"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Bug Watchers, Buggers, and Bugging
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

It would be difficult to say how many bird watchers--they like to be called "birders"--there are in Indiana.

But whatever that number might be, it is difficult for me to understand why there aren't several times as many "buggers" (that would be folks who watch bugs).

Here we are swamped in the "good ol' summertime and that translates into the time when bugs (as in insects) are more or less peaking in numbers as the various classes and phyla reach peak numbers in their efforts to survive man's chemical onslaught in the name of growing food and keeping healthy those who consume the things we grow.

Folks tend to wax poetic (I must admit to having bird lore creep into what some sports editors have called my "doggerel") when they try to explain the joys of bird watching. But how many nature lovers have sneaked up behind you and shouted: "I JUST SAW A BEAUTIFUL EIGHT-SPOTTED FORESTER! MAN! WHAT A TREAT!"

Still, if the truth were known, insects undoubtedly are many times more numerous than their more physiologically-complicated brethren of the higher orders of animal life.

Moreover, if I may post an observation of my very own, the beauty of the male wood duck, and a host of other eye-slicking birds that set me agog, pales in comparison to the pulchritude of some of the bugs they eat. You can add that that goes double for some of the larval stages of bugs that are not raging beauties.

Oh, sure! There is a "ho-humish" side of watching bugs. Not all of the bugs you will encounter will flip your cork. But it has been said that actions speak louder than words, and the actions of some bugs--even some that are very common in terms of beauty--show some interesting characteristics and talents.

For example, if you are lucky you will some day have an opportunity to turn one of several members of the click-beetle clan on its back on a hard surface and watch (bug-eyed) as this critter flips itself several inches skyward, and repeats the performance until it lands right-side up (or down, as the case may be).

But regardless of where you go outdoors--or whatever your primary focus may be--at this time of year you will find an endless array of insects cavorting on your little open-air stage.

One of the great features of being an insect enthusiast lies in the fact that you don't have to go outdoors with "bugging" your top priority. Just go out for anything that suits your fancy. The bugs will be there. Sure, some of them, namely the ants, get credit for being picnic pests (a k a PPs), but I can excuse aunts for wanting their share of my lunch--the moreso when I have watched an endless line of these small critters carrying eggs from a wrecked nest site to their new home . . . Or how about ants carrying the dead of their kind to some unknown place. Could it be that they bury their dead?

Watching a beautiful damselfly adult emerge from an ugly little naiad shell some summer afternoon, or a draqonfly ditto the performance on a hot summer night leaves me spellbound,  and easily pays the price for lying belly-flat in the slime of a pond or lake with camera focused on the "action."

Those who decide to give bugs their rightful place in an overall outdoor-recreation program, probably will someday want to save these moments for posterity--or for money--with a camera.

When I reached that point, I asked the late B. Elwood Montgomery, one of the world's most-renowned experts on dragonflies, how he managed to get such life-like pictures.

I assumed that Dr. Montgomery, who taught entomology at Purdue University when he wasn't chasing dragons in some far-flung corner of the world, if he killed his subjects before he photographed them.

"A picture of a dead bug looks like a picture of a dead bug," he told me, emphatically; pointing out that he merely carried containers for keeping his subjects alive (after capture), and exposed them to 40-degree temperature in the refrigerator for a few hours. He cautioned that freezing probably would kill a bug.

In that chilled state a bug can be placed in a natural setting for a photo session, he said, then allowed to go on its way when it recovers.

And so it was, that when I found and captured my first eight-spotted forester (Alypia octomaculata) a moth with a wing span of about an inch), I used the Montgomery plan to get my pictures (I planned a whole roll of film).

It was late afternoon when I had captured this coal-black beauty with white spots and bright orange hairs about the head and legs--obviously a male. I had placed it in a clean jar with top and had refrigerated it. But with the sun sinking, I wanted to get my pictures with natural light.

I placed my photographic prize on a blade of grass and prepared for the "shoot" of a lifetime.

Unfortunately, my subject recovered before my camera could be focused and set up for the "big picture." And my prize picture flitted away.

Before drifting off to never-never land that night, I asked (with tongue in cheek) that I might someday be given another opportunity at an eight-spotted forester . . . and that I might be smart enough to get some pictures.


Eight-spot:  The eight-spotted forester. 
Cecropia:  Cecropia moth is big (3 to 4 inches), and beautiful. 
Click beetle:  This thin insect gives off an audible click when it propels itself into the air in an effort to regain its feet.
Walking stick:  This walking stick is exceptionally large well over four inches in length . . . note similarity to the stick on which it perches. 
Polyphemus:  This polyphemus moth, with a wing span of 4-5 inches, emerged from the cocoon attached to the pin oak leaf . . . under a wire strainer on my dining room table. 

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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