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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Show about bugs

Kate O'Hare

If you think you’ve had a hard day at work, imagine wearing a long beard composed entirely of killer bees.

“A full 7 pounds,” says Ruud Kleinpaste, a New Zealand entomologist, writer, educator and broadcaster who’s the host of Animal Planet’s new series “Buggin’ With Ruud,” premiering tonight.

“I had 50,000 killer bees on my face. It’s mad.”

Asked if this is some sort of childhood fantasy fulfilled, Kleinpaste says, “No, no, God, no, get on. Do I look that deprived?

“The producers decided that it might be a good idea to do that. I thought, ‘You must be nuts to think that I’m going to wear 50,000 killer bees.’ So I said, ‘Stuff that,’ as they say in New Zealand.”

Ultimately, Kleinpaste went for the bee beard, but not out of some misguided sense of macho. He was trying to show that killer bees – even though they have been specially bred to be aggressive – still can be controlled by the same pheromones as ordinary bees.

Kleinpaste had himself doused with a scent that tricked the bees into thinking he was their queen.

“They all came and sat on me really quietly,” he says. “I was the biggest queen in bloody Arizona.”

Born in 1952 in Indonesia, Kleinpaste, whose family is Dutch, studied forestry in Holland before emigrating to New Zealand in 1978.

Although his first love was birdwatching, a friend turned him on to the wonderful world of bugs at about the age of 20.

“I’m a mature bug lover,” he says. “I came in late in life. As a kid, I had binoculars in my head. I was a nerdy birdwatcher.”

In “Buggin’ With Ruud,” the energetic, fearless Kleinpaste subjects himself to no small amount of indignities to show the amazing things that bugs can do – from crawling into a freezer to show how New Zealand crickets survive the winter to being locked into a hyperbaric chamber to make a point about dragonflies and oxygen.

“There was an Aussie doctor nearby,” he recalls, “going, ‘The blood oxygen in your body is about 58 percent. … I’ve got to pull you out.’ “

In a segment for an episode called “Entertaining Bugs,” Kleinpaste traveled to a compound in the Los Angeles area where “bug wranglers” demonstrated techniques for controlling insects for the movies.

For this, Kleinpaste stuck his head into a Plexiglas box and had giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches poured all over his face.

One cockroach decided to take up residence in Kleinpaste’s ear. It turns out the “hissing” part is for real.

“It was bloody deafening,” he says.

Kleinpaste has dedicated himself to teaching humans about the insects who share their world – or is it vice versa?

“I realized that the world is run by insects,” he says. “I’d done some research and come to the conclusion that the world as we know it is run by insects, not the dollar, not the stock market, not the white mice, according to Douglas Adams in ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,’ but by bugs.”

Watching Kleinpaste with a bee up his nose or a cockroach excavating in his ear, it’s hard to disagree with that.

In the end, he wants to show just how much can be learned from the structure, habits and chemical processes of insects – from new antibiotics made from spider webs to specialized smoke detectors from jewel beetles, or robotic blueprints from a variety of multilegged crawlers.

” ‘Buggin’ With Ruud’ is not just, ‘Oh, what a lovely bug,’ ” Kleinpaste says. “I always ask ‘Why?’ and go and find out.”