Those of us who’ve been bitten by a mosquito or seen our favourite rose bush ravaged by greenfly can be forgiven for declaring all beasties a waste of space. As a wimp who squeals at the sight of a money spider, I struggle to comprehend their charm, yet you’ll be hard pushed to find a kid who isn’t mesmerised by anything that wiggles, buzzes or, horror of horrors, squelches.
You’ll not be surprised to learn, fellow parents, that this attraction is all our fault. Who would have thought that belting out ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ or sending our toddlers off to sleep with Eric Carle’s classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar would result in hours spent chasing a gecko round the kitchen?
Bugs appeal to kids’ natural inquisitiveness. Aim a magnifying glass at any insect on its home turf and suddenly grains of sand become boulders and blades of grass morph into terrifying plants. Plus the daily habits and life stories (think of the caterpillar’s amazing transformation into a butterfly) are the stuff of miracles and magic.
‘It’s like looking at an alien planet because when you see bugs close up they look like something out of Jurassic Park,’ enthuses six-year-old Harry Jefferson from Jumeirah. ‘They’re like mini dinosaurs, all scaly and interesting. They’re very good for teaching us about scientific development – and they make my mum scream.’
A distaste for bugs is a learned trait. I vaguely remember gleefully digging up worms and flinging them at my mum’s head. I thought it was hilarious. She didn’t. Who knows what happened over the years to bring me round to her way of thinking, but perhaps we should retrace our steps and embrace the fact that kids and bugs will always be pals.
So instead of wincing the next time your budding entomologist hands you a beetle as a present, enter into the spirit and suggest a bug-hunting trip. There’s plenty to see in Dubai, much of it in the park or your own back garden. Here’s what to look out for:
Ants: Ants set up home in your back garden patio or in soil. There’s even an acrobatic ant, which rides a unicycle and looks like it walks on its hands (OK, we made that up). But they can be a pest if they invade the home. WATCH OUT! Some ants are venomous and their bites can sting.
Beetles: Variable sizes and shapes, they have two pairs of hard wings with the front pair hardened into a strong, protective cover.
Bees: Conjuring up images of Winnie the Pooh, sociable honey bees live in hives, but the solitary bee, which builds its nest in tunnels found in dead wood, is more common in Dubai’s gardens. WATCH OUT! Bees sting to protect themselves or hive.
Dhubs: Also known as the spiny-tailed lizard, these fascinating mini-dinosaurs grow up to 15cm. Get up early to spot them just after dawn when they come out of their burrows for breakfast.
Dragonfly: These powerful flying predators are found where there’s water. See if you can spot them catching and munching on their fellow insects mid-flight!
Flies: There are no less than four types of fly found in the UAE. Apart from the common garden house fly (simply leave the lid off the sugar bowl) see if you can find the regal blue bottle, the flesh fly and the long-legged fly.
Geckos: These clever cuties have hairy toe pads so they can stick to walls and ceilings. Completely harmless, they’re thought to be lucky and they do a grand job
keeping flies and mosquitoes at bay.
Grasshoppers: With enlarged hind legs, these bound-ing bugs have two pairs of wings and are found, funnily enough, where there’s grass.
House Cricket: Listen out for their chirping – the sound is them rubbing their forewings together, and the warmer the weather, the louder the chirp.
LadybirdS: Found in cultivated areas and gardens where it feeds on plant lice, the most common is the seven-spot ladybird – count them to check.
Moths & butterflies: These pretty creatures play a key role in maintaining plant communities and have fabby names such as Blue-Spotted Arab, Citrus Swallow Tail, Tiger Butterfly and Painted Lady.
Praying Mantis: Camouflaged to blend in with their surroundings, these big fellas hide out in leafier surroundings where they are extremely difficult to detect.
Sandfish Lizard: A desert species, it gets its name because it swims in the sand the way a fish swims in the sea, but you’ll need keen eyesight to catch them.
Wasps: Look out for the black and yellow stripes – they’re a common sight in gardens, where they build hives in trees or the eves of garden sheds. WATCH OUT! Girl wasps have a hardened ovipositor (a pointy bit used for laying eggs), which they use for piercing and stinging. Ouch!
With thanks to Anitha Saji, research associate, entomology at the Environment Agency and Moaz Sawaf, marketing and communications officer at the World Wildlife Fund for Nature in Dubai.