June bugs: Studying insects a fun, educational summer activity

Aubrey Goscha, 11, holds a luna moth, a recent addition to her entomology collection. Goscha has been a member of the Clinton Eagles 4-H Club for about five years.

Above are the butterflies and moths Aubrey Goscha has collected.

Aubrey Goscha uses a net when searching for many of the winged insects to add to her entomology collection.

Aubrey Goscha loves to catch bugs — even those that sting.

She’s willing to make that sacrifice.

“I would try to catch it best I could,” the 11-year-old says. “But if I couldn’t, I’d probably get stung.”

Aubrey has been collecting insects through 4-H for four years. She has a box displaying dozens of her finds.

She often goes out searching near her home south of Lawrence, with a net in hand. Depending on the season and the weather, she might end up with beetles, flies, moths, butterflies or just about anything else.

When she catches a bug, she puts it in a glass jar and puts it in the freezer to kill it. Eventually, she thaws it out and pins it on foam to prepare it for presentation.

Her mother, Mona Heasty, says she’s happy her daughter has taken to bugs.

“I like the bugs,” Heasty says. “I like that she’s outside and interacting with nature. We do it as a family. We have grandparents collecting bugs.”

But that doesn’t mean everybody is perfectly happy with bugs in the freezer.

“It creeps out the relatives,” Heasty says of that aspect.

Zack Falin, collection manager for entomology at Kansas University, says the study of insects can be an excellent way to get children outdoors this summer.

But he finds getting them hooked on bugs often requires an attitude adjustment on their parents’ part.

“A lot of folks think of any bug as dirty or dangerous or vermin,” Falin says. “They really need to take a step back and realize most animals aren’t harmful, aren’t going to sting you and aren’t going to give you a disease.”

Even then, not all kids are going to find bugs fascinating. He looks no further than his own family for that. His 1 1/2-year-old son doesn’t like bugs, but his 3 1/2-year-old daughter loves them.

“We were shopping on South Iowa, and when we were walking out of the store, I saw a giant praying mantis,” Falin recalls. “My daughter said, ‘Let me hold it. Let me hold it.’ It took up 1 1/2 of her hands. I looked at my son and he was, like, ‘No way.'”

Falin suggests letting kids explore outdoors.

“I’d encourage you to get dirty, flip over logs and stones and get out in the mud.”

As far as killing insects goes, Falin says that’s appropriate if you’re planning to study the structure of the insect.

“I have mixed feelings,” he says. “I think in general it’s best to observe and leave them alone. If you’re interested in learning about the various kinds and how they’re put together, that’s one thing. But I discourage people from just doing stamp collecting — saying, ‘That’s pretty,’ killing it and putting it in a box.”

Falin says getting to know insects — even just in Kansas — is a challenge. For instance, there are some 4,500 to 5,000 species of just beetles in the state. To learn more, he recommends books such as “Insects in Kansas,” a field guide by entomologists from the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

That’s the book Aubrey uses to help her name the species she finds. Her favorite find is a large, green luna moth.

“I like it,” she says of the hobby, “because I get to see all the different bugs, and it’s fun.”

But that doesn’t mean Aubrey loves all insects.

“I step on them if they’re bothering me,” Aubrey says.