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Catch The Bug

Posted by Patience on June 9, 2009 at 5:58 AM in Guest BloggerNature
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Jack has a fear of certain bugs, like high pitched screams are reserved for such encounters. I asked him to crawl under the bed when I was cleaning the other day only to place him right in the path of a spider cricket. He was completely undone. I have to admit those little suckers are quite jumpy and unpredictable.

The experience made me think of my friend Jess. Science lover, friend to bugs, photographer extraordinaire, and she is a mom to three amazing boys. Jess and her crew actually hunt for bugs, all together, for fun. So I wrote this fellow supersister and asked if she would guest post to tell us how she cultivated this love of bugs, wee beasties and all living things. Welcome Jess!


Facebook status update, Sunday, June 7, 9:19am: "discovered the source of the backyard stench. An impromptu lesson on the life cycle of blowflies followed."

Gross, right? I'm beginning to think that perhaps we're not normal over here. My six-year-old and I got enthusiastic yesterday over frass. What is frass? Caterpillar poop. On the other side of the yard, my patio is torn up, partly because maple roots pushed the slate all around, but partly because we just plain couldn't control ourselves when we figured out that there were bugs underneath every piece - ant tunnels! Termites! Crickets! Bigger ants! And not too long ago, my 4-year-old kissed a cockroach. Not normal.

How did we end up this way? My best guess: a mix of ADD and the scientific method. We are constantly distracted by tiny turtles, tinier mushrooms, pill bugs, and caterpillars - then drawn in to investigate them and find out what they are and how they work. Of all the bits of nature we enjoy, bugs get center stage, perhaps because they let us get closer than larger animals, and do more (or at least do it faster) than plants, but also because, well, they are just so cool. Did you know that ladybugs develop from these freaky looking things? Or what a click beetle is? Have you ever seen a giant American millipede? Or an assassin bug? I love what we find and how it teaches us to notice more and ask better questions.

What if you're just not a fan of all creatures great and small, especially not some of the smallest and leggiest ones? No worries. Everybody is entitled to their own personal phobias and creepy-crawlies, and there's a whole world of vertebrates out there, not to mention plants and fungi. Or rocks! (But can I confess something? I hate touching bugs and have been known to shriek when surprised by a spider. So maybe see if you can push our own boundaries just a little, and see if your kids will follow suit.)


Are you ready to explore? Where to start?

1. Go wild. We're hearing a lot these days about how fundamental outdoor experience is to childhood. Don't fret if a camping trip isn't in the cards - the wilderness can be as close as the edge of the playground, or your own unweeded veggie garden.

2. Follow your bliss. Be willing to get sidetracked and go wherever your wandering attention leads you. You don't need a lesson plan. You don't even need to look for any particular thing. Just see what finds you, and share your discoveries with each other. Enthusiasm is catching.

3. Everybody starts somewhere. I only learned the word frass last year. You may not be a walking field guide - hey, I'm not a walking field guide. I share the knowledge I already have and to the rest, say "let's find out."

4. Details, baby, details. Take note of what you see and use your resources. What stands out about the critters you saw today? What were they doing? Where were they? You might want to keep a journal and a field guide; I use my camera and my skills as High Priestess of Google. Hmmm, black, yellow, and green caterpillar on parsley? Could it be a black swallowtail? And what was that orange stinky thing coming out of its head when I poked it? An osmeterium, you say?

5. Keep asking questions! What hypotheses can each member of your family come up with? How can you test them? What will you discover tomorrow?

What are you noticing, and where is it leading you?

Jess Lucia is a relentless idealist, perpetual dabbler, and slightly-crazed mother of three boys. She doesn't believe there's any such thing as "overthinking," loves learning new things, and sporadically shares parts of her journey on her blog, Spark. She's pretty sure nobody in her family has kissed a cockroach in at least a week.

all photos by Jess Lucia


jill writes...

thanks for the inspiration, jess~ i want to get out and explore with my guys, and see what kind of critters we uncover! :-)

Lisa writes...

Very cool. We find bugs in our veggie garden, so perhaps I'll let Audrey loose with her camera!

Patience writes...

I STILL can't get over the picture of the millipede crawling all over Reese. so crazy and awesome!

Are they ever hesitant? or is there no fear over there?

Lynn writes...

Wonderful! I always see little bugs and think "oh, I'll look that up", and then never do. I really need to keep a camera on me at all times. Thanks for sharing your buggy resources!

Jen writes...

Love it! I wanna come play in *your* backyard!

Amber writes...

My 4yo loves bugs and worms and really any small living thing. She picks them up and builds them 'houses'. I have to admit I'm still squeamish, and also a little irritated when they eat my plants.

So I'm sticking with plants. Showing her how they grow, planting seeds together, watching the progress. It's not quite so icky. Plus while I'm gardening, she can find all the bugs her little heart desires.

Laura writes...

Cool, we'll have to get out and explore! The links you posted are very helpful!

Sarah writes...

So what is that bug in the first photo?

I like the idea that you can look and explore and learn without actually touching!

Emily writes...

What an inspiring post, Jess! Beautifully written (and illustrated) as usual!

Jess writes...

Thank you to every one! Patience, we do sometimes find concerning critters - Reese just told me that he doesn't like centipedes. Mostly the fears here run more toward fear of the dark, or of strange spaces like the attic and basement of our new house. Whether it's crickets or haunted basements, though, we don't push it. Everybody is invited, but it's never mandatory!

Lynn, the camera is key for remembering things to look up. Amber, the garden is our favorite place to learn just about anything animal, vegetable, or mineral. Sarah, the caterpillar with the orange osmeterium is a black swallowtail on carrot greens.

Jean writes...

When my daughter was very little, before she even knew to think bugs were creepy, I was determined to raise her not to hate bugs and do that sterotypical girlie scream thing whenever she saw one. We took frequent visits to the insect zoo at the Smithsonian, we watched a praying mantis give birth to thousands of little mantids in our screened porch, she thought every spider was named Charlotte. My plan went well until it was shattered in a second when she was about nine years old. I was driving Emily and a friend of hers somewhere when her friend saw a book about insects on the floor of my car. It had a big green caterpillar on the cover. The friend screamed. Emily screamed. Argh, the power of peer pressure.

kelly writes...

oh jess, i knew i liked you the day we did the i think i'm officially in your fan club. great post, great photos!

Jamesfeder801 writes...

It's time to me to switch to a new career, I like those picture you have posted.

Jordan writes...

Thanks for the inspiration, Jess! I need to get over my hesitations and dig in with my kiddos. We're definitely not afraid to get dirty here, but I haven't necessarily encouraged the exploration of insects. Awesome pictures, by the way!

Dan writes...

I'm not a bug guy, but you make them sound interesting. I'll try to be less squeemish to keep my kids into nature. BTW your kids are adorable.

Leila writes...

Way to go, Jess! Thanks for the inspiration and beautiful photos.

harold writes...

I don't know what to say

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