Kids & Critters: Ambush bugs
Now that school is in back in session, we can all start our new classes and meet our new teachers. I always enjoyed learning new things in English, math and history, but when I was a boy, I was most excited about science, art and recess. These three were my favorites because they always seemed to fit together so nicely.
Today, I am the teacher and things haven’t changed much. I gave my students a questionnaire and when I asked them to name their favorite classes, the two most popular answers were “gym” and “lunch.” I think kids like both of these classes because they usually involve going outside and I could not be more sympathetic. But now that you’re headed back to school, I’d like you to give all of your classes a little extra consideration.
We are just enjoying the last few days of summer, but the warm weather of the first weeks of autumn can keep many of our summer insects happy and healthy until Columbus Day. In science class, I like to get my students’ attention by bringing in small creatures that are easily found outside. One such creature is the ambush bug (Phymata americana). It’s interesting how one small insect can bring all of your school subjects together?
First is history class. The scientific names of all living things are usually rooted in Latin and Greek. You may not know it, but Latin was the language used by the Romans and there are two leaders of the Roman Empire that have left their mark in very interesting ways. Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar made such important contributions that the months July and August were named in their honor. And what greater honor than to have the two months of summer named after you!
In science class you might learn about the idea that some animals hide to protect themselves from predators, while others are predators and they hide so they can surprise their prey. Which do you think an ambush bug is doing? Well, for help we would turn to English class and we would learn that an “ambush” is a “surprise attack.” So now what do you think? Correct! An ambush bug is a predator lying in wait.
Now it wouldn’t be to easy to hide from your prey if you were the wrong color, so look how wonderfully this particular ambush bug blends in with the yellow flowers it is perched on. The bug even has little brown spots to imitate the dying leaves of older flowers. As long as it sits very still, it has a good chance of going unnoticed. Then it will strike out with those “big” claws on its front legs and grab its prey. Don’t worry though, the whole bug is smaller than your thumbnail.
Insects have six legs. Do you know which numbers can multiply together to make the number six? Well, that’s a math problem and you’ll soon understand that you can multiply 2 times 3 or 1 times 6 to get the number 6. Ask your math teacher what happens if you reverse the numbers and you might be surprised (just like a fly that is surprised by an ambush bug).
In art class, you can learn about complimentary colors and you can try making pictures with pencils, crayons, pastels and even watercolors. Perhaps you could even make models out of construction paper or clay. Of course, I would love to see any pictures that you make!
But if you’re like me your favorite class will still be recess. Why? Because recess is that wonderful time when you can go outside and look for new plants and animals. You can start a list of all the different things you find and then you can ask your teachers about them. You can make pictures in art, learn Latin and Greek names, think about amazing people from the past, learn new words, and become a very smart person in the process. Give it a try, I think you’ll love it!
Bill Danielson has worked as a naturalist for 16 years. In that time, he has been a national park ranger, a wildlife biologist and a field researcher. He currently works as a high school chemistry and biology teacher. His Speaking of Nature column runs weekly in The Recorder, except for the first Thursday of each month, which is when his Kids and Critters column for young readers appears. To contact Bill, or to learn more about his writing, visit www.speakingofnature.com