Artek children study insects
Artek children’s center turns 92

The Preserved Land environmental marathon launched by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment has come to the country’s top university. Lomonosov Moscow State University’s Ecology School at Artek organizes exciting classes for children taught in fascinating parks. Natalia Belyayeva, PhD in Biology, joined the microbiologists, environmentalists and ornithologists. She has worked at the Entomology Department of MSU for 50 years and 60 years ago, she spent a vacation at Artek just like these youngsters today.

Back then, when Natalia came back to Moscow, along with a coal from the camp bonfire, she brought home herbaria, minerals and a collection of insects. Later on she worked in a desert, in Central Asia and Vietnam. She has been studying termites all her life. Now the expert is passing her knowledge onto Artek youth.

“I got an invitation and was excited. The place has changed so much! I could hardly recognize the building where we stayed. Now there is a school. It is an excellent starting point for the children. The center also invited a group of talented teachers who are passionate about their work. My goal is to tell them about the largest category of wildlife. We are making a collection. We catch butterflies, bugs, bed bugs, crickets, bees.” Natalia notices an insect as she speaks. “Look, a flower chafer. A Cetoniinae. It is a very useful kind of fly.”

The experienced researcher taught the children how to carefully catch, collect, pin and identify insects. First they carefully hold a butterfly by the torso trying not to strangle it, press it to a surface, immobilize and only after that put it in a killing jar.

“These youngsters are wonderful and so inquisitive,” the teacher says. “After an outdoor class in the park, we do puzzles and riddles to test their knowledge. Some of them are only set on pursuing a biology career. There are future ornithologists and entomologists among high school students. In-depth knowledge is useful for everybody. They should try to remember and learn as much as they can. Team work is great for socializing. While one catches insects, the other one preserves them. Most of the children did not have any entomology expertise before. They become more skillful and ‘catch’ their luck. You need to be a little lucky in this sort of science.”

The children already ‘caught’ their luck when they came to Artek. They are extraordinarily lucky. The teacher notices one of them catching an insect. “A hoverfly. A great pollinator. Good job. We need more Syrphidaes.”

Misha Koblik (Camp Kiparisny) from Moscow knew nothing about syrphid flies. “A class like this is fascinating and very informative. It is a great chance to learn. We have two classes a day, one class in the morning in the park and one later in the lab. We can ask questions any time. The teachers gave us their contact information and invited us to their science clubs.”

It is a great opportunity to build a foundation for a future career. Young ecologists are fostering their future at Artek parks. Natalia knows what she is talking about. “If they become biologists, they will do internships at our university. These lucky ones already had some training. They are prepared. Some of the teachers here are from our university too.”

Sofya Agureyeva (Camp Kiparisny) from Naro-Fominsk studies zoology at Moscow State University. She is excited to share her experience: “In Moscow, we went to several museums and only once to a park, at the university, where trees were planted for teachers and students to relax. We looked for birds, listened to them singing and tried to identify them. It was really difficult to find a blackbird there but here they are everywhere. Their bird call is beautiful. Another local bird is a pretty common wood pigeon from the pigeon family. I really want to find a long-tailed tit. We caught a flower chafer. These bugs have amazing iridescent emerald wings.”

Yeva Belyavskaya (Camp Kiparisny) from Vologda was thrilled with the unique nature and wildlife of Crimea and the rare species from the Red Book. “I was amazed by the birds. I never studied them before now. I also love botany. I want to be a microbiologist or a virologist. Perhaps I’ll change my mind. Biologists must know everything.”

With blackbirds singing, Artek ecologists not only learn how to catch “useful flies” but also can get along with predators.

“We are not afraid of venomous insects. We are very careful and follow all the rules,” Yeva continues. “Eradication is out of question. There must be biodiversity. We must maintain the biosphere as it is.”

The researcher supports her view. “Scorpions? They are cute. Scolopendra? It’s gracious. But don’t touch them. It’s better to step away. If you see it moving, let it crawl on. It doesn’t mean you any harm and it will do good elsewhere. I strongly advise you against stepping on it. Scolopendra’s poison is very strong but the amount is too small to affect humans. If you get bitten, just apply some Golden Star balm.”

The Crimean entomology dates back to 200 years ago but not everything is known about the peninsula’s entomofauna. Artek ecologists have a lot to learn.