A BEETLE IN GEORGIA

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Submitted Date 07/03/2020
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In a small town in Georgia, just over the Tennessee border, there's a cute cafe that serves coffee and pie. It's got a red and white checkered awning and there's only enough room inside for four tables. A friend and I were sitting at one of those tables, happy to be in the air conditioning. The two tables right outside the door were vacant. The heat in a Georgia July is nearly unbearable. I'd just finished a delicious slice of pecan and an iced latte. My friend still had a little cherry on her shirt where she'd spilled a bite of her pie. We paid our kind server and made for the front door, eager to continue our road trip from Kentucky.

The minute we stepped outside, I heard my friend let out an eek! She flailed her arm in the air, swatting at something. There was a buzzing sound and then a small thump at the table beside her. I went over to look. The offending beast was a Japanese beetle, a large emerald green creature that sparkles in the sunlight. This one landed on its back and its little black legs wiggled in the air at me. I put my hand down gently, let it get a grip on my finger, and then I flipped my hand so the beetle was upright. It opened and closed its wing covers for a moment and then took off, buzzing away down the block.

After it was gone, my friend said, "I do NOT like bugs, but that one was kinda pretty."

I hesitated. Internally, I debated whether or not to tell her. I've been called "Bug Girl" before. Lately, it's been "Mushroom Girl." I earned both nicknames by being a bit of a Hermoine when it comes to certain subjects. It's not that I want to be an insufferable know-it-all. I just feel like there are so many misunderstood forms of life on the planet. I want to share how interesting these creatures are and my way of doing that is to help clarify some of those misunderstandings. To me, appreciation comes from information.

"It was, wasn't it?" I reply. "Actually, it was a beetle, not a bug."

"What?" she asked, squinting at me through the blinding sunlight.

I motion for her to come with me to the car. It's hot and I want to get out of the sun. The car is just a few yards from the cafe. I start the engine and the A/C washes over us. Ah, sweet relief. Once we're back on the highway, I explain.

"So, what I was saying is that beetles are insects, not bugs."

"I thought bugs were insects."

"They are," I laugh. "Bugs are insects but not all insects are bugs."

I glance over at her in the passenger seat. She's got her nose scrunched up, a look she gets when she's confused. I get it. Most people use the terms "bug" and "insect" interchangeably. It's like saying "irregardless" when you really mean "regardless" or "invoke" instead of "evoke." Similar, but different. I suppose I'm a little picky when it comes to words. I'm a writer, what do you expect?

"So, bugs are a certain type of insect. Beetles, butterflies, dragonflies, and wasps are all insects. But, there's a subsection of insects called the 'true bugs.' Their scientific term is 'Hemiptera.' It means 'half wing.' The true bugs don't have pinchers or mandibles to bite with. They have a syringe-like mouthpart that they use to pierce plants and suck the juices out. True bugs are cicadas, stink bugs, shield bugs, and assassin bugs. Aphids and leafhoppers are true bugs too."

"So they eat plants?"

"Yeah, they suck out the juices of them."

"If they're not eating a plant, how can you tell it's a 'bug' and not an 'insect'?"

"Most of the time, I just remember which insects are bugs, but if I had an insect that I didn't know and it wasn't on a plant, I'd look at its wings."

"What's special about their wings?"

"Remember what I said about Hemiptera meaning 'half wing?' That's because part of their wing is thick and part is a thin membrane. You can look at its back and there's a little diamond shape where the thin part of the wings sit, down near its butt. That beetle back there has a hard set of wing covers. So, when you look at its back, you see a tight line down the center where the two sides meet. Unless those are open, you don't see the flying wings. That doesn't work all the time, but it helps."

"Oh. Well then, what about things without wings, like spiders and ants?"

"As far as I know, most Hemiptera - the true bugs - have wings. Ants can sometimes have wings too. They're insects. Spiders though, they're not even insects at all. They're arachnids. That includes spiders, ticks, and mites."

"So, all of the gross stuff."

"Well, I'm not a fan of ticks, personally, but I do like spiders."

"Yeah, you would, bug girl."

I roll my eyes. I knew that was coming.

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