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Raven Run's Night Insect Walk reveals a wild world

Say hello to a praying mantis. Mantids are among the popular night walk insects.
Say hello to a praying mantis. Mantids are among the popular night walk insects.

Looking for bugs at night is akin to going down in a submarine to visit a unique environment where a lot goes on, most of it stuff people never see, said University of Kentucky entomologist Blake Newton.

At the popular Night Insect Walk at Raven Run Nature Sanctuary, the intrepid will get a peek at the mostly hidden world of bugs and spiders, thanks to UK Entomology Department faculty and students.

The fun starts at dusk. Black lights, which emit a wavelength attractive to insects, will be set up around the barn. That's where you are likely to see beautiful night fliers including lunar moths, and royal walnut and regal moths.

The entomologists will conduct several hourlong hikes. "We see all kinds of things," Newton said. Those things include 5-inch-long praying mantis and big summer spiders, hanging in their webs, that wrap their prey in silk.

Sometimes, hikers get lucky and spot hickory horned devils, impressive-looking 6-inch-long caterpillars with wicked-looking red horns. "This time of year, caterpillars are fattening themselves up. They get pretty big," said Newton, who will lead one of the hikes.

The event — this will be the 23rd — is popular with families. Typically, the walk attracts 200 to 400 visitors. Many are children who love to learn about the unusual-looking creepy-crawlies. Everyone is asked to bring a flashlight.

The event is free. "We're not looking to make money," Newton said. "It's just a way to interact with the public."

Arrive before sunset for insect games, crafts and an insect petting zoo. There will be cockroach races and children's contests, including finding the biggest bug, the longest bug and the one with the widest wingspan.

Giant hissing cockroaches are a perennial favorite with kids, who like to handle them. "Roaches are totally fun" and good educational tools, Newton said. "They are about 3 inches long. You can clearly see six legs, three body parts and antenna."

A new attraction will be a face painter, ready to paint bugs and butterflies on youngsters' faces.

Insects on display are likely to include black widow spiders, hercules beetles and brown recluse spiders. "We won't know everything we'll have 'til the week before," Newton said. "It's what we can go out and catch."

With bedbugs in the news recently, and several UK professors doing research on bedbugs, there will be a bedbug exhibit. "People will get to see bedbugs in the flesh," Newton said.

Those brave enough will be allowed to handle tarantulas.

"They do have big teeth. They may sink their teeth into whatever they're standing on, so we always have to add that caveat," Newton said.

Look for a couple of black emperor scorpions from Africa. They can't be handled.

And take along some insect repellent, if you attract the kind of bugs that chomp on ankles.

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