Ryan Bridge has gone buggy and he doesn’t care who knows it. In fact, if there’s anyone who can put a positive spin on the world of pests, it’s Ryan “The Bugman” Bridge.
Bridge’s enthusiasm is hardly containable as he waxes rhapsodic about the world of insects. “I got into them when I was five, or six years old. All kids love bugs at that age, but they don’t always stick with it, including my own kids,” he said.
Bridge, a resident of Mount Wolf, credits the York County 4H Entomology Club for fueling his fervor. “That’s where I learned how to catch, kill, mount and display insects,” said Bridge, who has built a business and a career, around educating everyone from children to seniors about insects.
Bridge hasn’t always been known as “The Bug Man,” however. “I worked retail, loss prevention, drove a Fedex truck and even tried to be a cop….. but I had to be pushed out of my traditional routine before I ended up where I belonged,” said Bridge. He credits a friend who runs a marketing company in Las Vegas with realizing the viability of The Bug Man and helped him develop a web site and spread the news on social media. “That was eight years ago and it’s been gangbusters ever since,” said Bridge, whose job takes him to libraries, birthday parties, daycare centers, preschools, senior centers, state and county parks and summer camps, to name a few.
When Bridge shows up at an event, he brings approximately 1,000 insects, some dead and mounted and some living. He tells the audience on why insects are important. “I describe their defensive characteristics and share why it’s not all about biting and stinging, but also about taking care of the ecosystem and maintaining biodiversity and that we all need insects to survive. One of the most misunderstood insects, according to Bridge, is the cockroach. “Actually, they are very clean and they can’t bite, sting, or hurt you. They don’t carry diseases and they don’t invade people’s homes purposely. They do everything it takes to survive one more day,” said Bridge, offering a surprising tidbit about the prodigious pest. “Grocery stores are full of them, which is why they keep the lights on all the time,” he said, which makes some wonder if they’re better off knowing that, or are better off in the dark like the hardy cockroaches.
One of the highlights of the presentation is when the children are permitted to touch, pet and hold his specimens, like Penelope the tarantula, or any one of the Madagascar hissing cockroaches he brings along with him. “If you’re in the African rainforest at night and you’re walking around and bump into something and it hisses at you, do you reach down and grab it? No, you take three steps back and get away,” he explains.
Paula Gilbert who recently retired as the Director of Youth Services at Martin Library in York County said, “Ryan is one of those people that engages you from the minute you meet him. He is an enthusiastic ball of energy.” She explains that when he approached her and her staff, they agreed to give him a trial run at one library. “His program was such a hit that we implemented it in all the libraries in the region and each year he is the top vote getter among our patrons for a return visit.” Gilbert said that some classes number between 15-20 kids, while others attract upwards of 100. “Even when he was doing virtual programs due to COVID, he attracted more than 100,” she said.
Bridge said it gives him great joy to see the smiles on the faces of his audiences. He said his program has become so popular that he has hired staff to do presentations in Arizona and Texas and to take up the slack when he’s overbooked on weekends here in Central Pennsylvania.
“Our mission is to inspire and educate people about the importance of bugs and insects and to prove that their purpose is not to harm humans, but instead to make the world a better place. It’s just what we do!” he said with a smile.