Did You Know?: Boiler Bug Barn

August 28, 2015  

Boiler Bug Barn

Gwen Peterson, outreach coordinator for the Department of Entomology, explains the workings of a bee colony viewable in the Boiler Bug Barn. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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Two beehives buzz with activity, a spider named Baby Spice spins a web, scorpions hang out, and hissing cockroaches munch on dog food -- all in one room right on campus.

Located in Smith Hall, this is the Boiler Bug Barn and it continues Purdue's entomology department's lively tradition of bringing insect education to the masses. The annual Bug Bowl is the hallmark of that buzz, attracting thousands of visitors to campus for a wildly popular weekend event where guests can spit crickets and munch on mealworms.

The Boiler Bug Barn, stationed in founder and entomologist Tom Turpin's old laboratory, is the permanent home of that tradition and pays homage to everything creepy and crawly.

Unusual memorabilia, tarantulas that shine blue, scorpions that fluoresce under light, the world's largest insect, the Goliath beetle, and a vinegaroon that shoots hot vinegar at its adversaries are just some of the surprises here. Presented as the intersection of science and humanity, the center seeks to show both the personality and often overlooked human side of insects as well as the great importance of their existence.

"Sometimes people come into the room and we have screams. But by the end of the visit they want to steal a Madagascar hissing cockroach to take home," says Gwen Pearson, outreach coordinator for the Department of Entomology. "The beehives inspire strong emotions. It is something that people often fear, and then once they see them up close, working and dancing, visitors discover truly how interesting they are."

She is taking the center through a major transition period. The room is becoming more insect-focused and educationally friendly through reconfiguration and added exhibits, which will come after new USDA approval this month.

 "After we get our permits issued, that's when we can get a lot of the really cool insects. We are in a major transition phase and working to preserve our impressive history but update at the same time," Pearson says.

This history comes from being one of the oldest and most prominent entomology departments in the country and comes with original posters from the school and even giant, pre-WWII insect teaching tools made from actual German newspaper.

The barn is open to everyone; recently, even four sci-fi and horror authors visited for some inspiration. Pearson and her motley crew of creatures can even hit the road for off-campus trips, too.

The Boiler Bug Barn is in Smith Hall, Room 124, on the West Lafayette campus. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Due to limited space, all schools and large groups must schedule a guided tour. Contact Gwen Pearson at gpearso@purdue.edu or 765-494-0997 to schedule a tour.

* A photo gallery featuring the Boiler Bug Barn is available here.

Writer: Paige Pope, popep@purdue.edu 

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