Exploring the World of Bugs

Reading as a family can be an excellent gateway to the natural world. Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder encourages an exploration of the insect world. Featuring macro photography and poetic text, the book asks readers to consider what would happen if they looked at the outside world in a different way — quietly and carefully.

Step Gently Out book cover green with an ant at center

Find a copy of the book at your local library. Then step outside with your family for a closer look at bees, spiders, fireflies and more.

Don’t have the book on hand? No problem! Follow the prompts below and learn about nature on your own.

Take a trip to your local park. Sit quietly in a grassy area. Fix your eyes on a patch of grass or
a flower bed.
Then answer the following questions:

How many colors do you see? What plants do you see? What animal(s) do you see? How big are they?
What kinds of animals do you think they are? Do the animals look soft or spiky? How are the animals interacting with the plants?

Watch for a bee flying through the air. Answer the following questions. Do you hear the bee making noise as it flies around? Where do you think it is going? Where might it be coming from? What is the bee doing?

Now find the bee in your copy of Step Gently Out. If you look closely at the back legs of the bee in the picture, you’ll see a yellow lump attached to its legs. What you’re looking at is this bee’s very full pollen basket, or corbicula. As a bee collects pollen to bring back to the hive, pollen gets stuck to its body. Some bees use their front legs to push the pollen toward their back legs. Their back legs have specialized hair-like areas that the pollen is packed into to keep it safe and secure for the flight back to the hive.

Laeaf-cutting bee on a daisy.
Leafcutting bees (Megachilidae) have hairs for collecting pollen on the underside of their abdomens. Photo by Isa Betancourt.

Let’s get moving. Take a walk through the park. Find a spiderweb! How many threads can you see? Can you count them? What do you think the spider uses its web for? Is there a spider in the web? Do you see any other insects in the spider’s web? How big is the spider that made
the web? How do you think it would feel to walk on a skinny thread like this
animal?

Can you find the spider and spiderweb in your copy of Step Gently Out? Spider silk is an amazing substance, and spiders produce it for different reasons and use it in different ways. Some spiders, like the orb-weaver spider in the book, spin sticky webs to catch their food — though they can produce both sticky and non-sticky silk when they are constructing their webs!

Some spiders, like many of the tarantulas that live at the Academy, use their silk to line their burrows. The trapdoor spider goes one step further, making a type of hinged door to its burrow out of silk and bits of plants. Many spiders wrap their eggs in spider silk until they’re ready to hatch.

This post originally appeared in the spring/summer 2019 issue of Academy Frontiers. Photos by Isa Betancourt.

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