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A job for Spiderman's superbugs

(Photograph) - After nearly 30 years as a teacher, Roger Swailes has turned into a Spiderman. He has spent a month touring the North-west with his Bug Box, which can contain giant snails, scorpions, tarantulas and millipedes.

Mr Swailes was a peripatetic adviser on environmental education to Wigan metropolitan borough until last month, when funding ran out for the service. He has now gone freelance to continue his work of helping pupils study animal and plant life in local ponds and woods.

To compare domestic and foreign insects, he takes into schools some specimens from his own collection of exotic creatures, including large tropical beetles and stick insects.

The scores of bookings he has had since he started trading have come from libraries, women's associations, Rotary clubs, and after-dinner-speaking agencies have shown interest. He specialises in children's Ugly Bug Ball parties, for which guests dress up as creepy-crawlies.

At his home in Orrell, near Wigan, which is full of large and colourful tropical creatures, Mr Swailes says: "I am 48, and had thought I'd spend the rest of my working life as a teacher. But events have taken a different turn, and now I have the exciting but slightly precarious prospects of making a living from my hobby."

He got the bug for outsize beetles while teaching agriculture and biology on voluntary service in Africa during the 1960s. Later, he became a science teacher which led to his specialising in the environment.

When visiting schools, Mr Swailes prefers to show the Bug Box to one class at a time. But several classes may be combined and large numbers can be split into groups for shorter sessions.

St David's C of E primary at Haigh, near Wigan is a regular venue. Science co-ordinator Carol Prescott says: "Mr Swailes gives us a great opportunity to widen children's experience in science attainment target 2, bringing into the classroom creatures they have only ever seen before in picture books."

Insects' eating habits, reproduction and environments are discussed and children's fears and phobias dispelled.

"Following a session he is like the Pied Piper, attracting children to discuss their ideas and interests," Mrs Prescott says. "Playtimes after his visits become mini-safaris with pupils going on bug hunts and discovering little eco-systems they never knew existed. His visits are a springboard for further work on insects."

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