Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival: Dr Sarah Beynon

Dr Sarah Beynon has scoured the world on the hunt for information on insects, and in her endeavours she’s wandered through the Amazon rainforest, and been chased up a tree by a hippo in Zambia. Her latest adventures include establishing her own insect research and education facility known as the Bug Farm, and most recently she’s befriended beetle novelist M.G. Leonard.

The pair will appear at the Cardiff Children’s Lit Fest on Sunday 26 March to educate children on the wonders of beetles, with live creepy crawlies as special guests!

To start us off, can you tell me an interesting fact about beetles? Lady beetles bleed through their knees. Victorians would chew them to cure toothache as lady beetle blood contains a numbing agent.

A lot of people are terrified of insects, but what gives you the heeby-jeebies? I actually used to be terrified of spiders, which was ridiculous considering my love of insects. Anything with two extra legs terrified me. I was forced to confront my fears when I went on a scientific research trip to Honduras in Central America and as the resident bug expert, was asked to excavate spiders from everyone’s tents.

You’ve been on many scientific research trips, where was your favourite place to explore? I have two, the first would be Zambia. I had lots of adventures there and I spent a lot of time searching for stunning jewel beetles in giant piles of elephant dung. Our base was stationed along a river, so every now and again a hippo would surface and we’d have to climb into trees to stay safe. The second place would be the Amazon rainforest. You’re surrounded by life and you can’t even see it because there’s so many places for the wildlife to hide in, so you have to be really clever to lure it all out.

What’s your favourite beetle? The dung beetle. It lives in poo yet it’s they come in the most beautiful metallic golds and greens. The ancient Egyptians used to worship them, as the dung beetle was seen as the god of rebirth.

If you could be a beetle, what would you be? Not a dung beetle. I’d be a jewel scarab beetle. They’re really blingy and beautiful and flutter up into the canopy of the central American rainforests and feed on flowers and fruit.

Your partner is the founder and head chef at the Bug Farm’s onsite café-restaurant, what’s your favourite insect to eat? We look at insects as a sensible and sustainable source of protein, so he incorporates them into every day meals to demonstrate their versatility as a food source. The black ant crusted goats cheese, and cricket cookies are delicious.

What was your favourite book as a child? Enid Blyton’s Famous 5. I loved the sense of adventure, and I’d even stage my own Famous 5 adventures on the farm I grew up on.

What’re you reading now? I've recently been reading the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, the Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman, A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas and the Atlantis Grail series by Vera Nazarian. I loved them all, especially A court of Thorns and Roses. I get through books pretty quickly, as I read to switch-off at the end of the day and take myself to a different world! I can't sleep without reading first.  I prefer children’s and young adult books because they tend to have a deeper story with their character development.

What are you most looking forward to about the Cardiff Children’s Lit Fest? Seeing and working with Maya. Her enthusiasm for beetles and for educating and entertaining is incredible, and it’s a real honour to work with her. I’m also looking forward to educating children on the important of beetles, and if one child comes up and says “if I see a beetle, I won’t step on it, and I’ll tell my friend not to step on it too’, then that’s a big win. I’m also hoping to take home a big stack