A Bug Expert Makes Sure His Students Digest the Subject

updated 09/29/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/29/1986 01:00AM

As classes began this month on America's campuses, few students had a treat in store quite like those of Kansas State University Prof. Hugh Thompson, 69, who teaches Entomology 627 ("Insects of the Home and Garden"). Sometime this semester he will spring on his 28 undergrads something that has become a KSU tradition. On the theory that the best way to get students into his subject is to get the subject into his students, Thompson deep-fries a batch of caterpillars on a hot plate and serves them to the class. For dessert he offers chocolate chip cookies sprinkled with brown beetles. The purpose of the menu, which Thompson began preparing five years ago, is to break down what he calls a "psycho-neurosis" about insects.

Some students find the voluntary repast quite, well, palatable. "The caterpillars were good," says Mark Jirak, 23, who took the course last year. "They taste like fried chicken." A few students, however, are less enthusiastic. Jirak's classmate, Sue Collins, 22, passed up the caterpillars but sampled the beetle cookies. The flavor was okay, she recalls, but the texture odd. "You kind of taste legs." Entomology, she concludes, can be "real gross."

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