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Insect Misconceptions and Misinformation

 

Misconceptions and misinformation in science are often perpetuated in literature and in the cinema. As teachers and educators we must constantly be on the alert for books, magazine articles and films, etc., that perpetuate misconceptions about insects and science. Children's literature is full of misinformation about insects and their arthropod relatives, the spiders. This misinformation has made its way into children's literature and the cinema because authors have either not taken the time to find out the accuracy of what they are presenting or they are taking "literary license" to make something fit with their story. The problem with the latter is that we as adults generally know that one fact or representation is not entirely correct; but unfortunately, the children may not know, thus accepting it as fact. A recent example of this is the Disney movie "A Bug's Life" where all of the ants only have four legs. Following are just a few examples of misconceptions/misinformation that you or your students may have regarding insects and their relatives, the arthropods (e.g., spiders).

  Misconceptions/Misinformation #1: Insects, especially honey bees, do not collect honey from flowers.

In reality, they collect nectar, a dilute water solution containing different sugars and amino acids. They later convert it to honey.

 Misconceptions/Misinformation #2: All small insects having fully developed and functional wings are "babies" or immatures.

Children often refer to small, but adult, flies as baby flies. In reality, if an insect belongs to a group that has wings as adults, once it has wings, regardless of size, it is an adult.

 Misconceptions/Misinformation #3: Many insects, especially bees, produce sound through their rear end (anus).

In reality, the buzzing sound in flying insects is actually made by the insect's wings beating very rapidly.

  Misconceptions/Misinformation #4: Insects shed their "skin" when they molt.

In reality, an insect's body covering is very different from our skin. It is an exoskeleton; but by calling it skin, children are apt to mentally equate the insect's outer covering to our own skin. These are not one in the same.

 Misconceptions/Misinformation #5: Insects see thousands of identical images through their compound eyes.

In reality, each facet or ommatidium of the compound eye sees part of an image, thus creating a mosaic, which is much like how the image on the computer screen forms an identifiable image.

 Misconceptions/Misinformation #6: Insect by-products are made especially for us.

It is important to stress the inter-connectedness of nature. However, as teachers, we must be careful not to perpetuate anthropomorphic views. It is true that we use some of the substances that many animals make (i.e., silk, honey, and etc.) and the insects producing these substances have a primary use for these things.

 Misconceptions/Misinformation #7: Age is determined in ladybugs by the number of spots on their wings.

In reality, once an insect has reached maturity, it will no longer molt (also see misconsceptions #2 and #4 regarding this matter). The number, color, and shape of spots in ladybugs, specifically, are often an individualistic or species-specific trait and remain constant throughout the insect's life.

 Misconceptions/Misinformation #8: All arthropods or "creepy crawlies" are insects.

There are many examples in literature where the word "bug" or "insect" is used to describe non-insect groups (i.e., centipedes, and even worms).

 Misconceptions/Misinformation #9: Insect sexes are often incorrectly used interchangeably.

Authors often refer to a character in their books as a "he" or a "she" when describing behavior that is unchangeable for sex! For aesthetic purposes, a cricket making beautiful noises during the night is often referred to as a "she", when in fact female crickets lack the anatomical features to do so.

 Misconceptions/Misinformation #10: Insects "breathe".

Insects have similar systems to ours but they may vary in the structures present. They have a respiratory system but they do not posses lungs or a diaphragm muscle that moves air inward and outward; but, they instead have an open respiratory system, made up of tiny tubes called trachea that open directly to the outside in terrestrial insects. Without lungs it is incorrect to say that insects "breathe".

Insects produce sound through a variety of methods, but they do not emit sounds from their mouth. They do not have the anatomical structures to form a voice, like we possess. Instead, they rely on other structures, often on their wings to make the sounds.

 Misconceptions/Misinformation #12: Insects spread and carry disease.

Insects themselves do not spread and carry diseases directly. Instead, they carry the organisms that cause the diseases. Microorganisms or other pathogens living in the insect cause the diseases we commonly think of as being insect-borne.

 

Please visit these other resources which deal with the subject of Misconceptions/Misinformation in biology.

  • Misconceptions in biology

  • Articles and book citations on misconceptions

  • Reference list, articles, and misconceptions

  • Why the butterfly in The Very Hungry Caterpillar comes from a cocoon, not a chrysalis

  • Online courses, scientific misconceptions and teacher assignments

  • "How do we tackle kids' science misconceptions?" Instructor. Nov./Dec. 1987, pp.14-15.

 

 

If you know of any Misconceptions/Misinformation individuals have about insects or other arthropods, please let us know so we can add this information to our files. If possible, please provide us with the source leading to the Misconceptions/Misinformation. Please give as complete a citation as possible to be included in our pages.

 


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