Children develop their early understanding of insects from books, movies, and the adults in their lives. Unfortunately, insects in works of fiction aren't always portrayed with scientific accuracy, and adults may pass down their own misconceptions about insects. This article outlines fifteen of the most common misconceptions kids have about insects.
Photo: © Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
Flowers don't contain honey, they contain nectar. Honey bees
convert that nectar, which is a complex sugar, into honey. The bee forages on flowers, storing nectar in a special "honey stomach" and then carrying it back to the hive. There, other bees take the regurgitated nectar and break it down into simple sugars using digestive enzymes. The modified nectar is then packed into the cells of the honeycomb. Bees in the hive fan their wings on the honeycomb to evaporate water out of the nectar. The result? Honey!
2. An insect has six legs, attached to the abdomen.
Ask a child to draw an insect, and you'll learn what they really know about the insect body. Many children will place the insect's legs incorrectly at the abdomen. It's an easy mistake to make, since we associate our legs with the bottom end of our bodies. In truth, an insect's legs are attached at the thorax
, not the abdomen.
3. You can tell the age of a lady bug by counting the number of spots on its wings.
Photo: Hamed Saber, Wikimedia Commons
Once a lady beetle reaches adulthood and has wings, it is no longer growing and molting
. Its colors and spots remain the same throughout its adult life; they are not indicators of age. Many lady beetle species are named for their markings, however. The seven-spotted lady beetle, for example, has seven black spots on its red back.
4. Insects live on land.
Few children encounter insects in aquatic environments, so it's understandable for them to think no insects live on water. It is true that few of the world's million-plus insect species live in aquatic environments. But just as there are exceptions to every rule, there are some insects that make their living on or near the water. Caddisflies, stoneflies, mayflies
, dragonflies and damselflies
all spend part of their lives in fresh water bodies. Intertidal rove beetles
are true beach bums that live along the shores of our oceans. Marine midges inhabit tidal pools, and the rare marine sea skaters spend their lives at sea.
5. Spiders, insects, ticks, and all other creepy crawlies are bugs.
We use the term bug to describe just about any creeping, crawling invertebrate we encounter. In the true entomological sense, a bug is something quite specific – a member of the order Hemiptera
. Cicadas, aphids
, hoppers, and stink bugs
are all bugs. Spiders, ticks, beetles
, and flies
6. It's illegal to harm a praying mantis.
Photo: © Debbie Hadley, WILD Jersey
When I tell people this isn't true, they often argue with me. It seems that most of the United States believes the praying mantis
is an endangered and protected species, and that harming one may draw a criminal penalty. The praying mantis is neither endangered nor protected by law. The source of the rumor is unclear, but it may have originated with the common name of this predator. People considered their prayer-like stance a sign of good luck, and thought harming a mantid would be a bad omen.
7. Insects try to attack people.
Kids are sometimes afraid of insects, especially bees, because they think the insects are out to hurt them. It's true that some insects bite or sting people, but it isn't their intent to inflict pain on innocent children. Bees sting defensively when they feel threatened, so the child's actions often elicit the sting from the bee. Some insects, like mosquitoes
, are just looking for a meal.
8. All spiders make webs.
The spiders of storybooks and Halloween all seem to hang out in large, circular webs. While many spiders do, of course, spin webs of silk, some spiders build no webs at all. The hunting spiders, which include wolf spiders
, jumping spiders
, and trapdoor spiders among others, pursue their prey rather than entrap them in a web. It is true, however, that all spiders produce silk, even if they don't use it to build webs.
9. Insects aren't really animals.
Kids think of animals as things with fur and feathers, or perhaps even scales. When asked whether insects belong in this group, however, they balk at the idea. Insects seem different somehow. It's important for children to recognize that all arthropods, those creepy crawlies with exoskeletons
, belong to the same kingdom we do – the animal kingdom.
Photo: Flickr user salimfadhley (CC-by-SA)
It's easy to see why kids would mistake the daddy longlegs for a spider. This long-legged critter behaves in many ways like the spiders they've observed, and it does have eight legs, after all. But daddy longlegs, or harvestmen, as they are also called, lack several important spider characteristics. Where spiders have two distinct, separated body parts, the cephalothorax
and abdomen of the harvestmen are fused into one. Harvestmen lack both the silk and venom glands that spiders possess.