COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Professor Mike Raupp is close to his subject of scholarly study. Very close. When a fiercely buzzing bee lands on a flower beside him, he leans over to pet it.
"A sweet bumblebee," he says, stretching out a finger to stroke its fuzzy yellow back.
The bee, fortunately, doesn't seem to mind. Then again, Raupp doesn't have an ordinary mortal's fear of getting stung. He's a fan of spiders. He collects strange beetles. He lets mosquitoes bite him. He considers bumblebees "docile" and likes to play with a scary-looking "assassin bug" on his office desk.
Raupp, 53, is not your typical academic at the University of Maryland. He's the "bug guy."
A respected entomologist, with more than 25 years of research to his credit and three major studies under way in his university lab, Raupp has chaired the department, won teaching awards and served on lots of faculty committees.
The scientist, though, is better known as a witty raconteur of insect lore.
Ever since last summer's cicada invasion, when he donned a "Brood X" T-shirt and gave almost 100 newspaper, radio and television interviews, Raupp has wowed audiences.
He appears regularly on national television networks. This summer, he made the rounds to talk about mosquitoes and ticks; in July, CNN filmed a segment in which he demonstrated how to ward off biting insects with nonchemical repellents.
Eager to popularize his passion, Raupp recently started a "Bug of the Week" column on the university's Web site. The site has seen a tenfold increase in hits since his column went up in May, he says.
"You can watch somebody on television chase big animals in exotic places," Raupp says. "Insects provide the same thing."
"They give the average citizen, the average parent and child, a reason to go out and enjoy nature in their backyard," he adds. "They can see all of it: hunting, stalking, predator-prey relationships, evolutionary relationships, the danger of stinging insects. It's an extravaganza."
Raupp is full of anecdotes about the good, bad and ugly of the bug world. Take the elegant praying mantis. The female hooks up with a male partner, and then bites off his head.
Or the six-spotted green tiger beetle, which Raupp featured in his inaugural column. Sure, the beetle has a striking emerald mantle. But she's a killer, stalking small flies and spiders, and then tearing apart their limbs.
Even the ladybug, so popular with children, can be cruel. The shiny red beetle protects plants by crunching struggling aphids for lunch. Watching it, Raupp says, is not pretty.
His fascination with insects, born during a carefree childhood in rural New Jersey, can be contagious, according to his colleagues and his wife.
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