- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

This week Alex Contreras gets to play with something his mother is rather squeamish about: bugs. The 9-year-old boy from Takoma Park is at the Insect Summer Camp run by Earlene Armstrong, an entomologist at the University of Maryland at College Park.
"Sometimes I collect bugs when my mother is not looking," he said. Asked how long has he been interested in bugs he said, "For years and years. Since I was 7."
Alex and 16 other children are enrolled in the all-day bug boot camp, where they catch insects and look at them under high-tech microscopes.
The children are scattered about the college laboratory, sitting with their legs dangling off of adult-size chairs or propped up on dictionaries or biology textbooks. The children, ages 7-10, are barely old enough to understand what a microscope does, but can identify numerous bug body parts and differentiate among insect types.
Miss Armstrong leans over a microscope with Madeleine Mashon, 7, going over how different mouth parts on bugs allow them to chew or suck what they eat. Madeleine is one of the younger campers, but her fascination with bugs has been around for much longer.
"I think my mom told me I was interested [in bugs] since I was probably 1," she said. "They let me come do this because I'm almost 8 and I love bugs so much," she said.
Madeleine, who lives in Silver Spring, has her own collection of 20 bugs. "I have a little bug that I sleep with named Wormy that I found in Louisiana, and my dad said I could take it on the plane," she said. "I've had it for five days."
When she grows up she wants to be a bug biologist and an artist. "But I think I want to be a bug biologist more," she said.
The children are "catching" the bugs out of a bucket, putting them in petri dishes and carefully carrying them back to their microscopes. Quite a few wiggle their way out of the shallow dishes and onto the floor.
Ten year-old Gaby Neale's water beetle crawls out of her petri dish and makes a dash for the floor. Gaby squeals and jumps back from the table.
"Excuse me," she says and tugs on Miss Armstrong's arm. "Um, my bug is on the floor."
This is the first year Miss Armstrong has run a weeklong camp at the university. She has been taking her bug show on the road for many years to area elementary and middle schools.
"This is the age we have to get them interested in science," she said. Miss Armstrong wants the children to walk away from this week with a better understanding of bugs and to be able to identify as many as they can.
"I think we just want to reach out to that age and pique that interest," she said.
Gaby still is not sure if she likes bugs. She said she enjoys them more now than this morning. "They're getting better now," she said. She shivers as she looks at another bug under the microscope. "Ooh, goose bumps. I always get those when bugs crawl on me."

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