Summer Explosion program introduces 4-H members to the insect world

By David Broyles

July 25, 2013

DOBSON — North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service 4-H members Wednesday took the theme, “What’s Buggin’ You,” literally and not psychologically at Fisher River Park as they studied insects. Extension Agent Joanna Radford led the workshop, which was held for 20 participants ages 5 to 8, as part of the ongoing Summer Explosion Series.

Radford opened the discussion in the morning’s first activity by explaining insects have three body parts — the head, thorax and abdomen. She told the group insects could have two or four wings and that while their lips moved up and down their jaws move sideways.

“Could you eat lunch like that?” asked Radford. She told the children insects’ jaws (mandibles) often have jagged teeth for chewing and that some insects eyes are made up of a large compound eye which can see movement and three tiny eyes that can see light and dark. She said the smaller eyes are usually located on the top on an insect’s head.

She then asked the children how long it would take an insect to drown if you held its head under water. The answer was this wouldn’t cause an insect to drown because they breathe through small holes in their abdomen.

Radford then used party favors to demonstrate how a butterfly’s mouth works.

Later in the program, Radford used cotton balls with different odors to demonstrate how honeybees recognize members of their own colony and know when a strange bee enters the hive.

Extension Agent James Boggs talked about how insects defend themselves. He said certain insects, like butterflies, use camouflage to hide from predators. Another way insects use color in their defense is by patterns, shapes, or colors as warning signs, or in the case of some moths, the face of their predators. On some bugs’ wings, spots can be found which resemble the eyes of an owl or bird, meaning predator insects would keep away.

Certain insects let off scents that either repel predators or attract other animals that could defend them. Often you can find relationships between bugs in which one will give off a little sugar or honey in return for protection, such as aphids which are “herded” by some species of ants. He said the most familiar defense for insects is venom. Common examples of this would be wasps, ants and bees.

Volunteer and Master Gardener Sue Johnson led the group on personalizing their own observation jars to hold captured insects for study during the afternoon.

“Raise your hand if you’ve ever caught a lightning bug,” said Johnson. “If you have ever caught them and put them in a jar that is what we are going to do with these jars. There’s a lot of bugs we kill because of what they can do to us but understand everything has its purpose. A lot of times when I see insects I am afraid of them in the beginning. But I like to observe them.”

In addition to learning insect term vocabulary words, other activities included learning stations teaching about insect defenses, bug communication, bug recipes (made from simulated gummi bugs), a bug hunt and an insect-themed Jeopardy game. The afternoon also included a trip to Fisher River Park for a discussion of how insects in the water indicate water quality.

Volunteers at the workshop included Master Gardeners Dan Geiger and Mary Cathey, Extension Agent James Boggs and 4-H Summer Program Assistant Ashley Taylor.

“Kids just love bugs and we need to educate them on what they are and how they relate to the environment,” Radford said. “We are trying to give them a basic introduction to insects with a little bit of in-depth information on how insects defend themselves and communicate.”

Reach David Broyles at or 336-719-1952.