Unnecessary Carnage

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Many humans have an innate fear of the “creepy crawlies”. Many times, this (mostly unfounded) fear leads to unnecessary carnage of the poor insect specimen in question.

Here are some letters that would have otherwise been a fabulous addition to our site but we have reported them in our “unnecessary carnage” section.

Letter 1 – Fanmail concerning Unnecessary Carnage

July 29, 2009
WTB folks:
Just discovered you, and went right for the ‘Unnecessary carnage’ page. I am an  insect lover, technician for several entomology labs here at Nova Scotia Agricultural College. Great sense of humour and so right about  unnecessary killing. Only critisim would be to get away from narrow column pages..fill up the’ empty margins.
Anna Fitzgerald
NSAC, Truro, Canada

Letter 2 – Starting an Insect Collection is not Unnecessary Carnage

Question about Unnecessary Carnage
July 29, 2009
Hello WTB!
My kids and I are huge fans of your site. One of my kids decided at the tender of age of three that he wants to become an entomologist someday and spends hours each day out searching for bugs. For a five year old he’s pretty amazing at identifying what he finds, but when he isn’t sure we check your site.
Sometimes, we still have questions and would like to send a photo for an ID, but hesitate because we don’t want to be chastised for unnecessary carnage. See, my son decided this year to start an official collection of specimens like he’s seen in museums. When he finds an insect he does not have, he puts it into the freezer and then later (with my help), pins it into his collection display box. I help him label his specimens correctly, and he always lets insects go if that species is already represented in his collection. If someone were to email you a photo of an insect that is part of a specimen collection of this nature, would you classify it as unnecessary carnage? I think I could handle the criticism, but your biggest almost-six-year-old fan would be crushed.
Whatever the outcome of this question, we love your site and will continue to use it daily. Even though we walk away from the computer with severe bug envy, we just can’t stay away.

Hi Susanne,
We do not consider starting an insect collection to be Unnecessary Carnage.  We believe strongly in education, and beginning a collection of insects is an excellent educational tool.  Thank your for your very sweet letter, though we are a bit troubled that you would even entertain the thought that we would chastise an enthusiastic and curious child and crush his spirits for doing something that he loves.

Another point of View
Comment on insect collection/ carnage
July 30, 2009
As a naturalist who presents educational insect programs to thousands of children a year, I’d like to comment on the insect collection question. I agree with the answer that WTB provided about encouraging young entomologists. I do, however, think that insect collections are a relic of the kill-and-study age of nature discovery. Thanks to digital photography, kids can create a record of their discovery that is far superior to a box full of dead insects. Some inexpensive digital cameras can capture great close-ups. You can crop images to highlight interesting features of different insects. You can display magnified images that show things they would never see on a dead insect in a box.
Can you capture these images without killing the insect? WTB is filled with proof that you can.
Northern Indiana

Thank you for your input Vince,
Of course, we agree with you on this matter, but we must reiterate that we still do not consider creating an insect collection to be Unnecessary Carnage.  Is photography an alternative that we endorse?  It certainly is, and it will help to prolong our careers as photography instructors.

Suzanne Responds
Thank you for the wonderful response.  My son’s entomological pursuits have taught him patience, observational skills, and vocabulary words that astound his teachers.  He’s gotten our entire family interested in bugs, and we are all constantly on the lookout for interesting speciments.  The look on his face when he found a green tiger beetle or saw the first monarch of the summer is something I will never forget.
Vince from Indiana (the state I lived in for most of my life!) has a very good point.  In fact, we do photograph many of the insects we see.  I am always amazed by the photos of insects other people are able to take.  Sadly, I lack both the knowledge and the equipment for taking detailed close-up shots of insects.  In spite of that, my son’s room is decorated with enlarged photos of some bigger bugs he’s found in the past.  Purchasing an entomology kit designed for a child was much more economical for us than investing in a nicer camera with a macro lens.  Because of his young age, it is also more feasible for him to catch the insects with a net than an expensive camera.  His collection is much more than a box of dead bugs, as the attached photo will show.  We spend a lot of time together mounting things properly, making sure the toe biter’s rostrum is extended or the large rove beetle’s jaws are open wide.  Yes, this could be done with photographs, and maybe as my son gets older (and gets a job) he will move in that direction.
Again, thank you for the reply!

Budding Entomologist
Budding Entomologist

Hi again Suzanne,
Your son’s collection is quite impressive.  Make sure you take the necessary measures to protect it from Dermestid Beetles by placing moth crystals or whatever the latest suggestion is in the case with the specimens.

Input from Eric Eaton
August 4, 2009
Hi, Daniel:
… I liked the exchange of opinions on the insect collection started by the young boy.  First, the image depicts one of the finest private collections I’ve ever seen for someone that young, and he should rightly be proud of himself.  Second, digital imaging takes you only so far in terms of identification.  An average ichneumon wasp, for example, simply cannot be identified to species, genus, even subfamily, by images of a living specimen alone.  Preserving a dead specimen is often the only way to document a record, and is certainly the only type of record recognized by science as irrefutable.
What I find a bit more troubling is the current trend toward molecular analysis of specimens that requires specimens to be reduced to the equivalent of a smoothie, run through electrophoresis (or whatever DNA analysis method is used currently), and then determined to species identification.  I understand the need to do this work, and it is revealing far more species than previous external morphological studies have, but it is certainly a lot less aesthetically pleasing than an image, or even a nicely-prepared whole specimen.  Just my two cents, from someone who has numerous specimens representing state records, and two species new to science.
Keep up the great job, Daniel:-)

Letter 3 – Fanmail regarding Unnecessary Carnage

Unnecessary Carnage Comment
August 9, 2009
RE: unnecessary carnage
I love your site, and visit it several times a day. Many thanks for posting such lovely images and so much information (you helped me ID a one-eyed Sphinx moth here in Seattle)! I also love the fact that you tell folks when they have committed an act of unnecessary carnage, but sadly, you have been very hesitant to do so lately… Please don’t let one or two unhinged people keep you from providing a vital service- letting humans know that insects are innocent until proven guilty!
Leah S.

Letter 4 – Unnecessary Carnage: Sharing the Title

Butterfly Gardens in Costa Rica asking if we may adopt the term unnecessary carnage
August 11, 2009
Myself and the volunteers at the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens were looking over your site the other day (we use it for IDs that people ask us for), and came across the Unnecessary Carnage page and were so happy and impressed! We laughed so hard that we all ended up in tears, peoples over dramatic response to calling out their (is there any better way to put it? We don’t think so) Unnecessary Carnage was hysterical. Taking people on educational bug tours all day long means that we all inevitably end up hearing tales of harmless arthropods meeting gruesome ends. We have all tried to come up with equally offensive retorts to these horrid tales of violence, however we feel that that your term really hits the nail into the Dobson fly. Therefore we entomologist and bug loving volunteers her e at the butterfly gardens ask we if may officially adopt the term Unnecessary Carnage and use it in our educational programming.
We are Very thankful for your hard work. We want you know that down here in Costa Rica you have a group of people who will be using your term as an act of solidarity for all those of us who flight to protect bugs every day of our lives!
Muchas gracias!
Bryna Belisle
Monteverde butterfly gardens Costa Rica

Dear Bryna,
By all mean, use the term Unnecessary Carnage as a means to educate the public.  We are honored that entomologists in Costa Rica think the term is appropriate.

Letter 5 – Unnecessary Slaughter

Insects are prone to unnecessary slaughter, be it from an overzealous homemaker who doesn’t want to see bugs, or from a strapping he-man who is a closet arachnophobe, or from a youngster who likes to torture. At any rate, we get a goodly amount of photos of poor arthropods whose lives ended prematurely. In an effort to educate, we present Unnecessary Carnage. This page is not intended for the squeamish.

Letter 6 – Unnecessary Carnage comments and confessions

Unnecessary Carnage
I like the unnecessary carnage posts. I don’t understand why some people feel they need to kill every insect they find… at least before committing “insecticide” one should seek education. I always seek to capture and release.
That said, I admit to killing some of our many-legged friends in select cases. One example is when a yellow-fly or deer fly decides to “defend” such territory as the front doorstep and aggressively trespasses into the house (In Florida, lethal force is authorized under the “Castle Doctrine” you see…). But seriously, these dear flies should seek education too; it is not in their best interest to break into a house, armed and intending to cause great bodily harm. Have you seen the welts they leave? Bigger than a silver dollar! I know, you probably think I’m an evil person for defending myself. Alas. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you about the panic I go into when surrounded by Culex nigripalpus during an encephalitis outbreak; I’m sure there are casualties.
I’m not sure what came over me there. I really just meant to tell you about all the spiders and moths and such that I release or leave alone. I don’t even bother the black widows out in the shed (but I’m not attempting diplomacy either… we just stay out of each others’ way). But somehow your site has the attraction of the confession booth, I think; else why do people send in pictures of viciously mauled hexapods when clearly the site is staffed by insect advocates?
Kind regards,
Robert Beverly
Friend of the Many-Legged;
With the exception of a few irreconcilable terrorists.

Dear Robert,
Thanks for your thoughtful letter.  We too draw the line at bloodsuckers.  We have no problem swatting Mosquitoes.  We also dispatch Sugar Ants that invade the kitchen, though we leave them alone in the yard.  We have no mercy with pantry pests and aphids sucking the juices from our garden plants are manually dispatched.

Letter 7 – Unnecessary Carnage Champion

September 5, 2009
Hey there!
I just happened to stumble onto your site thru a series of random clicking on the internet. Just wanted to say you guys are awesome for pointing out when people have needlessly killed a bug. Personally, though I am not a huge fan of bugs, I think it is ridiculous to kill one just because it looks “gross” or you don’t want it in your house. I’m sure you can relate to the crazy looks I get when I tell people I don’t kill bugs, I simply put them outside unless they are a threat to my pets. Even then, I have months of guilt afterwards! Sorry to ramble, just nice to see that there are still people out there who also see the idiocy of someone shrieking “kill it, kill it” at the top of their lungs while throwing things at a tiny and often defenseless bug whose only offense was to walk across the living room floor. Thanks for showing people how unreasonable they’re being!

Letter 8 – Car Grill Road Kill

Unavoidable Carnage?
September 29, 2009
Hi Daniel
This is not an ID request and I am not suggesting a new category – I just thought you might find this interesting. I habitually check my grill after a road trip to see what I missed, or more correctly, what I hit but might have seen had I stopped more frequently to look around. Here’s what can happen during a late summer trip down some prairie country roads. I hasten to add that this was not my truck; I have never been quite so morbidly “successful”. I wonder if anyone has thought of using vehicle grill counts as a way of conducting insect surveys.  Regards.

Car Grill Insect Collection
Car Grill Insect Collection

Hi Karl,
This photo is actually quite gorgeous, despite the great loss of life.

Car Grill Close Up
Car Grill Close Up

Letter 9 – Unnecessary Carnage and Fanmail

Thank you
October 3, 2009
I just submitted a question for you, and forgot to tell you how much myself and my boys enjoy your site. I have two boys, 8 & 3, who are fascinated by bugs. While I am not squeamish of bugs, and don’t believe in unnecessary carnage, I am not an expert or even a student of insects.
I also homeschool my boys. Your site, and bugguide.net have helped me immensely in identifying various specimens that they find. Both sites have also helped me turn their curiousity into a teaching moment. Your unecessary carnage comments have helped me make the same points to them, (it isn’t just momma’s opinion anymore) and my oldest has gained an understanding of each creature having a place in the cycle of life.
Thank you for your labors!!
The Koelbls of Noth Alabama

Letter 10 – Unnecessary Carnage Comment

Unecessary Carnage responses
January 22, 2011 4:47 pm
I love your witty and informative Unecessary Carnage responses.
Signature: Mary Sue Rubin

Hi Mary Sue,
It is refreshing to hear that.  Few things incite more vitriol on our website than Unnecessary Carnage comments.  The only possible exception is the Nasty Reader Award section.


  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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13 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi. I’ve been browsing this site for a while, but this is my first post.

    I teach a group of four-year-olds, and among the many, many things I find myself repeating daily is “Let it be! Insects are helpers!” with respect to whatever critter my kids have discovered, whether indoors or on the playground (of course, when something is discovered inside the classroom, we find a way to get it outside).

    The children, of course, are fascinated by insects, and, while insects’ identities could be taught through photographs and books, to teach the children to appreciate and respect animals and their purposes is best reinforced in practice. That is, to tell a child that a spider is beneficial and to smash it in front of him is counterproductive.

    Unnecessary carnage and a lost moment for education. Terrible shame.

    However, because of the age of the children I teach and their tendency toward kinesthetic learning, we do have an insect collection in the room. I want to teach respect, not hypocrisy, so the insects pinned to the board were all found dead. When a child finds an empty exoskeleton or a fallen butterfly on the playground, we pin it to the board and talk about what it is and how it might have come to its current state. Then, of course, comes the “Insects help us” talk.

    I try to balance respect for a child’s preferred method of study with respect for the insects themselves. This is why we have only pre-deceased findings in our collection, imperfect though they may be when they are found.

    To rely on photographs alone is a difficult way to keep kids interested. They need to experience more than an image can allow. An insect, living or dead, that is in front of the children makes it relevant to them and gives them more patience to listen while we talk about that insect.

    Occasionally, however, my philosophies are put to the test, as was the case the day I found an adult, female black widow spider scooting across the playground. I had to get her off the playground and far, far away from my class. There was a considerable amount of panicking on my part, but no one was harmed, and the children learned that, even though we shouldn’t hurt any minding its own business, there are some creatures that, when discovered, need to be reported to mom and dad.

  • I recently heard from a student who was morally opposed to killing insects for her entomology class. The professor and the dean and the student worked out a compromise–she would build her collection only from already dead insects. She said she eventually needed to resort to car grills in parking lots to complete her collection!

    • We here at What’s That Bug? also support the idea of collections formed from found dead specimens. Though we are not opposed to collecting insects for scientific or research purposes, we have major issues with “decorative” collections that are available on the market for profit.

  • I’m pretty sure a survey of insect populations was caried out using road kill grills in Britain in the last 5-10 years.

  • I have to say I object to the killing of any creature- harmless or not- unless for a food source or absolutely necessary protection (i.e. attacked by swarm of killer bees, swarmed by army ants etc. ;)) especially for studying purposes. I don’t mean in any way to crush dreams, but I’ve always wondered how people can say they love bugs and then kill them… I’ve done the same thing as shellyc, ever since I was 7 I’ve been building a collection of bugs I’ve found dead. My suggestions would be to try that out, and maybe (I’ve never tried this before but I’ve thought about it for a long time) when he finds a bug, let him research its needs and keep it in an aquarium/other habitat until it meets a natural death, and THEN form and mount it. That’s just my perspective, but I’m happy to hear that you at least kill them more humanely by putting them in the freezer first instead of strapping it down and pushing a stake through its heart like I’ve seen all-too-many times 🙂 Good luck with the collection!

  • FollowTheSpiders
    March 15, 2012 3:23 pm

    I have always been a fan of this site and its supposed reverence for arthropods and other tiny critters, but I must say that I am disappointed with its relaxed stance on bug collections that involve harming specimens.

    Killing any creature for the sake of satisfying curiosity is unnecessary carnage. We have a responsibility to carry our ethics with us wherever we go, and that includes the realm of education. They don’t suddenly become irrelevant because we wish to learn more. Whenever we harm when it is avoidable and unessential to self-preservation, we reduce animals to mere objects whose very existence is tethered to our own whims, and in doing so, we reduce our own character.

    It is possible to foster human curiosity while fostering respect for other living beings. It may not always be convenient to us, but it is a matter of much more than convenience to those affected by our actions. Digital photography is an excellent way to capture the lives of animals with minimal (if any) interference, and it preserves our yearning for and wealth of knowledge without spoiling our regard for the most vulnerable among us.

    A concerned bug enthusiast and macrophotographer

    • Dear concerned bug enthusiast and macrophotographer,
      Thank you so much for furthering the dialog on this topic, one that we acknowledge is a bit touchy. Please consider the circumstances of the original letter. Suzanne was concerned that we might chastise her son for his interest in beginning an insect collection. We also acknowledged that we support photography as a means of documenting sightings. We have tremendous respect for many scientists who are adamant environmentalists, yet they collect specimens for scientific purposes. What we do not condone is decorative insect collections with little or no scientific value, where the creatures in the collections are commodities bought and sold for profit. It has always been the mission of our website to promote an appreciation of the natural world and to stress the interconnectivity of living organisms on our fragile planet. We also believe it is important to evaluate each situation on a case by case basis.

    • Your comment is referenced in a letter we hope you appreciate. The content of the posting is Mating Fishing Spiders.

  • Thank you for such an educational post! Here in NM I always had a ‘kill it’ mindset, but after reading this I saw a careless jumping spider with my husband and he was very happy that I did not start screaming and flailing my arms saying “AHH SPIDER KILL IT KILL IT!” but instead thought of this site and let it go on it’s way. I hope that I can instill the same thoughts into my son as you guys have instilled in me, and seeing the bug collection has my mind ablaze thinking of how it can be a very educational and perfect father/son bonding experience. We will cross the bridge of whether or not to kill a bug for science instead of letting it be when we get to it, but I did want to take the time to say thank you and apologize for all the unnecessary carnage I’ve committed in the past. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment. The past is behind you and we are thrilled to know that in the future, you will be more tolerant of the lower beasts.

  • My kids spend a lot of time outdoors. I encourage them to inquire, explore and investigate; however, they know to leave nature as is. We do not disrupt the environment in anyway, we observe, draw, take pictures and document. Neither believes in snuffing the life out of living creatures but we all agree that if the bug is dead and intact, they can pick it up for their collection. My question is how do we explain death of bugs, insects, creepy crawlers to children?


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