A Tour of Portland with the Bug Chicks

The Bug Chicks

By Gwen Pearson

ESA’s 62nd Annual Meeting will be held November 16-19, 2014 in Portland, Oregon. Portland is an amazing city, and home to The Bug Chicks, two of my favorite insect educators. Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker create insect-related educational materials for clients as diverse as NPR Science Friday to the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture. I asked Kristie and Jess to tell me a bit about what they are up to these days, as well as what is a must-see in their city.

BugChicks: Big news! Jess and I were contacted by a show developer in London, a recent BAFTA award winner. The Bug Chicks might be hosts for a new biomimicry show, and are currently filming a pre-pilot for the Red Bull Channel.

Gwen: Wait. Red Bull? The energy drink company that sponsored the guy parachuting from space? That Red Bull?

BugChicks: Yes, them. And we are not jumping from space. YET.

Our show will be about exploring nature-inspired science — sort of like Bug Chicks meets Mythbusters with a biomimicry theme. Our pilot show will focus on comparing the tensile strength of spider silk and kevlar thread. We’ll be testing that with fishing weights and marshmallows. We hope to have a six-to-eight-episode run on their worldwide channel.

Gwen: What is the status of the Sofa Safari, the 2013 project to travel across the U.S. and film arthropods using a vintage sofa as your set piece?

BugChicks: We are also editing the Sofa Safari to get it finished. We plan to release it as a one-hour documentary later this year, and also as mini-episodes. We are really focusing our business model on videos right now, and are offering videos via school-wide license to K-12 groups.

Gwen: What is your favorite thing about Portland?

BugChicks: Food Carts. The food carts are pretty awesome. My other favorite thing about Portland is the acceptance of the weird. Jessica and I found a place where we can just be bug dorks, and other people might not be bug dorks, but they are dorks about something. We are all flying our own nerd flags, and that’s OK. It’s great to be in a place where everyone has their niche, and all the niches are really strange and fascinating. We don’t feel out of place.

Also, there is a great-small business culture here, so there’s lots of support for us as entrepreneurs. We could be filming and would need some bizarre prop, and local small-business people would just give us stuff. One dude loaned us a bulldozer and two wolves, and let us spend the morning playing with heavy machinery. And WOLVES.

Gwen: What is the one thing people should absolutely see when they are in Portland this November?

BugChicks: Portland has an award-winning park system. You can walk anywhere, and you’ll find a food cart and a park. Forest Park is the largest urban park in the country; it is just Bug-Tacular. There are over 5,000 acres in the park. Portland public transportation is incredible. You can ride the MAX line direct to the conference center from the airport. Public transit here is amazing. Just get a day pass, and you can switch between trains and buses. If you can, go to the Chinese Gardens downtown, just across the river from the Convention Center. I think it’s one of the most magical places in Portland. The MAX Green line runs right by it.

It will be raining, because it’s Portland. But if possible, find a place to see Mount Hood. Every time I see it, it takes my breath away. A great place for that would be the International Rose Test Garden, up on the the west side of the city. It affords a view of Portland, as well as Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helen’s. It’s really special to live in the shadow of these two volcanoes. As you go up into the forests, it’s not old growth anymore, but it’s all lush and green and like something out of a fairy tale, and there are giant banana slugs. You can lick them!

Gwen: What happens?

BugChicks: Your tongue goes numb.

Gwen: Why would I want to do this?

BugChicks: Because we double-dog dare you?

Gwen: What is your favorite part of ESA meetings? Besides slug licking?

BugChicks: We love the community at the Entomology Society meetings. Of course, there are all the talks and getting caught up on the latest research, but I think it’s those moments in between that are the best. There are people you haven’t heard of, or people that are really well known, and you can just walk up and speak with them. It’s very accessible. There is a warmth in the entomological community; we all just get to be super dorky about arthropods. I love that about the ESA.

The feeling of “OMG, this talk I want to see starts in five minutes and I’ve got to run to get there!” is a little bit like being back in school. It’s a comfortable place to be and learn. We are really excited about the Science Communication Program Symposium we will all be in. Can’t wait to see everyone!

Early Registration closes for the meeting September 22nd! Register now.


Gwen Pearson is the entomologist formerly known as Bug Girl. She obtained her PhD in entomology from North Carolina State University, and she writes for WIRED Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @bug_girl.

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