Insect collection a highlight of Nature Space exhibits at Rock County 4-H Fair

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Nick Crow
July 30, 2015

JANESVILLE—When people think of the Rock County 4-H Fair, most think of animals such as pigs, cows, chickens and goats.

Insects usually aren't on the list.

But one collection in the Nature Space Department at the fair features just that.

Milton resident Matt Williams has collected insects for more than 10 years. He picked up the hobby from his dad. His older brother and little sister also collect insects for judging at the fair.

Matt's collection has more than 500 insects and is the largest collection in Rock County 4-H history, said his father, Chris Williams.

"It's just a fun hobby," said Matt, 18. "I like catching rare things. A lot of them are from here, but we also travel around the country. We're always catching bugs on vacation."

Chris said Matt picked up the hobby before he joined 4-H as a way to compete with his brother.

"I did it as a kid for 4-H, too," Chris said. "When my oldest son joined 4-H, he was collecting rocks and realized it was really hard to tell the difference between them. So I told him, 'Why don't you do insects like I did?' That's how he got started, and Matt started to compete with him."

The Nature Space Department features collections in the areas of ecology, wildlife, birds, plants, insects, geology, forestry, weather, fishing, archery and gun shoot.

Superintendent Janet Kassel said her department attracts a wide variety of participants, from hunters to nature lovers to those who appreciate both.

"Many of the kids who go through this go on to careers in geology, weather, geography and other careers like that," Kassel said. "Anybody who is interested here learns a respect for their environment, which we really support."

Kassel said a common misconception is that nature exists only in the country. Actually, people are exposed to nature anytime they go outside, she said.

"If you ever leave your house, you have a nature space," Kassel said. "A lot of these kids aren't rural kids."

Kassel said the kids who participate in Nature Space exhibits start working on their projects in November. They enter their exhibits in the fair by March and work on them until June. Judges base 50 percent of each score on the exhibit and 50 percent on the child and his ability to explain what he has created.

This year, Nature Space amassed 75 exhibits, not counting archery and guns. Exhibits that span multiple years, such as Matt's, must feature elements that are new.

Matt and his family have traveled as far as Arizona to find insects. Northern Wisconsin is one of their frequent stops.

To catch the insects, Matt uses a series of special lights on a tripod. The lights attract the insects to a white sheet, where they get stuck.

"There are certain things we have a lot of around here," Matt said. "There's a general population of insects in the area. If it's something I don't have, I stop and catch it. If we go somewhere on vacation, I spend a while looking around."

Matt said silk moths are his favorites because of their colors.

"It gets them out doing stuff and exposed to nature," his dad said. "It makes them aware of what's around them and gives them an appreciation of nature."

Matt plans to attend UW-Stout this fall, but insects are not exactly his field of study. He wants to design video games.

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