Just for Kids: What's Bugging You?

By George Steele

Sum­mer is here and so are the bugs!

Well, actu­al­ly most of the bugs” bug­ging you aren’t real­ly bugs. All bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs. Bugs belong to the group ento­mol­o­gists call Hemiptera. Most of the big-time prob­lem insects are the flies, called Dipter­ans, and the bees, ants and wasps, the Hymenopter­ans. But before you all go Bah, hum­bug” on these insects that are bug­ging you, don’t for­get, they’re all pol­li­na­tors help­ing out plants.

You know that bees pol­li­nate, but what about mos­qui­toes and black­flies and such? Well, first of all, only the females bite and suck blood to get the pro­tein they need for egg devel­op­ment. But both males and females eat nec­tar from flow­ers to gain ener­gy and nutri­ents. Get­ting at that nec­tar is also the work of pol­li­na­tion, and that makes them pollinators.

With all those bugs, er, insects” fly­ing and crawl­ing and hop­ping about us they’re a ready-made sub­ject for a young nature lover to study. For starters, one can begin an insect col­lec­tion. No need to kill any insects for a collection.

Look for dead insects around lamp fix­tures and win­dows. I keep my eye open for dead insects in park­ing lots and build­ing entry­ways. Insects hit by cars some­times get blown off and on to the ground. I’ve found some amaz­ing sam­ples of drag­on­flies and but­ter­flies that way. Build­ing entries have night lights that draw insects. I once found an incred­i­ble sam­ple of a giant water bug in front of a store win­dow that must have died after being attract­ed to the lights of the store. You can’t pin these insects in the offi­cial ento­mo­log­i­cal way, but you can use egg car­tons or those can­dy box­es with a clear plas­tic top to store them and show off in your insect muse­um. There are also inex­pen­sive bug box­es” with a mag­ni­fi­er top, avail­able online.

What cap­tures most young ento­mol­o­gists’ inter­ests, though, is catch­ing live insects. Eas­i­ly done. Go for sim­ple equip­ment. A four or five-gal­lon plas­tic tub to store equip­ment in also dou­bles as a hold­ing con­tain­er for live creepy crawlies. Plas­tic spoons and small paint brush­es can be used to cap­ture indi­vid­ual insects. Repur­posed white plas­tic yogurt, cot­tage cheese, or oth­er food con­tain­ers make great cap­ture and obser­va­tion tools. An old white sheet, inex­pen­sive insect and aquar­i­um nets, or, even bet­ter, an old wire mesh kitchen strain­er round out the list. And the bud­ding ento­mol­o­gist will even­tu­al­ly want some insect books. The sim­plest and least expen­sive are the Gold­en Guide” books.

Where to catch insects? Well, they are all around us. Any pond or still water area will be packed with all sorts of aquat­ic insects. Use the kitchen strain­ers or aquar­i­um nets to scoop up insects hid­ing in the bot­tom sed­i­ments and float­ing water plants. Place your scoop­ings into a water-filled tub and look for crea­tures swim­ming about. Cap­ture them with the spoons and paint brush­es and place them in white food con­tain­ers for close study.

Check out land habi­tats for ter­res­tri­al insects. Place a white sheet under a bush or the low branch­es of trees. Shake the branch­es. Watch for the insects that fall down onto the sheet. Cap­ture them with spoons and paint brush­es. Iso­late them in food tubs to observe and pho­to­graph. Gath­er up a pile of dead leaves in the for­est and spread them out on a white sheet. Look for all sorts of crea­tures crawl­ing about. If some­thing flies away, I say no wor­ries”: there’ll be so many more that you’ll have your tubs full before you know it. Use an insect net to sweep into leaves and branch­es or tall grass­es and unmowed areas. Dump your net catch­ings onto the white sheet or the large plas­tic tubs and start cap­tur­ing crawl­ing, jump­ing and slith­er­ing insects. Before you know it, you’ll be doing your own Nation­al Geo­graph­ic insect documentaries!

Summer 2019

Volume 37 , Number 2

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