My Case Against Bug Catchers

I’ve seen it all too often: a curious child with good intentions, a creature imprisoned for being interesting, different.

The terrified bug or worm hovers in a corner, unmoving as two pairs of giant eyes inspect its every breath and quiver. Crunchy dead leaves get tossed in, a few blades of grass, nothing in this animal’s diet. The putrid smell of death hangs from every surface of this place. Fear overwhelms the creature as it begins to climb the screen that surrounds it, desperately looking for an escape.

“It’s moving! Look, it’s moving!” the captors squeal. “Let’s get him some water.”

“You need to let that thing go in an hour,” I holler.

I’ve learned a thing or two about these bug catchers. The kids beg to keep their catch for just one night only to discover in the morning a crust of a being that Dad or I eventually dump or scrape out into a shallow, grassy grave.

We set rules: The kids can put something in the bug catcher to observe for a little while and then release it. It’s not fair to kill even a tiny creature for their amusement.

NC cicada

This guy was big.

Then the cicada came. My son stepped on it in the yard. What a find. It had just molted, leaving behind its intact brown shell. He put it in his bug catcher to show his dad an hour later, and then he was supposed to release it.

The cicada—a giant compared to other bugs in our yard—is a sight to behold, nothing like the roly-polies and earthworms the kids normally toss in this dirty bug graveyard. What we didn’t know is it takes awhile for a freshly hatched cicada’s exoskeleton to dry. So it sat, trapped, in our open bug catcher for a few days, shell hardening and darkening as we waited for it to fly away. Three days later it was finally gone. Sure, it was a process that was cool to watch, but we likely kept it from food during its short life above ground.

cicada shell

This is what we usually find.

Then the lizard came: a skink in my dining room. I’m OK with them outside darting lightning fast among my shrubs, but not between the legs of my dining room table. My son grabbed a cup and patiently tried to get the speedy baby. It camouflaged itself on a chair leg for a while, hid under a basket, and tried to make a getaway up a wall. My son told me to stop screaming because I was scaring it.

We finally got it outside and again my son wanted to put it in the bug catcher so his dad could see it, which meant I had to transfer a wiggling skink from a cup into the catcher. I agreed but said he had to let it go at lunch. When his dad came home, the bug catcher was empty. The skink had escaped.


Escape artist.

I think our family has learned enough lessons here. I’m done with bug catchers and trying to get anything in them and dead shells out of them. If my kids want to watch nature in action, they’re going to have to do it the hard way: with no barriers.



Filed under Everyday Life

19 responses to “My Case Against Bug Catchers

  1. I know what you mean. I went through the same thing with my boys when they were little.. Cool photo of the newly hatched cicada!

    • That was a cool find. My kids always search for bugs under rocks in our yard. This one couldn’t fly away because its wings were wet. I didn’t know that when I gingerly snapped a few shots of him. I was so afraid it would fly right at me!

  2. A lizard in your house…seriously!! Logan would be ecstatic!

    • My son was thrilled. He wanted to keep it for a pet. Now that I’ve seen how easily that thing escaped from a cup and a bug catcher, no way. Those aren’t the most foolproof keepers, but it gave me some perspective on ever having a lizard for a pet. Or anything small and quick for that matter.

  3. I am so happy to hear you say that you were screaming because that would certainly have been my reaction! I have my strengths but being a city girl, they do not include bugs or other creepy crawlers!

    • Bugs and crawling things outside are fine, though I don’t like them. But my house is not the place for crawling things. I can’t sleep knowing something big is roaming around. And I won’t until I find it. I’m glad I have a son who now takes care of these things for me. 🙂

  4. i have a little girl, do they go through the bug catcher phase too?

    • Mine loves them, but maybe that’s because of her big brother. They mostly catch roly-polies, but they keep an eye out for anything more interesting. Often my daughter is more brave around animals than my son. She loves to pet and hold them. He’d rather observe.

    • I can attest to the roly poly phase for girls, too. My daughter (9) still loves them. When she was younger, she would put them in her bike basket and take them for rides around the block. Then, she would forget the poor things were in there when it was time to go in. I hope riding in a bike basket was the last item on their bucket lists.

  5. I would have to title this “My case FOR the Animal Planet/Discovery Channel” ….I can do lizards, I nearly lost it when one brought home their millipede from school !

    • I know. The sensation of a bug crawling on my skin is just too much. I guess I had a bad experience. And I guess I have suppressed that memory. My kids would be happy to have their filled bug catcher on their nightstand as they drift off to sleep.

  6. I know your pain. I’ve had to dump many a dead insect from my eldest son’s bug catchers, now I have another little one the cycle will begin all over again soon enough.

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    Please don’t feel obligated to accept. I just wanted to pass on some appreciation for your great work.

  8. Hear, hear! I’m totally with you on this, Karen. I have lost all patience for bug jars. My kids are finally getting it that putting the bugs in the jar is not in their best interest.

  9. I agree completely! I hate killing anything but make an exception for any ants that wander into our home. Our babysitter helped the girls capture a huge ant they found at the park the other day. My girls were fascinated watching it in a covered container they forgot to punch holes in. Not on my watch – we decided to release it into the outside flower containers so it could “make friends.” Great post (as always)!

    • We had an ant farm once. That was really fun, cool to watch those guys build tunnels almost immediately. But after a few weeks it got pretty sad to see those guys hauling the dead ones away. It’s definitely better to let them “make friends” outside and see them in action in nature.

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