Jul 16th, 2021

Metamorphosis into a Social Butterfly

Butterfly nets, bug boxes and jars filled with lightning bugs. To a child who spends his days exploring the seemingly magical outdoor world, these tools are essential. Sometimes, as we grow older, we become preoccupied with other necessary routines life requires of us: school, work or chores. As a result, it can become all too easy to lose this sense of wonder and connection to nature that many of us carry as a child. It can become easy to forget just how important that connection is for our own well-being, regardless of age. The summer buzz of the cicada fades into the background until we barely notice it. The lightning bug’s flash may catch our attention and wonder less and less.

Dan during a Volunteer Opportunity in the Children's Garden

Dan in the Children’s Garden — you can see his love of bugs, check out the stick bug on his shirt!

Volunteering at Lewis Ginter

As one of the Garden’s regular volunteers, Dan has been someone able to bring back this sense of wonder for some of our visitors. Dan is 13 and is going into the 8th grade in the fall. He enjoys video games, violin, Boy Scouts and fencing. Through this volunteer opportunity at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, he’s been able to share his wonder, love and awe for nature with the many, teaching all ages. Dan began volunteering here at age 11 after his grandfather, Frank Burke, recommended it to him. His grandfather has been volunteering at the Garden for about 4 years. “That was probably one of the best decisions of my life,” Dan told me in our interview about the volunteer opportunity.

Secret Lives of Bugs

Dan mainly volunteers at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s Secret Lives of Bugs,  micro-exhibit educating visitors about insects found in our backyards, parks and neighborhoods. The Secret Lives of Bugs micro-exhibit is on display Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. now through September 5, 2021. The changing array of bugs at different stages of their life cycle is fascinating and keeps curiosity alive for anyone who comes to enjoy it.

“Stuff about butterflies was what got me into volunteering,” Dan says. “It’s really hard to have a favorite butterfly because there are so many incredible, different, and wild butterfly species, and the colors are just beautiful and light.” When I met him, Dan’s wide smile, paired with his stick-bug graphic tee made his love for insects clear. Dan is enthusiastic and warm, making connecting with visitors on the topic easy.

“He soaks any information he can up like a sponge,” his grandfather told me while Dan spoke to a group of visitors. Dan often partners with longtime garden volunteer Buz Sawyer at the  Secret Lives of Bugs. On this day they are sharing information on praying mantids and luna moths and their habitats.

Volunteers Buz and Dan stand behind table with insect display during a Dan during a volunteer opportunity

Dan and Buz Sawyer taking a break from talking to visitors about the Secret Lives of Bugs.

 One of the reasons the Garden created the Secret Lives of Bugs micro exhibit is because, due to COVID, we were unable to host Dan’s favorite exhibit, M&T Bank Butterflies LIVE!, this year. But a few advantages of this exhibit are that Dan, Buz and the other educators can spend longer talking to each visitor and visitors can learn about the value of particular bugs and their role in our local ecosystem and in our back yards.

Connecting through Bugs

During this volunteer opportunity, Dan went through a metamorphosis of sorts himself. Self-described as typically a quiet person, Dan says volunteering with the Garden has pushed him to converse and connect with people in ways he hadn’t before. It’s easy to see the social butterfly that he’s become!  Dan says he now looks forward to sharing all the information he can with visitors of all ages, especially young people like himself.  There’s nothing better to bring us together than sharing the joy of our planet’s most precious quality: life.  

You can learn more about the Secret Lives of Bugs (and the cherry millipede) on our Facebook page.

About Natalie Hale

Natalie is a junior at VCU majoring in Mass Communication with a focus in Public Relations and minoring in Art History. Plants and herbalism are two topics that she is passionate about. She currently owns 28 plants and counting!

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