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Insects are Rochester man's ambassadors to the natural world

Joel Dunnette shares the natural by introducing young people to six-legged critters.

Damsels & Dragons
Joel Dunnette explains the best ways to go about catching dragon and damselflies to David Rauh, 11, and his brother Benjamin, 12, at Chester Woods Park in Eyota on Saturday, June 18, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Insects don’t bug Joel Dunnette. When Dunnette wants to share his knowledge as a master naturalist and instructor, he turns to the six-legged critters.

“Plants are fine, birds fragile and are hard to catch,” Dunnette said. “Insects are easier to catch and more numerous.”

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Over the last six years (with a break due to COVID), Dunnette has been holding bug hunts and insect workshops for children. For a younger audience, curiosity gets the better of any reservations they have, he said.

“My audience is not people who want to know a whole lot about insects,” he said. “It’s the people who want the ‘gee-wizz’ of the up-close experience.”

It’s an experience he recalls when walking home from school when he was young. A Rochester native, Dunnette recalled walking home from the former Horace Mann School in Southeast Rochester and walking through three to four blocks of undeveloped land.

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Damsels & Dragons
Joel Dunnette shows a damselfly to Benjamin Rauh, 12 at Chester Woods Park in Eyota on Saturday, June 18, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin

“You’d come home in the afternoon and find all kinds of things,” he said, adding his parents were patient that exploring wildlife waylaid him on his way home.

Dunnette said he wants to introduce that sense of discovery and exploration for kids who might not have daily access to wildlife areas.

“There’s amazing things in the world and most people pass it by,” he said.

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Insects are an inside track to introduce young people to nature.

“When kids can catch their own (insects), it’s much more meaningful,” Dunnette said.

There are some exceptions. Bees are too hard to handle and butterflies are fragile. Dragonflies are a favorite because they have large features and can be held.

“You can hand a kid a dragonfly,” Dunnette said. “It gets you into some pretty good sized critters you can handle.”

Kids can see as their feet grip, look at their jaws, long abdomen and large eyes.

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Damsels & Dragons
Joels Dunnette holds a damselfly that he captured at Silver Creek that he holds at his booth set up at Chester Woods Park in Eyota on Saturday, June 18, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin

“They’re very visual creatures,” Dunnette said. “They’re a marvel to me.”

Dunnette said he watches as reluctant children jump in after watching others catch bugs.

“Then they watch someone else do it for a while and then they say, can I borrow a net,” he said.

The latest of Dunnette's bug hunts is coming up at 3 p.m., Saturday, July 16, sponsored via the Zumbro Valley Audubon Society. The event is free to attend.

If you go

What: Bug Hunt at Chester Woods

When: 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, July 16, 2022.

Where: ​Chester Woods Park, shelter number 2.

Damsels & Dragons
Benjamin Rauh, 12 holds a dragonfly that he caught with help from Joel Dunnette at Chester Woods Park in Eyota on Saturday, June 18, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin
Damsels & Dragons
Joel Dunnette shows a damselfly to Kiara Rauh,7 and her brother Benjamin, 12, before sending them off to hunt for dragonflies and damselflies at Chester Woods Park in Eyota on Saturday, June 18, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin
Damsels & Dragons
Joel Dunnette shows a dragonfly to Lucy Rauh, 7 that her brother Benjamin, 12 caught at Chester Woods Park in Eyota on Saturday, June 18, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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