Family Life

In Search of “Buggy” Summer Adventures

I like insects. There, I said it. I was the girl with the net in the yard catching creatures and keeping them in jars. I did a science fair project on beetles. I’ve always just thought these tiny beings were fascinating, and well, I still do. Think about it. Some insects eat their mate–we’re looking at you, mama praying mantis. Other insects make their rear end flash in sync with others just to attract a mate each summer. My travel wish list includes a trip to the Smoky Mountains when the synchronous fireflies are on display.

Luckily, Little Bud is also an insect enthusiast, and now I have someone to share my interest with! Little Bud’s current favorite insect is a cicada. So much so, that together, we collected enough cicada shells one summer to make a Halloween necklace later that fall. Knowing that he’s a fan of the cicada I got really excited when I learned that Brood X was emerging this year after 17 years underground. What else could a family of insect lovers do but head north to find the action?!

Our little crew spent a three day weekend in north Georgia in pursuit of the Brood X cicadas. We were unbelievably lucky and found them on the first day flying alongside the highway. As we reveled in the creatures we had collected, I tried to impress upon the boys how cool this experience really was by telling them how old they would be the next time this group makes an appearance. Meanwhile, I tried NOT to think about how old I would be 17 years from now.

All of this bugginess got me thinking–where are the other insect fans? I can’t be the only one, right? Turns out, I’m not. I had the opportunity to chat with someone who is certainly an insect fan–Dr. Frank Rinkevick, a USDA Research Entomologist. Side note, talking to a real-life research entomologist was quite the treat for me, and it took me back to those days when I used to check out the insects in the field by my childhood home. I asked Dr. Rinkevick what parents can do now to spark an interest in insects and he offered some great advice.

“A glass jar is a really good way to get to know insects,” Dr. Rinkevick told me as he pointed out the creatures flying around the LSU Hilltop Arboretum. “Give them a jar and let them collect things.” Hmm, that advice sounds similar to my own childhood experiences. He also emphasized that parents do not have to be insect experts, and it’s perfectly ok to say you don’t know. In fact, he recommended the following online resources that can help families identify what they find: BugGuide & iNaturalist.

If all else fails, Dr. Rinkevick says families can always simply Google a description of what they’ve found. For example, “Google, find a black flying insect with red eyes and yellow striped wings.” You’ll find my Brood X friends as one of the results from this search.

Dr. Rinkevick says that insect collecting is a relatively safe activity for the family to do together. Of course, patience and a willingness to get a little dirty will be required. If parents would prefer to keep children a little farther from the backyard bugs, he suggests giving the kids a camera before going outdoors. Challenge the kids to take as many photos of insects as they can and see what they come back with. Another benefit of insect collecting is that it’s affordable and accessible entertainment. Plus, with so many insects fluttering about, your chances of success are pretty high. “You’ll always find something,” says Dr. Rinkevick.

No matter what you and the kids find, going on an insect hunt is sure to make for some fun summertime adventures. You don’t have to travel to another state to find plenty of interesting specimens right in your backyard. However, if you like, you can mark your calendars now for the next big cicada emergence. Broods XIII and XIX will appear in 2024.

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