| Tom Turpin
Kids Put Insects to Good Use as
Source of Amusement
What good are insects? It is a question as old as time itself. There
is an ecological answer. Insects are a major component in the web of life.
These six-legged creatures do all kinds of jobs in nature. Insects pollinate
plants, recycle dead plant and animal material, feed on plants and other
animals, and provide food for many animals. Some plants even consume insects.
For instance, the aptly named Venus flytrap!
Of course, on a very practical basis, for some of us, at least, insects
provide jobs. Entomologists, insect pest control operators and some chemical
company personnel wouldn't be employed in the absence of insects.
Kids don't worry about adult things like ecology and employment. But
young people have creative minds, and, over the years, kids have conjured
up many ways to utilize insects for entertainment purposes -- for instance,
having an insect pet. While insects aren't warm and fuzzy, they can be
fascinating creatures. Many are the caterpillars that have ended up in
a cage in some young youngster's room. A successful caterpillar pet might,
through the miracle of metamorphosis, end up a moth or butterfly!
Catching fireflies has been a popular activity for children for hundreds
of years. Few children, who grew up in the United States east of the Rockies,
haven't pursued these "flies of fire." Of course, a successful
capture results in fireflies in a jar -- a jar, no doubt, retrofitted
with holes poked in the lid to provide air for the little flashers. Some
kids might have even squashed a firefly to make a glow-in-the-dark ring!
Speaking of killing insects -- eliminating pest insects has been a human
activity of long standing. Swatting flies comes to mind. Indeed, this
has been a good job for kids, a job many approach with gusto. After all,
the activity has all the elements of a good TV program, the thrill of
the chase, blood and guts, and success stories! But swatting flies is,
well, swatting flies. Some kids have made fly swatting into a decapitation
process. It works this way: use a knife to sever the fly's head. It's
not easy; with multifaceted eyes, the fly has good vision. The fly also
has quick reflexes. And can fly. Now, there is a challenge worthy of reality
Farm kids of days gone by had a lot of opportunities to amuse themselves
with insects as the foil. Few farm children who had to milk cows by hand
did not take the opportunity to douse a fly with a stream of milk straight
out of the cow's udder. You could hit a fly with such force that you could
knock it into the pail of milk. Fun, but probably not good for the milk
quality! After all, flies are not known for being picky about where they
walk, prior to flying to the milk house.
Another insect that provided amusement for country kids who trod in cow
pastures was the dung beetle. These beetles find a fresh cow pie and fashion
a ball out of the manure. With great enthusiasm, two beetles roll the
ball around the cow paths. The beetles are intent on burying the dung
ball as a food resource for the offspring. A creative kid can steal the
ball and get a great deal of enjoyment in watching the beetles search
for their treasure.
Grasshoppers are always a source of entertainment. But first you have
to catch one and get it to regurgitate. The tobacco spit is used by the
grasshopper to discourage a predator set on a grasshopper meal. When you
taste the spit, you can understand why it works. Such activity today is
known as experiential learning.
The ultimate insect-related activity for pure excitement was the encounter
with a nest of stinging insects. Bumble bees were great for a fear-factor
episode long before the TV program of that name. It works this way. Find
a friend or two and arm yourselves with a suitable weapon. Tennis rackets
work well. Stir up a bee nest, stand back to back and swat them before
they sting you. This is the ultimate test of courage and friendship. There
is an old saying about "stirring up a hornet's nest." It has
something to do with bad things that can happen. That is exactly what
a kid who did such a thing found out. From practical experience, I know
this to be true. Just call it a learning experience!