Bugs and Insects: How Moms Can Find Their Inner Bugdork!
Kids all over the world speak bug. It’s a common language filled with shrieks and squeals that is accented with wonder at everything that crawls, wriggles and creeps. As people get older, however, their love of insects and spiders can turn into an outright fear/hatred that is often passed on to the next generation.
Since moms wear every hat imaginable throughout the day, it should come as no surprise that you’re also expected to wear the safari hat of a fearless explorer of the natural world. So what’s a bug-hating mom to do? You want your kids to be interested in science and nature, but your skin crawls when bugs are near. You want bold, enthusiastic children, but you also want them to be safe around animals you know little about.
Don’t worry, The Bug Chicks are here! As entomologists, we encounter people’s fear of insects every day. The best way to conquer fear is to wield the weapon of knowledge. Here are some tips you can use to show your children the amazing world of insects, while keeping your kids safe and wowing them with your bug smarts at the same time!
How You Can Find Your Inner Bugdork
Insects speak to each other without words. Many warn that they sting or are toxic with the colors on their bodies. Insects with a lot of vibrant colors (reds, blacks and yellows) are warning other animals that they are toxic when eaten—or at least that they taste very bad. It’s a defense strategy, called aposematic coloration. Ladybugs and monarch butterflies are two classic examples of this type of defense. Coloration can also help a defenseless insect pretend it is a different type of insect. This is called mimicry. Hover flies (like the one pictured below) are fantastic mimics of bees, but have no ability to sting and only two wings instead of four!
Insects like bees and wasps sting in defense of their hives. The stinger is the modified egg-laying organ of sterile female workers. If you see something that looks like a bee, it’s best to stand still. Flailing around only freaks the insect out. Think about trying to drive home with food for your family and all of a sudden there’s screaming and hands in your face! Swatting at a bee is a great way to get stung. Chill out and walk away slowly and both you and the bee can get on with your day pain free.
2. Observe, Don’t Disturb
When you observe insects, you’ll see that they are very busy doing things. They clean themselves, drink nectar, follow a scent trail and hunt. Watching insects “do their work” is an easy way to see wildlife in your own backyard. If you teach your children to observe without disturbing, you will find yourselves fascinated by their behaviors, and your children will understand that touching isn’t the best way to interact with these small animals.
All scientists started out as kids who asked a lot of questions. As you observe insects, start the conversation rolling with some questions. Why are insects here? What good are they? Insects are very important recyclers of nutrients in soil and many species help to break down rotting vegetation and pollinate plants. Without them, many of our plants and trees wouldn’t grow! Also, insects provide food for lots of other animals, like lizards, birds and mammals. Look at the body of an insect to ask questions about what they eat! This bess beetle (below) eats rotting wood with her large mandibles. In fact, males and females chew up wood for their young. This is one of the few insects that live in family groups!
It can be a challenge to open your mind after years of being afraid. But if you start small and take it slowly, we promise you will find your inner bugdork with your kids and fall in love with the language of bug.
Do you have kids who are fascinated with bugs? How do you conquer your fears to encourage their curiosity?
Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker are The Bug Chicks, entomologists who teach about the fascinating world of insects and spiders. Their quirky science videos have been shown all over the world and they've worked with the US Forest Service, the National Ag Science Center, and the Norman Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture. Currently their science blog is featured as part of NPR's Science Friday Initiative and the Oregonian's hyper-local journalism venture, the Oregonian News Network.
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- Bugs and Insects: How Moms Can Find Their Inner Bugdork! - April 5, 2019