sometimes all a kid needs.

So Capps started collecting bugs. After graduating high school in Madison, Wisconsin, Capps went straight to work at an Oscar Meyer meat processing factory. But all the while he continued teaching himself about bugs.

CAPPS: I never had the formal education in it. I did things in an untraditional manner.

As his network of fellow bug collectors grew, so did his ambition. His goal? To have one of every bug species in the world.

He began buying bugs from a distributor in New York. Then he bought the business. Capps went to the Madison Public Library to find addresses for all the museums and universities in the world. And he wrote letters asking to trade and sell bugs with them all. Capps flew to New Guinea, Jamaica, and Cuba. He drove down to Mexico. And soon he had, well, a lot of bugs.

CAPPS: All of what you see on display here today represents about one and a half percent of all the insects that I had, when I was when I designated myself as a collector.

Capps had thousands of bugs, but he wanted more. He built and filled Cornell drawers to display them, with a glass top and wooden bottom. He brought his collections to museums, botanical gardens, and did traveling shows.

CAPPS: When you're very young, sometimes you feel that there are no limitations, you could do anything that you put your mind to.

At this point, he was working nights in the factory and giving presentations at local schools during the day. He was married with two kids, but insects consumed most of his time. Slowly, he and his wife became strangers in the same house.

CAPPS: I'm sure it was a factor in me getting divorced, that my wife and I had grown apart. If anything, it was my fault.

Collecting had become an addiction. But no museum, let alone one person, has ever managed to capture one of every bug in the world.

CAPPS: When I built 6000 Cornell drawers and filled them and realized how short of my goal I was, I had to say, enough is enough.

And so he took a step back. Today, Capps is retired. But he still travels to shows like this one. He finds satisfaction in people’s enjoyment of his bugs.

CAPPS: I'm grateful for what I do have. And being able to do something like this is a blessing for me.

Kids eagerly come up to chat with him after browsing the collection. And Capps writes down their names and addresses in a notebook so that he can send them interesting bugs he finds.

CAPPS: I get to share something that I've been passionate about, something beautiful, and I can share it with people.

And for Capps, that’s enough.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Emma Perley in Blacksburg, Virginia.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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