At any time, it is estimated that there are some 10 quintillion (that’s a one followed by 19 zeros) individual bugs alive. Eeeek! It’s no wonder that some freak folks out—especially kids. “They are so different from us,” explains Dr. Bruce Giebink, entomologist. ”When you look at them close up, they truly look like creatures from outer space.”
Dr. Giebink should know. Also known as Dr. Bruce, the “Bug” Guy, he has built a successful business creating educational shows for kids that include hands-on, live bugs. There are a lot of different kinds of bugs: in fact, the word “bug” is more an umbrella term to cover the many different types, including arthropods, insects, myriapods and more.
So what’s the deal with bugs? Dr. Bruce rates a few on a 1 to 10 scale of size, scariness, and your likelihood to encounter them in your own backyard.
The fearsome looking earwig is about a half- to three-quarters of an inch long with scary looking pinchers on the tip of its abdomen. “You would think, just because of the name, that they have something to do with ears,” says Bruce. “Long ago, folks believed [the bug] would crawl into ears and cause lots of problems. Not true.” Bruce explained that 10 to 12 years ago, they were not common west of Michigan. But higher humidity levels in Minnesota have encouraged the earwig to expand westward. Do they bite? “They can pinch,” says Bruce. “It’s not anything that amounts to much. It’s a defensive maneuver. They’ll pinch if they need to protect themselves.”
Dr. Bruce puts the dragonfly as number one on his list as a creepy looking bug that’s misunderstood. If you look at one closely, it appears intimidating. If you pick one up, it’ll thrash around—and possibly nip, although Bruce says the bite will seldom break the skin. Even if it did, it contains no venom. “More than anything, it will startle you,” explains Bruce. “They are territorial, and if you walk into their territory, they will strafe you.” He said the next time you see a dragonfly buzzing around the yard, keep in mind that it’s a very beneficial insect, which most scary-looking predators are, Bruce points out. They eat a lot of pesky insects, including mosquitoes and biting gnats. If you live around ponds, streams, and rivers where the water quality is good, you are going to have your share of dragonflies.
Horse Flies and Deer Flies
If you are around a swampy area on a hot summer day, these bugs will downright drive you crazy. “They can be extremely annoying,” admits Bruce, “and they have no finesse. Their mouthpart is like a little dagger—and they don’t wiggle it in, like a mosquito—they jam it in. And they like to land right on the head. Some might think they have a dangerous bite, but they don’t.” He further explained that horse flies and deer flies aren’t shy about the fact that they’re after a meal: if there’s not a deer or other blood source around, people will do just fine.
Number one scary on most lists, spiders—and in particular fishing spiders—are one of Minnesota’s largest arachnids. They have fairly long legs, and a number of them have a striped pattern. They can vary quite a bit in color, ranging from a light grey to black. Bruce says most Minnesotans are sharing their boats with these little creatures. “You’re bound to find them in and around water, quite often right when you hop into your boat,” he said. How big? “Well, the body isn’t that big, but when you factor in the leg length, they can be around three inches long. And they can move fast.” Do they bite? Says Bruce, “Any spider that has fangs that are sharp enough to bite and long enough to penetrate can give you a good nip. We all have such individual variations in our immune systems—some of us don’t react at all [to a bite], while some will puff up quite a bit.”
Bad bug: Wood Tick, Deer Tick
“There’s only a handful of bad bugs that kind of spoil it for all the rest,” says Bruce, explaining you want to minimize your exposure to them.
Bruce says in 2011 ticks weren’t quite as bad, but a few years ago they started showing up by late March, early April. He says the wood tick (or American dog tick) is the bigger of the two, around the size of a little fingernail. These are the ticks Fido picks up in the backyard. The even smaller deer tick is the one to be concerned about, as this is the tick that carries Lyme disease. When you send the kids outdoors, take some precautions. If you are walking through the woods, try to stay on the path where the grass is short and tuck your pant legs into your socks. “You’ll look like a dork but you’ll be better protected,” he says, “and if you wear light pants or khakis you can see them better and flick them off before they get to you.” He also added that DEET is a very effective repellant, but it is not recommend that you spray it directly on your child’s skin. He recommends spraying it only on clothing, especially pants.
Mainly, Dr. Bruce says to remember that most of the time bugs get a bad rap. “I want to educate kids and adults alike,” he says. “As a society it’s kind of us against the bugs. People need to learn to tolerate and co-exist with creatures in the natural world, insects included.”