September 20, 2007
Originally published July 3, 2002
The lovely and talented Jenny, of No shirt, no shoes, no teeth, no problem is on the opposite side of the fence from me on this topic:
Teaching kids to appreciate insects and spiders is a wonderful idea. (I myself try to teach that to kids, and adults, at every opportunity.) But doesn't having the kids kill the bugs sort of defeat the purpose? Yes, scientists have so far found it necessary to kill some creatures in order to conduct important research. But I really don't think we should be encouraging kids to do this. It just feeds the unhealthy human instinct to dominate the natural world rather than view ourselves as part of it.
I appreciate insects and spiders more than most people I know because I once collected, murdered and mounted them in display boxes when I was a young man determined to dominate the natural world around me. From the time I was ten years-old until I was thirteen or so (whever it was that girls became more fascinating than bugs to me), I spent a lot of time roaming the flowerbeds, fields and forests around my home in search of insect prey. Armed with net and kill-jar, I was a formidable hunter. I soon had a large and growing collection of some of the most rare and beautiful beetles, butterflies and moths in the southeast US.
I also was noticed throughout the neighborhood and my fame spread from house to house until I started receiving phone calls whenever someone discovered a mysterious six-legged creature on their property. I would respond, much like an entomologist X-File agent, by hopping on my Sting-Ray bicycle and peddling to the scene. I sometimes found terrified housewives pointing at some huge beetle crawling down their driveway. "What IS that thing?" they would ask.
I would bend over, pick it up in my bare hand and examine it closely. "This is a Rhinocerous Beetle," I would explain calmly. "You can see from the large horn above the vicious-looking, clicking mandibles how it got its name. I'm surprised you found it in daylight, because Rhinocerous Beetles prefer a nocturnal habitat. They are very large beetles and their appearance is frightening, but they are absolutely harmless. You wanna hold him?" And I would kinda wave the bug at her.
"No! No! Just get it... er... HIM out of here!" And I would take it home, pop it in the kill jar and wait until the vicious-looking mandibles stopped clicking. Then, I would mount it in a box with the rest of my collection.
I almost met my match with an Ox Beetle. A neighbor called about that one, too, and I was astounded when I saw it. A Rhinocerous Beetle is large, but an Ox Beetle is HUGE. Imagine moving your garbage can one day and discovering a jet-black bug about the size of a small cell phone crawling around in the compost underneath. The poor woman who found it nearly had a heart attack, but I quickly rode to her rescue. I wasn't so calm when I saw what THAT one was.
"Holey Moley! That's an OX BEETLE!" I exclaimed, eagerly snatching it up in my hand. "This is the first one I've ever seen for real!" The damned thing was so strong that I couldn't keep it from forcing its way out of my clenched fist, which barely fit around the monsterous bug. I took it home and threw it in the kill jar and referenced my illustrated book of insects to make sure the Ox was really what I had. It was.
Sometime that evening, I checked the jar and old Ox had ceased movement, so I removed him and mounted him on a piece of styrofoam I kept on my desk. I would need to rearrange my beetle display to give the Ox a place of honor, and I figured that I would do that the next day. But when I awoke in the morning, the Ox was gone. "Hey, Mom!" I called, "Did you do something with my Ox Beetle?"
She stuck her head in my bedroom. "Did I do WHAT?" she asked.
"My Ox Beetle," I explained. "I put him on the mounting board last night and now he's gone. You didn't throw him away, did you?"
"Oh. My. God." Mom pulled back out of my room and didn't enter it again, until after I heard an odd noise in my closet three nights later and found Ox wedged in the corner, still impaled on the mounting pin and scratching his powerful claws against the baseboard in a futile attempt to dig his way back to the land of compost. The stubborn critter had played possum on me, revived and broke for freedom. I put him in the kill jar for 48 hours after that, and he didn't get away again. Mom had to verify (from an appropriate distance) that the creature was officially deceased before she went back in my room.
I still remember much of what I learned about insects during my collecting days. I can identify almost every butterfly or moth that I see and I'm still fairly good with the exotic beetles. I would like to interest my son in insect collecting, because that form of wildlife is plentiful in Georgia and it's a great hobby for a kid who really likes the outdoors. You can outfit yourself with everything you need for very little cost and it's a great way to fill up a summer day.
And it really helps a young human being figure out his place in the natural world, which at the top of the food chain, dominating all other creatures great and small.
All content © Rob Smith