Creepy, crawly, crunchy critters

A cup of crickets contains only 250 calories and six grams of fat.  Crickets are also rich in calcium and protein, according to world-renowned bug chef David George Gordon, who warned the crowd surrounding the bug cook-off stage at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum's Bug Fair this past Saturday, "if you're watching your fingernails break, you're not eating enough crickets." With special guests Cole and Dylan Sprouse, the baby-faced twins who are Disney Channel tween superstars, it was a gala event, with endless kiosks selling bug-related merchandise and the ever-popular permanent exhibit The Butterfly Pavilion, the Bug Fair had much to offer.

The Natural History Museum's grounds were swarming with children of every age, many with uniform t-shirts indicating they were on school field trips.  But despite the many schoolchildren, there were still many children accompanied by their bug-loving parents, and both parties were equally enthused by the plethora of creepy-crawlers.

Other parents, who may not have been quite as mesmerized by millipedes, larvae, or tarantulas, could be found circling the countless vendors scattered about the first floor of the museum, taking up the interiors of the African Mammal Hall and the North American Mammal Hall.  Many vendors sold pinned and cased exotic bugs as collector's items, with beautiful iridescent wings, exoskeletons, or complex mimicry-inspired patterns.

Those involved in the coordination of the Bug Fair all displayed equal enthusiasm for it.  This year was the Bug Fair's 25th anniversary and one of it's most popular yet.  Boasting events like cockroach racing, bug face painting, bug pinning, insect origami with Robert Land, and insect art by Steven Kutcher, it was natural for curators and museum employees to be proud.

The Butterfly Pavilion remained busy all day, being one of the most popular attractions of the day despite its permanent residence at the Natural History Museum.  Waiting patiently in line with his baby brother Ariel, six year-old Nathaniel expressed interest in the herbs growing alongside the path to the Butterfly Pavilion's entrance.

"Rosemary, daddy! Can I eat it?" Nathaniel excitedly asked.  With an approving nod from his dad, he began to chew on a small sprig of the pungent herb, and his face showed almost immediate regret.  As his younger brother prodded a pillbug, or rolly poly as they are colloquially referred to, their father suggested they feed the rolly poly to the butterflies once they get inside.  "But DAD," Nathaniel emphatically remarked, "they ONLY eat nectar!"

The Butterfly Pavilion, according to promotional material provided by the museum, is "Home to over 55 species of butterflies and moths from all over North America." The Butterfly Pavilion is a secluded and beautiful environment to observe some of nature's prettiest creations up close and personal.

Ironically enough, the Bug Fair was sponsored by the Western Exterminator Company, a pest control service based in Anaheim, Calif.

The outdoor cook-off was one of the most popular events, partly because of its Disney Channel hosts, and also because one cannot deny the appeal of watching people consume bugs. Featuring four different chefs, David George Gordon, Zack Lemann, Daniella Martin and David Gracer, the bug cook-off led to the creation of dishes like a "Bee-L-T sandwiches" and niblets and crickets.  While they may not have looked appealing to eat, according to adolescent taste-testers they were "GREAT!"

So, as it was eloquently asked by Brent the Bug Guy, one of the major organizers of the Bug Fair, "who wants to try a bug today?"