On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Kojo For Kids welcomes The Bug Guy to the show on Monday, July 13 at 12:30 p.m. Listen live by streaming the show on this page or by tuning in to 88.5 FM in the Washington, D.C. region. Kids can call in with questions at 800-433-8850.
Why does a stinkbug stink? Will a bee die if it stings me? Which insects taste good?
For all your summer bug questions, Kojo For Kids brings you The Bug Guy — aka University of Maryland emeritus professor of entomology Michael Raupp.
The Bug Guy knows not everyone loves insects. But once he starts talking about the weird and wonderful things bugs can do, he bets you’ll become a bug fan too.
To get you started, check out his “Bug of the Week” website.
This show is part of the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 20 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Michael Raupp "Bug Guy" and Professor of Entomology, University of Maryland; @BugoftheWeek
KOJO NNAMDIWhy does the glow worm glow? Do all bees sting? Are bugs really an excellent source of protein? Today, we're talking with the Bug Guy, who has devoted much of his life to studying species that many people would sooner run away from or squish with a shoe.
KOJO NNAMDIBut the Bug Guy is here to share why bugs are so important and fascinating, and to answer questions you may have about anything with six, eight or a hundred legs, but only if you're a kid. Adults are welcome to listen, but on Kojo for Kids, we're taking questions from kid callers only. Mike Raupp, aka the Bug Guy, is professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Maryland. Mike Raupp, good to talk to you.
MICHAEL RAUPPWell, Kojo, this is an especially fine afternoon to talk to you, because I saw my first monarch butterfly on my milkweeds this morning. So, it's a very special day.
NNAMDITell us a little bit about you as a kid. Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like?
RAUPPWell, Kojo, if your listeners can believe this, I grew up in a part of what we call rural New Jersey. Now, most people think of New Jersey as an exit off the Garden State Parkway.
RAUPPHowever, I grew up in a part of the land that was full of farm, fields and rivers and forests. And the best advice I ever got from my mother was to go outside and play. Now, I thought she was doing me a favor, but what I came to realize was that I had two older brothers and a younger brother and sister that were just driving her crazy. So, she just wanted me out of the house, but I took this as an opportunity to become a big fan of nature in all its splendor.
NNAMDIWhen did you really get into bugs, and what is it about them that you love so much?
RAUPPWell, you know, I am through college first as a marine biologist. And then I switched to chemistry and biochemistry and got a molecular taste of things. I was pre-med, pre-vet. I kept switching majors every five years, or every year for five years. And, finally, one day, the dean called me in and he said, Mike, it takes 120 credits to graduate, and you've got 150. You're out of here. So, I said, well, gee whiz, what am I going to do? I said, what course did I really enjoy?
RAUPPAnd I had taken medical entomology and general entomology and, Kojo, these guys were outdoors, running around with bug nets in tennis shoes and shorts. And I said, now, that's got to be a life. So, I walked over to the entomology department at Rutgers. I said, do you have any openings? And they signed me up, and the rest is history.
NNAMDITell our kids, our listeners, exactly what entomologists do.
RAUPPWell, they do everything, Kojo. Bugs are the most diverse life form on the planet, higher life form. And we do everything from very basic research on the ecology and behavior of insects to understanding how they help to sustain our eco systems to how they pollinate our crops and provide all the fantastic billions and billions of dollars that the eco system services, including pollination, things like pest reduction.
RAUPPBut the other side of this -- and I live kind of a split personality kind of lifestyle -- is we also have to help people learn how to manage and control the insect pests that attack their crops or live in their homes or vector diseases. So it's a real dichotomy and I'm, you know, basically pretty schizophrenic when it comes to this. I spend part of my life telling people how wonderful bugs are, and the other part of my life is telling people how to kill bugs. So, this is strange.
NNAMDILet's go to 11-year-old Alani in D.C. Alani, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIGo right ahead.
ALANIHi. So, my question is, can you tell us a little bit about water bugs and roaches?
NNAMDIWater bugs and roaches.
RAUPPWell, hi, Alani. How are you? And this is a fantastic question. Alani, I'm going to be straight up with you on this, honey. Water bugs really are roaches, and that's just the simple truth of this thing. In Florida, they have various things, but they are roaches. Now, they obviously didn't evolve 60 million years ago living in people's kitchens and basements. They basically play a role in nature as recyclers. Out in the forests, they would recycle wood. They would eat decaying vegetation.
RAUPPBut guess what? When we have a little bit of food laying around the house, or maybe that cat food bowl or dog food bowl doesn't get cleaned up in time, this provides an opportunity for roaches to move in and share our homes with us. Now, there are other types of insects that are also called water bugs that are truly aquatic organisms. These are predators that live in our ponds and lakes. And, again, these are simply part of the food chain. But I think, Alani, the water bugs you're talking about are probably the cockroaches that had said, gee whiz, this is a great place to live, and they simply have moved in.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Alani. Here is six-year-old Alecos. Alecos, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALECOSWhy do mosquitoes have to bite people instead of other animals?
RAUPPThat's a fantastic question. And really, really, they do spend a lot of time biting other animals. There are mosquitoes that love to feed on birds. There are others that will feed on small animals outdoors, things like raccoons or deer. And there are even some that feed on very strange things like amphibians, toads or reptiles like turtles. But unfortunately, here in the DMV, there are many opportunities for mosquitoes to breed near our homes and near our businesses. And when we go outdoors, they find us just as tasty as some of the other animals that live outdoors.
RAUPPThe reason they feed -- and it's only the female that bites human beings, because she needs blood -- the blood in our bodies will be turned into her eggs. So, she basically needs that protein to lay her eggs. But here's the good news of this, Alecos. When she 's not feeding on humans or other animals, mosquitoes, both male and female, the boys and the girls are pollinating our plants. In addition to eating blood, that's what the females do, the ladies. But the males are nectar feeders and are pollinators. So, you know, they're not always all bad.
NNAMDIWell, this is a question I've been hearing all my life, coming from 11-year-old Jacob: Why do mosquitoes seem to like to bite some people more than others?
RAUPPWell, Jacob, this is a really good thing to understand. And it turns out that I'm not a mosquito attracter, but fortunately for me, my darling bride is. So, whenever I go outdoors, I make sure I go outdoors with her because she's going to attract all of the mosquitoes (laugh) and leave me mosquito free.
RAUPPSome of the reasons we think that some people attract more than others, number one, mosquitoes are kind of smelling us. The odors they use to detect us are things like carbon dioxide. This is a gas that we exhale as we breathe. And also another chemical known as lactic acid. That particular compound is found in our sweat.
RAUPPSo, we find that people, particularly people that might be exercising a lot, they might tend to attract more mosquitoes because they're breathing heavier, letting off more carbon dioxide, and also lactic acid. And people that generally tend to be larger, because they simply have greater body mass, tend to be more attractive.
RAUPPNow, there's another piece of this puzzle. And that piece of the puzzle is that there's a unique blend of odors. There are more than 100 different compounds, odors, volatile compounds that come off the human body. Some people have even more than that, and it's that kind of unique blend of odors that help to make the mosquito make a decision that I'm going to bite this person. Naw, nut maybe that person isn't so tasty.
NNAMDIWhat's a good way to avoid getting bitten?
RAUPPOh, well, don't go outside with the mosquitoes. That's number one. (laugh) But I'm not recommending that, of course. During these COVID days, hey, everybody, like your previous guest discussed, everybody needs to go outside, get some fresh air, get over the COVID confinement concerns, and go outside and enjoy some fresh air.
RAUPPSo, what I do is, if I'm going to be outside in places where I know mosquitoes are going to be -- and here in the DMV, I think that's going to be everywhere -- I'm going to use personal protection. That means if I'm going for a walk, I might put on a lightweight long-sleeved shirt and perhaps a pair of lightweight pants, as well. Some of this clothing is actually pretreated with a very effective mosquito repellent, and they have clothing both for children and for adults.
RAUPPAnd if I'm not going to wear that clothing on my exposed skin, I'm probably going to use a mosquito repellent. Now, one of my favorite mosquito repellents has an organic compound. It's derived from a plant. It's called oil of lemon eucalyptus. And this is one that I find will give me really nice protection for three to four hours while I'm working outdoors.
NNAMDIHere is Colby in Cleveland Park, who is eight, but almost nine. Colby, it's your turn. Go ahead, please.
COLBYMy question is, how do bees fly next to a bus, and then you think they're not even flying.
RAUPPWow, Colby, that's a great -- that's a great question. You know, those bees are pretty clever, and some of those bees can fly really, really fast. So, when you're looking out that bus window and you see that bee and it looks like it's not even moving, those wings are beating so fast, it's taking it just probably at the exact same speed that you're going.
RAUPPThe other thing is many of our bees have very sticky feet. So, if that bee should land on the bus window or perhaps the windshield of your automobile, I've seen those bees and insects hang on, and I'm driving 30 or 40 miles an hour, and they're still holding on. So, they've got sticky feet, and some of them can probably fly fast enough so they're keeping right up with you when you're peeking out the window of your school bus. So, keep looking for those bees. That's the best thing to do.
NNAMDISix-year-old Charlotte has a question about my favorite. Charlotte, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHARLOTTEMy name is Charlotte. My name is Charlotte. I love ladybugs. I want to know when they evolved. Did ladybugs live with dinosaurs?
RAUPPOh, Charlotte. That might be a stumper for me. (laugh) Were ladybugs around during the time of dinosaurs? The ladybug lineage, the beetle clan -- these actually are called ladybugs, but they're not really what we call true bugs. Ladybugs are actually a kind of beetle. And certainly, they've been on planet Earth for, oh, well in excess of 100 million years. And I think this would certainly put them in the ballpark when T-rex was roaming around the countryside. And I think the answer to your question is highly likely a yes, that the ladybug lineage has been here certainly from the time of some dinosaurs. So, great question. You may have stumped me here, but I'm going with a yes on that one, Charlotte.
NNAMDILadybugs are my favorite too, Charlotte. But Mike Raupp, what is your favorite bug? Do you have one?
RAUPPOh, my gosh. Well, my spirit animal -- my spirit insect is actually the cicada. I will be having lots and lots of fun with cicadas next year, of course, when the big brood comes to visit the DMV in May and June of next year. But, you know, they just have such bizarre and fascinating lifecycles, living underground for 17 years. What's that about? Solitary confinement on the roots of plants. And then when they're teenagers up and out of the ground to sing their hearts out, woo their mates in the treetops before their short time on this Earth disappears, and they go back underground again.
NNAMDIOkay. On now to Eloise and Abigail -- seven and four, respectively -- on Sugarloaf Mountain. Eloise and Abigail, you're on the air go ahead, please.
ELOISE AND ABIGAILWhy do we have so many assassin bugs in our yard? There's sunflower plants and little black worms. Why?
NNAMDIAssassin bugs, Michael Raupp, (laugh) in their yard.
RAUPPWell, I'm going to inform the rest of our listeners that I did not set this up. Eloise and Abigail are my granddaughters.
RAUPPAnd what in the world are they doing on Sugarloaf Mountain when I'm here on Kojo today? I need to be there. But Eloise and Abby, to answer your question, the assassin bugs are very, very important predators. They really help to eat many different kinds of pest insects that we might find in our crops and in our gardens.
RAUPPAnd it turns out that your sunflowers right now have a whole host of caterpillars that I believe are eating their leaves. So, the assassin bugs are coming there, and they're going to snack on those caterpillars. And that's going to help keep those leaves on your sunflower plants so you can have lots of blossoms a little bit later this summer. So, thanks so much for your question. And be careful up there on Sugarloaf. Don't fall off the big cliff.
NNAMDINice meeting you, Abigail and Eloise. Mike Raupp, since they mentioned assassin bugs, a lot of people are concerned about so-called murder hornets. They sound very scary. What are they?
RAUPPWell, the murder hornet is a very large, predatory hornet. These are types of very large wasps, basically. And they're specialists on honeybees. In other words, what they do is they focus their attack on honeybee hives. They get the name murder hornets because during part of the attack on the honeybee hive, they will actually pull out the soldiers. The worker bees that come out to defend their hive, they will decapitate them. They will cut off their heads and discard their bodies in front of that hive. It's really quite gruesome.
RAUPPNow, these are pests of bees throughout Asia, but very recently, they were discovered in the Pacific Northwest, in Canada, and also in parts of Washington state. So, our concern here is that we have a new invasive pest here in North America that could bring some more despair for our already imperiled honeybees. And they do pack quite a wallop when they sting. And this is something that would also be a concern if you were to be stung by one of these rather large hornets.
NNAMDIHere is Sebastian in Kensington, Maryland. Sebastian, it's your turn.
SEBASTIANAnd my two questions are, why do -- how do fireflies light up? And my second question is, why do they only come out at night?
RAUPPOh, great questions. These guys -- Sebastian, these little fireflies have figured out the magic of what we call cold light. They have a special compound in their abdomen called luciferin. It's named after Lucifer, the devil. And some people call this the devil's light. And when this particular compound is broken down inside the abdomen in a special series of cells in the insects rear end, in its abdomen, it creates a very cool white or greenish colored light. It's absolutely fascinating.
RAUPPIn fact, that particular reaction is now used in glow sticks. So, if you've ever had glow sticks, Sebastian, and break them open, that's the same kind of chemical process that produces the light in a glow stick. Now, why do they do this? Well, that's the other interesting part of the story. The reason they do this, it's a way for them to communicate that they really want to kind of get together with other members of their species. The male firefly will have a particular blinking pattern. And his blinking signal, if it's attractive to another female member of the species, she will signal back. And this is kind of an invitation to come and visit, and eventually, they'll mate and reproduce.
RAUPPSo, the reason they do this at night, of course, is night is the perfect time that these lights will have their maximum expression that these insects, the fireflies, which actually -- really, they're not flies, they're a type of beetle -- will be able to see each other, communicate through their different flash patterns and get together to reproduce. So, this is the reason -- or this is how they make their light, and this is the reason it only occurs at nighttime.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Sebastian. Nora, was your question answered?
NNAMDII think you had the same question, but go ahead and ask it, anyway.
NORAI have a different question now. And my question is, what is the difference between a butterfly and a moth?
RAUPPOh, Nora, that's a great question. And this is one that comes up all the time. Well, butterflies -- the easiest way to tell them apart is that most of our butterflies fly during the daytime. During the daytime, they're flying about and they're eating nectar, in particular, or maybe getting some other nutrients from the nectar that they drink. They tend to be very brightly colored. And if you look very carefully at their bodies, their bodies are rather slender. And when they rest in the daytime on flowers or plants, their wings are kind of stretched almost straight out from their body.
RAUPPMoths, on the other hand, tend to have very, very full bodies, very thick bodies. And at rest, their wings are sometimes held tent-like over their body, or maybe a little bit more swept back from their body. We usually find most of our moths are active at nighttime, rather during the daytime. One other difference is that many of our moths do not feed as adults They get all the nutrition they need when they're very hungry caterpillars. And many moths simply do not feed when they're adults.
RAUPPAnother thing, if your eyes are really sharp, Nora, you can look at their antennae. And the antennae, these are the two sensory organs at the front of the butterfly's head or the moth's head. On a butterfly, they tend to be quite narrow and they might have a little bulb at the end, a little swelling towards the tip. With our moths, the antennae tend to be very, very feather-like on many of our moths So, that's another difference you can look for. But butterflies in the day, moths usually at night.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Nora. Here's six-year-old Vander in Bethesda, Maryland. Vander, it's your turn.
VANDERWhy do butterflies need the powder on their wings to fly?
RAUPPVander, that's a great question. When you capture a butterfly, it's not at all unusual, after you hold it for a moment or two, to look at your hand, and it looks like there's a powder on there. You're absolutely right. But, actually, that powder are very, very tiny scales. They almost look like the scales of fish. If you put it under a microscope...
NNAMDIOnly got about a minute left.
NNAMDIOnly got about a minute left, but go ahead.
RAUPPGotcha. Okay. They are little tiny scales, and these scales are used primarily for color. The provide the color for the butterflies, so the butterflies can seek out mates. But also, these colors are very important to warn predators not to eat certain kinds of butterflies because they are distasteful. So, it provides protection, and it also provides a different color pattern for recognizing other members of their species. Great question.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Vander. Michael Raupp is the Bug Guy and professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Maryland. You can find a link to Bug Guy's Bug of the Week website and many other buggy links at kojoshow.org. Michael Raupp, thank you so much for joining us.
RAUPPAlways a pleasure, Kojo. Thank you very, very much, and all your wonderful call-in guests today.
NNAMDIKojo for Kids was produced by Lauren Markoe. And our conversation with Dr. Leana Wen was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Are you a student, teacher or parent? We want to hear from you for our new education series which begins airing this Thursday. What are you most worried about when it comes to school this fall? Record a voice memo on your cell phone and email the recording to Kojo@wamu.org, subject line, “School Reopening.”
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow, for years, Washington's football team resisted calls to change its name. But this week, amid pressure from corporate sponsors and the public, the team announced the name is officially retired. We'll discuss the history of the team name, which is a racial slur, and the road that led to this change. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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