Insect Festival Means the Bugs Are Back in Town

Comic-Con may be grabbing the headlines this weekend, but a lot of people will be eagerly scurrying off to a very different event — the Insect and Ladybug Festival at the San Diego Botanic Gardens in Encinitas.

And it won’t just be kids hoping to see creepy-crawly things and maybe even eat a bug; it’ll be grownups like San Diego County Entomologist Tracy Ellis and County Supervising Vector Ecologist Chris Conlan.

The two-day long insect festival has been fascinating kids and probably grossing out more than a few parents for years. It always has weird bugs like walking sticks and giant hissing cockroaches — and cute ones like ladybugs and butterflies — as well as experts to talk about them, reptiles and animal shows.

Ellis, who works daily to fight agricultural and environmental pests, is part of a group that is going to talk to kids — and parents — about how to spot signs of three dangerous pests threatening our region’s trees: the gold spotted oak borer, the shot hole borer and the South American palm weevil.

Conlan, who deals with vectors — pests like mosquitoes, fleas and rats that can spread diseases like West Nile virus, typhus and plague — is hoping to inspire and enthrall kids with his vast bug collections, some pinned in the displays, some very much alive.

That will include a horrifying, spindly creature called a “tailless whip spider” that he caught near an outhouse on a recent vacation.

“They can be the size of a dinner plate,” said Conlan, who’s been hunting and collecting bugs since his mom gave him a butterfly net at the age of 4. “If you stretch them out tip to tip, they can reach two feet in length.”

The spider has eight long legs, six that it uses for walking like a crab, two that it uses as whip-like feelers, and two scary-looking pincer claws called “pedipalps” that it uses to catch other insects.

Look closely and you can see Chris Conlan’s tailess whip spider lurking on this tree.

Despite its nightmarish appearance, whip spiders are harmless to people and are often kept as pets.

Conlan said he’s been preparing for this weekend’s insect festival for a couple of weeks. A lot of that, he said, involved “turning my kids loose to help me out.”

“They’re running all around catching bugs, lizards, toads and frogs,”
Conlan said.

Ellis said that sense of interest and wonder from kids is what she likes most about the festival.

“I really like to see the children coming year after year, each time getting a little taller,” Ellis said, “their eyes lighting up with amazement at the exhibits and having fun with crafts.”

The Insect and Ladybug Festival is scheduled to be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 21 and Sunday, July 22, at the San Diego Botanic Garden, located at 230 Quail Gardens Drive in Encinitas.

Admission is free for children 12 and under, and members of the Botanic Garden. Admission is $18 for non-member adults; and $12 for non-member seniors and active military.

For more information, go to the San Diego Botanic Gardens event webpage.


Gig Conaughton is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact