Aug 232011
 
Authors: By Emily Johnson

Matt Camper used to hate bugs. Now, he lets about 10,000 of them flock over his body at one time.

Ten years ago, Camper, a faculty member in the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, was a student in the class Plants and Civilizations. He wasn’t a fan of bugs but needed a summer job, so when his professor at the time offered him a job in the department’s lab, he took it.

His fear gave way to fascination … and grad school. And in no time, he’s now one of the most popular insect instructors on campus.

Unwilling to just be a “bobble head” in the front of the class, Camper uses unusual and adventurous techniques to bring life to his classes.

“It’s not that I have to entertain them,” he said about his students, “I just want to grab their imagination.”

Camper literally brings life into the classroom — like cockroaches or bird eating tarantulas. He uses videos to illustrate points and even encourages his students to be creative in class projects to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject.

“I just like novel learning tools,” Camper said. “Collaborations with instructors from other departments are key too.”

Thanks to Camper’s unique teaching style, students of all majors enjoy his classes. On koofers.com, an instructor rating site, Camper received five stars consistently and comments left about him included “Awesome!” and “He clearly wanted to be there.”

Recently, Camper engaged in a skin-tingling activity that will grab his student’s attention, at least. To dispel a common myth that honeybees are dangerous, Camper allowed more than 10,000 of them to swarm his face to create a bee beard.

Bee beards are not new. Pictures exist of Russians exploring the concept in the 1800s. Camper, who had also enjoyed watching documentaries of intentional bee swarms on humans over the years thought it wouldbe more exciting for his students to watch a video of him being swarmed by bees than looking at a picture from the nineteenth century.

“If I show them a video of me, they will realize maybe honey bees are gentle,” Camper said. “Maybe they’ll say ‘Matt didn’t die or get stung 5 billion times.’”

He said people generally fear insects — their hairy bodies, long legs and ability to sting.
“I thought it would be a good demonstration for classes to prove a point that honey bees are gentle,” he said.

Camper’s bee beard was possible through the help of the Northern Colorado Beekeepers Association. There was a hive that was scheduled to be disturbed in early August. The association arranged for Camper to schedule the body swarm during the bee colony’s move to a bigger hive.

“It’s not like I was this crazed entomologist lording over the bees, inciting them,” camper laughed.

The association’s president, Benjamin Gilmore, said it was actually very convenient for Camper to perform his stunt.

“All I had to really do was provide the bees,” Gilmore said, who organized the event.

Other members of the NCBA with experience in bee swarms were on hand to guide Camper through the process of putting the queen bee on his face so her colony would follow.

“Matt did the beard to show his students the bees’ behavior — how they are docile and easy to manage when they are swarming,” Gilmore said. “People do not need to fear nature, just understand it.”

Although, even Camper admits they’re still a little creepy.

“I knew they were gentle,” he said. “But at the same time, when the first frame (of the hive) was shaken out, and all the honey bees are marching toward my face, I had a moment of, ‘What the heck did I get myself into?’”

About eight pounds or 10,000 bees followed their queen to Camper’s face, neck and torso.
“They have little claws so I could feel the pull of them on my face,” he said.
He didn’t get stung though.

“The stingers are usually yellow jackets or scavenging wasps,” he explained. “But the honey bees always get blamed. People don’t realize how critical honey bees are to our survival. If it weren’t for their pollination, many of our plants would cease to exist.”

Staff writer Emily Johnson can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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