Bug Blog

It became a cliché for many of us to swear, after all the snow and ice and school closings and general cold-weather agony we lived through last winter, that we would not, not, not complain about the heat and humidity this summer. I, for one, am holding to that oath. Every time I feel a little too warm I think of scraping an inch of ice and snow off my car and “driving” (i.e., negotiating one long, controlled skid) to work or home on slick icy roads, and I keep my mouth shut.  No, you will not hear me complain about the summer weather in New Jersey.

But the summer brings more than just heat, humidity and thunderstorms. There is poison ivy (why is it not our state plant?), there is sunburn, and there are BUGS*. Insects. Spiders. Ticks. Mosquitoes (which are our state bird). Wasps. Creepy crawlies.  Biting, stinging, devouring our gardens, whining in our ears, inviting themselves to our barbecues and picnics.  Yellow jackets hiding in our soda cans, carpenter bees boring their perfectly round holes in our houses and decks, ants invading our homes en masse because we missed one crumb under the kitchen table. As far as I know, no one has sworn not to complain about them this year.

There is more to bugs, though, than how annoying they can be to us humans trying to live a civilized life. Many, as of course you know, are considered helpful (ladybugs, honeybees, mantises) or beautiful (butterflies and dragonflies). But they are all part of nature, and – to my mind, at least – most bugs are just interesting in their own right.

I was fascinated with bugs as a child. One of my earliest memories is making a house for a moribund cicada
 out of a Kleenex box. The boxes used to have a little opening in the bottom so you could see how many tissues were left (I am dating myself, right? They have not made that style of Kleenex box in years) which to my young mind suggested a door, whence came the idea of a house. I furnished it with plastic dollhouse furniture, placed the little creature inside, and waited for it to sit on the chair or lie on the bed. To my disappointment it did neither; it simply up and died.  Several decades of perspective made me realize it was dying anyway or I never would have been able to catch it.

Another early memory I have is of crying hysterically because my mother killed a mosquito. Yes, pretty boneheaded of me.  In my defense, I was only four. I am better now.

I still like bugs in general, but I will happily swat, spray, smash, or squish anything that (1) invades or damages my home, (2) intends to bite me, (3) will probably sting me, (4) might make me sick, or (5) is after my food. Other than that, my inclination is to leave them alone, catch them and put them safely outside, or—if it is a really big, interesting, or colorful critter—to observe it, maybe take a few pictures, and, more often than not, go online to figure out what it is.  And I have discovered some great sites!

My favorite is What’s That Bug. I love it! People send in photos of bugs to be identified, and are usually successful.  I have used this site to ID a fuzzy yellow caterpillar I have seen many, many times crawling around outside, but never seen in any books: the American Dagger Moth Caterpillar.
 But what I really like about this site is their philosophy of non-violence:

Insects are prone to unnecessary slaughter, be it from an overzealous homemaker who doesn't want to see bugs, or from a strapping he-man who is a closet arachnophobe, or from a youngster who likes to torture. At any rate, we get a goodly amount of photos of poor arthropods whose lives ended prematurely. In an effort to educate, we present Unnecessary Carnage. This page is not intended for the squeemish.**

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination.

I mean, seriously, is that cool or what?

Another good one I have gone to frequently is Bugguide.  Here is what they say about themselves:  We are an online community of naturalists who enjoy learning about and sharing our observations of insects, spiders, and other related creatures.
It really is a most fascinating site, with intelligent comments from knowledgeable contributors, good photos, and a clickable image index on the left with line drawings of various bug types – so if you have no idea where to even start to search for that little beastie you just found, you can at least click on what it looks like.

One of my pet peeves (besides normal-person peeves like drivers not signaling or people not picking up after their dogs) is when cicadas are whirring and someone says “listen to the crickets!”  Or worse, when katydids are singing and someone says “the cicadas are loud tonight!”  But I found some sites that actually have sound files of insect song: here are samples of some cicada, katydid, and cricket sounds.

Or you can just use my simple guide: buzzy whirring by day, cicadas; repeated single chirps at night, field cricket; triple chirps at night, katydids. Of course that leaves out the vast majority of singing insects, but I think those are the most identifiable, if not the most common.

I will leave you with one more website for quick identification. This insect identification site has a nice touch – a list of insects by state.

Have fun with these sites, and if you find any other good ones, please post a comment to let me know – I would love to see them!

*I’m using the term “bugs” as a generic term for insects, spiders, and other small arthropods, not in the sense of “true bugs”, which are a particular order of insects with distinctive wings and mouth parts.

**  That is their spelling of squeamish, not mine. Just saying.

- Barbara S.


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