Friday, 26 August 2011

The bug park

Did you know, centipedes wash themselves? Or that the Northern Violet Ground Beetle will chew a hole in your skin?

We do. Because today we joined Kate and our lovely local home ed group, led by the Archbishop of Rushmere* for all talk bug-related.

This fantastic jaunt was organised by a family of unbounded insect enthusiasts. I first met them over a jar of crickets.

Thanks to them, and The Bish, we learn how Scottish wood ants spray poison from their bums. They do! Each ant holds its bum with its little hairy fingers and directs its spray at the enemy! Like a hose! **

See what you can learn out of doors?

Well of course, if you're thinking about it, I want to give you confidence that you can do education out of school, too. Lots of little kids don't want to go in the first place, and lots of parents worry they won't learn anything if they don't go. So I'll tell you how learning like this is as straightforward as it can be.

Without school, it can go something like this.

Kate - organiser of her creature-crazy family including pet spiders, ladybirds, crickets, slugs, and a guinea pig who won't climb ladders - calls the local entomology group (look yours up on the web***) and she asks for someone who can talk bugs to kids.

The Bish turns up. He says, Insects are our friends. I'll do it for the love of a lacewing.

Kate contacts the ranger of a local country park and hires one of their woodland meeting rooms. Then she advertises the date, cost, details, on the secret email lists we home educators run up and down the country. (The ones that are under surveillance by MI6 and the Saudi Secret Service.****)

That's it.

We parents and kids all turn up, pay three quid each for the room and The Bish's petrol, then we enjoy a fantastic few hours crashing about fields with big nets, having our ankles nibbled, saying ooh and ahh at the seven-spot ladybirds, and listening to a brilliant talk with magnified bugs and an errant cricket.

Over to The Bish. I couldn't have made him up. He is BRILLIANT. I scribbled down his best bits while he put his bezzy mates (and possibly his girlfriend) on a magnifying projector.

(But because this is an educational blog, I won't say which bug he's talking about. Match it from this list: bush cricket, field grasshopper, Northern violet ground beetle, lacewing, centipede, harvest man, and white cross spider.)
'Turn her over! You can see from above she's got rather lovely eyes, a cute little beaky nose, and her ovipositor. Another very exciting thing about her, she keeps her ears in her elbows! You can speak to this little lady from anywhere and she might stick out her arms to hear you.

Now here's a madam with a very hairy chest and very shiny eyes. If madam will sit still for a second, you might just see she has a bush between her legs (I'm not making this up). She covers her eggs with froth. Oh dear, she's wandered off. She's not being as helpful as she might be.

Oooh, now here's a lady with big jaws and small eyes. She eats by chewing a hole in your skin, liquefies the flesh with her digestive juices, then sucks out dinner. Look, I can demonstrate. I'll just put her on my thumb. (I blacked out for five minutes and may have missed something.)

This one's a boy! Come on, let's see you! Oh dear. I apologise for the lost leg. Never mind. He'll be fine with seven. I wish he'd start waving to you so that you'll know I haven't done anything really awful to him. He must be sulking. Oh. Has anyone got any more of those?

Now, what have we here? Aha! These are exciting little fellows. If you go out at dusk you might see them gathering. Oh look! This one's having a wash. That's really rather wonderful. They have to live in damp conditions because they are very delicate. They keep very moist and clean. Go out tonight and see if you can find some.

My favourite! Isn't she a delight? She's worth getting to know. She is so friendly and has such beautiful golden eyes. (The grasshopper started crawling about my ankles at this point. I became distracted and took no more notes of eulogy.)

If you've never looked into the eyes of this tiny fellow it's quite an experience. They're scavengers. They'll queue up around any creature that's feeling a little queasy, and they'll wait. (I check my immediate environment.) They have the most delicate feeding parts of any animal I know. They eat daintily, as if they're using chopsticks! (He's obviously not seen us having a go with those.) One note of caution. Hold them by five legs. If you hold them by one or two legs, they let those legs drop off.

Well, to wrap up. There are 30,000 types of wildlife in Britain. 22,000 are insects. 2,500 types of insects you'll find in Rushmere country park. You can be here every day of the year and find a new insect. Each has its own lifestyle, its own way of living, eating, making babies. There are some 21,000 species we know very little about. If you find a new insect, one that you don't know about, remember that even the experts might not know much about it either.

They are amazingly fascinating, and incredible diverse. And I, for one, am incredibly grateful we share the earth with them.'*****

* Not his real name. He deserves it for resembling the real Archbishop of Canterbury and being a softly-spoken evangelist for bugs.
** I wish I could do that to my arch enemy, the bloke at number 32.
*** Royal Entomological Society.
**** Home ed paranoia. You'll need to get used to that.
See why I called him The Bish?


sharon said...

We have rather a lot of insects of various types here - I don't like most of them!

Angela said...

Oh, I chuckled! Great description, and I`m sure I`d love to listen to the Bishop!
You can really make us feel involved, Grit!

Nora said...

I had a big black spider in my bathroom when I changed into my pajamas. I didn't kill him; I never do. I figure he will do something useful here or find his way outside again. As long as he doesn't crawl on me I'm okay with him.

The bishop seems like an interesting man to have over for a cup of coffee. I wonder how many of the same insects we share between our two countries?

kelly said...

Hello - love bug people. I'm fickle about the bugs I like. Millipedes yes, hairy spiders no, daddy long legs yes, water beetles no etc.

By the way - you saved my life with your recent car related post - no, really.

Grit said...

there are some real monsters in hk, people. great tree spiders, maybugs, cockroaches and ants that talk. i wish i could take the bish along with us, then i could catch the joy of the moment as they scuttle across the kitchen floor at midnight.