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!


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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!


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.


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011

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.

14 thoughts on “Friday 5: Five of my favorite experiences with insects

  1. What wonderful stories!

    There is one experience I don’t actually remember, because I was so young, but I’ve seen the home video and it was the cutest thing ever. I must have been about a year old. My dad had caught a cicada and brought it into the house to show me. He had let it loose, and it was buzzing frantically against a window. The windowsill was low enough for me to reach, so I stood there, watching it buzz around… I was bouncing up and down, clapping my hands, cooing and babbling with the widest happiest eyes you’ve ever seen on a kid. That’s probably the most excited I’ve been in my life so far, haha.

    My dad would catch things for me all the time (still does, actually), as well as teaching me how to catch things myself. Whenever he’s outside doing yardwork, if he sees something interesting he’ll catch it, find me and hold out his fist, with the creature inside. He usually doesn’t say a word, but drops it in my hands, and goes back to his yardwork. It’s then my job to identify it and perhaps keep it. Started when I was really little and whenever I’m home, he still does it. Could be a grasshopper, beetle, caterpillar, praying mantis, anything really… my dad wanted to be an entomologist (ended up a dentist instead, oh well!).

    And I never go far without my net.

  2. Regarding roaches in hotel rooms: when I was a graduate student, I went to a technical conference in Phoenix on a budget of approximately nothing. I ended up staying in a hotel called the Coronado, which fit right into my budget (a room was $70 a *week*). When I went into the room, I noticed some black spots on the wall . . . and then saw that they were moving. They were cockroaches, of all sizes ranging from pinheads up to an inch or so long. I’d never seen cockroaches before (they are uncommon in Michigan, I think most houses get too dry for them in the winter), so I spent some time looking at them. And, knowing they were harmless, I went to sleep.

    The next morning, I got up and stepped into the bathroom . . . and my foot moved across the floor. I picked up my foot, and saw a roach the size of the palm of my hand scurry off and hide behind the toilet. After that, I was more careful about where I stepped.

    • That sounds about right! I am looking forward to no longer having to skimp to afford even the budget hotel at conferences. I’ve had a few bad experiences, though my last conference hotel was quite nice in spite of being cheap. I feel like I lucked out.

  3. Awesome stories, seriously.

    Our “bee incident” was every time a bee got trapped in the car while my sister was there. She’d FREAK OUT, which, naturally, meant that I had to talk about the bee and how much I loved the bee and “Oh, look, the bee wants to be near you,” which in turn would make her freak out even more, and my dad would refuse to pull over — even pass by our house, if we arrived home in mid-freak-out — until she’d calmed down. Which was never. It made things interesting.

    I love the cricket presentation story too!

  4. Coming from Florida, I admit to being shocked at the idea that someone could find cockroaches unfamiliar. They’re everywhere down here! My favorite local roach is the rather pretty Cuban cockroach, Panchlora nivea. I usually get very strange looks from locals when I refer to a cockroach as “pretty”, but people can be so very strange. : – )

    • Well, we didn’t have roaches in my house in AZ when I was a young child and there just weren’t that many roaches in Colorado period. I saw a total of one roach in my 14 years there, one that crept into my health class classroom one day, straight toward a particularly squeamish female classmate. (I’ll admit I was mean and just watched to see what would happen rather than letting her know it was coming and boy was her reaction worth it!) It wasn’t until I moved back to AZ that I really experienced roaches, mostly in the form of roaches running across the desk in my office – in the middle of the day. Shouldn’t any self-respecting roach be hiding in my box of tea bags or amongst the napkins in my desk drawer while the sun’s out? Brazen little buggers! Anyway, I think there are some stunning roaches in the world, so I agree with you – people who don’t appreciate the beauty of a roach are quite strange. :)

  5. When I was an undergraduate I spent some time at a biological station in El Salvador, observing and collecting amphibians. I was out almost every night and didn’t return until the wee hours of the morning. This meant that I usually overslept and missed breakfast. The cooks took pity on me and said that they would leave sandwiches for me in the drawer of the night table in my room. That night I returned to my room and opened the drawer for my snack. As the drawer opened there was a literal explosion of gigantic tropical roaches, but these roaches could fly and the room was filled with the massive whirring of their wings as they flew everywhere to escape. Their wing span seemed to me to be at least 6 inches (about the size of a Palo Verde beetle), or so I thought. The sandwiches had been carefully wrapped in wax paper but that hadn’t deterred the roaches. They had eaten through the paper to get to the peanut butter and bread inside!

    I have another roach story that I’ll share with you another time (if you’re interested).

    • Wow! That sounds pretty amazing actually. (What can I say – I kinda like roaches…) I imagine it being rather like sitting in a dragonfly swarm, but more horrific. :) What an experience! I hope the roaches were some of those amazingly beautiful tropical roaches rather than the standard run of the mill reddish brown ones. That way it would look more like there were a ton of butterflies flying around your room rather than a cloud of giant winged vermin!

      I’d love to hear your other roach story, so I hope you’ll share it sometime!

    • My sister and I loved doing things with our dad as a kid! I think parents have a profound influence on how their children perceive the natural world and I’m very happy to have grown up with two parents who enjoyed being outside, dragged their daughters along with them on all of their excursions to the mountains (even when we didn’t want to go – we went almost EVERY weekend that the snow wasn’t too deep to drive through!), let us explore the world, and enjoyed nature. They both appreciate birds, insects, and other wild animals and how beautiful the world really is. And both of their kids got degrees in biology and now teach what we’ve learned to others! Go figure. :) Good luck with your kids! If they’re anything like my sister and me, they will adore you for letting them experience the natural world.

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