What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

UPDATE:  We apologize
Dear Kim,
We apologize for getting off on the wrong foot with you, and we confess that we really
did enjoy the verbal sparring just a little too much to sever our ties with you forever.  We fully understand your concern with allowing children to have access to the internet because of all the adult content.  As a peace offering, we would like to offer your son a good research project to accompany his insect collection.  Knowing the identity of an insect might be the requirement, but doing an informative ecologically inspired paper just might earn some bonus points.  The Ailanthus Webworm Moth is alleged to be native, yet its food plant is a noxious introduced weed tree, ironically known as the Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima.  The Tree of Heaven is recognized nationally as a major threat to native ecosystems.  It thrives in all climates from arid to wet and from tropical to cold and occasionally freezing.  We seem to remember hearing once that the range of the Ailanthus Webworm Moth has spread from Florida to a major portion of the U.S., though we might be wrong on that point.  BugGuide has awesome distribution maps like this Ailanthus Webworm map.
We also have some strong views on insect collections as decorations, though we cannot deny their value as scientific research and learning tools.

And now, … The Homework Controversy
What kind of bug is this
Location: Burlington, North Carolina
April 10, 2011 7:48 pm
Good day folks,
My son is doing a project for his 4th grade science project. We are having trouble identifying this bug. I’ve looked in so many books and can’t find it. Can you help me?
Signature: Kim

Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Hi Kim,
We just finished sending you a quick response, and in hindsight, we decided to elaborate a bit and to create a posting for your email.  Typically, we refrain from responding to the desperate pleas we receive from college students, high school students, and the parents of grade school students needing numerous specimens identified immediately for an insect collection class project that is due in the imminent future.  The most popular posting on our site continues to be “What’s That Bug? will not do your child’s homework“.  Your email indicated that you have been attempting to ID this creature, and since there was only one requested ID, we lightened up on our stance.  This is an Ailanthus Webworm Moth and there are close to 100 images of this insect on our website.

Ed. Note: Here is our original “rude” response to Kim: Though we frown on doing homework, your letter indicates that you have been searching for a name.  This is an Ailanthus Webworm Moth.

Thank you for your response.  I will surely not bother you again.  If you ‘frown upon’ what you call “doing children’s homework” and answering these questions, then you shouldn’t allow a contact form for people TO ask the question.  When a parent or student (no matter what age he or she is) looks for something and you are a resource then you shouldn’t be replying in such a rude manner.  This is NOT at all professional.  I had three more bugs to ID and cannot find them on your website or any other website for that matter.  It is very frustrating for someone who is NOT an entomologist to look through hundreds of resources and references and come up empty.  Those of us who seek your professional assistance should not be answered with such rudeness.   I was going to make a substantial donation but because of your rude reply I will not.  I will also be telling the other mothers in my sons class NOT to seek out your assistance since it is such a bother for you.  I do appreciate the ID of this bug, thank you once again for your reply.

With all due respect, we did not consider our response to be rude.  If that is your interpretation, you are more than entitled to have an opinion, just as you are free to choose not to ever again visit our website.  We thought we clarified our stance a bit with our second response to you.  For the record, there are no entomologists on our staff, nor does anyone on our staff have even the slightest background in entomology.  Research is research, and taking a science class should encourage research rather than to demand correct answers.  We cannot speak for you child’s instructor, but we imagine that merely attempting to find a correct answer is a valuable skill that all students need to learn.  That is a far greater benefit than having someone else, be it a parent or an online consultant, provide a correct identification for a child.  It is interesting that you write:  “
I had three more bugs to ID and cannot find them on your website or any other website for that matter.”  We thought this was your child’s homework assignment.  It is also interesting to us to learn that you will be telling the other mothers in your son’s class not to seek out our assistance.  Thanks for passing on that information because ethically, as college instructors, we continue to have major issues with the ownership of intellectual property.  At the end of the day, taking credit for work done by someone else, even a well intentioned parent, is cheating.  We can’t help but to wonder how the fourth grade students at your son’s school will benefit by having all of the mothers doing the internet research.  At least the mothers will be learning something, perhaps even the things they didn’t learn in school because their own parents did their homework for them.  Will you also be taking your child’s standardized tests?

There are other sites and other sources of reference to which we have been able to seek out and get our answers from.  You’re not the “only game in town” and you certainly don’t have such a great site.  The other parents and I have found several other sites for our children to utilize.  We have all been able to find the bugs identifications that we needed.
You shouldn’t assume that you would be doing a “child’s homework assignment” or that the child is cheating.  Learning how to answer questions with respect and tact is something you learn as you grow, perhaps you haven’t learned that yet.  Being a college professor you should have learned that lesson by now.
There was no ‘second e-mail’, but perhaps you should have contemplated an answer before hitting send.  It’s not right for you to assume that a child is cheating when a parent is merely HELPING their child when they are having trouble.  My child is an A student and has never once cheated a day in his life.  He is in no way taking credit for work that I am doing for him because I am not doing the work for him.  Cheating is cheating, but parental help is something entirely different.  The parents of my son’s school HELP their children with all research if it’s needed.  We closely monitor when our children do research on the internet.  Even WITH child filters on there’s a chance of something getting through.
If you are college professors you should be aware of how you are answering questions.  Just because you’re a college professor doesn’t mean you know it all.  I guess it’s true what they say about the smarter people not always having the most common sense.  I feel for the students that you teach!!  Hopefully they have common sense and have already learned how to answer questions with respect, tact and not assume things about people.  You’ve got a lot to learn about being respectful towards people.  You are not mightier because you are a professor, remember that!!  And as far as Standardized testing, he’s already taken it and is at the TOP of his class!!!!
Thank you again for your answer.  We will not be bothering you again.

A Reader Comments
I was just reading this conversation on your site and found it very interesting. I am about to graduate with my masters in library and information studies, and also have four children, three of whom are still in primary education.

I do bemoan the information literacy (or lack thereof) of kids these days, including my own, though I try to help them learn how to search and to vet what they find. You are right when you say that kids often don’t have any idea how to search the Internet for good information and they NEED to learn how to do this. I applaud you for this wonderful site, especially considering your non-entomological backgrounds. I also love how you’ve broken out the left hand index into further facets. It can be very difficult to search this particular kind of site because of the difficulty in indexing things that many users don’t even know how to “name” – either Latin or common.

I have to say I understand the parent’s frustration in helping a fourth grader try to find information on the Internet. If you leave it totally up to them, they often end up very frustrated. I have had to find a list of sites for my kids to use, just to narrow the field, of course explaining how I found and then chose those sites and why they are reliable sources of information. It is a learning experience and you have to sometimes hold their hand all the way down to the “item” level, especially at age 9 or 10. Time doesn’t always allow this (It’s due tomorrow and I haven’t started – time management lecture instead of info lecture here!). We don’t just let them flounder all over the Web and we help them when we can and hope they learn how to do it on their own next time. Again, “bugs” can be hard for us to find and ID online as we don’t even know how to name them or classify them into some sort of group to get going, so I have to say I understand a parent finally just drilling into your site to figure out what they heck they have.

Sorry for going on so long here, but it’s a fascinating topic. I love your website (used it as a model in one of my info studies classes) and thank you for all your hard work in making these resources available to the public. Users often don’t understand the work required to keep up a site like this and since you are providing it, they expect that you have to provide it, that you have a duty to provide it, even if it’s just something you love and there is no compulsion beyond that for continuing. I sense this is a labor of love rather than a means to that lovely vacation home or comfy retirement (ha!) and I recommend it to anyone and everyone I can.

That’s it – I love bugs, am fascinated by them if not sometimes a tiny bit freaked out by them. It’s a shame if that person disparages your site to other parents. It’s a fantastic source of information.  From the librarian point of view, have you ever considered adding any social interaction to the site, like tagging or commenting on posts? Any other sort of facets to make searching easier, like by colors, sizes, etc. – only in addition to what you already have set up. Don’t you love this kind of inquiry? Like you have the time to do this. But it’s such an awesome agglomeration of good information. Making it more searchable would open up the content even more.

Thanks for reading this far, if indeed you have.
Ann Graf

Hi Ann,
Thanks for your comment, which alas we are unable to address fully at the moment since we need to leave for work.  We do have a comment option on posts and our search engine works magnificently.  Our tiny staff frequently uses our own site to locate previous postings of certain insects and that would be impossible in our vast and confusing archives were it not for the search engine.
P.S.  We are also a bit sad that Kim hasn’t written back to accept our apology.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination
Location: North Carolina

7 Responses to Ailanthus Webworm Moth identification request spawns homework controversy

  1. N. Fritz says:

    “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

    • bugman says:

      We decided to just concede and not to push the issue any further. Seems we really struck a nerve by merely frowning upon doing homework, and we even provided an elusive identification.

  2. adiapalic says:

    For insect identification in one of my horticulture classes, I found North American insect field guides much more helpful than browsing the internet. I own one, but I’m sure it would be just as easy to go to the library or any bookstore around and peruse some of the books they have. Instead of lugging around bugs, you could take photos of the ones you can identify to take with you. Just view it on the LCD of you camera.

    Going to the library is also a great activity for children, especially when it research is involved. Though everyone loves the convenience of the internet, libraries (and bookstores even) are still essential to the research process. I personally use both.

    On a project like this, I imagine opening a book at a library or store and letting a kid thumb through a bunch of color photos of insects and finding theirs would be really exciting and interactive instead of having to be nannied on a computer. I’ve heard a saying that the internet is like an infinite pool that is 2 inches deep–sometimes it’s so vast in information that it’s hard to delve deep enough to find what you’re looking for. Kids do need to learn how to use it as a research tool, but as I said… for this particular project, books were easier for me as a college student.

    Besides, I have great childhood memories of going to the library.

    • bugman says:

      Thanks for this very thoughtful comment.

    • Bee girl says:

      I agree with you on many counts! I’m a mom and a teacher – and there are so many many wonderful books which are just begging to be browsed through… I think, personally, that if you are new to a topic, one of the most wonderful ways to get a good overview is to page through some books. It limits the scope a bit and you just get a feel through the words and especially the pictures. I think this is true for both grown ups and children. Also, as a prelude to learning how to do internet searches, doing library searches is a great way of seeing how information can be sorted and organised, and how you can keep refining your search until you get what you need…
      Finally, living things are organised into specific classes and groups – and using a field guide or an identification guide is a wonderful way to learn about classification in a way that you couldn’t really on the internet.
      And YAY!!! to this website for encouraging kids to find out stuff for themselves!

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