What Insect Are You?

Entomology for Everyone


Biodiversity.JPGWhat a wonderful topic: the endless variety of life forms and living spaces.

Bonela biodiversity.jpgAfter a presentation on the subject, the grade 11s from the Umkhumbane Schools Project biodiversity group explored what lives in the car park at their school. The flowers on the waterberry trees were being eaten by a gazillion garden fruit chafers – a very common but nevertheless spectacular beetle.

Someone had donated a microscope to the group. That was a big hit! There is something special about seeing the life forms that exist beyond our immediate experience – and it so happens that the vast majority of species, numbers and biomass is on the tiny to microscopic end of scale – like this springtail which is less than 1mm long.



Outdoor Classroom Day

CatoManor 3

How does Outdoor Classroom Day work in densely populated areas of low-cost and informal housing? Just fine, thanks.

A wonderful afternoon with Umkhumbane Schools Project in Cato Manor, Durban, proved the point.

“Do you know what an insect is?”, “Have you ever seen an insect?”, “What insects do you know?”, “What do you think of insects?” The answers made it clear some of the kids had not even thought about thinking about insects.

Then they got a chance to stroke my enormous pet hawk moth caterpillar, to hold it, look it in the eye, they were both thrilled and ‘grilled’ (an Afrikaans word that means exactly the sort of shudder you get from a close encounter with an insect).



CatoManor 2By the time we went outside to hunt for some insects in the school yard, they were totally excited. They whooped with joy when they caught an ant. Or a common house fly. One boy found a lovely stinging caterpillar, and so won for his school a copy of What Insect Are You, kindly donated by a member of Hillcrest Conservancy.


Why the Half Earth Project is necessary

Sixth extinction Time.jpg

Just so we are clear: things are really looking dismal. Extinction rates are 1000 times higher than before we spread across the globe.

Yesterday my mom asked, “Exactly why is that a problem?” (that from a life-long nature lover and bird-watcher!) Answer: because we are part of this vast interconnected web-of-life. If they go, we go. Perhaps not all of us, but too many to contemplate. And being left behind in a world depleted of biodiversity is, quite frankly, unimaginable.

For example, are you aware of how many of our food plants are animal pollinated? Do you like fruit and vegetables? Could you do without your morning coffee? Or chocolate? That was enough to convince my mother. Find out more.

Of course that is only one tiny part of it. The fact is, we do not exist APART FROM other life forms, but we are A PART OF life on earth. Read more:

Sixth extinction NatGeogr.jpg




Today: first ever “Half Earth Day”

Half Earth Day 2017

Today I stand with EO Wilson in heart and spirit, as he and his team celebrate the first ever Half Earth Day, and as they set out to protect and preserve half the earth’s surface to ensure that 85% of species have a chance to survive.

Watch a video at:

Half Earth Day 2017 video

HalfEarthDayKidsTo mark the day, I visited a local school primary school and spoke to the Grade 6s about the environment, Half Earth Day and of course… insects!

50 years after DDT


I’ll be honest, I don’t understand how – to quote the article – “regulators around the world have falsely assumed that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes and that the “effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored”.”

I really thought the world ‘got it’ back in the 1960s and 70s, when DDT was banned. Here we are again, surprised that insects are dying when we spray insecticides. Pardon?

Fungi of Ngome

Fungi of Ngome

I had never been terribly interested in fungi, until our recent visit to Ngome forest. One just couldn’t help falling in love with these little-known, little-appreciated ‘completers of the food chain’. Their beauty and variety was shocking.

Not sure why I’m posting fungi on this insect site. To share it, I guess, so someone else can go “WOW!”

Of course there were also plenty of insects . I was particularly intrigued to see a bugweed (Solanum mauritianum) apparently getting eaten by ladybird beetles. These horrible local invasive alien plants are normally in perfect condition, because they are so very unpalatable to our local mini-fauna. (Yes! Some ladybirds are herbivores. They are often furry, like these ones.)

Bug weed ladybirds

Another very interesting sighting was a dead ant. Huh? Yes, an ant that had clamped its jaws tightly onto a twig and died there. A fungus seemed to be growing out of its head. This is a macabre story: the fungus produces brain chemicals that control the ant’s mind, forcing it to do exactly what this ant had gone and done: wander around like a zombie… clamp down and die… become fungus food (read more here).

Dead ant.jpg


2020vision logo

Globally, biodiversity teeters on the brink of the next great extinction. Plant biodiversity is intricately linked to the survival of insects, and v.v. Together they support all other life on land. As the world strives for sustainable development and tackles critical environmental challenges, a deeper understanding and love of nature is essential. Educating children for the immediate future is key to achieving global sustainability.

2020 teachers guide2020Vision is an environmental education initiative that wants to give young people ‘glasses’ of passion and knowledge. Humanity must learn to coexist in harmony with nature. The world needs passionate young people who can see clearly, who understand the workings of nature and global environmental challenges, who know what can and must be done about it and who are motivated to act for the environment, in their sphere of influence, both now and in their future careers. ​

The Centre for Advancement of Science and Maths Education (CASME), in collaboration with Dr M.H. Craig, author of What Insect are You? are developing an innovative school curriculum enrichment programme supporting biology, life sciences and environmental education:

Continue reading “Announcing”

Hillcrest wildflower weekend Sep2017

It is called ‘Biophilia’


kids love insects

Yesterday I was thrilled to discover that the condition I have happily suffered from for most of my life has a name: it’s called ‘Biophilia’.

Most children have a bug period, and I never grew out of mine.
— Edward O. Wilson, Naturalist

The word was first used by the social psychologist Erich Fromm to describe a healthy ‘life-loving’ attitude. But in his 1984 book Biophilia, Harvard University entomologist Edward O. Wilson published his hypothesis that humans are innately attracted to other species and inclined to love nature. Here is a fascinating interview with Wilson.

I also firmly believe that children do have this innate love, and that ‘biophilia’ can be aroused easily in those who do not have it yet, simply by introducing them to little creatures. With every educational event this belief gets confirmed.

When people love, they become invested. When their heart is invested, they want to protect and nurture. It is the heart that motivates us to pro-environmental action.

Not fear. Not necessarily zealous environmentalism, nor dispassionate facts. But faith that something can be done, hope that we will succeed, and most of all … biophilia: the love for all living things.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

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