It was a warm day near the pond, maybe sixty to seventy degrees, slightly overcast with a gentle breeze down the hill. I was surrounded by over a hundred and fifty thousand acres of park, a pleasant mixed hardwood forest, a pond that didn’t appear on most maps…
Oh, and like twenty fifth graders.
Each one had at least one of the following in hand: a net, a critter, two nets, a ball of mud. I can’t particularly remember asking them to pick up a ball of mud, but that’s a day in the life of a Naturalist sometimes.
An excited yelp broke through the general mutterings and gigglings of the group. Its owner jogged over to me with a net in hand, asking the oh so familiar phrase,
“What is this thing?”
I was pretty excited too. This student had captured one of my top five favorite insects of all time; the Water Scorpion. It was about twice as long as his hand, and trying to escape with the slow, methodical crawl they perform when pulled out of water.
They look like a cross between a mantis and a walking stick, adapted to surviving in relatively mucky ponds. A species of Hemipteran, they eat by stabbing their prey with a long tube-like mouthpiece, before literally sucking the juices out as their prey falls limp.
And they can breathe out their butt.
You know, things fifth grade boys are totally excited about.
So, upon learning of this glorious creature, he came to the only logical conclusion:
“Why do you say that?” I inquired.
“Cause it’s evil,” came the frank response.
“It’s not evil.”
“It’s not evil, it’s nature!” I remember audibly groaning.
“Nature’s not evil…” I couldn’t even finish the thought before…
“You’re part of nature,” I finally muttered, exasperated.
Surprisingly, there was a pause here. It stretched on five, ten, fifteen seconds as he considered the concept that maybe he too, was part of the natural world. Finally, with a sense of finality, he replies,
So that’s why I’m here today. To hopefully share and gain a little bit of knowledge about these incredible things we call insects.
As an amateur entomologist, a professional educator, and a medocre-ish writer, I welcome you to my project 27 years in the making…