Insect Mis-Identification with the Kids | Lessons Learned

Today the kids were playing on the playground after school when one of the girls called me over to see a “cute bug.”  (Yes… she said “cute.”)

When I got there this is what we found.  (it was rather large…)


Wanting to teach her to observe nature without harming it I handed her my iphone to snap a picture so we could leave the bug alone but still be able to look it up and learn about it when we got home.

It was harder that you might think to get a clear photo of this insect with the iphone… it took about 10 – 12 tries (and mom helping) and it’s probably good that this former-biology-teacher turned mama has no fear of insects because we had to get mighty close.

On our first visit to google we went straight to an image search and typed in “black bug with white spots.”  What came up was the Asian Longhorned Beetle and she squealed “That’s it!!”.  The Asian Longhorned Beetle is a very destructive invasive pest and as we read more I was feeling a bit guilty for NOT capturing this bug…

But then I looked up the Asian Longhorned Beetle in a google search which sent me to the University of Vermont website on the Asian Longhorned Beetle.

It was here that they have listed “look-alike” insects that are commonly mistaken for the invasive pest.  Comparing the photos on their page we discovered that our beetle, in fact, was NOT the Asian Longhorned Beetle!

Instead we photographed a “Whitespotted Pine Sawyer.”  The girls were even more excited to learn that it was probably a female based on the descriptions and photos on the website.

The tell-tale marking that let us know we did not have the Asian Longhorned Beetle?  See that white dot at the top of the wings just where the 2nd segment of the body ends and the wings begin?  This dot is something not present on the Asian Longhorned Beetle.

This fact sheet on the Emerald Ash Borer talks about the White-spotted pine sawyer as well, indicating that “Sawyer beetles colonize only trees that are dying or were recently cut or killed.”  It’s not the destructive species we worried it was.

This was a fun “teachable moment” I stumbled onto with the girls.  Using the camera we were able to take a moment that might have otherwise been “Oh – yeah – that is a big bug (…moving on)!” into a teachable moment where they learned about respect for nature, insect identification, online research, not to accept the first answer you find in researching things online, and invasive pests.

It took all of 3 minutes (to take the picture) and 5 minutes to look up online.  These teachable moments don’t have to be long and planned out to have an impact.  But it was definitely a highlight of our day!

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Gwen - April 27, 2012 - 4:14 pm

Catina, I think this is great! I’ve taken some bug photos with my kids, but we didn’t follow through with IDing (well, that’s mainly because I shot in RAW, and they’re still in my to-do queue). But I think it’s great that you and the girls did this … and that you got close enough to get a good shot.

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