The Bugman of Mt. Washington
Originally published in the Boulevard Sentinel (VOLUME XV ISSUE 2)
News and Views
for Northeast Los Angeles
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.
39 thoughts on “The Bugman of Mt. Washington”
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!
Thanks for the compliment Maria Helena.
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.
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.
Thanks for the kind comment.
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.
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
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.
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! 🙂
Thank you for letting us know the positive impact we are having on your life.
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!
You are most welcome.
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?
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.
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.
I tried to send this with attached pictures but I’m not sure it went through. My email address is [email protected] 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.
Please use our standard submission form by clicking the Ask What’s That Bug link and include the information so we can create a unique posting for your sighting.
I this funny looking bug bit don’t know it is how can I send a picture of it to you it bit me and I want to know if poison
You may submit images using our Ask What’s That Bug? link.
Just found your site. I live in the San Fernando valley. Moved into this house near lake balboa over 1 year and 1/2 so know most of the seasonal issues. A couple of weeks ago I started getting little nasty bites on my ankles while ib bed. Then it is going all over, very, very itchy! Tonight saw them in tub and on sink counter. Tried to kill, they are damn difficult. Took toilet paper, they jumped! They look like black sesame seeds. Finally got a few, smashed with a shoe on top of tissue. Have what looks like teeny 2 legs in back. Help!
Could I come and show you?
Thanks so much for any and all assistance on this matter.
Sleepless in Encino
I love you already, bug Man! I lived on Mt Wash., all of my life, but I needed to temporarily relocate to Prescott, AZ this year. I’m a Lic’d Vet Nurse, wildlife rescurer, and nature freak. My knowledge has been reduced to zero here, and I don’t recognize anything I see (plant or animal)! Are you still there! I have MANY Q’s to ask you! I’ve seen Tarantula Wasps, passively indifferent to me, but the young victims… staggering, suffering spiders, out on the street, in broad daylight. Please tell you’re still there!
WTB? is still going strong.
How can I send you pic of a bug
Images can be sent by using the Ask What’s That Bug? link on our site.
I have a question for you..
What would you think if you saw a living, flying 12 inch wasp with a head the size of an average sized black plum?
We would pinch ourself to see if we were awake, and then we would figure out if we could get documentation for a heretofore unknown species. According to Web Ecoist: “Tarantula Hawk Wasps are among the world’s largest wasps, growing up to 2 inches (50 mm) long.” Then we might think that someone had designed a drone that looks like a giant wasp.
I want you to know I got the chills when I saw the picture of your little black bug. I have had the exact same thing I explain it as little tiny watermelon seeds with a tail, and this tale has small little feet or barbs that are almost microscopic are hard to see anyway and when they get on your skin they attach and before you know it they’re under your skin. And you’re right about the feeding tube they look like little tiny black hairs I’ve taken tweezers and tried to pull them out the harder I try to tweeze them the further they burrow. When you attack one….several will spring out of your skin and almost like they are in a battling up mode against you. People think I’m crazy but it’s true I’ve had a Burry into my feet and my legs around my socks on my face its been a nightmare my dog has gotten them too. I’ve use peroxide to battle them they hate peroxide. Nobody seems to know what this is and half the time nobody will believe me.
What’s ever this is, I will get like a whelp and it will shoot with appear to be small rock salt with the wormish bug in it. I’m losing my mind over this. Please assure me that I’m not imagining this if it’s a nightmare….. Wake me up because its eating me alive. thank you,
I am currently working on my undergrad thesis study which is related to cave crickets and I’m looking for an expert to id my specimens. I would like to ask if it is possible for you to identify my specimens. I will highly appreciate the chance to work with you. I look forward to hearing from you.
We have no actual entomologists on our staff and identifying distinct species of Cave Crickets is beyond our capabilities. We would suggest a trip to your local natural history museum after making an appointment with the entomological staff.
May I test you some 4 photos of some bugs? 2 are of caterpillars, one seems to be of a sphinx moth and one is a beetle. They are on my phone but not my computer
You may submit your images using the Ask What’s That Bug? link on our site, but please limit your submissions to a single species per posting. We understand it takes more time for the person submitting images, but it makes for much more organized posting on the part of our limited editorial staff.
Oh! Oh! Oh! First of all I have to say I am so excited to “meet” you. I love learning and I am “of ‘satiable curtiosity” (from Kipling’s “the Elephant’s Child”). Did you know Jack Smith? He lived on Mt. Washington and was a writer for The L.A. Times. He wrote boodles of books about his life and of living there. I hope you knew him because he was a character like you. Keep up the good work. I found you today because I was corrected on a local ‘bug’ facebook page when I used the spelling ‘preying’ for mantis. I’m glad to see your response about the exclusive use of the spelling ‘praying’ being subjective. Signed Lee Hernandez (Born in L.A.)
Though Daniel does live in Mount Washington, he has only been there for 22 years and he did not know Jack Smith, but of course he does know of Jack Smith. We are well aware that the accepted spelling is Praying Mantis, but that does not stop us from using Preying Mantis which we feel is much more appropriate.
Thanks for getting back with me. I’m glad he knows who Jack was. Jack died in 1996, so he just missed actually getting to meet him. I’m sure they would have been fast friends. By the way, I did purchase two copies of the book. One is for the kids across the street who have a group they call ‘Headquarters. We always let each other know when we find a cool bug. Their average age is about 8 and I am 66!
I discovered a bug that uses minute pieces of tree bark and moss to camouflage itself. It appears that it uses something such as saliva to glue these tiny pieces to itself.This bug is so small, you wouldn’t know it was a bug unless you place it under a microscope. It has to large mandible, plus two tubes loaded with a harpoon that extends out on both sides of it’s head.it has six appendages extruding from it’s sides with a small fingerlike hands with long hairs extending from it’s fingers and toes. I placed it under my microscope and have many photos of it. I just need to find someone interested in looking at it,to send them to. I live deep in Sam Houston National Forest, in New Waverly, Texas. I doubt that this bug has ever been seen before. If anyone can help me get these photos to someone in the Entomology business,please let me know.
That you, much. Hogan
Sounds like a Lacewing larva.
2inch worm with anteni thin body in my stool
Ive wrote to you and sent pictures i dont know if i just dont know how to check my email is [email protected] doctors are not helping me ive been infested with a type of mite id sat all attemps have failed even sponge baths in miratic acid but that does seem to draw them closer to the serface of my skin but it seems the warmer weather from summer coming has kicked them in over drive please help me its gone on for 2 years now my life sucks