The season of itchy mosquito bites has begun. All of that rain from spring and rising temperatures create the perfect habitat for mosquitos to grow. As the kids whine and make Xs and designs on their skin, trying to prevent scratching, they may be asking ‘why do mosquitoes even exist?!”
Truth be told, you’ve likely wondered that yourself. Mosquitoes, bees, spiders, and flies seem intent on annoying us or, at worst, harming us. A child rarely forgets their first bee sting, even more so when it causes an allergic reaction!
But, to appreciate nature is to appreciate the whole system, bugs included.
Why Bugs Are Important
Remember those spring flowers we observed last month? We have our local bugs to thank for such a beautiful landscape. Many different types of bugs act as pollinators for our plants, moving pollen created by plants to other flowers in order to create more seeds and fruits, completing the plant lifecycle.
In fact, that bee sting came from one of our major plant pollinators. Not only do Honeybees help our plants grow, but they create that delicious honey in our cupboard that we enjoy.
And those mosquitoes and flies buzzing about? They are an important food source for many animals, including those birds we enjoy observing. Some of the tiniest insects sit near the bottom of the ‘food chain,’ an important system where living things depend on each other for nutrients and survival.
If one species, such as mosquitoes, disappears from the food chain, we may also lose the species that depend on them for food, like bats and birds. As animals like bats and birds disappear, so do the animals that eat them. This simple loss can create a ripple effect that may one day impact us as humans.
One of the easiest ways to gain an appreciation of bugs is to get outdoors. Viewing bugs up close is much more difficult than observing birds and trees– most are very small (with the exception of a select few, of course)! Luckily there are a few tips and tricks to get up close and personal with bugs without causing harm to them or us.
Safety and Respect
Safety both outdoors for us and for the Earth is the most important thing to consider. We must take care to prevent harm to ourselves and others, including bugs! In order to do this, while studying bugs, consider getting a butterfly net, gentle enough to collect bugs without touching or injuring them.
Butterfly nets work very well when swept along tall grass or flowers. Once you’ve done a few gentle sweeps, try the following:
- Lay down a white sheet on the ground
- Gently shake the net over the sheet
- See what types of bugs land; observe colors, movement, and body parts like wings
If you don’t see any bees or stinging insects, you can use a magnifying glass to get a little closer. * It’s important to remember that we shouldn’t touch the bugs without supervision as some can harm us.
As you look a little closer, start discussing the features you see:
Head, Thorax, and Abdomens
Count how many distinct body parts there are on each bug; there should be three. Similar to humans, the head will contain the eyes and other sensory features such as antennae and mouths. The thorax sits in the middle and typically includes legs and wings to help the insect move. Finally, the abdomen at the end has additional important parts for reproduction, and in cases like bees, stingers for defense.
Count the Legs
While many of the bugs we are talking about are insects, spiders are a different thing altogether. Where insects have three body parts, spiders only have two. But the easiest way to differentiate them is to count the legs. Insects, like ants, only have six legs, while arachnids, like spiders and scorpions, have eight.
In addition to looking at the physical characteristics of bugs, we can also observe how they live. The longer you stay outdoors, the more you realize everything is a home for bugs! Follow the ants on the ground back to their mounds or watch the beetles burrow into the dirt. You may notice bee or wasp hives being built on trees or even near the roof of your home. Even water nearby provides shelter for many bugs.
Even More Bugs
Kids that can’t get enough of bugs might benefit from watching them change and grow at home. Caterpillars and butterflies are among the safest to observe and are especially interesting because they undergo metamorphosis, a drastic transformation.
When raising butterflies, start with research. Identify the type of caterpillar you have with your kids to determine the type of habitat and food they need for survival. Encourage your children to keep a daily journal, marking down observations and changes they see over time. Once the butterfly emerges from its cocoon, you can have a farewell release party, wishing it well on its next adventure.
While the bug bites or stings may make us upset, it’s important for kids to remember to appreciate their place on the Earth anyway. As always, get outdoors and let them explore what makes them curious and inspired- whether it’s the colors, the movements, or the lifestyles, there is something to be admired by just about anyone.