Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Collecting Bugs

When I was about 5 years old, my older sister Mary had to make an insect collection for a 7th grade science project. I remember thinking it was the coolest thing and her collection turned out to be one of the best in her class. As I grew up, I couldn’t wait to get into 7th grade so I could make my insect collection. Bugs and other crawly things always interested me, even though I'm terrified of spiders. I remember my dad and I once found a dead Wheel Bug behind the famous Hot Dog Johnny’s in Buttzville, NJ. This thing was incredibly cool! I kept it in a jar and who knows what happened to it since then. While my dad was fly-fishing, I would look under rocks for Caddisfly larvae and other critters. This once earned me a chomp on the finger from a Helgramite. Ouch!

1989 quickly arrived and it was finally time to make my insect collection. I know for sure that I hadn’t looked forward to a school project as much before that time, nor have I since. It was the fall of 7th grade and I was ready to go. My dad, being the handy guy he is, constructed an amazing insect net from some cheesecloth and an old fishing net. This thing was awesome. I set out with my new net and my collecting jar – an old Chinese soup container filled with a cotton ball with some unknown chemical on it. (Looking back, I think it was Turpentine.) The woods across from my house and the local schoolyard became my lab. I caught anything I could find, killed it, examined it, and identified it using my Audubon Insect Guide. Other kids in my class begged for me to help them catch insects with my superior net and I obliged. Thanks to my interest, I ended up with a collection of over 100 species and outshined all the other kids in the class. I continued collecting bugs after the project ended because I thought it was so interesting to see what new insects I could find. Eventually, video games, music, and other pre-teen things caught my attention and I stopped collecting bugs. I don’t know what ever happened to that old net, but I think my dad still has the frame that we used for it somewhere.

Nowadays, kids don’t have to make a 7th grade insect collection. The reasonable fear of Lyme disease has made it a risky endeavor. And now years later, I see the debate over collecting insects. It impacts their overall population, hurts rare insect populations, etc. I’ve become an observer through binoculars and my camera. Even though I don’t collect to kill anymore, I just received my first official insect net in the mail yesterday from Acorn Naturalists. As I assembled it, that feeling of 7th grade came back to me. I swung the assembled net around and demonstrated my netting technique to my girlfriend, who was utterly impressed I’m sure. I’m looking forward to catching those speedy and stealthy dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies that are not easy to identify through binoculars. I’ll catch them, identify them, and release them while trying not to cause any harm to them.


MojoMan said...

I collected butterflies as a kid and pinned them into cigar boxes.

With much anticipation, I made a better collection for entomolgy class in college. I can still remember (in 1974) when the teaching assistant worried about killing the beatuiful creatures. That may have been the first time I heard anyone express concern about the death of bugs.

I like your approach to observing them without killing them.

LauraHinNJ said...

What is wrong with the world when kids have to be scared to collect bugs? As if they need another reason to sit inside in front of the tv!

I'm so sick of this *nature is dangerous* crap - kids need to experience these things - just like you did. You survived, right?

Patrick Belardo said...

It really is sad. I can understand it to an extent, but kids aren't allowed to do anything potentially dangerous these days. I was a victim of the video game generation. Thank goodness I discovered nature.

Mojo, we're lucky to have good binocular technology and good digital cameras to allow us to view nature without having to kill.