After laying dormant for decades, a woman's childhood passion for all things creepy crawly has well and truly reignited.
When Susie Gardiner was given two stick insects as a Christmas present last year, it was a throwback to her youth, when she had hoarded a collection of more than 100 bugs, preserved in jars throughout her Coleambally bedroom in NSW's Riverina.
Mrs Gardiner, who now lives in Griffith, hadn't owned any bugs for over 30 years, but the gift quickly re-sparked that love and six months later her collection has grown to 12 stick insects, 11 queen ants, four snails, four scorpions and three centipedes - with some baby spiders on the way.
"I just think all insects are really, really interesting and I love collecting them and talking to people about them," Mrs Gardiner said.
"It's something about me which has been dormant for about 30 years but has definitely reawakened this year.
I think my husband is looking at me now and going 'really?' so yeah it's getting a little out of hand- Susie Gardiner
"I think my husband is looking at me now and going 'really?' so yeah it's getting a little out of hand," she joked.
At the centre of the passion has been Mrs Gardiner's new-found appreciation for ants, with her daily walks now becoming a hunt for wandering queens to add to her farms.
A self-confessed rookie to the world of bugs, what began with an exciting discovery of a queen bull ant has spiralled into 11 of her own personal ant farms, strewn across vials and containers in her home.
Each container includes its own queen running the show, five of which she found on her own while the other six she bought online.
"There is a whole community of people who are really into everything ant-related and they just know so much more than me," Mrs Gardiner said.
"When I found the bull ant queen, I posted a picture of it on a Facebook group and I had people offering to trade multiple entire colonies for it which I wasn't expecting at all."
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Despite the offer, Mrs Gardiner kept the queen and now her ambition is to grow the colonies enough that she can use them to teach local children through a program she's planning called BUGCHAT.
At the start of the year, she was invited to bring her stick insects to Beelbangera Public School and give the kids a presentation on them.
"It went really well the kids absolutely love it and it's just stuff they've never seen up close before," she said.
"I've already done four presentations - not bad for the shy kid."
Mrs Gardiner plans to launch BUGCHAT at the Beelbangera school in Term 4 and she says if it goes well she would think about expanding to other schools in the area.
"Most people never take any notice of insects at all, but when I tell people what I'm doing there are always some people who have so many questions and who are really into it."
"If I can help some more young people get into insects and understand how amazing they are I will be happy."
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