Once every year, the Amateur Entomologist Society holds a large meeting at Kempton Racetrack, where enthusiasts and traders can come and show off their invertebrates and trade them. It is the largest event of its type in Britain, and several hundred entomologist turn up each year to attend. I go to this event most years, since I have a sizable interest in entomology (keeping a colony of white-spotted assassin bugs myself) and I enjoy wandering about the stands looking at the different exhibits.
On the ground floor of the Kempton Racetrack building, there is a large trade centre, where breeders from across the country gather to display and sell the various invertebrates that they have in stock. Phasmids, cockroaches, mantis and any number of pinned butterflies. Tarantulas are a particular favourite, with a wide variety, including Red Rump, Salmon Pink, Ornamental Indian and Greenbottle Blue Tarantulas available as spiderlings, as well as many more. Tarantulas are incredibly large ambush spiders, meaning that rather than build elaborate webs to catch flying prey, like the garden spiders we are used to seeing, they prefer to lie in wait, watching for invertebrates and small mammals that stray to close them. People are often terrified of the Tarantula’s giant fangs, which can seem extremely intimidating. While there bite is painful, it is not fatal; the real threat that Tarantulas pose are in their bristles. These tiny barbed hairs can be released into the air, where they get into the eyes and nose and irritate the skin.
On the floor above, while there are still many traders about, the various societies, such as the Phasmid Study Group, who deal in stick and leaf insects, and the Bug Club, for minors who are interested in the basics of entomology. This year there was even a small unattended stand proclaiming the importance of earthworms on soil health, naming four separate kinds of worm and a largely inactive worm enclosure. Why a worm would need such a secure enclosure is beyond me, and there was no one around to ask. I saw a number of crabs, which while they are not actually to do with entomology are invertebrate, and therefore fair game. My father even decided to bring home three of those Hermit Crabs to keep in a tank. I shall see how they progress.
Also attending the Exhibition, was Matt Smith, who took me on my work experience thrashing ponds and surveying reptiles a few months ago. As a professional entomologist and ecologist, he always attends the Trade Fair, and sometimes sells the extra beetle grubs from his vast collection of colourful invertebrates.
I enjoy the AES Annual Exhibition greatly, and it is one of the highlights of my year. I hope to attend again next year, if my exam schedule permits me to. The people there are almost as interesting as the insects.