Give the Love of Insects This Christmas

Features - TIS THE SEASON

Many entomologists started their lifelong love affair with insects by creating their first insect collection.

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November 13, 2018
Mike Merchant
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Editor’s Note: The following article appeared in Mike Merchant’s blog, “Insects in the City,” which can be found at insectsinthecity.blogspot.com. The blog offers readers news and commentary about the urban pest management industry and is excerpted here with permission of the author.

Parents, here’s a Christmas idea for your kids. A hand lens, an insect net, a set of pins and an insect collection box could provide a doorway to the love of nature for your child. For some kids an insect collection can be the best way to learn about insects and connect with the outdoors. Photography is also good, but collecting engages all the senses in ways that a camera cannot.

Many entomologists got their start collecting insects. An insect-collecting kit as a Christmas present got one of my entomologist friends started on his lifelong love of insects. And though young entomologists more often than not drift into other interests, like biology or medicine or other sciences, one thing I know: Anyone who spends much of their childhood in the woods and fields hunting insects (or snakes or frogs, or whatever) will love nature more than someone who did not. And goodness knows, our planet needs these kids more than ever.

A 2016 publication by the Louisiana State Arthropod Museum, and the Clemson University Arthropod Collection, provides a great introduction to start an insect collection. The two-page brochure provides simple instructions starting with how to get specimens for your collection, where to get the basic supplies and how to pin your catch. (Visit here for more information.)

To this I would add these simple recommendations:

Kids who can touch and manipulate real insects are most likely to connect with, and love, nature.
  • You can buy a whole collecting kit online, or just the few key items.
  • A student insect net is a great place to start.
  • A hand lens is essential to examine your catch.
  • Insect boxes range from small cardboard to small tight-fitting wood to a full-sized Cornell drawer. You can even make your own boxes and collection cabinets if you are good at working with wood.
  • You can buy killing jars, but it’s more fun to make your own with a sturdy glass jar and some plaster of Paris.

At this point, you may be asking yourself if you want to encourage your child to follow in your footsteps and kill insects for a living. Great question! No gentle soul likes to kill something, but an insect collection with real insects is the best way to know the true identity of an insect. And all knowledge of insects starts with an actual collection. As you know, there’s no threat of endangering an insect population through collecting. The benefit to nature from a child getting to interact with, respect and even love his or her catches will far outweigh the sacrifice of a few insect lives (and insects have very short lives).

A butterfly-collecting acquaintance of mine maintains a large personal collection at his home. He will tell you that each of his specimens, along with the labels he painstakingly recorded collection data on, represents a memory and a connection with the place where it was collected. Hunting and fishing probably come closest to a similar bond, but insect collecting is, I think, more personal.

Lastly, if your child loves being outdoors and learning about animals and plants, consider 4-H. It provides a great opportunity for kids both in rural and urban settings. Two of my entomologist friends and colleagues got their start in 4-H by making a collection (first place insect collections at the Minnesota and Indiana State Fairs!). Not all counties will have an organized entomology club, but some do. And you can always be the one to start one.

The author is an entomology specialist for Texas AgriLife Extension.