The story behind this box goes back to over a year ago when my mom, Lisa, saw the Windows 10 commercial featuring The Bug Chicks. Sure enough my mom was calling me within minutes of seeing it, urging me to get in touch with them about partnering for a box. Admittedly I put it off for some time because I had my hands full with other projects. However, my mom seems to have the superpower all moms have which is to ask you about the same thing every time she calls no matter what the reason for the call was in the first place. Thank goodness for moms. My mom persisted for long enough that I when I finally had time, I had the good sense to reach out to Kristie and Jess in October of last year.
And so began the journey of our Entomology box! Luckily, Kristie liked what StemBox was doing and so we exchanged emails in the months to come and brainstormed ideas about what a bug box would look like. We knew we wanted to create a box that taught girls how to overcome pre-existing stigmas about bugs while teaching them a new skill set. It was a fun process and there were lots of initial ideas that we exchanged but then scrapped for various reasons. We landed on the idea of a box that was all about a pinning collection. We bounced back and forth over whether we should send an actual bug in the box but decided against it because we wanted to get the girls outside and exploring the bugs in their region. It also sounded like shipping a dried or pre-frozen bug would result in a lot of broken bugs during the pinning process and we want our girls to have a great pinning experience. We also decided against using ethyl acetate in the process of collecting bugs because the experience can be distressing to the girls and the bugs. Our final decision was to keep bugs in the freezer for several days to prep them for pinning. I’m very happy to say the advice of Jessie and Kristie, who both have PhDs in entomology, while designing this box was invaluable.
After weeks of prep work and ideation, we finally had some demo boxes ready to film a video tutorial with. The Bug Chicks are known for their amazing reenactments of insect behaviors, if you don’t believe me you have to watch this video. If you couldn’t guess from the video, Kristie and Jess are two of the funnest people I’ve worked with. They made filming a blast and were total pros. They even brought some friends to film with!
Side note: I have never been brave around bugs. Logically I understand that most bugs just want to get away from me and could do little to impact me, but something visceral always occurred in me when confronted with one. From spiders in the bathroom to cockroaches in Texas, I’ve always felt squeamish dealing with bugs. So pursuing this box was an intentional step outside of my comfort zone. How can StemBox preach girl power and trying new things when I couldn’t even hold a bug without squirming?
So when Kristie and Jess arrived for filming that morning I had somehow managed to completely fool myself into thinking that we would only be working with dead bugs that day. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They brought with them a large gray sterilite box that I was more than happy to carry for them. When I finally asked what was in the box they gleefully responded with a laundry list of bugs, one which particularly stood out was the hissing cockroach. The visceral reaction immediately set in and I was consciously distancing myself from that area of the room. However, knowing that we were working to overcome stigmas about bugs I suggested that we use them to film our opening sequence. I have to admit seeing Kristie and Jess hold hissing cockroaches and Vinegaroons as if they were family pets takes some mental work to get used to. Eventually I was talked into petting one of the cockroaches. My instinct when approaching the bugs, whether I wanted to or not, was to keep my mouth shut for the totally irrational fear of a bug climbing in my mouth. I talked with Kristie and Jess about where my discomfort with bugs stems from and they managed to help pinpoint it to fear of losing control of the bug and squishing them. With that in mind they were able to coach me through my first interactions and I was able to stroke the back of a cockroach, something prior to meeting them I would never have considered doing. Strangely enough, after the short encounter I found myself wanting more. It felt like an adrenaline rush and that I had accomplished something that so many other people were just incapable of doing. During filming I didn’t work my way up to holding one, but I did manage to later on in the day.
We wanted to make sure this box worked well with girls in our age range so we hosted a local workshop at HiveBio Community Lab. It was a smaller group then normal which we were so grateful for once the pinning began. Kristie and Jess led the workshop with 4 girls in attendance, all of whom were more than happy to be in the presence of large and interesting insects. To save us all some time the Bug Chicks packed some frozen insects in Portland and brought them to Seattle to teach us all how to pin.
Once we started working on the actual pinning it became a very zen activity. Almost like working on a puzzle. We all started working with grasshoppers and I realized that this was the closest I had ever come to one. I couldn’t stop thinking of the villainous grasshopper, Hopper, in A Bug’s Life so for that I felt a little guilty. In any case, the legs of the grasshopper were surprisingly hard, but also so thin and fragile that manipulating them with bracing pins became a bit of a challenge. For most of our workshops, I lead the girls through the box and teach them about the concepts within, but for this box I joined the girls in learning from Kristie and Jess. After wrestling with my grasshopper for some time I finally looked at my watch and saw that an hour had come and gone. This activity was so focused that it took me completely out of my head and the time flew by. I can see how insect pinning becomes a full blown hobby for people.
A quick explanation of the pins: We used the entomological grade pins (the black one in the center of the grasshopper) to steady the insect on the board. The silver pins you see are actually sewing pins that are used to brace the insect’s limbs. Entomology pins can be very pricy because they are made to last hundreds of years without rusting, unlike sewing pins. The proper technique to brace an insect is to create a V and rest the limb in the intersection. This lets the bug dry out in a desired position and after a few days you can remove all the extra pins. The goal of pinning is to create absolute symmetry on all sides and display the anatomy of the bug in all its glory! While it may seem like bracing the insect is the most important part of this technique, Kristie and Jess were careful to stress just how important the labels are as well. What you see on the right of my bug are the labels that will be moved to the entomology pin underneath the insect. The labels indicate the species of your insect, the geo location of where you found it, your name, and the date. Without this information your bug is the equivalent of a pretty picture and you’re left without data to learn about your insect.
After pinning the grasshoppers, the girls were given the option to either pin a butterfly or play with real live bugs. All of them enthusiastically voted for live bugs. So out came the grey sterilite box once again. The reactions from the girls were priceless and awe inspiring. Having grown up my whole life with an instilled non-sensical fear of bugs that is likely tied up in some gender conformity, seeing these girls beg and plead for a turn to hold hissing cockroaches, beetles, and spiders was something that jarred me, but also made me so incredibly proud to be in the presence of girls who you just know are going to be doing a lot of amazing and scary things in the world.
The death feigning beetles were a big hit and all of the girls had one each to hold. And of course, with 4 girls that are 10 years old fawning over beetles I had an obligation to do the same. Jess handed me the biggest beetle there, though I’m not sure what it was since it wasn’t like the one the girls had, but it was such a crazy sensation! The legs of a beetle crawling on your skin are so fragile and unlike anything else I’ve experienced.
The next bugs they brought out were the hissing cockroaches. 3 big ones! Finally I had to face them, my biggest fear! With Jess’s help I managed to hold one in my palm and genuinely admire how strange they are, but also fragile and interesting. Admittedly it took a few seconds and Jess literally held my hand, but I felt so accomplished after I’d done it. The Bug Chicks truly are bug evangelists, and I am a convert.
Strangely enough the only thing the girls did get a bit squirmish about was the shedding left over from a tarantula. I’m not sure if its because one person started the squeamishness that the rest followed suit or if its something else. Maybe the idea that a bug can be furry and not as snuggly as your dog is something they couldn’t grapple with. In any case, the tarantula molting was weird and impressive! Though I find myself grateful for the lack of shedding we humans have to do (but please don’t look in my bathroom drain since I do shed A LOT of hair).
We wrapped up the workshop with snacks and girls running around outside trying to catch more bugs for their collections. All in all that workshop was one where I’ve learned the most since I got to sit down and learn from the experts!
I’m so grateful that Kristie and Jess have devoted so much time to help make this box as awesome as it is. They’ll be traveling to the rain forest this summer right after their box ships, so be sure to keep an eye on their website: www.thebugchicks.com to keep up with their latest adventures.
This box will be shipping June 25th and the last day to sign up in time for it is June 16th. Don’t forget that if you’re a new subscriber you can use the promo code BUGCHICKS17 to receive a bonus box free with your subscription order.
I’m really excited to see what our steminists can find this summer and the collections they make with their boxes. Make sure you tag StemBox and the Bug Chicks in your adventures using the hashtags: #StemBox and #TheBugChicks