Insects of the World, Unite!

May 04, 1988 1 min read

Students in a small Mississippi community are anxiously awaiting the arrival of three visitors from the Soviet Union under an unusual academic exchange. The visitors--a giant Russian roach and two large “walking sticks’’ from the Moscow Zoo--will be featured in the Jumpertown High School insect collection, thanks to the inquisitiveness of science students.

Doug Fleury, an entomologist who serves as a science-education consultant for schools in the area, says a casual classroom remark by a student five years ago was the genesis of the Jumpertown-Moscow insect exchange. While reading newspaper reports on science, the student was struck by an article recounting the discovery of dinosaur eggs in Russia.

“We never find anything that exciting in this country,’' the student was heard to lament. “Russians would never be interested in bugs.’'

The comment set in motion a correspondence with scientists at the Moscow Zoo, in which the students offered to send samples of Mississippi insects to the Soviet Union. “The Soviets responded positively and offered to send insects back in exchange,’' says Mr. Fleury.

Thus, shortly before President Reagan left for Reykjavik, Iceland, to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986, a contingent of American unicorn beetles and velvet ants set off for Moscow. To make the exchange possible, Mr. Fleury, who has contributed to insect collections in San Francisco and at the Smithsonian Institution, enlisted the help of the Cincinnati Zoo. That facility, which can house the Soviet insects in a life-like environment, will be home base for the foreign visitors. But they will soon make their first appearance in Mississippi as part of the opening ceremonies of Jumpertown High’s insect collection.

The event will by no means be the culmination of Mr. Fleury’s efforts to promote Soviet-American zoological exchanges, however. He is trying to work out arrangements to take two students to Moscow and bring a Russian scientist to Mississippi.

Science transcends ideology, he tells his students. “Zoo people do not look at political systems, but instead look at systems of life,’' Mr. Fleury says. “Nations could be at war, but zoo people will work together regardless of the circumstances.’'

A version of this article appeared in the May 04, 1988 edition of Education Week as Insects of the World, Unite!