When Art Evans goes on the road, he takes his friend Connie, an 18-year-old tarantula.
Other companions include a hissing cockroach, a giant walking stick, an ironclad beetle, an emperor scorpion and a millipede.
For 2 1/2 years Evans, 36, curator of the Ralph M. Parsons Insect Zoo at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles at Exposition Park, has taken his buggy brood to schools throughout the Southland.
Evans reports that most spectators are more thrilled than horrified.
"It's very rare to find a fearful child," Evans said on a recent visit to Callahan Street School in Northridge. "In over 175 schools, hardly one child ever left because of fear."
Evans holds degrees in entomology from Cal State Long Beach and the University of Pretoria in South Africa. He is an expert on scarab beetles--June bugs to the rest of us--with a collection of more than 100,000 specimens.
Evans once kept many beetles on trays in a bachelor apartment. But since his recent marriage, he has set up a special "bug room" displaying 3,000 species he has gathered from throughout the world--including one sacred scarab of Egypt.
In the pursuit of prized specimens, Evans has found himself in some unusual circumstances. He was once almost arrested as he conducted a nighttime search in Arizona near a building that turned out to be a bank. When his travel takes him near taverns, Evans reports that the clientele is often willing to help in the search.
There are 45,000 varieties of insects, with 1,500 in the United States and 400 in California, according to Evans.
For those who prefer stomping bugs to getting a kick out of them, Evans said it's important to understand that insects are "a driving force in our environment. Learning about them and not fearing them is a great introduction to natural history for children."
The lesson was not lost on the children in Northridge.
"It was excellent," said Robert Longacre, 10, of Evans' show. "I want to catch a scorpion some day and keep it in a fish tank. I liked the beetle best that played dead."
Jared Nineberg, 7, liked the scorpion, but couldn't tell which was the head of the centipede. "I liked knowing its front legs have poison fangs and it bites with these."
At first Soraya Sheida, 12, said she was afraid. "But after he talked it was exciting and really fun," she said. "I would love a tarantula, but my parents wouldn't like it if it got out."
The giant walking stick, which looks like part of a tree, was the favorite of office assistant Doris Kilgrow.
"I said no thanks to the three-inch hissing cockroach," Kilgrow said. "They're bad enough, but to have them talk back is too much."