Summer Insect Adventure

Late summer is a time for insects. Walk through a field or lawn and grasshoppers suddenly fly up from under foot. Listen to the calls of cicadas during the heat of the day. At night come the calls of katydids, crickets and tree crickets. A national company that sprays for pest insects has TV ads that make insects seem creepy, but insects are really pretty neat if you learn a little about them.

Did you know that insects have a really important role in making human food? You might think first of honey, made by honeybees. But bees and other insects visit flowers for food, spreading pollen from flower to flower and making sure that fruits are produced. If you have ever enjoyed eating an apple, a pear, a peach, a grape, a cherry, a tomato, or any one of hundreds of other fruits, you ought to be a fan of the insects that pollinate the plants of our farms and gardens.

Did you know that some insects are part of nature’s garbage disposal system? Many of the insects that live on the ground or in the soil eat the dead plants and animals that end up on the ground. Without their help, it would be hard to walk around because of all the dead plants and animals from years past. Flies lay their eggs on dead animals so the fly larvae that hatch from the eggs can eat. Some kinds of beetles eat only dead animals. Kind of creepy? Maybe, but these insects do important work that helps keep all of us healthy.

Some insects are so tiny they can live inside a leaf. They are called leaf miners. They build tunnels in the leaf as they eat. They are hidden away from birds or spiders that might want to eat them. Look at plant leaves for twisty light colored patterns. These are the food tunnels of leaf mining insects.

Getting a little more interested in insects? What about setting up a nighttime insect trap to see what insects are around your neighborhood? Scientists who study insects call this trap a light trap. The first step is to get a big piece of light-colored cloth. An old bed sheet works really well. Talk to a family member to see if you can borrow one. You will need to hang it outside, from a clothesline or from a tree so it makes a big white wall. 

Once it gets dark outside, you will need a bright light shining on the piece of cloth. If you have a porch light near where you have hung the cloth, that might work. A camping lantern works well, or a floodlight. If you want, you can wait right there to see what comes to the sheet or you can go inside for a while and then come back out. How many insects come to the sheet? How many different kinds come? Are there any beautiful moths that come?

If you bring a jar with a lid, you can catch an insect for a closer look. Hold the jar right below an interesting insect as you move the jar lid up to the insect. Many times the insect will drop down to keep from getting caught and will fall right into your jar. Usually it is best to let an insect go after a close look. They can be hard to keep alive if you don’t give them the right food.
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