LOS ANGELES - As he roamed tables swarming with huge, hairy tarantulas, crawly millipedes and shiny beetles of bees, 5-year-old Simon Isaak Astle had one comment Sunday: ''I'm just crazy about bugs!''
So were thousands of others who crowded the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History for the 14th annual Insect Fair.
The two-day insect extravaganza brought more than 40 vendors from across the state, some hawking edible critters such as cricket lollipops, chocolate-covered ants and mealworms in teriyaki sauce.
''If it's insect, it's here,'' said Brent Karner, coordinator of the museum's Insect Zoo.
Geneanne Loreto, 12, and Melody Raguirag, 13, shopped for bugs for their seventh-grade science class. They gazed at trays of huge moths, spiny stick insects from India and Australia and fierce-looking rhinoceros beetles as big as a fist.
''They're cool - if they're pinned down,'' Geneanne said.
One tray contained mounted beetles in vivid, metallic-sheen colors.
''The insect world has given design people wonderful ideas,'' said Gina Ward, a museum spokeswoman. ''Hollywood has done insects a disservice.''
The insect fair accompanied the annual opening of the museum's ''Pavilion of Wings,'' a caged-in outdoor area where hundreds of butterflies flit around visitors' heads.
The pavilion, in its second year, will stay open through Sept. 4.
Karner said he likes to call butterflies ''spokesbugs,'' because their grace and bright colors delight the same people who are repulsed by cockroaches and spiders.
Karner said he is dedicated to combating people's fear of insects, which he described as a ''self-perpetuating myth.'' Only 1 percent of more than a million named bug species are dangerous, he said.
''These things are magnificently constructed animals,'' Karner said.
Also, 80 percent of the world's population regularly eats insects. Americans, Karner said, eat at least three pounds of insects a year without realizing it - ground-up bits of critters that have found their way into various foodstuffs.
There were plenty of bug partisans among the estimated 8,000-plus weekend visitors to the insect fair.
''Bugs are interesting,'' said William Mendoza, 25, of Montebello. ''There are so many varieties.''
But not everyone was focused on bugs. Three-year-old Jennifer Lerch of Torrance, was asked what she most wanted to see.
''The elephants,'' she replied.