Dr. Bruce the Bug Guy

Bugs are his business
  • Article by: KELLY JO McDONNELL , Special to the Star Tribune

Lino Lakes entomologist “Dr. Bruce the Bug Guy” takes his menage of bugs along with him to Twin Cities classrooms.

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Entomologist “Dr. Bruce” Giebink shone an ultraviolet light on one of his scorpions to show that they fluoresce a green color. This is a Black Emperor called Blackie.

Photo: David Brewster, Star Tribune

His name is Bruce Giebink. But, professionally, he’s “Dr. Bruce the Bug Guy.” ¶ “Well, the kids kept calling me the ‘bug man’ or the ‘bug guy,’ so I figured, why not?” Giebink said. ¶ The entomologist from Lino Lakes has built a successful business showing off his collection of bugs at schools. At a “Dr. Bruce the Bug Guy” show, kids can learn about hissing cockroaches while touching them, pet “Rosie” the rose-hair tarantula and get closeups of scorpions. They can even eat some bugs. Giebink says his edible bugs have been a huge hit the past few years.

“They’re special treats. I have meal worms — Mexican spice, BBQ and Cheddar cheese flavor!” he said.

Giebink has always had a love of bugs and everything outdoors.

“I was always a young naturalist,” he explained. “I grew up on a farm in Wisconsin that had woods, marsh and a pond. I thoroughly enjoyed being out in nature.”

It was that love that inspired Giebink to pursue pre-veterinarian studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1975. However, his interests changed halfway through, mainly because of biochemistry.

“The biochemistry did me in,” said Giebink. “I completed my undergrad degree in five years, and then did a lot of field research for my master’s. I completed my Ph.D. in 1987, which officially makes you an entomologist.”

Giebink ended up in the Twin Cities after accepting a research position with the University of Minnesota in 1990. However, it wasn’t until 1997 that Giebink got an idea of introducing his bugs to kids.

“I did a program for my son, who was in first grade at the time,” Giebink said. “They would bring in a parent and do a show for the class. My wife, Lisa, volunteered me to do it.

“It was so much fun, the kids had such a great time, and the teachers loved that it was hands-on and interactive. It got me off to a really good start.”

The next fall, Giebink started getting calls requesting the bug show from the Centennial School District. His hobby started turning into a full-time business. The Cub Scouts called. So did the Girl Scouts, nature centers and parents wanting him for their kids’ birthday parties.

Firm’s name: The Bug Zone

Giebink made it official in 2001, becoming “Dr. Bruce the Bug Guy,” and naming his company the Bug Zone. He targeted area libraries first. Coincidentally, the theme at the libraries that year was “What’s Buzzing at Your Local Library?” with a bug theme.

“That jump-started everything,” said Giebink. “I was getting wonderful exposure and was getting paid for the programs. It got me over the hump.”

Giebink keeps his bugs in a basement room specially heated and lit to keep them alive and flourishing. Among the room’s inhabitants are Madagascar hissing cockroaches, millipedes, centipedes, scorpions, tarantulas, cecropia moths and butterflies.

“June and July and August are by far my busiest months,” said Giebink. “September is a kind of transitional month, with summer programs winding down and school getting started. In the fall I get busy with Cub Scout and Girl Scout events, and right around Halloween I’m really busy with the creepy crawly theme.”

One of Giebink’s favorite bugs is the praying mantis. The kids’ favorite, however, might well be the tarantula.

“Kids really love Rosie the Tarantula,” he said. “It’s a very easy name to remember, and it’s a rather gentle name. She’s a rose-haired tarantula, Chilean, very beautiful. They have ideal characteristics for raising in captivity and for using in hands-on programs. Very docile, and not super nervous or skittish.”

Mainly, Giebink wants to get the message out that bugs sometimes get a bad rap.

“As a society, it’s kind of us against the bugs,” he said.

“If people learn to tolerate and co-exist, I think a lot of creatures in the natural world, insects included, would enjoy the outdoors a lot more.”

Kelly Jo McDonnell is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.

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