Jeni Ruisch has a unique talent – and you can have it too if you’re willing to free your mind. “Not being afraid of bugs is like having a superpower,” said Ruisch, the curator of the Ohio State University Insectary, a collection of about 120 species of beetles, spiders, crustaceans and other arthropods. “It really is. You are more open to things.”
For nearly eight decades, students, researchers and everyday people have been able to learn more about these misunderstood animals by visiting the insectoid on Ohio State’s campus. Now the university’s bugs are on the move, thanks to a new mobile insect zoo called the Bugmobile. The educational outreach vehicle — a unique, modified, 28-foot-long Airstream trailer — debuted at the COSI Science Festival in May. “There’s no video you can watch that can give you the same experience of holding an animal or just watching it in front of you and talking about it,” says Ruisch. “It’s about exposing people to these animals in a safe and controlled environment.”
Recently, Ruisch gave Columbus Monthly a tour of the Bugmobile and introduced us to some of its arthropod ambassadors.
“If you’re in the jungle of Africa, and you turn over a log, this is something you might find underneath,” says Ruisch. Emperor scorpions can grow up to 8 inches long, usually live 10 to 12 years, and are mildly venomous. “Like a bee sting,” Ruisch says as an 11-year-old scorpion named Boudica, after an ancient Celtic warrior, crawls onto her wrist. “It is not poisonous. It is not medically significant.”
Asian praying mantis
This species, which eats beetle larvae and caterpillars, was brought to the US for pest control purposes and has found a hospitable new home. Like many of the creatures in the Bugmobile today, this mantis was bred in captivity. “My goal is to have all our animals bred in captivity,” says Ruisch, “so we don’t perpetuate the pet trade.”
American giant centipede
These slow-moving herbivores are native to Ohio and love rotting wood. “They’re kind of the cows of the bug world,” says Ruisch.
Australian walking stick
Also known as a Macleay’s ghost, this herbivore lives for about 10 to 12 months, is native to eastern Australia and eats eucalyptus leaves. “These are the stars of the show when we go out,” says Ruisch. “They are such strange animals.”
This story is from the August 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.