Insect Festival at Mercer Educational Gardens Will Celebrate “Bugs Need Homes, Too!”
HOMES FOR INSECTS: The 2022 Insect Festival, organized by the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County, will take place on Saturday, September 10, at the Mercer Educational Gardens in Hopewell Township with educational activities and entertainment for visitors of all ages. In this photo from 2018, visitors investigate Bugs in Water, one of many highlights that will be featured again at this year’s festival. (Photo by Jeffrey Tryon)
By Donald Gilpin
Insects are the most common animals on the planet, with 200 million times as many bugs as people. More than 1.5 million different species of insects have been named, three times the number for all other animals combined. Without insects humans would face the complete collapse of most ecosystems, and humankind would probably not survive. And bugs also make this planet more interesting.
On September 10, for the first time since 2019, before the start of the pandemic, the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County will be hosting their annual Insect Festival with the theme “Bugs Need Homes, Too!” to celebrate those billions of creatures who share this planet with us. The festival, where participants will learn, through entertaining hands-on activities, about the importance of insects and how to protect their habitats, is free to all and will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Mercer Educational Gardens, 431A Federal City Road in Hopewell Township.
Educational activities for visitors of all ages will include the popular scavenger hunt, the metamorphosis game Bugs in Water, carnivorous plants, and a Q&A with Mercer County Horticulturalist Kathryn Homa. Children will participate in the Insect Hunt in the Meadow, a catch-and-release program where they will use nets to catch insects in the meadow, identify them with the help of a Mercer County Park naturalist, then return the insects to their natural habitat.
Local environmental agencies and experts will be offering displays, demonstrations, and information, including presentations by Mercer County Mosquito Control, New Jersey Beekeepers Association, The Watershed Institute, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, and the Mercer County naturalist.
At the event, organized and mostly staffed by the Mercer County Master Gardeners, visitors can also view the six demonstration gardens on site — butterfly, herb, native plant, weed identification, annuals, perennials — and learn how different plants provide safe habitats for a wide variety of insects. The public can also learn about various methods of composting, and the Mercer County Stables will be conducting tours of the horse barns on site.
“I can say from past experience, the children don’t want to leave,” said Carol Bencivengo, publicity coordinator and a member of the Master Gardeners of Mercer County since 2004. “They’re just so happy to explore the world of insects all around them. There’s something for children of every age. They’re in awe of it. And it’s done on a level where children can truly understand the importance of the world of insects. It’s a great family day out.”
Homa emphasized the importance of insects to our world. “Insects are extremely
valuable to earth,” she said. “They can be found in every habitat and are more prevalent than any other creature on earth. They pollinate most of our food crops in addition to providing other valuable products such as honey, beeswax, and silk.”
She continued, “Insects also serve many other beneficial functions such as breaking down organic matter, disposing of waste (dead animals/plants), and helping keep pest populations (insects/weeds) down. Insects also serve as a critical food source for many amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. In short, without insects, we would not exist!”
The Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County is a volunteer educational outreach program of Rutgers Cooperative Extension, participating in many volunteer programs throughout the County.
For more information about the Insect Festival and the Master Gardeners, visit mgofmc.org.