THE BUZZ ON BUGS: To call yourself an insect - and there are about a million species of insects on this planet - you must have: six legs and three distinct body segments: the head (for eyes, ears and antennae), the thorax (for wings and legs) and the abdomen (for stingers and a digestive system). On the other hand, a spider has eight legs (too many) and only two body segments. That makes it an arachnid, a cousin to insects and crustaceans.
BEHIND IN THEIR WORK: Know what gives lightning bugs that special glow? It's produced from processes that occur in the bug's lower abdomen to create fuel. Once this fuel reaches the reflector cells in the bug's rear, the bug gives off its characteristic glow. Scientists are intrigued by the bugs' light production because, unlike light bulbs, the bugs don't lose any energy to heat in the process. Finding a way to mimic their process could increase the efficiency of energy production.
YOU'RE TOAST, FLY: Swallow a fly? You might think that's pretty gross, but people around the world munch on bugs like they're potato chips. Popular recipes in South America call for toasted white beetles and fried lemon ants. In Africa, freshly dug-up grubs are considered a mouth-watering delicacy.
GOOD GRUB: Don't say you've never eaten bugs. Insects or insect parts are in much of what we eat. Food often comes from a farmer's field, where it's impossible to keep pests away. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it's OK for food to have a certain amount of harmless "unavoidable defects." For instance, peanut butter can contain about 30 insect fragments and one rodent hair per 100 grams. Actually, the FDA says the defect levels set maximum limits for manufacturers; the averages are much lower in our food. (Oh. Whew.)
Pub Date: 11/05/98