If the world held a Bug Olympics, we would be amazed by astounding athletic feats and new and different world records set by tiny competitors. Of course there would be gold medals for strength and speed and agility, but there would be new categories of competition, too, like the most explosive bug and the best glue stick….
Please send me your favorite bug athletes. I’ll add them to the list.
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Best glue stick: Weaver Ant larva
Weaver Ants build their nests by rolling up leaves and sticking them together. They get the “glue” they need by picking up a larva and squeezing its abdomen to make it produce a sticky silk thread. The larva isn’t hurt and doesn’t struggle. Maybe it likes being a glue stick.
Worst dressed bug: Assassin Bug nymph
The Assassin Bug nymph dresses itself in sand grains and dead ants. Its outfit isn’t very attractive, but it provides good camouflage and attracts other ants, which the Assassin Bug nymph is glad to eat.
Most explosive bug: Bombardier Beetle
When a Bombardier Beetle is threatened, it squirts burning chemicals from the tip of its abdomen in a series of explosions of heat, color, and noise.
Fastest sprinter: Tiger Beetle
A Tiger Beetle, the fastest insect on earth, can run two feet per second, which is only 1.5 miles per hour, but if the beetle were as big as a horse, its speed would be 250 miles per hour.
Best gymnast: Springtail
A Springtail can jump 40 times its own length to escape predators. As it flies through the air, it does one or more back-somersaults.
Coolest bug: Wooly Bear Caterpillar
A Wooly Bear Caterpillar can survive an Arctic winter with temperatures as low as -90 degrees. The caterpillar produces a natural antifreeze that enables it to slowly become frozen except for the very innermost part of its cells. In the spring, it thaws out and crawls away.
Best weight lifter: Rhinoceros Beetle
A Rhinoceros Beetle, which is as large as a mouse, may be the strongest animal on earth. It can lift about 850 times its own body weight.
World’s smallest insect: Fairyfly
Fairyflies are tiny, tiny wasps less than .2 mm long, the size of a period at the end of a sentence.
World’s largest insect: Titan Beetle
The Titan Beetle can reach more than seven inches in length. It can inflict a painful bite, too.
Best sleeping pill: Pill Millipede
When a Pill Millipede is attached, it oozes a special chemical that makes its attacker sleepy. The Pill Millipede can put a Wold Spider to sleep for 12 hours. Maybe it should be called a Sleeping-pill Millipede.
Best soldiers: Army Ants
Tropical Army Ants march in an army of millions, up to 65 feet across. They eat almost anything in their path, including small animals.
Best snorkeler: Whirligig Beetle
Whirligigs have compound eyes that are divided into two, with one pair above the water and one pair below. Since they can see both above and below the water surface, they can watch for enemies such as a heron or a fish at the same time.
Most numerous: Leafhoppers
There are more leafhopper species worldwide than all species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians combined. In a field full of leafhoppers, there may be several million per acre.
From Busy with Bugs by Toni Albert. Check it out!
Important note: Don’t pick up a spider. Many spiders bite and two are really dangerous –the Black Widow and the Brown Recluse. A Black Widow is shiny black with a red hour-glass on its underside. The Brown Recluse is yellow-brown and has a dark violin on top.
Spiders have spinnerets on their rear ends, which spin out silk. A single spider can spin different kinds of silk for different purposes: for traps and nets, ropes for binding prey, safety lines and parachutes, egg sacs, and nests and sleeping bags. Spider silk is stronger than steel of the same thickness. It’s stretchier than rubber.
When I walk in the woods, spider webs often catch my eye -- especially after a shower when the webs are lined with water droplets. A newly made web is perfect and precise, just right for catching the spider’s prey. An orb web is made to trap flying insects. A funnel web or a sheet web catches crawling insects. And a cobweb may net both flying and crawling insects.
Look for spider webs in corners or around windows in a basement or garage. Look around the foundation of your house. Look in grass, shrubs, or trees. When you find a web, take a photo of it. You can make a photo collection of different kinds of webs. Jiggle the web with a tiny twig to draw the spider from its hiding place if you want a photo of the spider too.
To collect a spider web, you’ll need a large piece of sturdy paper, a can of black spray paint, and a can of spray adhesive. (You can find spray glue at a home improvement center.) Find a web that can be reached from both front and back like a web between two trees or two posts. Scare the spider away with a twig. (Don’t worry, it will make a new web.) Lightly – very lightly! – spray one side of the web with the black paint. Then spray the back side of the web with spray adhesive. Bring your paper against the sticky side of the web, so that the web sticks to the paper. To protect the web, you can cover the paper with clear contact paper when you get home.
Bees and pollinators
When we admire flowers, we usually look at their colors and shapes, but the most interesting parts of a flower are in its center. That’s where all the action is. The center is like a factory where seeds are quietly made. The trick is getting the male part of the flower – the yellow dust called pollen – to the tiny seeds-to-be in the female parts of the flower. Most flowering plants can’t make seeds without outside help. Bees, butterflies, flies, wasps, birds, and bats brush pollen onto the female parts of the flower as they land on the flowers and move around. They act as pollinators.
Bees and pollinators and us
A third of our food supply depends on pollinators. They’re essential to food production. When we lose bees and other pollinators, we lose more than honey. We lose apples and pumpkins and cranberries and strawberries and avocados and more than 140 other fruits and vegetables. In the US, we could lose more than $15 billion a year in agricultural production. Pollinators also support healthy ecosystems that clean the air, stabilize soil, and support other living things, both animals and plants.
Bees and pollinators and us and them
Last year we lost 44% of our honeybee colonies. Since 1990, almost 970 million Monarch butterflies have vanished. Diseases, pests, and climate change are contributing to the decline of pollinators, but growing scientific evidence points to pesticides containing chemicals called neonics as the biggest culprit. The largest neonic producers, companies like Bayer and Syngenta, coat seeds and provide pesticides for crops, which result in killing pollinators as well as pests.
Bees and pollinators and us and them and the future
What can we do to help protect pollinators – and apple pie and guacamole?
Friends of the Earth – BeeAction.org
The League of Conservation Voters – Stop the Bee-pocalypse!
Bees and pollinators and us and them and the future and our new backyards
It’s fun to plant with pollinators in mind. Whether you’re planting a potted plant for a city roof garden or landscaping a backyard, consider pollinators and their favorites.
Honeybees – anise hyssop, aster, beebalm, black-eyed Susan, catmint, columbine, coneflowers, goldenrod, lavender, sage, thyme, yarrow
Common Eastern bumblebee – clover, rosemary, sunflower, willow
Hummingbird moth – phlox, bee balm, honeysuckle, verbena
Native bee – anise hyssop, blazing star, fruit crops
Pollen wasp – Western wildflowers
Karner blue butterfly – butterfly weed, leafy spurge, blazing star
European honeybee – sage – lemon balm
Monarch butterfly – milkweed
Hoverfly – yarrow, wild mustard
Bee fly – Desert and alpine flowers
Drone fly – alyssum, cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace, lupine
From Martha Stewart’s Living magazine
A brilliant idea
Katie Martin-Meurer teaches a three-dimensional design course at the University of Wisconsin. She wanted her students to design bird houses for a local park. But then she found out that there might not be enough insects for the birds to eat. In the last 35 years, the number of insects, worms, and other small creatures has almost been cut in half – mostly because of loss of habitat and the use of pesticides on plants.
So Martin-Meurer had another idea. She had her students build bug motels. She asked Daniel Young, an entomologist (someone who studies insects), to help them. Their assignment had two parts: they had to build a correct habitat for a particular insect or bug and they had to provide information on why that little animal is important in nature and needs to be protected.
Isn’t that a wonderful idea? When the students’ bug motels were finished, all 90 of them were placed at nature centers and hiking trails throughout the state. Each one has a QR code, which visitors can scan to find out about the bugs that might make their homes in that bug motel.
Build a bug motel
If you’d like to build a bug motel, think of some of your favorite bugs. Find out what kind of natural habitat (home) they need. Then find out why we should protect them.
Here are some ideas to get you started. A good motel room (habitat) for daddy longlegs, millipedes, and pill bugs might include a layer of soil topped with leaf litter. Add a piece of damp, rotting log or bark. Add an apple core for food and always keep the room moist with a mister.
A motel room for cicadas, click beetles, and grasshoppers could include a few inches of dirt with some leafy branches to climb on. Add plants and some pieces of leafy vegetables. Keep a moist paper towel in their room.
Crickets like a motel room with two inches of sand and a container of wet sand for egg laying. Add things to hide in like small sections of toilet paper rolls. Load their frig with lettuce (for water), dry cat food, and vegetable scraps. Keep their room warm but away from direct sunlight.
Why do we care?
All living things are important to our environment, but partly because of their great numbers, bugs are especially important. Bugs provide food for many animals, including birds, bats, lizards, frogs, and fish. Some bugs are decomposers, which clean up everything from dead leaves to dead bodies. Others, especially certain flies, bees, and wasps, are pollinators. Bugs also help keep nature in balance. They keep “invader plants” and insect pests under control by eating them.
What can we do?
Like all animals – including us – bugs are harmed by polluted air, water, and soil. So everything we do to take care of our Earth helps us all. You know what to do: recycle, turn off lights, don’t waste water, etc.
Don’t use pesticides on your lawn or garden. They kill good bugs as well as bad ones.
Don’t buy mounted butterflies or beetles collected in rainforests.
Plant a butterfly garden or a caterpillar garden or any kind of garden. Any garden will be a habitat for bugs.
Toni Albert, M.Ed., is an award-winning author of more than 40 books. Her lifelong love for nature, children, and books inspired her to commit her publishing business, Trickle Creek Books, to “teaching kids to care for the Earth.”