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Superstars and Circus Performers: A Bug Hunt

Kids aren't the only creatures who have been hibernating all winter. This May, Brood X, the biggest of the periodical Cicadas, emerges from hibernation to make its mathematically precise 17-year boisterous return to backyards in nine states from Indiana to New Jersey. What better way for kids to observe this extraordinary event than with a backyard bug hunt? Williamson Book's Boredom Busters! offers lots of ideas for finding, identifying, and studying a virtual circus of bugs that reside just outside your door.


When you go on a bug hunt, you’ll discover a new and fascinating world, right beneath your feet. This world is populated with creatures that look like they’re straight out of science fiction. But there’s no make-believe here. The strange miniature beings you’ll discover will be real and alive!

What you’ll need for bug hunting:
BulletA keen eye (like all wildlife, bugs are masters of camouflage)
BulletClean, clear containers with air holes or netting on top
BulletTrowel, or large spoon to collect specimens
BulletNotebook to write down and sketch the insects you find
BulletAn overripe banana and a spoonful of brown sugar
BulletMagnifying glass (optional)
BulletMicroscope (optional)
Beetle BulletFor nighttime bug-hunting: all of the above, plus a flashlight

Be prepared! Even though the vast majority of insects are perfectly harmless, there are a few aggressors who will be out there hunting you! Be sure to use your favorite bug-warding-off technique (bug spray, peppermint oil, etc.) to avoid flies and mosquitoes.

Looking at bugsWhere To Look
Many bugs are green, black or brown. They blend in with the natural scene so that their enemies cannot easily spot them. This is called camouflage. But if you know where to look, you will surely find success on your hunt.

Check the ground and the base of trees and bushes for flowers that are in bloom and check under leaves growing on the stems of plants. Turn over a rock to find crawling creatures. Look under loose bark for caterpillars.

One sure-fire way to attract bugs is to put out some sweet smelling food for them to eat. All you need for this is an over-ripe banana and some brown sugar. Mix these together and let them sit for a couple of hours. Then, go out and paint the gooey substance on the bark of a tree. Now all you have to do is wait. One by one, insects will soon appear, attracted by the scent of the sweet stuff you’ve lured them with.

AntYou can sugar after dark, too. Put the substance out before dusk, and return with a flashlight after nightfall. Are there more bugs at the sugar now than in the day? Count the different kinds of insect you’ve attracted. Are there more than you imagined, or fewer? What kinds of animals appeared at the sugar? Observe them as they eat. Are there any beetles on the tree? How about caterpillars, moths, or ants?

While you’re out hunting, why not keep a record? Bring some drawing paper and colored pens, pencils, or crayons, and make some sketches. Write down the date and time you saw the creature, and how many of them you saw.

Live & Let Live
You don’t have to kill or hurt a bug to study it. If you wish to observe the insects you find, simply “borrow” them from the wild for a short time by placing them in clean, clear containers. Prepare the containers by adding a little dirt and leaf mold (dead leaves), as well as a bottle-cap full of water. A few sticks with green leaves add a nice touch, too, to make your bug feel at home. Cover the top with a piece of net, or waxed paper, into which tiny holes have been pricked with a straight pin.

Preparing containers to save bugs

If you want to borrow a caterpillar or other creature from Mother Nature for a while, be sure to include, in its guest quarters, fresh, green leaves of whatever plant you found it on. Most likely, if you found the crawler on a particular plant, that plant is the animal’s major food source. Don’t borrow a creature for too long, though. Bugs have short lives and plenty of environmental work to do. Return your bug to the exact place you found him after no more than 24 hours.

Super Stars and Circus Performers
Some bugs and insects have special talents that put them in a class all their own. Look for these talented tricksters on your bug hunt.

Special Effects – The Firefly
For dazzling special effects, the firefly tops the list. This amazing creature literally lights up the summer sky with her pyrotechnics!

Technically, she’s a beetle, not a fly. If you meet her by day, she appears to be an ordinary striped creature with not much in the way of special talents. But at night she steals the show as she flashes out pulsing light, sending off signals to attract a mate.

Singing CricketThe Singing Weathermen – A Cricket Chorus
If you live near grass and trees, chances are you’ve heard many free concerts performed by a chorus of chirping crickets. The chorus performs nightly in summer, changing its tempo to match the temperature. The hotter the weather, the faster it sings.

Amazingly, you can calculate the temperature in Fahrenheit degrees by counting the chirps crickets make in 14 seconds, and then adding 42. The result is incredibly accurate!

A Circus Clown – Introducing the Click Beetle
If you come across a click beetle in your backyard, you’re in for a treat. These clownish creatures, with two false eyes on their backs, have a circus-style trick they can perform, with a little help from a friend like you.

Gently pick up the beetle, who is a perfectly nice creature who will not hurt you in any way. Then, lay it down again, on its back, and step back to give him room to do his trick. The beetle will slowly bend in the middle. Then – pow! It will pop straight up into the air, letting out a loud “click” as it does. Like a true professional, the click beetle will land on its feet, ready for applause.

Military Might – The Bombardier Beetle
You may have a piece of living field artillery walking around in your backyard. It’s a small, tan and orange beetle with pretty, blue-black wings. Don’t let these delicate looks deceive you. This beetle is armed and dangerous! It’s got a fully functioning, retractable cannon in its rear end, and it will use it if it has to!

If an enemy approaches, such as a small twig held by you which gently taps the creature, the bombardier beetle will rear up and fire off his bomb of caustic chemicals, with a pop and a puff of blue smoke! Look, but don’t touch! The bomb can actually burn your hand.

Lucky Charms – House Crickets
Some crickets, called house crickets, or hearth crickets, seem to prefer living indoors to out. Throughout the ages, people have said that meeting up with such a cricket will bring on a spell of good luck.

Do you have a house cricket living in your house or backyard? If you find one, test out the ancient belief about bringing good luck. Watch for lucky occurrences in the week after you come across the cricket. You never know …


This activity and many more ideas for backyard fun appear in Boredom Busters, The Curious Kids' Activity Book by Avery Hart and Paul Mantell, published by Williamson Books.

To enhance your bug hunting experience, don't miss these award-winning products:

Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!
Ages: 2 - 6 yrs.
Author: Bob Barner  
Chronicle Books, $12.95 (Hard Cover)   

An engaging first look at bugs for young children, this cheerful volume has rhyming text and vivid, color-saturated collage illustrations that will more than satisfy preschoolers. For the 5- and 6-year-olds, there's a nifty Bug-0-Meter that charts the essential characteristics of eight common insects--butterfly to roly poly.

Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Kids
Ages: 2 - 6 yrs.
Nelvana Limited, $14.95 (DVD)   

Miss Spider and all her buggy friends are staring in their very own movie! Based on David Kirk's best-selling children's books, this charming animated adventure is filled with music, laughter and lots of eight-legged fun!

Big Bad Booming Bugs
Ages: 6 & Up
Little Kids, Inc., $19.99

This is no ordinary bughouse. It's an "Electronic Observation Station." Young backyard explorers use the handy bug scooper to capture insects and place them in the "bug dome" observatory, cleverly designed to look like an insect. In addition to observing the bugs with the built-in 3X magnifying lens, promising entomologists can monitor the bugs' audible sounds with the included earphones. The dome's base surface is sensitive enough that larger insects can be heard walking. Information about ants, beetles and grasshoppers is included.

Secret World Puzzle- Backyard Bugs Secret World Puzzle- Backyard Bugs
Ages: 8 & Up
University Games, $7.99

This 100-piece puzzle is crawling with fun! Put together the backyard scene and then go on a search for tiny bugs. Find them with the included magnifier! Bigger images of each of the hidden insects appear around the border, so you can keep track of your search and learn to identify them by name. It’s a fun early introduction to the insect kingdom.

Ages: 9 - 13 yrs.
Author: Elaine Pascoe   Photographer: Dwight Kuhn  
Blackbirch Press, $18.95 (Hard Cover)   

This book's facts are staggering: for example: there are more than 40,000 different types of ground beetles across the globe and an adult ladybug can eat 5,000 aphids in its lifetime. Up-close, color photographs and in-depth text teach pre-adolescents everything and more about beetle facts, trivia and care and feeding. The experiments are not too complicated but are involved enough for serious young scientists and are an excellent reference for science fair projects.

Quantum Alphascope Microscope Quantum Alphascope Microscope
Ages: 10 & Up
Learning Resources, $39.95

Entry-level scientists can view it all with this durable, easy-to-use microscope. Includes battery-operated lighting and a mirror for natural lighting, two interchangeable viewing stages, magnifications of 10x, 30x and 50x and color viewing filters. Activity Guide, two disposable slides, one Curiosity Box, one pair of tweezers, stir rod, and spatula also included.

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