March 28, 2011

Linda Rayor hosts 'Monster Bug Wars' TV series, starting March 29 on the Science Channel

For those who enjoy nature shows as well as Godzilla movies, a new TV series starring Cornell entomologist Linda Rayor is right up their alley.

A new scientific television series, "Monster Bug Wars," hosted by Rayor, airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m., EDT, beginning March 29 on the Science Channel, for six weeks. It provides a ringside seat to some of nature's deadliest encounters: From creepy crawlers devouring other creatures alive, for example, to the struggle of a bull ant using its lethal stinger to survive the suffocating silk of the redback spider, it is all in high-definition, super-magnified videography.

The series combines the fun of a classic 1950s monster movie -- depicting insects, spiders, scorpions, centipedes and killer ants -- as lethal predators striving for survival, supremacy ... and supper.

Rayor provides detailed, on-air descriptions that help explain the biology behind the conflicts. For 17 years, she has taught Cornell's Spider Biology course in the Department of Entomology. Many students say the class transformed them from arachnophobics into arachnophiles. Rayor is also an award-winning teacher who directs a large K-12 science outreach program that emphasizes backyard biology and natural history in the Ithaca area.

"I see this show as an opportunity to share an enthusiasm for science with a broader array of the public," said Rayor. "This is big-time science outreach at its best."

In 2007, Beyond Production in Australia, which produces many shows for the Discovery Channel, approached Rayor to provide commentary on venomous spiders for a show called "Nature's Deadliest: Australia." Subsequently, she was interviewed for a show on deadly creatures from South America and two shows on African animals.

Then, about two years ago, Discovery Science asked Rayor to participate in "Monster Bug Wars," which would show predatory arthropods encountering and fighting one another. For each deadly encounter, Rayor provides commentary about one of the pair, while Bryan Grieg Fry of the University of Melbourne discusses its adversary.

The videography includes such scenes as insects lifting off in slow motion and in flight, or "centipedes tearing into prey… things you don't see with the naked eye," Rayor said. "What I am particularly happy about with this show is that the science and biology are quite strong, while still being a fun show to watch.

The first episode features rain forest insects. The second episode, April 5, pits tree scorpions against giant ants, and the third episode, April 12, takes a close look centipedes, mantids, spiders and tarantulas.

For more, visit the "Monster Bug Wars" website: http://science.discovery.com/tv/monster-bug-wars.