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Things get buggy at SWCD meeting

February 09, 2011
After 62 years, the Crawford County Soil and Water Conservation District is still active and working to improve conservation practices on Crawford County agricultural land. On Saturday, it hosted its 62nd annual meeting at the Crawford County Junior-Senior High School, complete with a pancake-and-sausage breakfast.

The district was organized by a majority of farmers in Crawford County in 1948 who recognized the need to apply new and proven soil conservation practices to prevent erosion and conserve the soil, water and related land resources. The district is an independent body formed under, and subject to, the Indiana Soil and Water Conservation District Law. The district is organized by farmers and governed by five local supervisors, two appointed by the State Soil Conservation Committee and three elected by the farmers. The supervisors meet 12 times a year. A unit of local government, the district works with individuals, citizen groups and local agencies to prevent resource problems, correct existing soil and water problems and help plan the county's natural resources within resource capabilities.

Dr. Tom Turpin, professor of entomology at Purdue University, who spoke at the annual Crawford County Soil and Water District meeting on Saturday, gives volunteer Adam Mitchell a live tarantula to hold during Turpin’s presentation on insects. Photo by Lee Cable
At the annual meeting on Saturday, the group chose to retain the current supervisor chairman, Richard Langdon, for another term. Kenny Sturgeon will remain as vice chairman, and Andy Howell will stay on as secretary-treasurer for another term.

This year's invited speaker, Dr. Tom Turpin, a professor of entomology at Purdue University, spun a few tales about bugs and human relationships with them.

Turpin has taught a variety of courses at Purdue, including insect pest management, introductory entomology, bee keeping, insects in prose and poetry and honors courses on insects in literature and art and insects in theater. He has won several teaching awards. He writes a regular popular column on insects for newspapers called "On Six Legs" and is the author of two books about insects.

Turpin came to the meeting with a small duffel bag and, once he began speaking, the contents of the bags were revealed one by one. He started by taking out what most people would recognize as a wooden back-scratcher, complete with a little wooden hand-like claw on the end, the type sold at many Cracker Barrel gift shops. Turpin then asked the audience what they thought it was. Most agreed that it was indeed a back-scratcher.

"Well, you've failed the test on this one," he told them. "This is actually a lice, or louse, dislodger. Years ago, when there were a lot of people with lice, these were used for hard-to-get places where lice would linger and were used to dislodge them to stop the itching. That's where the word 'lousy' came from; if you had lice on you, you were lousy. Back when I was growing up, my mother wouldn't allow us to scratch in church or in public, but you could use one of these and scratch all you wanted."

Turpin then pulled out a wooden stick, about three feet long, with what looked like a short horse's tail attached to one end. Some in the audience guessed that it was a fly swatter. But Turpin again gave them a failing grade and informed them that they were looking at a fly whip. It was used to shoo the flies away, not to kill them.

"That's where the name shoo-fly pie came from," he said. "Someone had to keep shooing the flies away and used one of these. You didn't want to use a fly swatter around your pie, but maybe that's why they put raisins in shoo-fly pie. If a fly ended up in the pie, you wouldn't know it anyway; blends right in."

Turpin then asked a couple of teenagers with ponytails from the audience to come up front where he demonstrated how two horses will often stand side by side, facing in opposite directions, and use their tails to keep the flies off each others' faces and eyes.

Turpin then had students come up, one by one, and hold a bug. One, who was a little squeamish, held a live giant cockroach while Turpin talked.

"Cockroaches have a bad name, but they are harmless," he said. "They actually don't carry diseases, like many people think, and they don't bite or sting. You could actually put a leash on this big one (teenager still squirming) and it could clean under your refrigerator for you."

Bumblebees were the next item to be discussed, and Turpin told the story of how he had always been attracted to insects and, when he was 3 years old, he held a bumblebee in his hand and tried to give it to his mother.

"When I opened my hand, it flew off," he said. "My mother was shocked that I wasn't stung, but there was a little secret. It was a male, and they don't sting. You can recognize a male because its eyes are close and actually touch each other. The female eyes are farther apart and they can, and will, sting."

Turpin, reaching back into his duffel bag, had another student volunteer come up as he pulled out a live, giant millipede. The student had a look of disbelief on her face as Turpin wrapped the millipede around her arm like a bracelet. Then he asked for a student volunteer who was not afraid of insects. Before anyone could react, Turpin eyed Adam Mitchell and convinced him to come forward. He then put a blindfold on Mitchell and told him to hold out his hand and "hold very, very still." He then pulled out a giant tarantula and placed it in the student's hand. Mitchell's smile disappeared when the blindfold came off, but he held up amazingly well, not taking his eyes off the large spider.

"You see, these guys won't bite, if they don't feel threatened," Turpin said. "Or, if they don't think you are food (Mitchell's face turned a shade whiter), but if you handle them gently, there's nothing to worry about."

Turpin then put the tarantula back in the bag and got out a jar of bedbugs.

"Bedbugs pretty much disappeared for years," he said. "But they're back now, thanks to all the traveling we do. We were able to almost wipe them out with DDT, but that chemical was banned and nothing has been made to replace it. Many hotels are now infested with (bedbugs) and, as people travel, they are able to hitch rides and are spread everywhere.

"They have an odor. A dog can smell even one bedbug in a room. And even humans can smell a large amount of bedbugs in a room. Without DDT, the only things that will kill them is heat and the sun. In the old days, they used to hang their bedding outside in the sun to get rid of them, and that method still works better than most chemicals or other remedies."

During the meeting, the district also recognized Loren and Helen Brown as Crawford County Conservation Farmers of the Year. Jim and Doris Kaiser were honored as Crawford County River Friendly Farmers, and Jim Hochgesang received the 2010 Crawford County Forestry Award.

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