Learning to love insects

It's easy when they look like Christmas ornaments

Friday, January 22, 2016

By Kenneth Setzer

Those who know me are surprised to learn that I greatly feared bugs as a kid. I mean, I liked butterflies and once caught and kept a bee as a pet for an hour or so, but otherwise, I'd never touch an insect, arachnid, myriapod or whatever. I recall my older brother's school textbook. It had an image in it of a huge spider, and I couldn't even touch the page!

This is surprising because I've loved—and handled—insects for years. And it all started with beetles. I liked scarab beetles, those little earth and dung movers that resemble little trucks. They seemed like harmless wind-up toys.

So from there I was able to handle beetles, and through slowly acclimating myself, now have no problem handling beetles, bugs, spiders, millipedes. I do not intentionally hold centipedes—they're venomous and still creep me out.  And roaches, I generally do not touch them willingly, and have been heard to scream like a little girl when surprised by a large palmetto bug.

Here's a beetle with which you can spark a love, or at least appreciation for, our fellow creatures that happen to have their skeletons on the outside:

Dicronorrhina derbyana, male Derby's flower beetle

How can you fear something that looks like a Christmas tree ornament? This flower beetle, and others, are on display in the Wings of the Tropics exhibit here at Fairchild. I was lucky enough to get to hold and photograph these beauties. They are slightly larger than a U.S. quarter, and fly like little helicopters. You can tell the one in the photo is a male, due to his shovel-like mouthparts, which females lack.

These metallic beauties are native to sub-Saharan Africa, so you will need to visit the Garden to see them, unless you plan a vacation to Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, or South Africa, etc.

The larvae consume decaying vegetation, while the adults feed mainly on sap and fruit. Watch them push each other off branches in their enclosure, and I bet you will come to view them as cute as playful little puppies—albeit ones with six legs.

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