Matt Sloves, 8, didn't flinch when a grease-colored death's head cockroach the size of a medallion crawled across his hand at the Long Island Children's Museum on Sunday.
"Now that I know what insects are, I'm scared of some, some I'm fine with," Matt said at the Garden City museum's sixth annual Bug Bonanza. "If I see a scorpion or a black widow, I know what to do. If I see any dangerous animals, I run to my grandpa's house and I tell him, 'You need to get over here.' "
The event educated children about the role insects play in nature and which bugs are harmless or dangerous.
Matt's grandfather Mike Deutsch, 65, is an urban entomologist for Arrow Exterminating Company Inc. Deutsch taught nearly 1,000 children and parents that not all bugs deserve their fearsome reputation.
He presented his personal insect collection, which featured exotic species such as a cluster of Central American giant cave cockroaches scurrying in a box. He also featured creatures common to Long Island, such as termites and butterflies.
"Now that it's summer, insects are thriving and we like to teach the kids that certain insects you need to stay away from, like bumblebees, wasps, things that can sting," Deutsch said.
"Leave them alone," he said, "and appreciate butterflies, moths and even certain beetles because you're sharing the planet with them."
Aimee Terzulli, 42, the museum's director of education and visitor experience, said it's important to help kids not feel squeamish about insects and encourage them to embrace nature.
"I think it's about getting children outdoors," Terzulli said. "I think we have so many children with so much screen time or playing on iPads. They're not going to protect a world that they don't understand and experience."
Sean O'Toole of Farmingdale has been an Arrow insect technician for nearly 10 years. He said carpenter ants and termites are common pests in many Long Island homes and children should notify their parents if they spot one. Although he specializes in exterminating insects, he said that no bug is inherently good or bad.
"It's only what we perceive as good bugs or bad bugs," O'Toole said. "We see ladybugs as good bugs, but they can be a pest as well. You can have thousands of ladybugs you can't get rid of in your house. Bedbugs are considered bad bugs because they feed on our blood. But that's what they were made to do."
Lauren Maietta, 25, of Westbury and her daughter Kylie, 5, regularly study bugs they find in their backyard by using their phones to research them on the Internet. After Kylie learned more about how insects help nature by pollinating plants and serving as food for animals, she now saves bugs from being stepped on in her house.
"I catch them, I put them in a cage and I just let them go outside," Kylie said.