|Unidentified insects. Part of Don Ehlen's Insect Safari collection on display at the Hiawatha Artists Lofts, Seattle, Washington, during a "Bugs and Beer" night. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Like many young kids I had a fascination with insects. This is not to say I didn't experience a certain yuck factor in regard to insects. I didn't particularly want the little critters crawling on me or getting into my food, but I did enjoy looking at bugs and observing them in action.
Bug curiosity probably comes with childhood, but perhaps my parents egged my curiosity onward when they gave me a book about insects at Easter when I was about six years old. This Easter gift came as a bit of surprise to me since previous Easters had only found me with baskets filled with sugary eggs and chocolate bunnies. Receiving something other than candy for Easter brought the springtime holiday to a level more like Christmas and I had no problem with that.
My sister and I each received a similar looking book that year. I can't recall what book she received, but only remember my book about insects. Actually the book had few pictures other than some line drawings and a lot of text that I couldn't read all that well. I don't think the book was intended for someone my age, but that was fine with me. I loved books. The fact that this particular book was a bit advanced for my age made it all the more intriguing to me. I'm not sure whatever happened to this book as the memory of its presence exists for only a brief period of my childhood. Besides, it was a rather cheap looking book that might have been some kind of educational workbook that my parents found on sale somewhere. I never bothered to ask them about it and now that my parents are gone I can't ask. I doubt whether they'd remember anyway.
Throughout my elementary school years I developed a greater interest in insects. We lived in San Diego by this time. The area where we moved was near undeveloped canyons where we spent much of our play time when we weren't in school. That canyon had plenty of wildlife such as reptiles, birds, rabbits, and insects. Often I would include red ants in my play since they were abundant and somewhat large. As long as I avoided getting bitten by one of these ants--their bites could be furiously painful, raising a sore swelling--they provided a great deal of entertainment for me.
Also during that time I often watched the sci-fi movies of the 50's where some event such as nuclear testing caused insects to grow to monstrous proportions. These were some of my favorite films back then. During my playtime I would fantasize my own monster bug movies using my plastic toy soldiers as the players and an ant cast of thousands that were never willing participants in my imaginary movies. Other times I would collect ants, beetles, or other insects in jars just to observe them as though they were specimens in my own personal insect zoo.
In my sophomore year of high school I had a more serious revival of interest in insects. By this time we had moved to East Tennessee where there was a wide assortment of insects. During that school year I took biology and the study of insects was part of the program at the first of the school year during late summer and early fall when insects were in great abundance. Our first biology project of the school year was to assemble an insect collection. Once I'd gotten past the idea of impaling dead bugs with large pins onto a styrofoam board, the endeavor took on a fascination for me. My collection wasn't huge, but it scored me an A grade.
As an offshoot of my school insect collection project, I took a special interest in grasshoppers. By the end of summer grasshoppers seemed to be everywhere and they were reasonably large. They were also very easy to catch. I gathered a few of these grasshoppers and put them in a jar filled with grass and plant material. Keeping the jars outside by day and in our basement in the evening, I spent uncounted amounts of time watching the grasshoppers and studying their structure. With their armored bodies and rigid jointed legs they looked as much like small machines as they did living things. I fancied myself as becoming a grasshopper breeder raising a herd of my own trained critters.
My breeder dreams were dashed however when I looked in on my "pets" one morning to discover that there were only hollowed out grasshopper shells in the jar. All of my grasshoppers were dead and in their place was a small spider that had apparently gotten into the jar through the air holes that I had punched in the lid. That was the end of my dream of starting a grasshopper ranch. It was just as well since winter was around the corner and bugs would be doing whatever they do during the winter.
I suppose I could have become an entomologist (a bug scientist), but that was not to be. Just as well I think. I've had a good life as things turned out. I'm not bugged about not becoming an entomologist. That might have been a very strange life.
Did you ever assemble an insect collection? Are you afraid of bugs? What are your favorite insects? Which ones do you dislike the most?