An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide Links to Mythologies,
Fairy Tales & Folklore, Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions
by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.





"Butterflies and Insects" by Jan Van Kessel
circa 1655 A.D.
First Art Gallery

Author's Note
20-21 May 2009

Insects, small as they are, play a huge role in our lives. They bring us beauty, wonder, delight, and humor. They pollinate our crops, which sustain our lives. They also carry deadly diseases, which might end our lives. They serve as guides in our religions and mythologies. We paint them, carve them, dance them, sing them, dream them -- and swat them. They will outlast us. Yet until then, they may inspire and teach us how to live. As Alexander Pope (1688-1744) writes:
The Spider's Touch

The spider's touch, how exquisitely fine!
Feels at each thread, and lives along the line.

Or perhaps insects will find enlightenment through us, and we through them, as a Japanese tale suggests when a serene Buddhist monk, with no rancour, kills a mosquito on his arm while saying:

Become a Buddha by my hand.


Unidentified "insect" -- see directly below:
Dated October 17, 2008, this site offers a free download of what looks like a beautifully photographed and written e-book: Encyclopedia of Insects, editors: Vincent H. Resh, Ring T. Carde. Here is an excerpt about the e-book:
The Encyclopedia of Insects is a complete source of information on the subject of insects, contained within a single volume. Each article in the Encyclopedia provides an overview of the selected topic to inform a broad spectrum of readers, from insect biologists and scientists conducting research in related areas, to students and the interested general public. In order that you, the reader, will derive the maximum benefit from the Encyclopedia of Insects, we have provided this Guide. It explains how the book is organized and how the information within its pages can be located.
The Encyclopedia of Insects presents 271 separate articles on
the entire range of entomological study....
My only quibble is that the striking photos on this page are not identified so one would not know how to find further information about them. A gorgeous teal-blue butterfly, for example (see above), is simply named "insect." This seems odd for a scholarly work -- but then the book is free so I suppose I shouldn't complain.
[Added 11 September 2009]:  This is "My Ant Could Paint That!"-- a delightful but also eye-opening Boston Globe article about insects as artists. Two brief excerpts:
...The question was, if insects are artists, what kind of artists are they? As it happens, insects are Modernists. Their work is suffused with abstraction, pattern, and process. They favor bold, all-over compositions that emphasize the physicality of their materials: the rich colors of soil and leaves, the intricate interior structure of wood, the texture of sand and stone. They turn simple actions like chewing, carving, and egg-laying into complex displays of repetition and variation....

...The irony here is that abstraction, the signal achievement of Western visual art in the 20th century, is still often regarded as a profoundly artificial art form. Abstract art, we’re taught, was symptomatic of a society’s estrangement from the natural world....
This is "Insects and their Relatives," an brief activity page for young students developed by the University of Kentucky. The question is asked:
Can you pick out the animals that are insects? List by letter each one that is an insect, and tell the main characteristic or charcateristics that helped you identify it. There are five insects in the group.
The question is followed by two links. The first link takes a student to 14 black and white sketches of insect-like "critters." Emphasis is on body shape and number of legs. Except for a crab and crayfish, all the critters look like insects to me, but the second link, which provides the correct answers, informs a student that nine of the the critters (including spiders and their kin) have too many legs to qualify as insects. Up to six legs are fine. Anything over six legs means the critter is not technically an "insect."
Again from the University of Kentucky is this index-link for "Entomology for Kids and Teachers." It offers more activities, including data on edible insects (about which kids will probably enjoy reading, yuck-factor and all) and a great many photos of insects common to Kentucky (Note: the photo section even includes some neat regional insect myths [as in "false"], legends and folklore).
This is a colorful, detailed drawing of insect anatomy -- a grasshopper, in this case, but most insects have a similar anatomy. Each aspect is carefully labeled, making this very useful in a classroom setting. (Additional links go to other drawings.)
If you want to explore the full and elaborate breakdown of classifications, this "Guide to the Classes & Orders of insects and other arthropods" from David A Kendall, BSc, Ph.D., a consulting entomologist, is perfect for you. It is truly mind-boggling. Here is how it opens:
The Insecta (insects) are a Class of the large animal Phylum called ARTHROPODA (arthropods) - a name that refers to the jointed limbs. The other major Classes of living arthropods (i.e. animals related to insects) include the Crustacea (crabs, lobsters, shrimps, barnacles, woodlice, etc.), the Myriapoda (millipedes, centipedes, etc.) and the Arachnida (scorpions, king crabs, spiders, mites, ticks, etc.). In addition there are several minor Classes, the Onychophora (velvet worms), Tardigrada (water bears), Pentastomida (tongue worms) and Pycnogonida (sea spiders), all of which contain somewhat aberrant living forms of uncertain affinities to the any of the preceding groups, and finally a Class of extinct arthropods, the Trilobita (trilobites), known only from their fossil remains. All these animals are characterised by a tough outer body-shell or exoskeleton, with flexible joints between the skeletal plates to allow the animal to move.
There is also much else on his site, both scientific and cultural (see 2 more links below in my Mythology section).

Bee and Flower
(See directly below)
This is a brief, general information page on insects from the Smithsonian Institute's National Zoological Park (which also publishes their first-rate Zoo Goer e-zine). Photos are good but small (see above). Here's an intriguing fact about insects that I haven't found elsewhere:
...Once they become adults, insects take part in the complex ritual of reproduction. Most insects differ from other animals in that egg fertilization does not happen during mating. Sperm is stored by the females until their eggs are ready, at which time they are fertilized. However, unfertilized eggs can sometimes produce young in certain species. This is called parthenogenesis....
Here's another excerpt, giving an overview of the crucial role played by insects:
Although insects are generally considered pests by humans, they play an important role in the health of ecosystems. Insects provide a major food source for many vertebrates, including bats, birds, and frogs, as well as for invertebrates, including other insects.... When an insect population decreases, there are major effects on other animals; there is often a decline in certain animal populations, and sometimes a growth in population of other insects that are considered pests....[Further,] close to 65 percent of all flowering plants use insects as pollinators....
This Smithsonian page provides links to related pages on insects, some of which follow -- others are scattered around this webpage.
From the Smithsonian's e-zine, Zoo Goer: This is "Pollination: The Art and Science of Floral Sexuality" by Nancy C. Pratt and Alan M. Peter, a lengthy essay on many aspects of pollination. Here are some highlights:
...Animals use flowers as sources of food for themselves and their offspring. First of all, animal-pollinated flowers produce nectar, a sugar-based substance that also contains vitamins, amino acids, and other nutrients. The amount of nectar a flower typically produces relates to the needs of its pollinators. Hummingbirds, for instance, with their high metabolic rates, need to earn more nectar from a flower than a much smaller bee, to make visiting the flower worthwhile. So hummingbird-pollinated plants generally have flowers that produce greater amounts of nectar than bee-pollinated plants. Second, pollen itself is a good source of protein for many animals. Finally, a few plants reward their pollinators with fatty oils, resin or wax.

Animal-pollinated plants have large, irregular pollen grains with lots of tiny hooks, spines, and craters on the surface. A rough texture and sticky surface ensure that the pollen will stick to a visiting animal's hair, feathers, or appendages and then stay there until the animal visits another flower. At the next flower, the pollen will be rubbed off onto a strategically placed stigma, resulting in fertilization.

Animal pollinators use olfactory and visual cues to find flowers. A flower's scent as well as its color pattern, size, shape, and structural arrangement tell pollinators about the type and quality of the food reward it offers. Fragrant flowers such as roses and gardenias are often located by scent before they are seen by pollinators--mainly insects, which have an acute sense of smell....  Flowers pollinated by birds tend to have no perfume at all because birds do not have great olfactory acuity, while those pollinated by bats tend to be very strong and musty....

...Insects see a spectrum of colors that is shifted toward the shorter wavelengths of light. Their three kinds of cone cells respond to green, blue, and ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light, like infrared at the other end of the spectrum, is invisible to us. Many insect-pollinated flowers display patterns that are visible only in the ultraviolet range. Flowers that look uniformly white, yellow, or blue to us often show striking patterns--like bull's eyes and road maps--that seem to guide insects to their nectar or pollen reward. (In other flowers, these patterns are visible to us.) Most insects do not see red, so a red flower would blend into the background for an insect. Red flowers are thus likely to be pollinated by birds, which have color vision more like our own....
This page offers a great many examples of plants and their unique pollinators. I found especially interesting the many differences between the senses of smell and color in insects as compared with birds and other animals. Although lengthy, the page reads quickly and holds one's interest well.

 © Susi Nagoda Bergquist: Native American Folklore
From the Smithsonian's Zoo Goer: "Invertebrates: The Marvelous Majority" by Howard Youth (see another of his essays elsewhere on my page). What I enjoy about this page is that he includes the neatest trivia (like how Shell Oil got its name) along with the most profound, even mind-blowing references to insects from poets and other writers, or as he expresses it: "...invertebrates also inspire us, and appear widely as subjects in our art and literature, having wormed their way into the hearts of some of the world's most accomplished writers and thinkers." I'm only going to provide a few excerpts but much of this essay is full of wonders and shouldn't be missed:
Fifty million years ago, vast areas of what is now Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming were covered in low, green vegetation and huge lakes. A wide variety of creatures, from primitive crocodiles to rhinoceroses, inhabited the area, and have been described from fossils, known as the Green River shales. Plenty of insects have also turned up in the shales, and many, including a fossilized cricket, closely resemble those living today.

A dragonfly is one of many animals Pueblo Indians etched into the basalt boulders in and around what is now Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico. Dragonflies have long been prominent flying insects--in fact, they appeared well before dinosaurs. Giant dragonflies--the largest insects ever known--swooped over marshes 250 million years ago. Some species, like one represented by a life-sized model at the Invertebrate Exhibit, had wingspreads of about 28 inches.

"I would not enter on my list of friends
(Th'o grac'd with polish'd manners and fine sense,
Yet wanting sensibility) the man
Who needlessly sets foot upon a worm."
--William Cowper, Tirocinium

"Dar'st thou die?
The sense of death is most in apprehension,
And the poor beetle, that we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
As when a giant dies."
--William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

"Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through."--Jonathan Swift, A Critical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind

Insects are the world's most diverse group of animals, totalling about 930,000 described species, and many new species continue to be found as scientists study both local and remote areas more thoroughly. (Compare that with the approximately 4,600 described mammal and 9,600 bird species.) Humans have both revered and loathed these ubiquitous animals, and today they feature prominently in many areas of our culture, including sports. Though many teams have chosen large animals to signify prowess and power, some, such as the Charlotte Hornets professional basketball team, are named after insects.

"Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue." --Henry James, Prefaces
This fascinating site teaches foreign languages by showing pictures of items within various categories -- e.g., insects, women's clothing, men's clothing, farm animals, cities, fruits, vegetables, birds, mammals, numbers, colors, landscapes, etc. The name of each item is written as well as pronounced carefully and clearly. The 13 languages offered are English, Italian, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese, French, Russian, Japanese, German, Hebrew, Vietnamese, and Hindu. The Insect category covers a great many insects. If you're an English speaker, for example, you can go to the English page to get the correct name of each insect and then go to a language of your choice and learn the names in that language.  Here, for example, are Japanese names for the insects:
Here are Mandarin Chinese names for the same insects: And here are the same insects in Arabic:

What a marvelous way to learn foreign vocabulary as well as to identify a wide range of insects!

Monarch Butterfly Migration Map
(see directly below)
One of my favorite childbooks belonged to one of my younger brothers -- it was Johnny and the Monarch Butterfly and I loved reading it to him.  I no longer remember the storyline but the young-me found the artwork terrific and even the memory of it brings a smile today (I just googled it -- it was published in 1946 but links to further data are dead).  My homestate of Michigan gets many monarch butterflies so I grew up with them. They also flock to California where I lived for 26 years. In fact, there is a sheltered cove near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara (where I did my MA and doctoral work in the Department of Religious Studies) that was filled with millions of monarch butterflies each spring, clustered everywhere, like hanging, glowing jewels. Awed fellow-grads described the sight and I always meant to seek out the cove to see this marvel for myself. Somehow, however, the timing was never right. Besides, I have to admit that part of me preferred to imagine the scene instead of risking disappointment by experiencing it in the midst of a crowd of noisy undergrads.

The above bi-lingual (Spanish and English) link for MonarchLIVE, first launched in October 2008, offers live webcasts of migrating monarachs. Since the 2009 wave of butterflies has just reached the northern USA from Mexico, there was a live webcast yesterday (21 May 2009) from near an elementary school in St. Paul, Minn. The webcasts are designed so that viewers may --

Learn about: monarch migration; monarch lifecycle in spring and summer; importance of milkweed; threats to monarchs; and how to preserve monarchs and their habitats.
Note: webcasts are archived after live events so you can view them at any time; there are also pdf files of the scripts. My computer, unfortunately, uses a dialup modem so I haven't seen any webcasts but am glad to know they'll always be available. Maybe there will even be one from that sheltered cove in Santa Barbara at a time when the only on-site humans will be the technical film crew <smile>.

 © WWF-Canon / Fritz Pölking
(See directly below)
This is a great overview page on monarchs from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) -- first, the origins of their classification -- I hadn't known their scientific name before and am touched by the choice:
The Monarch butterfly is known by scientists as Danaus plexippus, which in Greek literally means "sleepy transformation." The name, which evokes the species' ability to hibernate and metamorphize, is actually inspired by the Greek myth of Danaus, in which the daughters of Danaus, king of Libya, flee Libya for Greece in order to avoid marrying their cousins. The long, migratory journey of the Monarch butterflies is reminiscent of the daughters' flight....
The well-written page looks at the butterflies' unbelievable migrations from Canada and the USA to Mexico, including data on the rare "Methuselah generation" that makes such migrations possible, details about the journey, and much more.
From the Smithsonian's Zoo Goer:  "Lepidopterans: Allure and Illusion" by Michael H. Robinson is a thorough, wide ranging paper on focused on butterflies, moths, and the caterpillars from which they emerge. It's full of facts about their eating habits, defense strategies, coloration, insects who mimic them, and much more. Here's one example:
...To defend themselves, some butterflies are downright nasty. Monarchs, for instance, taste terrible and make birds that eat them vomit violently. The compounds, called cardiac gylcosides, responsible for this effect actually come from the plants on which monarch caterpillars feed. These chemicals are part of the defensive system of milkweed, although they don't seem to deter the caterpillars, which eat the leaves, store the chemicals, and pass them along to the adult form. Birds, however, associate the butterfly's conspicuous orange and black coloration with their traumatic experience and avoid encounters with monarchs thereafter....
This is Green Teacher: Education for Planet Earth, a magazine for teachers that's filled with a slew of inviting activities for students. I looked over the sample contents for the Winter 2008-2009 issue -- the activities look rich, exciting, creative, and I wish they had been available to my teachers when I was a child. There was nothing specifically on insects in this issue but it would be easy to include them as part of other outdoor activities. Here is how the page describes the magazine:
Welcome! Green Teacher is a magazine that helps youth educators enhance environmental and global education inside and outside of schools. Fifty pages of ideas and activities, four times a year. Each issue contains:
    * Ideas for rethinking education in light of environmental and global challenges.
    * Practical articles and ready-to-use activities for various age levels from 6-18.
    * Resource reviews: evaluations of dozens of new books, kits, games and other green     resources.
You can download a free issue (available in English, Spanish, or French); inexpensive bulk digital subscriptions are also available (which makes sense in our current economic times). This is a great resource for educators.

"Would you eat these termites? In some areas of Africa, termites
and other insects are fried and eaten as snacks." (Scott Bauer/ARS)
(See Smithsonian link directly below)
From the Smithsonian's Zoo Goer: "Edible Insects" by Alison Fromme. Following the above quote, here's how this paper opens:
Can eating insects help fight hunger and promote biodiversity?

Yes, but only if Westerners can get over "the yuck factor," explains Gene DeFoliart, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and promoter of insects as food. Although people worldwide have been enjoying edible insects since ancient times, their value—in terms of both nutrition and conservation—is often overlooked by the modern Western world. And because Western tastes are so globally influential, people elsewhere may begin to shun insects as an important food source....

I'm an organic grains/greens, free-range egg/dairy vegetarian so am unlikely to consider eating insects. On the other hand, I'm not facing starvation in a blighted landscape filled with other desperate humans.  In such circumstances, this article really makes a powerful case for exploring entomophagy, or insect-eating. The following facts truly amazed me -- I assumed insects had a nutritional value only slightly higher than twigs. Fried, they might taste good, but that was about it.  I was wrong:
...Insects often contain more protein, fat, and carbohydrates than equal amounts of beef or fish, and a higher energy value than soybeans, maize, beef, fish, lentils, or other beans. According to a 2004 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, caterpillars of many species are rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron, as well as B-vitamins. In some African regions, children fight malnutrition by eating flour made out of dried caterpillars. Pregnant and nursing women as well as anemic people also eat caterpillar species high in protein, calcium, and iron.

Yet nutritionally important traditional foods such as insects have been ignored by agricultural aid efforts in Africa, wrote Jennifer Clover, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, in 2003. Dramatic increases in farming yields achieved through breeding programs during the Green Revolution between 1944 and 1975 helped to fill bellies in developing countries, but these crop plants alone did not provide a full complement of nutrients. Additionally, billions of dollars are spent worldwide to protect nutritionally inferior crops with chemicals that kill perfectly edible insect "pests," according to Julieta Ramos-Elorduy, a researcher at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City, pointing out one global effect of the modern Western bias against entomophagy, the eating of insects.

Ramos-Elorduy suggests there are no fewer than 34 reasons to explore insects as a food source, including their impressive nutritive value, easy breeding in captivity, and high biomass. She proposes enriching consumer foods with insect flour in order to make them more nutritious....

The next passage merits serious, sustained attention:
... The availability of high-quality edible insects is closely tied to healthy, intact forests. Without trees and foliage to munch, insect populations plummet, so triggering interest in preserving insects as food sources might be one way to protect swaths of forests and the biodiversity within them.

In many regions where forest degradation is acute, residents are too preoccupied with day-to-day survival to consider the luxury of protecting the environment. But wise management of natural resources could achieve two vital goals: raising living standards and conserving biodiversity....

The article makes its case for achieving the above two goals with persuasive examples from the western edge of Malawi along the Zambian border and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It's a long section but reads fast and really is eye-opening. Here is the article's conclusion:
...The origins of cultural bias against entomophagy in the modern Western world are unclear, according to Ronald Taylor, author of Butterflies in My Stomach: Insects in Human Nutrition. In the Bible, Moses says that eating locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers is acceptable under Jewish law. King Solomon is rumored to have fed locusts to his wives. In the New Testament, John is portrayed eating honey and locusts. Roman and Greek scholars such as Pliny the Elder, Herodotus, and Diodorus also recorded instances of insect-eating. According to Taylor, modern Westerners' fear of entomophagy contradicts the popularity of honey, which he describes as "bee vomit."...

...Insects link biodiversity conservation and human nutrition in a way that many other food sources do not. Edible insects are generally abundant, nutrient-dense, marketable, and economically valuable. For people who have traditionally relied on insects for food, sustainable use of insect resources could lower nutritional deficiencies and raise living standards. Safeguarding forest habitats for edible insects also prevents erosion, preserves water resources, and protects countless other forest species.

According to DeFoliart, increasing food and income for poor families can decrease the pressure for land clearing, intensive monoculture agriculture, and pesticides—and therefore preserve biodiversity.

I started this article with a sense of detached interest. Midway through, that abruptly changed and it became personal. As I learned when researching my series of webpages on Industrial Agriculture, Western agricultural practices involving pesticides, GMO seeds from Monsanto and their ilk, and other pernicious clear-cutting practices required by industrial agriculture have plunged many Third World regions into tragic destitution. Protecting people, protecting forests, protecting biodiversity, and protecting the life-force value of eating insects instead of poisoning them makes sense. We should do this. We should really make this happen.
This is a slideshow from ABC News of nine powerful photos about "Animal Disguises" -- i.e., the way critters disguise themselves to hide from their enemies. Three of the nine are insects (names in bigger type). In order, these include leaf insects, flatfish, toxic stonefish, cuttlefish, manta rays, walking sticks from India, katydids, leafy sea dragon, and sculpins. The photo of the leaf insect is the one I found most mind-boggling. Here is its caption:
Going under the scientific code name of Phylliidae, leaf insects pretend to be leaves in every way imaginable -- just to fool predators. The insects rock back and forth when they walk to appear like a leaf blowing in the wind. Some even have fake bite marks on the edge of their bodies.
More from the Smithsonian's Zoo Goer: this is "Birds in Swarm's Way," an essay by Howard Youth (see elsewhere on my page for another of his essays) about an astonishingly wide variety of birds feasting on ants in Iguazú National Park at the subtropical border between Argentina and Brazil. He and his wife --
...never expected to see so many in one place. Then we discovered the reason: ants. Black legions of them coursed through the grass at the forest edge, sending a smorgasbord of larger insects scurrying right into the bills of the birds....

...Feathered creatures have shared the planet with ants and other colonial insects for millions of years. Back in the Cretaceous Period, between 144 and 65 million years ago, when primitive flying birds shared the skies with winged reptiles called pterosaurs, and tyrannosaurs stomped across steamy landscapes, ants, termites, bees, and wasps emerged as a powerful force. Today, they account for an estimated 75 percent of the planet's insect biomass....

..."Ants are everywhere, but only occasionally noticed," wrote entomologists E.O. Wilson and Bert Hölldobler in their 1990 classic The Ants. "They run much of the terrestrial world as the premier soil turners, channelers of energy, dominatrices of the insect fauna—yet receive only passing mention in textbooks on ecology."...

The article offers eerie descriptions of the lives of army ants, termites, bees, and many tropical birds. It's a lengthy read but worth the effort.

Leaf litter (oak, pine, birch)
See directly below:
This wonky, charming, rambling site is "Investigating the invertebrates that live in leaf litter." The author explains:
The information and links on these pages have been gathered for both the 5th grade students who are this April's "science campers" and for adults who would like to read up on topics to interpret them to children. Since many links can serve anyone who is a pretty good reader I will only make a note if a destination site is focused on adult/teacher concerns....or if it is written for primary students.
I never would have thought of examining leaf litter but this page makes it immensely inviting as children figure out how to capture, identify, and release invertebrates. As their teacher explains:
Leaf litter is just what it sounds like. All the leaves and stuff that falls from the trees and bushes and makes up that sometimes crunchy, sometimes soft forest floor covering. Unlike the litter that people make, forest litter is beautiful to look at, wonderful to smell and enchanting to hear.
I enjoyed the chart that shows that the really good stuff is near the top of a pile of leaf litter. I found the disorganized website impossible to navigate (there's no site map, as far as I could tell), but it really doesn't matter. It creates its own kind of alternate universe where it's ok just to wander around smiling.
From the Smithsonian's Zoo Goer:  Still on the subject of forests, this is "A Trickle-Down Forest Economy" by Edward S. Ross. It starts off with a bang:
A chattering and crashing of guenon monkeys in branches directly overhead—a sudden swish—a near miss! I was almost hit by a most unpleasant bomb—a monkey dropping. The fecal attack might have been deliberate—perhaps a normal defensive tactic in the world of primates. Adrian Forsyth, in Portraits of the Rainforest, amusingly noted that howler monkeys have a "bombs-away" attitude to this event, and they are not averse to anointing naturalists and other interlopers with their copious and pungent waste products. They are often quite good at targeting, and the combination of height and gravity gives their messages an impact that cannot be ignored.

The next morning in that Congo forest, I returned to the scene of the presumed bombing attack and much to my delight as an entomologist, I found the excrement crowded with colorful butterflies of at least 15 species, including those that normally fly high in the canopy. Joined by the other insects, they were bloating on fecal juices. Beneath the pile, scarab beetles were rapidly burying portions in the soil as provisions for their future larvae.

This activity reinforced my awareness of the nutritional importance to many insects of animal excreta and partially eaten fruit and prey that fall from a forest’s upper levels. In addition to such tidbits, all forests, both tropical and temporate, are primarily fed by another kind of "excrement"—a rain of soon-to-rot dead leaves, branches, and fruit. In deciduous, temperate forests [...], the drop is mostly seasonal, initiating a winter shutdown of the biotic factory. Because of winter’s cold and consequent long dormancy, there accumulates an ever-increasing amount of humus that ensures continued soil fertility long after an area is deforested.

In contrast, lowland, continuously wet tropical forests produce day and night, season after season, and many haven’t shut down for millennia. In portions of the Amazon Basin, for example, the production has been constant for perhaps 100 million years or more. Thus there has been time, warmth, moisture, and space for the evolution of a mind-boggling, seemingly impossible complex of species, especially of plants and insects. As the late Marston Bates so aptly stated, "almost anything can survive [in a tropical forest] and almost everything does."

Unlike in temperate forests, however, detritus in tropical forests is consumed by plants and animals shortly after it reaches the ground. Very little accumulates; it is truly a hand-to-mouth bioeconomy. Thus, most of the tropical forest’s life—its biomass—is above ground whereas that of a temperate forest is both above and below ground. This, of course, explains why rainforest soils, unless volcanic in origin, are too poor for sustained agricultural use and the forests are best left undisturbed....
It's a brilliant essay -- it connects dots I never even knew existed and it does so with a sharp, penetrating, insightful style. This article shouldn't be missed.

Butterfly Spreading Pollen
(See directly below)
Again from the Smithsonian's Zoo Goer: This significant 1999 article, "Saving Pollinators" by Alison Emblidge and Emily Schusteris, sounded an urgent warning. Unfortunately, under Bush for most of the past decade, things only got worse. The writing is lucid, depressing, disturbing, and yet there are also flashes of hope and beauty (I love the concept of "nectar corridors").

The authors frame the beginning and end of their paper with a Malaysian fable about bees. [Note: they and other websites citing the same material claim it's from the Rig Veda, an ancient Hindu collection of sacred poetry compiled between c. 1200-900 BCE. But it simply doesn't have the "feel" of the Rig Veda. Further, no one ever identifies the verses and, most damning, the historical context is Malaysia, not ancient India. So I suspect referencing a Rig Veda "origin" is one of those mistakes that everyone keeps passing forward without bothering to check. Regardless, it's still a great story -- see the Mythology section of my BEES  page for a verifyably authentic version from Malaysia.] Within that framework, the authors then make a powerful case for taking strong action in order to save our pollinators. Here are some of many highlights:

Among the tall tualang trees of the Malaysian rainforest, the sultan’s son and a Hindu handmaiden fell in love. The beautiful handmaiden’s name was Hitam Manis, meaning "dark sweetness," but she was a commoner and could not marry the prince. The sultan, angered that his heir would court outside the royal sphere, stabbed Hitam Manis through the heart. She and her fellow handmaidens turned into bees and flew into the forest.

Later, the prince climbed a tualang tree with a knife and pail in pursuit of a tempting honeycomb. When the bucket was lowered, the servants found not a sweet treasure, but their prince’s body in pieces. The prince had desecrated the hive with his metal knife, similar to the weapon that had killed Hitam Manis.

...Pollinators are critical to much more than what fills our stomachs. The loss of a pollinator could cause the collapse of an ecosystem. In some tropical communities, for instance, figs support as much as 80 percent of vertebrates. In the western United States, rufous hummingbirds pollinate wildflowers that help recolonize deforested areas and prevent erosion, according to William Calder, ecologist at the University of Arizona-Tucson. Bats are essential pollinators of trees that support many species in Samoa’s rainforest canopy. Low bush blueberries sustain populations of birds and black bears in the North American Arctic. In short, pollinators support life around the world....

...With 130,000 to 200,000 species of pollinators, a "typical" pollinator doesn’t exist. Beetles, which make up 350,000 named species worldwide, pollinate about 88 percent of all flowering plants, also called angiosperms. Ants, wasps, and bees collectively pollinate 18 percent. Butterflies and moths pollinate eight percent of all angiosperms. Although birds and bats and other mammals don’t pollinate many species, they are vital for the plants that rely on them for reproduction. Bats alone bring us many products, including vanilla, dates, tequila, and bananas. [Note from KJ: Since the percentages add up to more than 100%, I'm assuming that some angiosperms use "backups" and are doubly, or even triply, pollinated by other critters as well as beetles. The authors could have been clearer.]

Plants and pollinators have been evolving together since at least the early Cretaceous period—that’s 144 million years and more than a billion bee generations—and their relationships have become increasingly specialized.... Although specialization increases pollinator efficiency, an inherent problem lurks. "Each of the mutualists suffers reproductive failure when the other cannot be found at the right place at the right time," wrote University of Arizona’s Buchmann and Gary Nabhan, Director of Science at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, in their book, The Forgotten Pollinators.... Habitat loss, fragmentation, pesticides, and exotic species all jeopardize plant/pollinator relationships.

Some pollinators depend on a series of plant species to sustain them throughout the year, and the absence of just one plant species in the series could mean starvation. Similarly, migratory pollinators all over the world frequently follow "nectar corridors" on their annual journeys, requiring a flower to bloom in perfect synchrony with the time the pollinator passes over. Some corridors have been fragmented, altered, or destroyed over stretches of 20 to 60 miles, longer than some pollinators can fly in a day, according to Nabhan and Ted Fleming of the University of Miami. In Sonora, Mexico, nectar corridors fell victim to invasion by more than 400,000 square miles of buffel grass, an exotic African species planted as feed for cattle. Such destruction of nectar corridors not only reduces the total nectar sources available to the pollinator, but, Nabhan postulates, it might force a migrating pollinator to rush through a barren area of a nectar corridor and arrive at the next spot before its flowers are in bloom, throwing the entire system out of synch.

Logging and farming often leave pollinators homeless. Due to severe habitat loss, migratory monarch butterflies now have only a few overwintering sites in Mexico and California that meet their very specific needs: abundant nectar and water sources and a forest canopy that lets in just the right amount of light, for example. With so few sites remaining, an isolated event at a single site — habitat destruction or even an unexpected bout of bad weather — can mean big trouble for the entire species. For example, one-third of all monarchs aggregating in the Michoacan in Mexico were killed in a recent blizzard. If the monarchs had been dispersed over many sites, the blizzard would not have been such a major blow to the world’s monarch population. Some farming methods also threaten pollinators by destroying their habitats. Large-scale modern agricultural operations produce extensive fields of a single crop, and when the crop’s short season is over, nothing remains for bees to eat. Extensive irrigation also destroys solitary bees’ underground nests and increases the damage that fungi do to their broods.

Habitat fragmentation can be equally harmful to pollinators. Tallgrass prairie in Iowa that once sprawled across five million acres is now reduced to only 200 acres, some of it in isolated fragments too small and too far apart to support pollinator populations. In Peru, 50 percent of the economy depends on Brazil nuts, an entirely wild commodity that cannot be grown in plantations because of the plant’s dependence on orchid bees for pollination. Realizing the importance of the crop, Peru passed laws to protect Brazil nut trees, but failed to protect the surrounding forest as well. This led to a highly dysfunctional ecosystem consisting of isolated Brazil nut trees surrounded by pasture. Without the forest, orchid bees could not survive to pollinate the trees. The decline of the Brazil nut has implications for more than Peru’s economy, as the Brazil nut tree is a key player in its ecosystem. In a healthy ecosystem, when the trees’ seed pods of nuts open, they fill with water and become home to mosquito larvae, toad tadpoles, damselfly larvae, and dart poison frog tadpoles.

The term "habitat fragmentation" conjures up images of a few wild areas separated by ecowastelands: housing developments, pastures, deforested regions. But another type of fragmentation, chemical fragmentation, is less obvious and equally harmful. For example, when a crop is sprayed with pesticides, the chemicals infect the surrounding soil and water, killing pollinator species and their larvae. The pollinators survive outside the sprayed areas, but because they cannot cross into the poisoned cropland, the land might as well be a concrete parking garage.

When asked what is the biggest threat to bees in the D.C. area, entomologist Suzanne W. T. Batra of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) replied, "Pesticides, pesticides, pesticides." According to Cornell University entomologist David Pimentel, U.S. farmers use 700 million pounds of pesticides annually— 33 times more than at the beginning of the century. Insecticide use is up ten-fold. Despite these increases, crop losses to insects have risen from seven percent annually in 1945 to about 13 percent today, Pimentel said. Pesticides frequently drift from crop fields into adjacent wild lands, destroying helpful pollinators along with harmful pests. Fifty to 75 percent of pesticides sprayed by aircraft can miss their mark, according to Pimentel and associates. Misuse of pesticides is rampant—according to a 1994 survey by the Arizona Toxics Information Director Michael Gregory and associates, only one in 48 Mexican farmworkers had been taught how to apply pesticides effectively....

...The University of Guelph’s Kevan stresses three important concepts: species, spaces, and systems. We need to focus conservation efforts not just on species, but also on the spaces they inhabit, and devote time and energy to understanding how ecological systems operate. For example, Kevan disagrees with attempts to save honeybees by developing mite repellents because this approach focuses on one species, not spaces and systems. Kevan says that a variety of pollinators working one crop enhances the number and the quality of fruit produced. "There is a crying need to diversify ‘domesticated’ pollinators," he said. The Forgotten Pollinators Campaign of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum also recommends combating the effects of the European honeybee decline by investing in alternative pollinators, both wild and managed, including alfalfa leafcutter bees, alkali bees, bumblebees, mason bees, and blue orchid bees....

..."Our ability to manage the world is limited by the complexity of nature," Forsyth said. Indeed, there’s no easy way to conserve something as complex as an ecosystem. Fred Stabler of the Bureau of Land Management pointed out the conflicts one encounters when trying to save an ecosystem—his organization used herbicides to get rid of exotic plants, which push native plants out of their habitats. But herbicides can kill pollinators and thus threaten native plants with the inability to reproduce.

Despite the obstacles, however, pollinator conservation does have its success stories.... For example, the Bureau of Land Management is now making the effort to close off abandoned mines with bars so that bats can still roost in them, but people and other wildlife will not accidentally fall in or purposely harm the bats.

Things are looking up for the Brazil nut as well. The Peruvian government, anxious to preserve the economically vital Brazil nut crop, is now working with scientists to learn how to preserve the ecosystem, and the Bolivian government is interested in following suit. Interest in lowering pesticide use is also gaining support around the world. Sweden has lowered pesticide use by 50 percent without a loss in yield, according to Pimentel. In the U.S., insecticide use on Texas cotton fields has been reduced by nearly 90 percent since 1966. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is now making grants available to organizations that wish to restore pollinator habitats.

The future of pollinators and the lives of people depend on these efforts.

 The Malaysian servants peered into the bucket now holding the prince’s maimed body. They knew that their master had made a grave mistake by selfishly slicing into the honeycomb. But the bees showered down a golden mist to forgive and revive the prince, granting him a second chance.

Scarab beetle in Tomb KV6, Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt.
(See below for links on scarabs)

From David A Kendall, BSc, Ph.D., a consulting entomologist (also see above section for his page on classifications), comes a beautifully illustrated page on "Sacred Insects of Ancient Egypt." Insects included are Scarab (Dung) Beetle, Buprestid (Jewel) Beetle, Elaterid (Click) Beetle, Honey Bee, Fly, Butterfly, and Locust (Grasshopper). (See the Mythology section of my BEES page for an excerpt from the Honey Bee section.)
This is an interesting and informative survey of the "Fly, Louse, and Flea in Religion, Myths, Mythology and Folklore." Here is the opening paragraph:
In the biblical book of Exodus, the fourth plague sent by Yahweh when the pharaoh refused to release the Israelites was a plague of gadflies that filled the palaces (8:1-20), a particularly insulting punishment since these insects are generally attracted to cattle. The Egyptians, however, seem to have admired the appearance of houseflies, which they frequently used in decorative pins. Pendants of gold in the form of flies were awarded to soldiers for valor. In the play Prometheus Bound by the Greek tragedian Aeschylus, Hera changed the maiden Io into a heifer as punishment for having an affair with Zeus. Then the goddess sent a gadfly to drive the unfortunate creature across Europe and Asia. A similar image is used, though in a positive way, in Plato's “Apology,” where Socrates compared himself to a gadfly sent by God to prod the Athenians out of their complacency. In a similar spirit, the Greek poet Melegros called upon a mosquito to buzz in the ear of his beloved to remind her of his love. In many cultures, especially in East Asia, insects have represented the soul. In Journey to the West, a mythological epic written by Wu Ch'eng-en in late medieval China, Old Monkey sometimes took the form of a fly to escape from demons or to elude detection. Among the Montagnards of Vietnam, fireflies have traditionally been considered the spirits of departed heroes. In Japan and China, fireflies are the companions of impoverished scholars engaged in nocturnal study. Because they provide moments of illumination, short poems written on fans or pieces of silk have been known as fireflies....
[FYI: for much more on fireflies, see my Fireflies page.]
The author, balisunset, "a 32 yrs old dad with two little daughters," has a gift for being able to bring alive a great deal of data in a relatively small space -- I wish the data were footnoted but non-academic web pages rarely are. There are other insect essays in his Folklore section (e.g., The Grasshopper, Locust, Cricket, Cicada, and Mantis in Religion, Myths, Mythology and Folklore), but they cause my Netscape 7.2 to create error messages in one of its .DLLs, after which it crashes. Hopefully, you'll have better luck if you decide to explore further.
This is the home/index page for Dexter Sear's impressive academic Bug Bios site. The website offers fine photographs, essays on cultural aspects of insects, educational activites, reviewed links, and much more. (See more bugbios links below.)
This is bugbios' Cultural Entomology index page for its cedigest -- 4 illustrated, usually footnoted journal issues from 1993-1997 on insects in worldwide cultures. This is a treasure trove -- I have chosen 5 papers from these journals but many more are also worth a read. First, here is how the page introduces its subject:
Consider the following questions: What insects do we find in art? What insects affect us psychologically? Can you think of any song, book or movie based on insects? What insects have been deified? Do insects carry any symbolism? Maybe you've seen Dürer's stag beetle or Jiminy Cricket. Perhaps you've experienced entomophobia (fear of insects). You might have heard Flight of The Bumblebee, read 'Metamorphosis,' or seen 'The Fly.' The Egyptian's deified the scarab beetle and the ancient Greek cult of Artemis worshipped the bee. As you work like an industrious ant, your mind might think of love as you watch a butterfly drift by. We begin to realize the extent to which insects have become a part of almost every facet of the humanities. We'll call these cross-spectrum snippets "Cultural Entomology."
From bugbios: this is a November 1997 essay by Ron Cherry (see below for more from him) on butterflies and moths in Native American mythology. Here is a brief excerpt:
...Born out of the caterpillar in the chrysalis, butterflies were a symbol of rebirth, regeneration, happiness, and joy to Native Americans in Mexico. In one legend, the powerful plumed serpent god, Quetzalcoatl first enters the world in the shape of a chrysalis, out of which the god painfully emerges into the full light of perfection symbolized by the butterfly....

Figures in Flower Ornament, Mexico, Yucatán, Jaina Island region,
Campeche, Maya style (250-900 AD) 500-900 AD
Cleveland Museum of Art: Under Research / Not on display
Note: here are the Cleveland Museum of Art's comments on these figures,
which suggest an inversion of the frequent use of insect life-cycles as an analogy to those of humans:
Figures within flowers are one of the most enchanting themes of the Maya ceramic art of Jaina, an island off the western Yucatán coast. The figures, usually males who cross their arms over their bodies, are either radiantly youthful or aged (as here), suggesting a relationship to the life cycle.
From bugbios: again from the November 1997 issue, this is a fine book review of Butterflies of Ancient Mexico (published in Spanish by Dr. Carlos Beutelspacher in 1988). The review is by Hugo E. Ponce-Ulloa, M. Sc., edited by Dexter Sear. Excerpts:
...Mexico's history reveals numerous examples of the profound knowledge held within ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures. Insects were observed, studied and many times adored by these ancient Mexicans. Along with the snake, the butterfly was one of the most frequently represented animals. Some researchers, like Dr. Alfredo Barrera-Marín, Dr. Leonila Vázquez and Dr. Rafaél Martín del Campo, are fascinated with Mexico's natural and social history, and have found interesting examples of cultural entomology within writings, paintings and other cultural sources not destroyed by the Hispanic conquistadors. For many centuries before the conquest, and until the Colonial and Independent periods, butterflies, crickets, fleas, scorpions and spiders were studied by the Aztecs, Mayans, Chichimecs and other diverse peoples of Mexico. Today, ethnic groups of Mexico still look to insects for explanations of life and death....

...The exquisite beauty of butterflies, the flowers they feed on, and the poetry-in-motion of flight were all closely observed by the ancient Mexican cultures of the Teotihuacans, Mixtecs and, more recently, the Cholultecs and Aztecs. Butterflies represented fire, soul, death, warriors, travelers and hummingbirds....

...Beutelspacher discussed two very important goddesses. He dedicated Chapter VI to Xochiquetzal and Chapter VII to Itzpapálotl. Xochiquetzal was the goddess of love, flowers, vegetation and fire. Xochiquetzal means beautiful "quetzalli" flower "xochitl" and was probably a representation of the species Papilio multicaudatus, Western Tiger Swallowtail, a very common butterfly in the central Mexico. This goddess protected artists, handicraft-workers, painters, public-women and houseworkers. This goddess has sometimes been associated with the hummingbird although Beutelspacher provides several arguments supporting a butterfly-like divinity.

The goddess Itzpapálotl - obsidian "itztli" butterfly "papalotl" - Beutelspacher associates with the species Rothschildia orizaba, a Saturniid silk moth. This divinity was the mother-goddess of Chichimec, substituted for Xochiquetzal when the Aztecs dominated this ethnic group. She was a strong and ferocious goddess with butterfly wings and big claws on her hands and feet. Similar to Xochiquetzal's hummingbird symbolism, Iztpapálotl was also represented by the royal vulture (Sarcoramphus papa), a species very common in northern Mexico during the Chichimecan culture....

 Children playing with crickets from "Pictures of 100 Children,"
copied from Ho et al, 1989: see BugBios, below.
From bugbios: this is a November 1994 essay, "Cultural Entomology - Chinese Cricket Culture," by Jin, Xing-Bao of the Shanghai Institute of Entomology, Academia Sinica. I found this essay especially engaging. Excerpts: was not until the beginning of the Tang dynasty that they [crickets] were kept purely for the enjoyment of their song. We find a record of this kind of captivity in the book of "Kai Yuan Tian Boa Yi Shi" (Affairs of the Period of Tian Bao, 742-759 A.D.):

"Whenever the autumn arrives, the ladies of the palace catch crickets and keep them in small golden cages, which were placed near their pillows so as to hear their songs during the night. This custom was also mirrored by common people."

Most of the ladies of the palace were concubines to the Emperor. With emperors typically having three thousand concubines, their life was typified by a rich material life but starved emotional and cultural experience. A similarity can be drawn between the concubines and their captive crickets in their golden cages. Rather than enjoying the sweet chirps of the crickets, the concubines heard a reflection of their own sadness and loneliness in the cricket's chirp. This noble hobby influenced future emperors and ministers....Many people including famous poets, painters, musicians and Buddhist monks were enthusiastic about keeping singing pets....

The end of the essay looks at various Chinese pots, cages, gourds, etc used for crickets and other singing insects (this section includes colored photographs).

Akihide Cicada Netsuke
(see BugBios, directly below)
From bugbios: this is a footnoted essay, again from November 1994, "Cicada in Chinese Folklore" by Garland Riegel -- also very engaging (despite confusing syntax at times -- e.g., the Needham passage). Excerpts:
Some anthropologists and archaeologists have known for years that the ancient Chinese regarded cicadas as symbols of rebirth or immortality (4, 12, 16) in much the same way as the early Egyptians thought of the sacred scarab. Unlike the latter case, however, few western entomologists are aware of cicada symbolism used by the early Chinese. It is not mentioned in any English language entomology textbook of which I am aware. It is noted in Lucy Clausen's remarkable little book, Insect Fact and Folklore (10)....

... Returning to Lafcadio Hearn (15), in a serious vein he says, "As the metamorphosis of the butterfly supplied to old Greek thought an emblem of the soul's ascension, so the natural history of the cicada has furnished Buddhism with similitudes and parables for the teaching of doctrine. Man sheds his body only as the sémi sheds its skin. But each reincarnation obscures the memory of the previous one: we remember our former existence no more than the sémi remembers the shell from which it has emerged... This cast-off skin... in Buddhist poetry... becomes a symbol of early pomp, -the hollow show of human greatness."

Hearn was writing of Buddhist thought as he knew it in Japan just before 1900. It is probable that the cicada as a symbol of rebirth predated Buddhism in China by 500 to a thousand years, as these insects are found on ritual bronze vessels of the Shang dynasty (1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 13, 14, 17, 22, 23, 24, 25) and carved bone spatulas (17) dating from about 1500 to 1030 B.C. The Buddha was born about 500 years before Christ. Silcock (23) reports cicadas among the carvings on the antler of an extinct species of deer found in the excavations at An-Yang, which he dates as "?1766 B.C."

Most authors are agreed that the cicada was used by the Chinese as a symbol of rebirth, although a few suggest additional (17, 18) or alternative meanings (3) such as "harvest time," "autumn," "fertility and abundance," or "life giving principle...."

... Needham (20), in discussing voyages and discoveries of the ancient Chinese, and Mayas as described by the Chinese, but even stranger that on both sides of the Pacific, jade beads or cicadas should have been placed in the mouth of the dead, and astonishment turned to conviction when one learned that in all these civilizations the jade corpse-amulet were sometimes painted with the life-giving color of red cinnabar or hematite." He also says that the Amerindian peoples mostly place jade beads in the mouth, but they also carve jade cicadas to go alongside." The Mexican author and artist Covarrubias (11) has essentially the same information. The Oraibi Indians of Arizona, according to Clausen (10), also thought that the cicada's life cycle symbolized resurrection....

... Cicadas are fascinating insects. They are large, conspicuous, and attract attention with their interesting "songs." No wonder the ancient Chinese accorded them such a high position in their folklore and in their art....

Egyptian scarab beetle god, Khepri
(For another scarab, see Egyptian tomb art at the beginning of this section)
From bugbios: this is from the February 1994 issue, "Beetles as a Religious Symbol" by Yves Cambefort of the Musee National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. There is a link to his extensive bibliography but the paper itself is not footnoted, which makes me uneasy, especially when he ventures near the end into etymologies from various unrelated languages. He is an endomologist, an expert in insects -- he is not a linguist. Thus, without footnotes, there is no way to know the source or accuracy of his lingistic claims. Regardless, I am including this article because his experience as a scientist gives him unique insights into how the scarab beetle became so crucial to mythology, most notably in ancient Egypt. In Egyptology, a scarab rolling a ball of dung and the rolling of the sun-ball through the heavens is a commonplace analogy used by everyone. But Cambefort's connection between the buried metamorphosing dung-ball and the buried metamorphosing sun-ball is his own brilliant contribution. Many excerpts:
...Among shamanic societies, there are series of myths relating the creation of world to beetles. In some Indian tribes from the Chaco (South America), a big scarab named Aksak modeled man and woman from clay. Thus, the scarab, who shapes dung into balls, is identified as potter; an identification that we shall find again in Old Egypt (below).

In a more remarkable myth, an aquatic animal plunges down to the bottom of original liquid chaos, managing to grab and bring back to the surface some amount of matter to form the terrestrial world. In some examples of this myth, the primeval diver and maker of the world is a beetle. This is especially the case among pre-Aryan people from India and South-East Asia. The myth probably combines two different sorts of beetles: a Dytiscid, whose name recalls his ability to plunge (from Greek dytiscos "diver"), and a scarab, grabbing and pushing his dung ball (of course, in the primeval waters, there was no dry land to push one's ball on).

The sky, representing a similar symmetrical medium to the water, has resulted in variant inversions of the creation myths. Among the Sumatran Toba, a big beetle brings a ball of matter from the sky to form the world. This beetle could be a scarab. (Egyptian and Greeks believed scarabs were able to fly while carrying a dung ball.) ....

...In Egypt, the primary symbolism associated with scarab was solar. The first scarab worshiped, was probably the bright metallic Kheper aegyptiorum. The decisive symbolism came from the association of the dung ball to the sun: the scarab rolling his dung ball provided an explanation of the sun's movement in the sky. However, this solution was neither "logical" (where is the scarab in the sky?) nor exclusive: Egyptian culture embraced their old and new beliefs with an equal and non conflicting faith....

...Understanding the daily rebirth of the sun has always been of interest to the Egyptians. What happens to the sun between the moment it sinks into the earth in the western horizon, (where it dies and is buried) and the moment it emerges in the eastern horizon, (where it born again?) Some indications suggest that Egyptian scholars, i.e. priests, got the idea to examine what happened to the beetle's dung ball when it was buried beneath the ground. They probably made the entomological observation of metamorphoses; predating those of the French entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre by about 5000 years.

However, the conclusions of Egyptian priests were rather different from Fabre's. They appear to have concluded that the scarab ball was something like the beetle's egg. Making their eggs from dung, scarabs did not need females; therefore, they were all males. By the way, let us remark here that the Egyptians also believed that vultures were all females [...]. The Egyptian understanding was that old male scarabs buried their balls/eggs into the ground. In the ball, the beetle experienced vital changes, passed through various worm-like stages (the larvae), became a motionless, dead-like corpse (the pupa), and ultimately was born anew from the ball. Egyptian priests thought that what happened to the sun in the ground was not essentially different from scarab metamorphoses. At the end of the day, the sun enters into the ground as does the scarab and his ball (let us observe here again that the sun alone can be represented by the scarab and/or his ball; a vision rather hard for contemporary cultures to believe). The sun travels underground from west to east, undergoing a mysterious metamorphoses, or khepru, resulting in regeneration. The next morning, the sun rises from the ground rejuvenated, as the scarab god Khepri.

Now, Egyptian scholars or priests further developed their beliefs. If the humble scarab and the glorious sun can be reborn from the ground, after suffering death and undergoing mysterious transformations, why should not this be possible for human beings? Even though men are not as glorious as the sun, they are not as humble as the scarab. The recipe for rebirth, or resurrection, was then to imitate as closely as possible what happened to the scarab while it entered the ground (for it is more difficult to observe what happens to the sun). Most crucial was the last stage (the pupa) which inspired the invention of the complicated process of mummification. In all probability, the mummy is nothing other that the imitation of scarab pupa; A temporary condition intended to protect the dead body, and the transformations (the khepru) it must endure before its resurrection.

The Egyptians made a distinction between the "old" scarab, who sinks into the ground, and the "young" scarab, who rises up to the sky with, or rather as, the sun. Osiris, king/god of the dead, was identified to the "old" scarab. His son Horus, the falcon god, was identified primarily with the midday sun, whereas Khepri remained associated with the morning sun....
From this time on, the scarab became the most powerful symbol of the victory life wins over death. The "Funeral Books" of the New Kingdom consecrates this role. An excerpt of the most important of them, the "Book of What is in the Underworld", or Amduat, is painted on the wall of Tutankhamun's tomb, behind the pharaoh's head [...]. It shows the ark of the sun sailing on nocturnal waters. The sun is represented as a beetle, a promise of his next morning rebirth, as well as of the young pharaoh's resurrection....

Zuni:  Ants Corn Dance
 © Susi Nagoda Bergquist (see directly below)
This is artist Susi Nagoda Bergquist's general index on Native American Folklore, which she illustrates and re-tells. Much is still a work in progress but I enjoy the few articles she has. Here is her index to "Insects in Native American Folklore," which isn't fully coordinated with the general index yet: Here is what she writes about the topic on this Insect index page:
Insects were important to the first inhabitants of North America. They were indicators of rain, climate, condition of the land and of health. At times they were thought to give illnesses or to help in their cure. Other insects, such as dragonflies, spiders and flies were thought to act as intercessors with the gods. Still others were thought to create madness, sexual transgression and mimicry in humans, or in some cases cure these problems. I have become very interested in collecting and illustrating these folk tales and myths. I hope to present and discuss as many as I can find with the hope that you, the reader, will enjoy them and that the next time you see a large fly. a spider in a web, a tarantula, a Western Pinacate Beetle, or any of the other insects who will be presented here, you will think of them more fondly and appreciate their relationship with man and their shared literary past.
Only two of her links on the Insect index work: Dragon Flies and Big Fly. From the general index is a third page on insects -- and this is my favorite (the reason for their tiny waists is very touching): The Ants Corn Dance. So that you don't have to try navigating through a lot of pages, just click on those titles.  There are also two pages of her etchings -- almost all of them involve insects and look quite delightful but are currently shown only as small, often poorly photographed thumbnails. Nevertheless, the site shows much promise and I hope she finishes it. -- this is a pdf file.
This is "The Functions of Insects in Mythology," another paper from entomologist Ron Cherry (see his Bug Bios essay above). His use of cliches like "from time immemorial" is a bit grating but, overall, I enjoy his work.  In covering a wide range of cross-cultural mythology relating to insects, he uses the work of Joseph Campbell and others in exploring the functions such myths serve. This particular myth caught my eye because of the stunning way the author frames the contrast:
...on a truly cosmic scale, the formation of our galaxy, the Milky Way, is explained in an insect myth of the Cochiti. According to this myth an Eleodes beetle (Fig. 1) was in charge of placing stars in the sky. Because of arrogance and carelessness, the stars were dropped, hence forming the Milky Way. So ashamed was the beetle at what he had done, that even today, the beetle hides his face in the dirt when approached. And it is true that Eleodes when approached will lower its head, raise its abdomen, and emit a disagreeable odor probably for defense (Clausen 1954). Here a simple insect myth explains not only insect behavior, but also the origin of our own galaxy....
After providing many fine examples, here is the paper's well-rounded closing:
...The preceding insect myths clearly show that mythology is more than just entertaining stories. A beetle creates a galaxy by mistake (Clausen 1954). Wasps and ants devour sinners (Mercatante 1966). A sacred scarab (Fig. 5) holds the promise of life after death (Cherry 1985, Kritsky 1991). Myths such as these provide explanations for origins of our physical world, provide social cohesion and moral order, and allow people to try to influence nature. Myths, including many insect myths, thus function to help solve some of the most fundamental questions of our human existence.
Note: although unfootnoted, Cherry references everything for those who wish to explore further. [If you dislike pdf files, here is google's automatically generated html link, but the print is very small and there are no illustrations.]
...This is amazon's page for Insect Mythology (paperback edition) by Gene Kritsky and Ron Cherry (see directly above). It's inexpensive (about $11) and looks as if it's well worth owning. There are two reader reviews -- I especially like the one by P. Jeanne Romans (Lecanto, FL). Here are some excerpts from her review:
...Although you may find brief references to the mythological roles of insects in individual societies, here you have them assembled from both the Old and New Worlds for comparison and contrast. The ant, lauded for its industry by the Chinese, becomes the spiteful, diseased villain of the Pueblo Indians. Throughout the cultures included here, myths use the characteristics of insects to create a symbology recognizable from common usage. The expression "busy as a bee" indicates a cultural respect for the bee's reputation as a hard worker that seems to be the consensus of many cultures. On the other hand, you have the Egyptians giving credit to the fly for its persistence which might be more difficult to honor....

...The New World chapters discuss the insects found in Mesoamerican astronomy and Native American mythology. The familiar constellations take on a whole new dimension in the interpretations of Mayan and other cultures. Who knew they were in the stars and on totem poles?

While this is fascinating for general readers, the scholarship of Insect Mythology validates it for use by experts. The authors' credentials combine to form a sound basis for their work backed by substantial references and amply illustrated. They have made the information very readable and included a table of contents, lists of illustrations and tables, and a thorough index. This makes the it easily accessible for the readers, be they entomologist, Biblical scholar or the owner of a scarab bracelet.
This is another review of Gene Kritsky and Ron Cherry's Insect Mythology, this time from the Entomological Society of America. Sadly, the reviewer seems to have a tin ear for mythology -- instead of discussing content, he focuses on technical issues regarding the book's format and the poor quality of many of the photographs (doesn't he know that writers rarely have any control over such issues?). Here are his dry, uninspired comments on the book's content:
...The section on arthropods in the Bible is especially thorough. The book actually contains a lot of information that the authors have assembled from many areas. The book, therefore, represents a good source of material on this subject with analysis of numerous mythological tales and the role of arthropods in these....

(See directly below)
This illustrated 2004 paper is "Insects in Mythology," by Professor Fabio Cupul (translated somewhat disjointedly by Marianne Klahre). The publisher is PV Mirror, an Electronic Monthly Travel Magazine covering Puerto Vallarta and Bay of Banderas in Mexico. Here are some excerpts about mosquitos:
... In addition, even though you may not believe it, an insect like the mosquito stars in more legends than you can imagine, obviously derived from its habit to suck blood.

As an example, in the Mayan mythology, the mosquitoes were considered spies. By sucking blood from various masters they could memorize their names and discern which ones were real men and which ones were dummies.

The native Tahltan of British Columbia tell us the legends that once upon a long time ago a bark beetle (the larva of a beetle) and a mosquito were living together. Day after day the bark beetle saw the mosquito arrive at home swollen by the blood he had eaten. When the mosquito was questioned about the blood’s provenance – not wanting to reveal his secret – he told the bark beetle that he sucked it from the surrounding trees. Upon receiving this information, the bark beetle immediately threw himself onto the trees; however, the bark beetle, as well as his descendants, still keeps looking for blood amongst the tree trunks....
Finally, this is a very useful "literary" page from British entomologist, David A Kendall, BSc, Ph.D. --  it's a marvelous collection "of rhymes, song lyrics and poems about insects, spiders and other bugs."

Selections include:
    * Nursery Rhymes
    * Other Rhymes & Sayings [note: this is where I found Alexander Pope's "Spider's Touch" for the opening of my page]
    * Song Lyrics (some with music or music score)
    * Classical Poems
    * Contemporary Poems


Note: I have already mentioned several books in the preceding sections -- here are a few more:

...From the University of California Press comes a book by Gilbert Waldbauer with an exquisite title: Fireflies, Honey, and Silk. Here is its description:
The beauty of butterflies, the cheerful chirp of crickets, the ink our ancestors wrote with, the beeswax in altar candles, the honey on our toast, the silk we wear. This enchanting book is a highly entertaining exploration of the myriad ways insects have enriched our lives–culturally, economically, and aesthetically. Entomologist and writer Gilbert Waldbauer describes in loving, colorful detail how many of the valuable products insects have given us are made, how they were discovered, and how they have been used through time and across cultures. Along the way, he takes us on a captivating ramble through many far-flung corners of history, mythology, poetry, literature, medicine, ecology, forensics, and more. Enlivened with personal anecdotes from Waldbauer's distinguished career as an entomologist, the book also describes surprising everyday encounters we all experience that were made possible by insects. From butterfly gardens and fly-fishing to insects as jewelry and sex pheromones, this is an eye-opening ode to the wonder of insects that illuminates our extraordinary and essential relationship with the natural world.
...This is a 2006 release from the University of Minnesota Press, Insect Poetics (Eric C. Brown, editor).  The book contains essays from various specialists in the sciences as well as the humanities. Excerpts from the publisher's announcement:
...Insects are everywhere. There are millions of species sharing the world with humans and other animals. Though literally woven into the fabric of human affairs, insects are considered alien from the human world. Animal studies and rights have become a fecund field, but for the most part scant attention has been paid to the relationship between insects and humans. Insect Poetics redresses that imbalance by welcoming insects into the world of letters and cultural debate....

...In eighteen original essays, this book illuminates the ways in which our human intellectual and cultural models have been influenced by the natural history of insects. Through critical readings contributors address such topics as performing insects in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, the cockroach in the contemporary American novel, the butterfly’s “voyage out” in Virginia Woolf, and images of insect eating in literature and popular culture.

In surprising ways, contributors tease out the particularities of insects as cultural signifiers and propose ways of thinking about “insectivity,” suggesting fertile cross-pollinations between entomology and the arts, between insects and the humanities....

Do take a look at the authors and titles in the Table of Contents -- this is fine fare indeed.

...In addition to being one of the essayists who contributed to Insect Poetics (see preceding entry), Marion Copeland also wrote Cockroach, one of many literate, gorgeously illustrated paperback books in the "Animal Series" published by Reaktion in the UK.  Marion and I have never met yet we're both on the same academic list and I have long enjoyed her posts -- she is unfailingly thoughtful and eloquent in presenting alternate perspectives. Her richly researched book on cockroaches is sure to inform and delight. Boria Sax, also on the same list, wrote a review for this book -- here's an excerpt:

... For author Marion W. Copeland, the cockroach is a special challenge to our capacity for empathy with other creatures. It is not that cockroaches actually need our sympathy, since, as the author points out at the beginning of her book, they have already survived for 300 million years. The concern is more that we need to be able to acknowledge our kinship with cockroaches, as well as the more glamorous animals like chimpanzees and tigers, to fully participate in the great community of life.
From Reaktion's announcement page (via its USA distributor, the University of Chicago Press):
... Attempts to chronicle the cockroach’s intellectual and emotional life have been made only within the last century when a scientist titled his essay on the cockroach "The Intellectual and Emotional World of the Cockroach", and artists as radically different as Franz Kafka and Don Marquis created equally memorable cockroach protagonists.

At least since Classical Greece, authors have brought cockroach characters into the foreground to speak for the weak and downtrodden, the outsiders, those forced to survive on the underside of dominant human cultures. Cockroaches have become the subjects of songs (La Cucaracha), have competed in "roachraces" and have even ended up in recipes. In this accessible, sympathetic and often humorous book, Marion Copeland examines the natural history, symbolism and cultural significance of this poorly understood and much-maligned insect.

And from The Times review:
... Copeland goes on to show how the cockroach features as an embodiment of the oppressed underclass in a remarkable array of avant-guarde urban works of the late 20th-century....
For myself, I can respect this critter in terms of its "embodiment of the oppressed underclass," but I have to admit that when I lived in the slums of New York's Lower East Side in the 1960-1970s, I found nothing to admire about them -- except for the eerie flimsiness of their bodies, which always made me wonder how they had managed to survive so long (I write about some of my experiences with them in my opening essay for my Fireflies page). One day, I look forward to reading Marion Copeland's Cockroach -- through her, I might even come to better appreciate my long-ago roommates <wry smile>.

For my FIREFLIES page, please click here

For my BEES page, please click here


Menu of Common Themes, East & West:
[Note: there are a great many more pages in this category --
please see my HOME Page for updates]

 Animal Guides
 Creation Myths
 Crones & Sages
 Dragons & Serpents
 Earth Goddesses & Gods
 Floods, Storms, Rainbows, & Other Weather Wonders
 Food: Sacrality & Lore
 Green Men
       Insects: Fireflies
 Landscape: Sacrality & Lore   (Mountains, Wells, Springs, Pools, Lakes, Caves, Labyrinths, Spiral Mounds, Crop Circles, Stone Circles, Feng Shui)
 Nature Spirits of the World
 Rituals of Puberty
 Sacred Theatre, Dance & Ritual
 Sky Goddesses & Gods
 Star Lore & Astrology
 Symbols, Signs, & Runes
 Time(Calendars, Clocks, Natural Temporal Cycles, Attitudes toward Time, & Millennium Issues)
 Trees & Plant Lore
 Tricksters, Clowns, Magicians, Jesters & Fools
 Weaving Arts & Lore (Cosmic Webs, Spinning, Spindles, Clothing)
Note: my complete Site Map and e-mail address are on my HOME page.


This page created with Netscape 4.7. Colors may appear distorted on Macs.
Text and Design: © 2009 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
All rights reserved
Page begun the afternoon of 13 May 2009 as part of the Birds page;
I realized it needed its own page late 17 May 2009 so I split it off from the Birds;
then I found too many Firefly links so had to give that its own page as well.
25 May 2009, 6pm: finally launched Insects:
but I still have to complete the pages on Birds and Fireflies.
8 June 2009: after completing Fireflies last week, on June 4th I started a new page on Bees and shifted some of the bee material and the Malaysian bee-fable that were originally on this General Insect page to the new page.
11 September 2009: added new & fascinating link (2nd from the top) on insects as abstract artists; also updated 4 book links and put abbreviated versions of them on my Bookstore page.
This is a commercial site offering some very attractive T-shirts featuring butterflies and insects. Unfortunately, they only sell in bulk with a minimum of 36 items/design or I would buy one. This might be a good money-maker for schools and clubs, however, so I decided to keep this link on my page:

       8 June 2009:
(Found while researching bees)
Oldest insect (encased in amber)
cockroach fossil
oldest spider silk (encased in amber)