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Three PSU students start Portland Insectarium

COURTESY: JESSICA SZABO - Jessica Szabo, a biology graduate student at PSU, wants to drive her Bug Mobile across town to educate kids and grownups about insects and eliminate people's fears. Jessica Szabo wants to change the world, one spider at a time.

The 34-year-old Portland State University graduate student in biology is so passionate about bugs that she’s bringing them to the masses.

Specifically, she’s crowdsourcing $5,000 to launch the Portland Insectarium, a converted 20-foot RV that will be part insect and spider display, part interactive museum. In addition to live insects and arachnids, it’ll host natural history specimens, bug-themed art and interactive bug-discovery exhibits.

The goal is to take it to parts of the city and beyond that are underserved in terms of science and environmental and STEAM education for kids and grownups alike.

“Arthropods (including crustaceans) are important because they are something like 80 percent of animal life on Earth,” says Szabo, who is working with two other graduate student partners, Molly Radany and Cheri Cloninger. “Pollinators, decomposers, food for other animals, it’s all a part of a larger food web.”

COURTESY: JESSICA SZABO - Jessica Szabo's Bug MobileSpiders, Szabo admits, are the most hated of all. But that’s due to a lot of misconceptions, she says. Not to mention the bad rap they get with their Halloween associations. “That’s one of my goals,” she says, “to change the public view of spiders and insects.”

Insects are small, and kids love touching things, making the Insectarium a perfect fit. With her own investment, Portland ADX fabrication collective is currently renovating part of the RV that Cloninger donated for the Bug Mobile.

Their Indiegogo campaign to raise the funds ends Nov. 25, with an anticipated startup by next summer.

The next phase will involve adding signage, interactive displays and habitats for the insects, which likely will include millipedes, two tarantulas, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, an Asian forest scorpion, a black widow, a Southern house spider and stick insects. It’ll also have a scorpion-like vinegaroon, which secretes vinegar as a defense.

Other cities like Missoula, Montana; New Orleans and Westminster, Colorado, have insectariums, but this would be a first for Portland.

Szabo is seeking nonprofit status for the project, and says she’ll likely charge an affordable rate for entry and appearances at schools.

She plans on spending all of her time on the Insectarium effort after completing her master’s thesis in June. Her focus is a biodiversity study with spiders on green roofs.

“I think the Insectarium is great because kids are by nature interested in everything,” she says. “Seeing something like the Insectarium and being able to walk inside and interact with the exhibits will really open up the world to them.”

To contribute to the campaign, visit:


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