Taking a peek inside hive sweet hive
By Jennifer Schaaf
Nested among classrooms and offices in Smith Hall is a room unlike any other at Purdue University. Instead of desks, chalkboards and students, it's filled floor to ceiling with bugs - living and dead.
Photo by Becki Francis
(From left) Taylor, 12, Kaycee, 4, and Tanner Baird, 9, look at a display comparing insects from Indiana to others from around the world.
What was once a storage room has metamorphosed into the Boiler Bug Barn, a place infested with insect teaching charts, specimens of exotic creatures from around the world and furniture with a history in creepy-crawly critters. This room is more than a collection of oddities. Purdue Entomology created it to be a resource for students and the community.
The Boiler Bug Barn opened last spring, and Tom Turpin, professor of entomology, said people are using it every day, from 4-H and school groups to curious Purdue students. When the old entomology building was being renovated, Turpin swooped in to save as many of the old cabinets, tables and chairs as he could—even the old lectern was saved. "They were getting rid of it and I saved it because I thought I would have some use for it someday," Turpin said.
Today, the furniture is used to house insects and make them more than just creepy and crawly. Students can visit the Bug Barn to count all the legs on a centipede, watch bees make honey and even imagine what it's like to be hit with a scorpion's stinger.
Inside the Bug Barn is a chance to see a scorpion up close and personal - and behind a pane of glass. The sting from some scorpions can cause pain and swelling in a human much like a wasp sting, but then there are others that are powerful enough to kill a person. Because they are quick and like the dark, scorpions can be hard to see up close, while still maintaining a safe distance.
The scorpion is just one bug. Everything in the barn has been provided by the entomology department or Turpin himself. A lot of the insect "junk," as Turpin puts it, are gifts from former students or Bug Bowl admirers. Bug Bowl is part of Purdue Spring Fest, an annual event billed as a showcase of the lighter side of higher education. Purdue Entomology's Spring Fest contribution, Bug Bowl, has been such a hit over the years that Turpin and the rest of the department wanted to create a place where people could interact with bugs every day, not just one weekend a year.
The excitement in the room comes from all four corners. Near the back wall, in what appears to be a hollowed-out tree, is a colony of bees that make their daily commute in and out of Smith Hall not through the door, but the wall. Clear PVC pipe, the same kind that carries water to bathtubs and sinks, runs right from the hive out through the bricks. Visitors can stand in one spot all day watching the happenings of bee life.
In just a few minutes, visitors can observe bees leaving the hive and fighting their way out of the pack to the end of the pipe, or bees returning to the hive with pollen on their legs struggling hard to get back in. Come to campus on a cold day and the pipe is filled with inactive bees. Few come and go or will move at all unless shoved by other bees trying to make themselves comfortable inside.
Besides the bees and scorpions, you'll find hissing cockroaches, beetles and a live Venus fly trap.
If living bugs are not your thing, there are also a lot of dead ones. Turpin put together three boxes to show people common and uncommon bugs in the area, as well as some pretty ones from other countries. Due to the volume of Turpin's collection, space is already scarce. Like a June bug that's outgrown its shell, new cabinets of bug-related materials are spilling out into the hallway.
Turpin said Bug Barn visitors should come often and stay longer each time. New things are added to the collection all the time and he said he wants everyone to understand how insects affect our everyday lives.