Sunday, April 15, 2012

OBJECT #7: Hercules Beetle

This isn’t a real Hercules beetle, but it’s almost as big as a real one.  It measures almost a foot (30 cm) in length.  It’s a model that my younger daughter made for a contest that the Penn State Entomology Department sponsors every fall.  They hold a huge Insect Fair and one event is the Build-A-Bug contest.  One year our homeschool group incorporated this contest into our insect unit and helped each student build a bug.  My daughter chose the Hercules beetle (maybe partly because she knew how fond I am of beetles).  The basic shape was made from cardboard and wire then covered with paper mache.  Then a heavy coat of paint and shiny coat of varnish.

    The most poignant lesson my daughter learned at the bug festival that year wasn’t about insects, but about people. The contest turned out to be juried by the all the spectators who came through the bug contest room, so the more family and friends a contestant had, the better their chance of winning.   Sure, there were some entries that were so good that they got votes no matter what, but overall, the contest was quite a bit skewed toward those who had brought along a huge fan club.  We were just us, total of three votes.  I looked a my daughter, shrugged, and said, “Oh well, life’s just like that sometimes.  You did a really nice job on your project and I’m proud of your work.  I’m going to hang it on the wall in my studio.”  So I did  and it’s been there  for... hmm... can it be seven years already?  Wow.

    Speaking of beetles, our house has been invaded by the one of the newest arrivals to North America-- a beetle that falls into the genre of “stink bug” or “squash bug.” (Entomologists call these particular invaders “brown marmorated stink bugs.”)  I think technically it may be a “shield bug,” which is actually a “true bug.”   (Beetles aren’t really “bugs.”  Only certain kinds of bugs are technically “bugs.”  Beetles are coleoptera and "bugs" are hemiptera.)

    Anyway, about once or twice a month, we find one of these little critters crawling up a curtain or buzzing about a light.  They are easy to catch and very harmless (unless you are a plant) so we just pick them up and put them outside.  We’ve found them in the house all the way through the winter months, so we know they are not just crawling in through a crack somewhere.  They must have wintered over in the house.  But we can’t discover where they are hiding out.  We’ve looked everywhere that seems likely for a bug to hide out.  But they just appear seemingly out of nowhere.

    My son read a research article online that gave us some info on these bugs, It seems these bugs are new arrivals from Asia.  They appeared in North America only about a decade ago and probably have spread from the east coast.  They have crept their way west and now, as I can witness, are colonizing central Pennsylvania.  They eat most plants, including those found in gardens and commercial farms.  Entomologists at various universities are studying them to find out if there is a safe way to get rid of them but as of yet have not come up with anything.

    We didn’t take the “stink” part of the name too seriously until on evening my daughter called me into her room to try to track down a strange smell.  It didn’t fit into any of our usual categories of smells.  We knew it was not a dead mouse or stinking cat litter or spilled paint.  Hours later my daughter suddenly remembered that she had found one of those bugs, crushed it with a tissue, and put it into her trash can. 

    My son also read in that article a scary story about a house that was infested with hundreds of these bugs, and as fast as the owners killed them, they were replaced by new ones.  The sorcerer’s little apprentices. (They did finally reduce the population down to a manageable level somehow.) 

    Well, at least I’m not phobic about bugs, and the good news is that they don’t bite or sting.

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