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Bug Zoo Festival Zeroes in on the Spices Birds Put in Nests
Monday, May 29, 2023


Anne Christensen cradled a tiny nest in her hands. Made from grasses and small twigs, it was covered in the luff from cottonwood trees as if someone had laid down a comfy comforter.

Hummingbirds are so tiny that their nests are nearly impossible to find. Some look like bumps on a branch, and the bee hummingbird’s nest is no larger than a thimble. Many have spongy floors and elastic sides that stretch as babies appear from eggs the size of navy beans and begin to grow.

Of course, who knew hummingbirds ever slowed down long enough to nest!???

The hummingbird nests and others were on display this week as the Sawtooth Botanical Garden’s Bug Zoo Festival returned following a three-year hiatus due to the COVID pandemic. And Christensen couldn’t have been more delighted.

“If you learn about something, you come to love it and take care of it,” said Christensen, who has devoted her life to teaching youngsters about the natural world around them. “We’re teaching children all about bugs and insects and other critters at the Bug Zoo.”

Dozens of youngsters accompanied by their parents flocked to the Bug Zoo Festival. They played in the garden sandbox, fished for tadpoles in the creek, made seed bombs, crafted spiders out of pipe cleaners and studied butterflies and other bugs via magnifying glasses.

Christensen explained how wasps and yellowjackets make nests out of what appears to be grey paper by chewing on leaves. Dragonflies and damsel flies, she told the youngsters, have mouth parts that act like a basket as they scoop up bugs.

Dragonflies lay their eggs in still water where they take one to five weeks to hatch. They live up to two years under water as larva, then anywhere from 1 to 8 weeks as adults, eating bees and other insects smaller than they.

They eat hundreds of mosquitoes each day, reducing the mosquito and horsefly population in residential areas.

“And they have great big eyes—the better to see with,” said Christensen.

Those who visited the zoo learned that ladybugs lay their eggs, which resemble tiny yellow jellybeans, on the underside of leaves to protect them from being seen.

They learned that birds glue their nests together with spider webs, silk, mud and even their own spit.

They learned that some birds put herbs and spices in their nests, possibly to fight off bacteria.

And they learned that the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach makes a hissing noise by expelling air through its pores.

“Insects are very important to the food we eat,” said Christensen. “Without honeybees and butterflies pollinating plants, we wouldn’t have almonds or fruits. But we’re losing butterflies because of all the Roundup they’re spraying on milkweed.”

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