Who’s for pie?

They’re calling it Fear Factor, trades style.

Entomologyst Jim Madder eyes his creation — a chocolate dipped grasshopper pie — which he baked for a United Way fundraiser.

Entomologyst Jim Madder eyes his creation — a chocolate dipped grasshopper pie — which he baked for a United Way fundraiser.

They’re calling it Fear Factor, trades style.

It all started when Jim Madder, the executive vice-president academic at Red Deer College, created a couple of grasshopper pies as part of a fundraiser for the United Way.

Michael Kulchisky, the dean of trades and manufacturing, bought one with plans to eat it today at noon in the Learning Commons if enough money is raised. Now he’ll be joined by Jason Frizzell, chair of visual art.

Before Madder made the pie, he thought people might pay to avoid eating it. Now it has raised a couple of hundred more dollars for the United Way.

Madder may not be a culinary expert but when it comes to bugs, he can tell you most anything you’d like to know.

He has a PhD in medical entomology from the University of Guelph, which means he has a detailed knowledge not only of bugs, but what those bugs can do to humans.

Most insects don’t make him squeamish at all, except caliphorids. The first thing the metallic blue-green flies do when they land on something is regurgitate whatever they were on before — so your dessert might wind up with a special topping.

Madder said many cultures eat bugs of one sort or another. He and his wife Kim tried a stir-fry with marinated grasshoppers in Mexico at once.

His unique knowledge and skills were once more obscure to the general public, but the Gil Grissom character on the television show CSI has popularized the skills that Madder spent years acquiring. There is a slight difference, though. Grissom is a forensic entomologist, meaning he uses his skills to determine when and where a person died through the bugs that are found on the body. Madder is a medical entomologist and looks at how insects pass diseases on to humans.

Madder showcased his skills earlier this summer at the Ellis Bird Farm, where they trapped gophers — actually Richardson’s ground squirrels — for him over a number of weeks and he was able to identify when they died. If a carcass is found within a couple of weeks it can be determined plus or minus a day when the animal died or if it was found a year later it could be determined by plus or minus a month.

It wasn’t insects that particularly appealed to Madder as he was growing up. “In Winnipeg in the summer, you encounter mosquitoes and it is just this wonderful hum,” he said.

Instead, what made him first study zoology as an undergraduate and eventually entomology was looking at nature as a whole.

“I was more interested in ecology, how things interact with each other, why do certain things, live in certain conditions, why do they not live in others,” Madder said. He said often people don’t realize how important insects are to the functioning of the rest of the environment, including tasks such as pollinating plants.

sobrien@bprda.wpengine.com

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