What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

The Bugman of Mt. Washington

Originally published in the Boulevard Sentinel (VOLUME XV ISSUE 2)
News and Views
for Northeast Los Angeles
June 2011

Daniel Marlos

by Brenda Rees

“The Bugman” is a nom de plume that Daniel [corrected from David in original article] Marlos, a resident of Mt. Washington, didn’t actively seek out, but one that he wholeheartedly relishes and embraces with sophisticated gusto.

As a full-time instructor of photography at Los Angeles Community College in their media arts department and occasional part time teacher at Art Center College of Design, Marlos has been leading a double life as the world-famous Bugman for more than a decade. His charming wit and boundless enthusiasm for learning is the glue that holds together the popular website “What’s That Bug?”(www.whatsthatbug.com), that’s been an Internet sensation since its introduction in 1998.

Because of the success of the popular website – which drew 2 million people last year from 219 countries – Marlos has just published his first book, The Curious World of Bugs: The Bugman’s Guide to the Mysterious and Remarkable Lives of Things That Crawl” from Penguin Group publishing.

So how was “The Bugman” born? Or rather, hatched?

Marlos got his first taste of entomological writing back in the 1990s when he agreed to help his friend Lisa Anne Auerbach with a Xeroxed publication she was producing aptly named American Homebody. “It was meant to be a friendly alternative to Martha Stewart with recipes, tips and ideas,” he says. Marlos told Auerbach that he wanted to write a regular column about bugs, even though he had no background in the subject. “People always want to find out what kind of bug they have discovered in the bathroom, outdoors, etc.” he says. “As a child growing up in Ohio, I had – and still do — a great fascination with insects.”

The ‘zine moved online in 1998, but over the months it was apparent that Marlos’ column struck a chord with readers. People were logging in and sending digital pictures of strange and interesting bugs, insects they found in their homes, while on vacation, hiking or just down the street. Everyone wanted to know “what’s that bug?” and Marlos became the self-proclaimed insect expert.

Overwhelmed with the requests, Marlos reached out to the real experts in the field who could help him identify and give information about the critters people have discovered, including flies, wasps, beetles, caterpillars, scorpions, spiders, etc. Marlos quickly learned that the insect world is a complex, specific and almost magical in its depth and breath.

In 2002, “What’s That Bug?” branched out on its own as a unique website and today receives about 140-200 legitimate emails from readers all over the world per day. Per day. With 15,000 posts under its belt, the website can translate queries from 50 languages, including Arabic and Japanese. Accolades include Yahoo Pick of the week in 2003, USA Today Hotsite in 2004, Earthlink Weird Web in 2006, Real Simple Magazine in 2006, Sunset Magazine in 2007, and a lecture at the Getty in 2008. Google the word “Bug” and the first listing will be “What’s That Bug?”

Marlos is proud that the site is child-friendly even with a section on Bug Love (photos of mating bugs accompanied by the occasional double entendre) and the sometimes-disturbing Carnage section (photos of squashed bugs).

The Bugman is a strong supporter of not killing bugs. “People react fast and don’t realize that just about every bug they encounter is perfectly harmless and not worth killing,” says Marlos. The website, while it celebrates bugs, understands that there are those out there who shriek from them. To that end, Marlos uses the website as a platform to preach tolerance and encourage readers to look more objectively at bugs as natural engineering marvels.

Here’s a sample of a recent typical email question and the Bugman’s response:
Location: Lynnwood, WA
May 24, 2011 12:48 am
Holy crap, I was eating my angel food cake and spotted this thing crawling around in it. I flipped out mentally, but brought it out to my kitchen where the light was better and set it down to take pictures of it.
I went through the rest of the cake pretty thoroughly and found no evidence of other similar bugs, but I can’t shake the feeling that this thing was in here before I bought it at the grocery store.
Please help me figure out what it is, and tell me if it’s dangerous.
Signature: – Freaked Out

Dear Freaked Out,

    We do not mean in any way to minimize the trauma you felt upon encountering this lost Lacewing Larva while eating your angel food cake, however, we chuckled none the less. The Lacewing Larva, if it was capable of feelings, would have also felt traumatized at the realization that it was no longer in a habitat conducive to hunting Aphids. Lacewing Larvae are found in gardens and among plants and they are very adept hunters that are cherished by organic gardeners because they help to control harmful insects. Lacewings are even sold in quantities, though they are not quite as popular as either Lady Bugs or Preying Mantids in the biological warfare arena. We highly doubt you found any additional Lacewing Larvae in your cake, though we feel quite certain that the entire pastry ended up in the garbage can.
This month, Marlos is answering requests from Northern Hemisphere readers, while in the winter, emails will come pouring in from the Southern. In addition to his website duties (“The first hours of my day are spent answering emails before I go to school”), Marlos is excited about the buzz brewing about his new book.

“It’s done in the spirit of What’s That Bug? but a little more organized,” he says calling it a Farmer’s Almanac-style book that contains short stories, tidbits and facts. Unlike the website though, there are no photos – just wonderful vintage line-drawings of insects which elevates the book into an artistic celebration of the science of insects.

The Curious World of Bugs is garnering some great reviews: Good Reads says the book “celebrates bugs for what they truly are: strange, mysterious, cute, beautiful, and occasionally disturbing…[it] offers a glimpse into the magical world of bugs that bite, infest, fascinate, repulse, and inform us all.”

All in all, teacher by day, Bugman by early morning, Marlos sees the world of insects both scientific and artistic. He can rattle off facts and figures about the Iron Cross Blister Beetle but also wax poetic about the charmed life of the Brunner’s Mantid, a mantid species of in Texas that have evolved to only be female, no males. They reproduce by cloning, of all things.

As it goes, Marlos owes a lot to bugs; they have given him a second “glamorous” life as well as a deep appreciation for the natural world. “It’s all about the interconnectivity of all things on this planet. We can’t eliminate one species without affecting others,” he says. “We can appreciate these lower beasts and, in the process, get a bigger picture of the world around us.”

Brenda Rees is an Eagle Rock resident and editor of Southern California Wildlife (www.socalwild.com), a website devoted to news, information and resources for the diversity of life found in SoCal.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

17 Responses to The Bugman of Mt. Washington

  1. Maria Helena says:

    I just wanted to say that I was really impressed with such a quick and informative reply to my queries!
    I have already told all my friends on Tweeter and Fb!
    Best wishes
    Maria Helena

  2. STEPHANIE WOLFF says:

    I HAVE A HUGE AMOUNT OF THESE IN MY BACKYARD. WE HAVE A COUPLE IN CAPTIVITY AND WOULD LIKE SOME MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THEM, CAN’T SEEM TO FIND MUCH ON THE NET. (SUCH AS: HOW THEY REPRODUCE AND HOW YOU TELL MALE FROM FEMALE) ANY INFORMATION AND/OR SOURCE WOULD BE APPRECIATED.

  3. Kajetan says:

    Absolutely AWESOME site. It reminds me of my first european spider atlas by Heiko Bellman I bought after not eating for two weeks to save up money (priorities are different when you’re 11). I think I will grab the nearest camera and make an atlas of spiders in my backyard now.

  4. Please subscribe me to your website. And also any information on webworm moths and bird mites. I live in Pittsburgh and have had sightings of both inside my home. Thank you very much.

  5. Lee Hernandez says:

    Wow! I was looking up anything on the caddis fly and found you. I,m extra excited because I thought I knew that Mt. Washington might be in L.A. and sure ’nuff it is . I knew because I,ve read Jack Smith’s The Big Orange. He also lived on Mt. Washington. If you don’t know of him yet, please look him up. What a great story-teller. Also, I was born in L.A. in 1951. I will be so happy to buy your new book, one for me and one for my 10 year-old grandson. Thanks and happy hunting. Lee Hernandez Flower Mound, TX

    • bugman says:

      Why thank you for the wonderful compliment Lee. Jack Smith is a local legend and I never had the pleasure of meeting him. I know he has big shoes to fill, but I get a bit of a rush whenever I go out into the yard in pajamas since that was something I have heard he was rather notorious for doing. I hope you enjoy the book which was not a big seller, but I am very proud of it nonetheless.

  6. diggydew says:

    I am so very happy I found this website! My maternal grandfather was an entomologist with the Department of Agriculture and died before I was born, but my mother has always told me he would have loved me because I have always been fascinated with bugs and nature in general. I guess it is in the genes! Now when I find an insect I cannot identify I can count on this site to help me! :)
    Lynn Reid
    Linden, Virginia

  7. waustin says:

    I was also amazed at the timely response to my query. My spider romance story was fun to watch live and I was honored to share it with others through this site. Thanks Bugman!

  8. Jet Setter says:

    I Keep trying to submit two photos of what I think is either a wasp mimic or spider wasp from Peru – but it will not go through with the submission form (infinite loading mode). Any other way to get you my photos?

    • bugman says:

      We have several submissions from Jet Setter with photos attached in our inbox this morning, so the form must be working. We will try to address some of your requests today.

  9. Nat Both says:

    Hello, My wife encountered what we think was an Ivory Marked Beetle on a kitchen counter. I wish I had taken a picture before we disposed of it. It looked like pictures online except our bug had 6 distinct white spots. 2 were way back on the tail. I didn’t look close enough but the spots looked to be single rather than double. Thank you for your website.

  10. Adam Musselman says:

    I tried to send this with attached pictures but I’m not sure it went through. My email address is adamjmusselman@gmail.com Please email me and I would be happy to email some pictures of this gorgeous dragonfly. I’ve added my original post below.

    Hey there! I was out behind the restaurant I work in taking a break when I spotted this dude on the wall. He/she is absolutely gorgeous and looks to be emulating a flower of some sort. I’m writing from my work in Arlington, VA. It’s cool and rainy here for late summer. About 75 degrees and humid. I got a pretty clear picture as you can see. I also attached a pic I ran through some filters because I couldn’t help myself! I hope you can help me identify this beautiful critter. I’d guess it’s length at about 4.5 inches give or take and double that for its wingspan.

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