Arboretum Paths: Come get buggy!

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Identification please: Top photo: During a past Arboretum insect event, D.J. Failla identifies and sorts the insects he has collected by their specific orders.  Photo by Pat Drackett

Identification please: Top photo: During a past Arboretum insect event, D.J. Failla identifies and sorts the insects he has collected by their specific orders.
Photo by Pat Drackett


By Patricia Drackett

Director, Crosby Arboretum/ MSU Extension

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Yes, you read that right! Do you know someone who is fascinated by insects?  If so, they are in for a treat at the Arboretum this Friday, May 2, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. when we will be hosting a very special night insect collecting event, led by Hancock County Extension Agent Christian Stephenson. This will also most likely be the last chance to see the Pinecote Pavilion lit up at night before being closed for restoration work.

In the spring months, many species of insects are emerging, and some are active only at night. Lighted sheets are great places to draw insects. Families who visit our large Bugfest event in September have reported that they have continued this practice at home with their own sheets and lights, and using both black lights and sodium vapor lights. But a very simple method of gathering insects for a collection is to explore what is hanging around your porch lights, or to search under lights in gas stations, especially those lots located out in the county away from other urban lights. I found my first “toe-biter” for my collection at a gas station.

Toe-biters are in the insect family Belostomatidae and are also known as giant water bugs, alligator ticks, or electric light bugs. They have a hefty set of front legs that look like they have been lifting weights. These front legs have sharp claws that aid in capturing and holding their prey, such as frogs, fish, and tadpoles. They feed with piercing-sucking mouth parts. From their name, you can guess that you don’t want your toe to become mistaken for prey.

The Ross E. Hutchins “Nature in Pictures” Photo Collection at the Mississippi Entomological Museum on the MSU campus in Starkville contains a dramatic photo of a giant water bug that has captured a small snake. Dr. Hutchins was Department Head of the Department of Entomology and Zoology at Mississippi State University from1951 to 1963, and was a prolific author of articles and books that included entomology topics. The Entomological Museum is in the Clay Lyle Entomology Building and is well worth a visit.

One unusual fact about giant water bugs is that they are considered a delicacy in other countries such as Thailand. If you don’t believe me, do an Internet search for “canned giant water bugs”. If that isn’t strange enough for you, look up an image on the Web for “giant water bug eggs”.

Do you have an insect you would like to identify? Visit the MSU Extension website at and search for the keywords “Insect Identification Service” for instructions on how to how to have insects identified free of charge by mailing to the Insect Diagnostic Lab at Mississippi State University.

Another informative and entertaining website to read late into the night is You can also submit photos here for identification. Part of the fun is reading the stories about the insects people encounter.  One of the sections is called “Bug Carnage”, for “poor arthropods whose lives ended prematurely”.  The site is an excellent way to learn what insects are currently being seen across the county. Currently, the giant water bug is on their “Top Ten” list!

To help you in beginning an insect collection, you may wish to download the condensed version of the 4-H entomology manual that we have made available for BugFest which is on the Arboretum website. Just go to our main program calendar page and click on the image of a bug.

Please call the Arboretum to sign up if you would like to attend the night insect collecting program this Friday, May 2, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. This is a small program focused on collecting and identifying emerging spring insects that will be gathering on the lighted sheets. We’ll provide all of the bnecessary collecting equipment, just bring your flashlight! Admission is free for members, non-members, $5 for adults and $2 for children.

On Saturday, May 3, from 1:00 to 2:30, certified yoga instructor James Sones will lead a gentle yoga class in the beautiful natural setting of the Pinecote Pavilion, followed by a short meditation sitting. Mats will be provided, but you may bring your own. Please arrive at least 10 minutes early. The program is free to members, and $5 for non-members.

For more information or to sign up for a program, call the Arboretum office at (601) 799-2311, or visit We are open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are located in Picayune, off I-59, Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).


You can read excellent articles on common insects in the Bug-Wise newsletter archives, written by Dr. Blake Layton, MSU Extension Urban Entomology Specialist, and available at the Extension website at The site includes many articles and information sheets with topics such as bug proofing your home for the winter, bedbugs, insect pests, black widow and brown recluse spiders, and much more.