Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Les Nessman of Beetles

 Anyone here old enough to remember Les Nessman from the WKRP in Cincinnati days?

I always laugh when I remember the episode where he decided to do something special for the city at Thanksgiving, and dropped live turkeys from a helicopter, not realizing that they didn't fly.  It was horrifically funny, and I still laugh, just thinking about it.

Anyways, it reminds me that when you're working with animals, or with 'wild release', you better know all your animal facts.

All of them.


Nate's school is having a bunch of renovations done over the summer, and in the spring, leading up to the break, heavy equipment was moved onto campus, cyclone fences went up, and the preparation began for laying the footings for a number of new classrooms.  As part of the renovation, my friend Amanda's classroom was scheduled to be torn apart, and retrofitted over the summer.  In order for the work to continue apace, she was required to have Every Last Speck removed from the classroom by NOON on the last day of school.

This meant that she pretty much had to have everything packed and moved out by the last week of school, so I volunteered to bring in activities to keep the kids engaged while she finished packing up stuff that she would need to move into her new classroom (which won't be ready for her until 3 days before the first day of classes in the fall.  Nothing like cutting things close, there, school board).

The last day was a Friday, so I offered to bring in something fun to do for Thursday morning.

On Wednesday evening, I was out shopping, and found this giant tub of ladybugs at the garden supply store.  What a bonus!  I would bring in ladybugs, and we would all get to release ladybugs into the school garden on Thursday  morning.  I'd do a lesson about natural pest control, talk about Manty (our single remaining praying mantis) and what he does int he garden, and then we'd each take two or three lady bugs, and head out to the garden and set them free on flowers.

Um, yeah.  that was the plan.

I left the container of ladybugs in the van overnight, and it was a pretty chilly night (we got fog), so they were quite sluggish when I got into the van to drive the kids to school.  But by the time we got to school, I realized that they little beetles were starting to get quite active.  I needed sluggish ladybugs, I thought.  And refrigeration was the thing I needed.

I got into the classroom, and things were going pretty well. All the kids wanted to see the ladybugs, but I said that they were too active, so we needed to cool them off a bit, so I put them in the classroom refrigerator.   I then did a lesson about beneficial insects in the garden, and we talked about Manty, and what he would do in the garden.  And then, before we got ready to let Manty go, I took him around, and took his protrait with each of the kids.

Amanda's son also goes to the school, and he has some health issues.  One of those arose that morning, so she was called away for a 'brief emergency'.  I told her that I'd be fine with the kids, that I'd distribute the quiescent ladybugs, and we'd head out to the garden.  I mean, how hard could it be?  There were 20 kids, and they were all eager to see what I was up to.

So I had one girl pass out dixie cups to all the kids, and I said that I would be walking around and shaking out 4 or 5 'sleeping ladybugs' into each kid's cup.  Then we'd go by table-groups to the garden to release the beetles, while I took photos.


that was the plan.

I got the ladybug container out of the fridge, and opened it.  Most of the bugs were pretty slow, but there were a few around the edges that woke up fairly quickly.

I tapped 4 into the first cup, no problem.

The second cup, I got one ladybug into the cup before it flew away.  The activity level in the kids started ramping up, as they watched the ladybug fly around the room.  And then two of the beetles from the first cup got loose, and flew over to the floor at my feet.  One little boy jumped up to catch them, and stepped on one.  That made two girls scream, which then caused about a dozen beetles to take flight from the container (which I was now unable to close, because beetles were crawling... no, SEETHING over the edge of the opening, and putting the lid down would crush dozens.

There are now dozens of ladbugs aloft, and the kids are at chaos level ten.  The teacher's been called away, half the kids are freaking out that there are ladybugs in the air, and WHAT IF THEY LAND ON ME?  and then one girl shrieks because "I HAVE A BUG IN MY HAIR!!!!!" and more kids are upset because I haven't put beetles into their dixie cups yet.

And the hub-bub starts to build, and the bugs are surging out of the container and up my arm, and THAT was when I realized something...

Ladybugs BITE.


When they are trying to hold on, or perhaps when they feel stressed?  They just hunker down, and hold on... WITH THEIR MANDIBLES.

And that was the last thing I wanted to let this group of rapidly-becoming-frantic kids know.
Yes, kids.  Those swarms of red and black things swirling around your heads and landing in your hair by your face?  THEY BITE!

So I made an executive decision... we would not be waiting for the teacher, or for the aide.  We were beating it out to the garden.  Get in a line, kids, and don't worry if your dixie cup is empty.  We were going to RELEASE THE LADYBUGS!

We ran, more than walked.  And I didn't have a chance to do much photography.

The kids were swirling around me, pushing forward to get more bugs, and the ladybugs were flying towards kids faces, and I lost count, so I didn't know if I had all the kids I started with or not, and then...

An aide showed up wtih a kindergarten class.  "The teacher had an emergency, and told me to take the kids into Amanda's class, that she'd look after them for a while.  We saw the class coming to the garden, so I just followed.  I need to go tell her where I've gone."

Um, yeah.  A full second grade class, AND a full kindergarten class (with kids that I didn't really recognize), AND three hundred ladybugs that wouldn't unclench their jaws from my arm.

But slowly the chaos receded, and the ladybugs released their grips and flew off.  And the kids scooped ladybugs off of my arms with their dixie cups, and went  to the various plants and flowers and helped them find new homes, and asked me about the various flowers and learned stuff, and soon the teacher returned, and the kindergarteners got collected, and I could breathe...

Note to self.

Next year?  Freeze those little suckers first.

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