By Sharon Kennedy Wynne
We tagged along on a recent school field trip to see MOSI's new "Bugging Out" exhibit, which just crawled in for a three-month stay, and after we stopped twitching our noses and scratching our heads at the sight of thousands of swarming bugs, we gained a new respect for nature's workhorses.
The entrance sets the tone. It's a tunnel with video images along the wall of crawling worms and buzzing flies that make your skin crawl. Half of a gooey peanut butter and jelly sandwich, for example, is shown alone on a sidewalk. Soon a nasty-looking roach crawls across it. Then a couple more. Then the sandwich is covered with them.
"Ew!" the kids shout in approval.
They enter a hands-on play area with real ladybugs in one case, a real ant farm in another and an art center to make bug relief pictures.
There's also a lovely butterfly video special effect where a kid's shadow causes hundreds of butterfly images to flutter around, some to land on his head or hand and stay there until he shakes them off.
There's also an area set up for weekend specials such as a bug chef, cooking up crickets and mealworms for, well, meals. And there's a race track ready for bug races, though not on our visit.
The playhouse looks clean and inviting . . . until you open the cabinet below the sink to find real ants, roaches and drain flies swarming behind glass among the dish soap and dog food stored under there. Lesson learned. Bugs like water, and don't leave food uncovered.
Back to scratching my nose and behind my ears.
Just beyond the hands-on exhibit is the insect artistry of Jennifer Angus, who builds patterns and scenes with beautifully colored insects pinned directly to a wall in repeating patterns. This one impressed the adults the most, as they marveled how those bulbous cicadas we hate so much in the summer could be turned into a sunburst pattern worthy of a quilt.
Canadian-born Angus calls it her attempt to rehabilitate the image of the heroes of pollinated crops and decomposed trash. The wall murals take up two rooms.
After about 20 minutes, the kids were pretty much done with the exhibit, so it was on to the IMAX theater to see the nature documentary Bugs! A Rainforest Adventure hosted by Judi Dench. Dame Judi was an ideal voice to tell the up-close story of the life cycles of a praying mantis and a butterfly from their birth to their inevitable demise in the tropical rainforest of Borneo.
The photography is stunning as you see a caterpillar hatch from a single tiny egg to metamorphose into a butterfly. The prey-meets-predator tension was as nerve-racking as Jaws when the mantis silently waits on an unwitting fly before it snaps it up for dinner.
The bug lessons had the right impact, it seems, because I noticed the kids walking carefully around the picnic tables at lunch, for fear of stepping on a bug. They begged to visit MOSI's butterfly house next, even before the raucous Kids in Charge room.
While the exhibit itself is interesting for a short time, the combination of the hands-on work and the film made an impression.