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Beautiful collection of bugs going on display at museum

Focus this month on many-legged, fascinating beasts

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A treasure trove of rare and beautiful collectors' items will be on public display for the first time Saturday — a collection of objects that usually don't jump to mind when one thinks of "beautiful."

But many of the 100,000 mounted insects in the collection of the Utah Museum of Natural History are alien, fascinating and, indeed, beautiful.

Insects will highlight museum activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 12.

The bugs are a research collection, always until now off-limits to the public. Ordinarily they are kept in back rooms of the museum, located on President's Circle, at the top of 200 South, University of Utah campus.

But the museum is celebrating its 30th anniversary and, as part of the festivities, it is showing off different aspects every month. August is the month for insects, said Christy Bills, collections manager for entomology.

"We're the third-largest (insect) collection in the state," Bills said. Most of the mounted bugs were collected by the U.'s biology department, with some of the desiccated creatures dating back 100 years.

In the late 1970s the department transferred the specimens to the museum. A great addition was the donation of 4,500 insects collected by a Salt Lake County resident named Ezra Day.

"He collected everything," Bills added. "He specialized in tiger beetles, though. They're long-legged, fast-running predators that are brightly iridescent colored."

Not only did Day collect insects and pin them carefully to collection boards, but he traded with other collectors around the world. "He amassed just a fabulous collection," he said.

Years after he died, his family donated the insects to the museum.

Among the 100,000 bugs are some that are colorful and large, like giant silk moths from India. These are about 8 inches across and are "really magnificent," he said.

Peculiar beetles, including large, bright ones, will be on display. Visitors will be able to view insects in the museum lobby and in the special collection rooms. Tours of the latter may be limited, as groups sign up and go through.

Why aren't the insects always on public display?

"First of all, there're too many to show," Bills said. "It would have to be like a separate museum."

Then, many are arranged scientifically, by species rather than in public display form where only the most spectacular would be viewed.

She promised, the museum will have "great, exotic, gorgeous specimens in the lobby."

In addition to the insect displays, the museum staff will host children's activities, including crafts. They probably will instruct young visitors in "the waggle dance" that bumblebees perform to communicate locations of nectar to other members of the hive.

After all, one of Utah's most revered state symbols is the busy honeybee.

E-MAIL: bau@desnews.com