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.
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.
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.
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.