Friday 5: Five of my favorite experiences with insects

speakIf you can’t tell from reading my blog posts, I am a bit of a storyteller at heart.  I tell people about my experiences with insects in story form most of the time.  Partly, I think it makes the things I’m interested in more palatable to people who aren’t insect lovers and helps me relate to “normal” people, but partly it’s because that’s how I store information in my head.  I experience something, immediately turn it into a story, and pack it away into some dark corner in the basement of my brain for storage.  When a story finds its way back up to the surface, it’s in a format ready to share with others!  Today I’m going to tell five short stories about my experiences with insects.  I hope you enjoy them!

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Collecting Dragonflies

My sister and I were very active in 4-H as kids.  In high school, my favorite project was entomology (go figure) and I collected all the time.  I quickly captured nearly everything in my neighborhood, but I was 14 when I started and my range was limited by my inability to drive.  Enter my dad, the man who took his two daughters mineral collecting or fishing or camping nearly every weekend since we’d been born.  He drove me to the mountains (1.5 hours away) and collected minerals while I collected bugs.  He drove me to the river (an hour away) and fished while I collected.  After 4 or 5 of these trips, he started taking more of an interest in what I was doing and soon we were going on trips specifically so I could find insects.

Dad

My dad, watching bugs and birds.

I collected my first dragonfly in a mountain meadow far from water and we were both enthralled by it.  It was very hard to catch, but it was also amazingly beautiful.  I knew I needed to catch some more.  So, my dad found a lake an hour away and off we went!  I was so happy with my haul on the first trip (10 species!) that my dad took me back a few weekends later.  And again.  And again!  There wasn’t much he could do at the lake, so he’d watch the dragonflies while I hunted and we’d talk about the bugs we saw all the way home.  I loved those trips!  I was already sure I wanted to be an entomologist at that point, but my dad’s dedication to my hobby and his interest in the subject I loved really sealed the deal.

bumblebee

The bee.

The Bee Incident

Ah, the bee incident.  My dad, sister, and I went to visit family in Seattle one summer when I was an undergrad.  We made the two-day drive from Colorado, had a great time in Seattle, and were driving back through Wyoming when my dad started to get tired.  My dad’s always been a bit strange about being The Driver on road trips and he did not relinquish that role willingly.  Being next oldest and therefore the next most experienced driver in the car, the duty of driving was assigned to me.  I took the wheel and after backseat driving for a little while and making it abundantly clear that my driving made him incredibly nervous, my dad fell asleep in the back.

I think I drove about 15 minutes when a bug flew in through the window and slammed into my shoulder at 75 mph+.  I was startled that the bug had hit me, so I asked my sister what it was.  She looked over at my shoulder and all but screamed, “It’s a HUGE BEE!!!!!!!!”  For some reason her reaction struck me as incredibly funny (guess I unconsciously knew it was dead), so I started laughing.  This made my sister laugh too.  Of course, my dad snapped back awake, realized the driving duties were in the hands of a person who was laughing uncontrollably, and insisted I pull over.  I was crammed into the back seat for the rest of the day, but at least I ended up with a really awesome bumblebee for my collection!  I still have it, and I laugh a little every time I see it.

Photinus pyralis

Photinus pyralis firefly. Photo by Yikrazuul from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: Photinus_pyralis_Firefly_4.jpg.

Catching Lightning Bugs

I spent half my childhood in Arizona and half in Colorado and neither place has fireflies that light up.  Luckily, I got to see lightning bugs every year when my mom took us to visit the relatives in the midwest.  My sister and I loved them!  Like most kids, we’d run around the yard collecting them and putting them into jars.  My aunt would poke holes in the lids for us and we’d take our glowing jars to bed with us, staring at the beetles until we fell asleep.  Of course we’d wake up with a jar full of dead bugs the next morning, but that never seemed to detract from the magic of the experience.  :)

Roach in a Hotel Room

When I decided to move to Arizona for grad school, I asked my sister and my mom if they wanted to keep me company on an apartment hunting trip before I moved.  The morning after we checked into our hotel, I was brushing my teeth when I noticed a huge roach on the wall.  They don’t bother me much, but I told my sister and my mom it was there because I knew it would bother them.  My sister insisted I squash it, so I went back in with a magazine ready to do battle with the roach.

roach

A roach similar to the one in the story. I sadly couldn't the photo my sister took of me crawling around on the floor with my butt in the air while I hunted the roach with the room in shambles!

I didn’t grow up around roaches, so I didn’t know how freaking hard it is to kill a them.  I was woefully unprepared!  As I halfheartedly swatted at it with the magazine, it leaped off the wall and scurried out of the bathroom, straight onto the bed I was sharing with my sister.  Needless to say, she was less than thrilled with this development.  So, I chased it around the room for 5 or 10 minutes, ransacking the furniture and our belongings in the process while my mom and sister yelled advice from the other room.  I thought I had the roach cornered at one point, but it escaped – and ran straight into a little hole in the bottom of the mattress!  Out of better options, I slammed the mattress back down onto the box spring and told my sister that although the roach was now INSIDE the bed, it couldn’t get out.  I had no idea if this was true or not, but I wasn’t ripping apart the mattress to get it either.  Thankfully, she accepted this argument (reluctantly) and the roach didn’t show its roachy little face again.

My Sister’s Cricket Presentation

My stories s0 far make my sister out to be seriously entomophobic.  That’s really not true.  She is certainly not as fond of insects as I am and she does have some of the more normal insect phobias (stinging insects, jumping insects, roaches), but she’s taken a few entomology courses, did several research projects with insects for classes in college, and won second place in the state Science Olympiad insect ID event in high school.  She’s pretty good with bugs!  She’s now an educational park ranger who works with K-12 students and is making good use of her entomological skills by helping the Park Service personnel identify some of the insects they find and doing insect presentations for kids.  I end up watching a lot of her interpretive programs or tagging along when she leads educational nature walks for school groups, so I know that she talks about insects a lot.

Sister

My sister, doing one of her nature hike presentations in Yellowstone.

One of my happiest moments as an entomologist came on a trip to visit my sis in Yellowstone and I watched her evening program for kids.  She talked about some of the nocturnal animals in Yellowstone and ended by discussing crickets.  Crickets fall into that jumping insect category she’s particularly disturbed by, so I was thrilled to see her up there entertaining and educating a bunch of little kids as she talked about how crickets make sound to attract mates.  It makes me very happy to know that my little sister is teaching people about insects and helping kids understand the important roles that they play in the environment, just like me!

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These stories always make me happy when I think of them and remind me that I am on the right path in my life.  In an ideal world, I think everyone would have at least five happiness-inducing insect stories to share!  Sadly, this is probably not the case for most people, but I’ll bet it is for the people who read this blog.  Anyone want to share an insect story that makes them happy?  They might be about people you’ve taught or interacted with, insects that you came in contact with, something an insect did that you found funny/bizarre/magical – anything!  I would LOVE to read some of your stories, so feel free to share in the comments below.

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I loved going on those trips!  I’d spent my whole life tagging along after my parents on their outdoor adventures, but these trips were about my interest and mycollection.
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