Kaya Moore, 6, of Northeast Philadelphia let a small pill bug, also called a roly-poly, crawl across her hands. "It tickled," she said, giggling.
Holding live bugs is one of the two-day event's more popular activities. So is the bug tasting.
Little wax worms invaded samples of mango salsa. Crickets put the chirp in the "chocolate chirp cookies."
Zack Lemann prepared some of the Cajun crickets. He's an entomologist at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans, and he's been cooking with bugs for more than 15 years.
"We call crickets the gateway bug," Lemann said.
No, insects don't taste like chicken.
Most have a nutty taste, he said. Crickets taste like sunflower seeds. Fried dragonflies taste like soft-shell crabs. Grasshoppers taste like shrimp. Mayflies taste like celery.
On Saturday, Lemann challenged Charles Ziccardi, a chef and culinary-arts assistant professor at Drexel University, in a bug cook-off called "Bug Appetit." Lemann made fried dragonflies, and Ziccardi made hush puppies with wax worms sticking out of the fried dough.
Judges from the audience declared Lemann this year's winner.
Karen Verderame, an invertebrate specialist at the academy, said one of the goals of Bug Fest is to help people see insects in a new way.
"We're hoping to show people there's a big world out there, and bugs are a huge, important part of it," Verderame said. "And maybe not to step on an ant the next time they see one."
The theme of this year's Bug Fest is "Beauty and the Bug."
Faith Kuehn, an entomologist and insect-art collector, showed off some of her insect-jewelry collection. She has more than 4,000 pieces.
Some of the bugs made art of their own. Michaela Smith, 6, and her sister Kira, 7, watched as maggots and cockroaches crawled through paints of different color to make patterns on paper.
Michaela wants to work with bugs when she grows up. Kira tolerates them, said their mother, Cindy, who lives in Brick, N.J.
"I didn't realize," Cindy Smith said, "that cockroaches were so artistic."
Bug Fest continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Academy of Natural Sciences, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Details: www.ansp.org