If you’ve been following along with the Ohio County Public Library’s latest programming, then you already know it’s been the summer of bugs! Between the library’s People’s University series focusing on bugs and people, to a photo contest featuring a giant cicada designed by local artist Bob Villamagna, the library has been buzzing with excitement. Next week, there will be yet another opportunity to learn about a familiar, alien-like insect—the praying mantis.
OCPL staff member Nayt Knapp will lead a special edition of the Bugs and People series focusing specifically on mantises on Tuesday, July 6 at noon in the library’s basement auditorium. Knapp’s lecture will address questions about mantises, including: How long do they live? What do they eat? Can they fly? Are they dangerous to humans? And much more! This program will also be available to watch live via Facebook, YouTube and the Lunch with Books Livestream page.
The World of the Mantis
While cicadas have been the centerpiece of the library’s summer programming, Knapp’s interest in the mantis inspired additional opportunities to complement the Bugs and People series. “I’ve been researching and keeping mantids for about six years, but I’ve been fascinated by them since childhood,” said Knapp. “I’m most fascinated with their communicative ability, capacity for intelligence and personality, and their interactions with humans.”
It’s apparent that mantids have a special place in Knapp’s heart. He explains, “I moved to Wheeling at the start of third grade. I knew no one and had a hard time making friends. There was, however, a Chinese mantis (tenodera sinensis) that lived in my backyard. I spent many days after school observing her, coaxing her into letting me hold her, and then eventually hand-feeding her grasshoppers, moths and any other large insect I could catch.” This passion stuck with Knapp. In fact, for a short period of time, he considered majoring in entomology in college before ultimately sticking to his intended plan of obtaining a degree in English.
Through the library’s Bugs and People series, Knapp was presented with the opportunity to merge his hobby with his day job. According to Knapp, “when Sean was cooking up the Bugs and People program, he asked me to help out in some capacity. Then, while on a recent vacation, I paid a visit to the insectarium at the Life and Science Museum of Durham, North Carolina, where I met the head entomologist of the museum and talked for a while about keeping and breeding exotics. Later, in a correspondence with Sean, I joked about keeping and studying mantids as a library program. The madman then proceeded to make it happen.”
Join the Mantis Mania
In addition to Knapp’s lecture on July 6, visitors can also check out a new mantis habitat that is home to two female Chinese mantis nymphs. The library has also set up a Mantis-CAM that can be streamed 24/7 online. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the mantises doing a little dance or feasting on fruit flies. Eventually, the mantises will be relocated into a self-sustaining ecosystem to live out their life cycle duration.
While the mantises settle into their new home, they are counting on you to help give them official names! You can visit the library’s website to submit your name nominations. The winners of the contest will be announced during the final People’s University Livestream: Bugs and People lecture on July 15. In addition to bragging rights, the winners will receive a mantis-themed prize and a gift certificate to a local restaurant.
A Summer of Bugs
While COVID-19 has derailed so many events over the last year and a half, in this instance, the pandemic helped the library’s staff get creative in how they offer programs to the community. OCPL programming director Sean Duffy explains, “[we] saw a lot of potential considering the outstanding metaphor of cicada reemergence and reunification after 17 years mirroring human reemergence and reunification after a little over a year of quarantine.” The idea for this program was inspired by OCPL staff member Erin Rothenbuehler. She believed it would be a fun summer theme for the library, and helped source influential entomologists for the Lunch with Books series.
With a lineup of some of the most knowledgeable entomologists secured, the library staff has made it a goal to get the community excited with some fun incentives tied to participation. “When we started to think about promotion, I knew I wanted to offer insect-themed incentives. I thought we should have cicada wings at the library that people could pose with, post, and use the hashtag #BroodPU to win something,” said Duffy. The grand prize for the #BroodPU photo contest will be a custom piece of cicada artwork created by local artist Bob Villamagna.
Even pets can get in on the action with their “Bug Your Pug or Gnat Your Cat” photo contest. Pet owners who dress up their pets as insects can win prizes by sharing their photos online and tagging the Ohio County Public Library.
To learn about all of the Ohio County Public Library’s programming, you can visit their website at ohiocountylibrary.org.
• Alex Panas is the Program Manager for Wheeling Heritage, where she works with artists, small business owners, and community stakeholders to provide technical assistance and create meaningful programs that enhance Wheeling. She also serves as the managing editor for Weelunk. Alex lives in St. Clairsville with her husband where they raise four cats and four spunky backyard chickens.