Durham Tech student spends Dominican Republic summer searching for bugs
Oct. 03, 2013 @ 06:20 PM

Andrew Bauer is the Bug Man.

He understands the creatures that comprise the ignored kingdom, moving them from the fateful bottom of a shoe to the front of his camera lens.

An associate in science student at Durham Technical Community College, Bauer traveled to the Dominican Republic this summer and spent 50-hour weeks searching for bugs in the trees and the bushes of a cacao farm.

During his trip, when he found a tarantula in the shower of his room, instead of the inevitable Psycho-like shower scene scream, he was ecstatic, scooping it up and keeping it as a pet.

Until he lost sight of it again.

Bauer shared his story and detailed photographs with a small audience at Durham Tech Wednesday afternoon. He snapped thousands of pictures while in the Dominican Republic, the images so close that a person could count the hairs on an insect’s leg or see the bumps of the ommatidia, or eye units, of a bug.

He has spent hours at a time, patient and steady, capturing photographs of fiery red, orange and pink dragonflies. Of amblypygids, also known as whip spiders, with legs as long as pencils and mouths like the end of a rake, which they use to scoop up smaller bugs for sustenance.

He would hold tarantulas bigger than a person’s palm and outstretched fingers combined and large centipedes that rested on his hand, much to the amazement of the Dominican Republic natives. If bitten, the centipede’s venom is known to feel like being stabbed with a hot knife.

“No pica! No pica!” the locals would say on the cacao farm, incredulous. They would sooner hack the “pests” up with a machete. Why wasn’t the centipede biting him?

“You have to stay calm and it takes a lot of confidence to not flinch or dance,” Bauer said.

The Dominicans brought him presents - little creatures for his collection. Bauer, who doesn’t understand a lot of Spanish, began to bond with natives through his bug discoveries.

When he was younger, he found bugs and kept them in the freezer, fridge, oven and microwave at home. Many escaped.

“I learned to ask for forgiveness later,” he said. “I’ve always been into bugs since I can remember.”

Now 22, Bauer is in the transfer program at Durham Tech, and he started at the college in the automotive program to learn how to fix his car. His goal is to attend UNC-Chapel Hill and study biology. He then plans to go after his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in entomology at N.C. State.

He wants to be an entomologist who will discover a new insect species, as well as have some of his photographs published in National Geographic. He currently volunteers at the Durham Museum of Life and Science, specifically in its butterfly house.

Constanza Gómez-Joines, Durham Tech’s executive director of the Center for the Global Learner, said the college formed an international partnership with the Universidad Católica Nordestana in the Dominican Republic in 2011.

The Dominican university is modeling its programs after Durham Tech and the N.C. Community College system, and the partnership led to the creation of a Durham Tech International Cultural Exploration course that included a week-long spring trip to the country. Bauer was one of the original traveling students. He returned this summer for more time and study.

Bauer brought back two centipedes, a tarantula and a whip spider named “Ursula” to keep as pets. When he gets a headache from homework, he said, he finds peace through holding his tarantula.

“Watching it destroy cicadas and lizards is pretty cool,” Bauer said.

The tarantula will rip the skull off a lizard or deflate its lungs with a final hiss. A centipede’s venom will kill the lizard with a dooming bite.

He said eventually he’d like to visit Peru, where giant centipedes hang from caves and grab bats out of the air. He’s also invited back to the Dominican Republic next summer to study beneficial and pest insects on cacao farms.

In preparation, he wants to upgrade his Canon camera soon, to spend more hours zooming in on beetles or ants and hunting for the perfect shot.

“Just because they’re everywhere, doesn’t mean they’ll let you take their picture.”