Lonely Planet Writer

Meet the woman travelling Oklahoma with an educational insect petting zoo

A petting zoo that allows children to learn all about insects by interacting with them is travelling the state of Oklahoma.

Insect Adventure
a Chilean Rose Tarantula hangs out on a visitor’s hand. Image by Ag Communications Oklahoma State University

Dr. Andrine Shufran is the coordinator at the OSU Insect Adventure, a programme that she first started in 2008 after finishing her doctorate studies at Oklahoma State University. Having been employed with the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology since 2001, she has pursued the study of bugs for many years and wanted to share her knowledge with a wider audience.

“We had been doing outreach presentations for years at the university, but when the Dean decided to formalise the project it really took off. Last year, Insect Adventure gave almost 600 presentations with live arthropods across the state of Oklahoma. I do the vast majority of those presentations myself and it really is the best job in the world. We work with folks of all ages in every situation imaginable and people love the bugs so it’s always fun, different, stimulating, and enlightening,” Dr. Shufran told Lonely Planet News.

Insect Adventure
Dr Andrine Shufran displays a Jungle Nymph to a fascinated audience. Image by Ag Communications Oklahoma State University

Dr. Shufran is in charge of the husbandry of numerous anthropod species, supervising student entomologists and providing educational programmes to children of all ages throughout the state. People can visit the Insect Adventure base every first and third Saturday or book the zoo to do a presentation which features over 25 species of living anthropods and travels anywhere across Oklahoma. The petting zoo even does birthday parties, with a two-hour live demonstration.

Insect Adventure
Petting a Macleay Spectre. Image by Ag Communications Oklahoma State University

“I started this because science literacy involving arthropods–the world’s largest and most diverse group of animals–is truly fascinating, but so few people know anything about them. So I can learn new things about bugs every day and then share those discoveries with our constituency. I’m always trying to find something new and crazy to wow folks with. I love bugs and kids love bugs so we are just joining forces to try to convince other grownups to get excited instead of horrified! There are so many misconceptions about these animals so I do best to share my love of Entomology and enthusiasm with people so that they might appreciate arthropods just a little bit more in their daily lives.”

Insect Adventure
A fascinated student observes a display box of thorny devils. Image by Ag Communications Oklahoma State University

The reactions to the petting zoo have been diverse. “Folks have been totally pumped, staying for hours when I show and tell our critters while others actually scream and run away. It’s never boring. It’s not for everyone, I admit, but this group of animals can inspire and excite more than any other,” said Dr. Shufran.

You can find out more about Insect Adventure on their website.