River View Park Bug Crawl sparks wave of budding entomologists

By Scott Swanson

Lebanon Local

If the level of enthusiasm from the young participants was any indication, Build Lebanon Trails’ first Bug Crawl event was a smashing success Saturday morning, Aug. 10, at River View Park in Lebanon.

Local entomologist Rich Little led a group of about 30 people, half of them younger than third grade, on a tour of the park, pointing out where insects nest and where they live.

He also spent a lot of time identifying bugs snagged by the young participants, who were outfitted with nets and various other types of collection tools, such as scissor-like Buggy Tongs and bug jars.

Jessica Ruef of the trails group introduced Little, noting that she’d met him “in the oddest way” at a Chamber of Commerce event, where he’d inquired about wildlife along local trails.

After ticking off the obvious – “osprey, deer, ducks, nutria, snakes,” she said she realized what Little was most interested in was insects.

Little told the group that his interests are unusual. But he pointed out that insects far outnumber – by trillions – the other species of life on earth, that for every human there are approximately a billion insects.

It didn’t take long for the youngsters to figure out what this was all about.

Before Little could even start the march across the park, Rhiannon Miller, 6, netted a bug for him to identify – a common spur-throated grasshopper that hadn’t gotten enough warmth from the sun, which was still behind a foggy sky, to be very mobile.

Little, who said one of his big personal interests is bees, led the group to a couple of tree trunks riddled with holes. He showed where mason bees had taken advantage of the holes, created by other insects, to lay their eggs.

Later, a short distance away along the riverbank, he showed where digger bees and mining bees had dug into the sand. He told how, in seasonal lakes, the bees often will dig tunnels to lay their eggs, with a cache of pollen or nectar, then seal them so well that when the lakes fill up in the winter the bee larvae survive.

“How far down do you think these bees can dig?” he asked the group.

“As deep as they can,” one youngster volunteered, drawing chuckles from Little and other adults.

“They dig as deep as 10 feet,” he said.

Seventy percent of bees are solitary hole-dwellers,  unlike social honeybees and bumblebees, he said.

Little said there are between 500 and 900 species of bees in Oregon – but nobody really knows.

Hence, he said, the Oregon Bee Project, in which he’s a participant, has been established to survey the bee populations in the state.

“We want to know which bees are out there and how they’re doing,” he said. “If we don’t have pollinators, we’re going to have a very, very different diet.”

Meanwhile, the children had scattered along the riverbank and in the grass, exclaiming when they netted specimens.

Madelyn Czmowski, 5, offered one for identification.

“She’s got a fast hand because she’s caught a fly,” Little announced, noting that the cool weather was tilting the advantage toward the kids.

It didn’t take the children long to figure out where to find bugs. They turned logs over, and looked under rocks, busily filling out tic-tac-toe-style sheets displaying different types of insects they might see in the park.

Quinton Albers, who was just a couple weeks shy of 3, kept a close eye on a grasshopper in the cage he was busily carrying around, with his grandfather, Jim Smith of Lebanon.

“That’s an orange bordered plant voll,” Little said as another youngster held out an inch-long black beetle sporting the orange trim indicated by its name.

“There’s a future entomologist,” Little said.

He told the group that most insects are annuals – they only live a year or less – but beetles are not only the most numerous insects on the planet but may also hold the age record. He cited the case of one that had tunneled into wood used in a house built 57 years previously, and would have done so before the house was built because it only lives in dead trees, Little said, was found in lumber from that house, indicating it had to be at least 57 years old.

Rhiannon ran up, holding a small, half-inch-long insect that looked like a black ant with a coat of tan-colored fur, “Here, here, here!”

Little’s gaze sharpened.

“That’s a velvet ant,” he said, explaining that the insect, also known as a “cow killer,” is actually a wingless wasp that preys on the larvae of burrowing bees to lay her eggs. He added that the insect can deliver a nasty sting when provoked.

Rhiannon had divested herself of the wasp and the onlookers watched it crawl into the grass.

“I can’t believe what these kids are doing,” Little said, delightedly.