MetroParks’ insect event proves eye-opening

« Canfield Neighbors

By Sean Barron

Aria Guzzetti, her sister, Rihanna Guzzetti, and brother, Brenton Bush, might be only 2, 5 and 11, respectively, and nowhere near old enough to attend high school, but they share one important characteristic with those in caps and gowns at commencement: They have earned diplomas.

“The kids like bugs, and this is a nice, free event,” said their father, Neil Guzzetti, after the three East Palestine youngsters had received their “Master of Bugology” diplomas.

Their accomplishment was courtesy of having successfully gone through at least six of 10 stations that made up Mill Creek MetroParks’ Bug Day program at the Mill Creek MetroParks Farm, 7574 Columbiana-Canfield Road (state Route 46).

The six-hour gathering offered a variety of activities, exhibits and games, along with live and preserved displays to better educate people of all ages “about some of nature’s less-loved creatures,” noted Carol Vigorito, the MetroParks’ recreation and education director.

“Learning about bugs is a fun process,” added the children’s mother, Sheila Guzzetti.

The youngsters listed praying mantises, ladybugs and spiders as their favorite insects.

Main attractions were a live honeybee exhibit that featured information on pollination, five long tables covered with framed butterfly and moth collections and a series of small microscopes under which to examine a black widow spider, a dragonfly, ticks, honeybee wings, a louse and the head of a mosquito.

Another draw for many attendees was part of Jim Smolka’s collection of unusual small creatures in containers such as an 8-inch Vietnamese giant centipede, an Arizona desert hairy scorpion, several varieties of Mexican tarantulas and a giant African assassin bug.

Smolka, of Hinckley, spent about 15 years in integrated-pest management for the Ohio State University Extension Service and conducts occasional demonstrations in park districts throughout Northeast Ohio, he said.

During one such effort Sunday, Smolka had in his hand a unicorn beetle, the likes of which are common in the southeastern U.S., especially in Georgia and Florida. Nevertheless, the insects can migrate as far north as the Ohio River in southern Ohio, he noted.

They had neither the speed nor the size of competitions at Indianapolis 500 events, but a series of maggot races were an exciting draw for many.

MetroParks volunteers Vince Trinckes and Linda Miller oversaw the fun competitions in which one maggot each was placed under a cup in the center of six circular pieces of cardboard. Small prizes were given to those whose tiny insects were the first to reach the edge of the cardboard slabs.

Other children seemed content to engage in less hands-on interactions with insects, such as those who opted to color on pieces of paper over plastic stencils and create impressions of various insects.

Happy to do so were brothers Gionni Vince, 4, and Bryson, 9, of Struthers, who quickly formed on their papers images of a carpenter ant and a fly caught in a spider web.

“He is a bug fanatic,” said the boys’ father, Pete Vince, referring to Gionni.

“He always wants to go to the park to see bugs,” their mother, Melissa Vince, added.

Other festivities included stories about insects, hunts for various bugs in a nearby field and “bug bingo” with 24 insects per card. Winners took home small plastic bug replicas.

Bug Day was the idea of popular former MetroParks naturalist Ray Novotny, who started the program a few decades ago, noted Vigorito, the recreation and education director. In addition, the event was to help people form a deeper perspective on and understanding of the purpose of insects that many find annoying, irritating and a nuisance, she continued.

“I hope they learn that everything has a place in nature,” Vigorito said. “It’s important to have those insects at the bottom of the food chain; otherwise, we would not have things at the top of the food chain.”