Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







U.S. Postal Service Joins Insect Craze

Not even counting all the hoopla about the Y2K bug, which isn't even an insect, 1999 could certainly be declared the year of the insect. Insects, it seems, have never been more prominent in popular culture.

Insect festivals are as common as, well, fleas on a dog! Two major animated movies, "Antz" and "A Bugs Life", drew thousands to the theaters to watch full-length features about creatures that most of us really don't like. Then, like real ants at a picnic, we marched to purchase the videos for home viewing.

Teenage girls, as moths to the flame, have been drawn to butterfly hair ornaments. Even big-name jewelry designers sensed that this craze was no fly in the ointment and featured insects from bees to dragonflies in their creations.

The U.S. Postal Service joined the beehive of activity about insects by issuing its Insects & Spiders stamps. This collection of 20 33-cent stamps was issued in Indianapolis on Sept. 19. The postal service chose to issue the stamps at the Indianapolis Children's Museum-a good choice for two reasons.

First, children are the driving force behind the insect mania. In addition, the first U.S. stamp with an insect design-butterflies, was issued in Indianapolis at the Children's Museum on June 6, 1977.

The Insects & Spiders stamps feature four spiders and 16 insects. The spiders include the common and large yellow garden spider that builds large webs and hangs upside down in the middle waiting on prey. The spinybacked spider, named because of the way it looks, and a jumping spider, named for the way it behaves, are included. The poisonous black widow also is featured.

There are seven beetles among the insects. A reasonable number, since beetles are the most common of the insects. The beetles include the lady beetle, that friend of gardeners because of its habit of eating aphids. There is also an iridescent green and blue dogbane beetle. An elderberry longhorn beetle gets its name because of long antennae-or horns.

The spotted water beetle, as the name suggests, is adorned with spots and lives in the water. These beetles, while they live in the water, breath air and have an interesting habit of taking a bubble of air with them when they dive-sort of like a human scuba diver.

Bombardier beetles are named because, when disturbed, they will bomb you or a potential predator with hot chemicals. A metallic gold and green dung beetle is included. The bright colors mask the rather mundane job of these insects-recycling mammal manure. The eastern hercules beetle is, no surprise, a large insect with a fearsome horn protruding over its head.

The stamps include two flies. A flower fly is sometimes called a hover fly or, by mistake, a sweat bee because its color resembles a honey bee. The other fly is a scorpion fly. The scorpion fly gets its name because it has a long abdomen that curls over the back like, you guessed it, a scorpion.

The ebony jewelwing is a black-winged damsel fly. Assassin bug is an appropriate name for another of the featured insects. It is a vicious predator with a sharp-pointed beak used to suck juices from its insect victims. But when provoked, it will bite a human as a defensive measure.

There is a velvet ant. This ant is not an ant but a wingless wasp. Like any wasp, it has a sting. This red-and-black fuzzy insect is sometimes called a cow killer-no doubt in reference to its sting. The monarch butterfly is included twice-both as the yellow- and green-striped caterpillar and as the orange and black butterfly. It is probably the best-known insect because of its migratory flight each fall and spring.

A katydid known for its nighttime singing is included. The periodical cicada, the longest-lived of any insect except the termite queens of Africa, made the collection. It lives 17 years underground before emerging in sometimes high numbers in the summer.

So, if someone has been bugging you for correspondence, this is your chance to send them a missile with a real bug stamp affixed!


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox