Start receiving our award-winning magazine today!



Deborah Landau Bugs Out

Bugged Out Slideshow

See some cool close-up photos of bugs and the kids that love them!

Interview by Kate Hougen

“It’s a mantis — no, wait, it’s a beetle!” These are common exclamations Deborah Landau hears during “a day at the office.”

As a conservation ecologist for The Nature Conservancy in Maryland/DC, Deborah may have one of the coolest jobs on Earth. Besides monitoring our local preserves, from time to time (if we’re lucky), she also leads bug walks for members and their kids.

Like Deborah, I have two young children. So when I spoke with her recently, I was particularly interested in her tips on how I could instill in my children an appreciation of nature through exploring the insect life in our own backyard. Read on for Deborah’s bugged-out insights.

You just recently led a bug walk for Maryland members. What stood out to you?

Deborah Landau:

I always get a really big kick out of how unsqueamish the kids are. I imagine a lot of these kids might be different at home, but when they’re out in nature, they get so into it. Centipedes, daddy long legs, whatever — I scoop it up gently and show it to everybody, and they get so excited and just become a part of their surroundings. I love to see that — and see them share that excitement with their parents.

You have kids, too. How do you inspire them to get out and enjoy the outdoors?

Deborah Landau:

I just try to make them appreciate how many really cool hidden treasures we have outside. And when we catch an insect in the house and let it go outside, we’ll talk about it.

Is it okay to catch bugs to get a closer look? If so, any tips on how?

Deborah Landau:

Yes! Many toy stores sell small nets — look for a light mesh net on a stick. As a kid, I did really well with a jar. But remember to be really gentle. Bugs have very fragile exoskeletons. And let them go when you’re through observing them. If in doubt (like if you think it may sting you), stay on the safe side and just admire it from afar.

Where are the best places to find bugs?

Deborah Landau:

Almost everywhere. One of my favorite spots is hedges. Look along your fence line, maybe an area where your mower can’t reach. That’s an area of diversity. If you have a tree and there are woodpeckers on it, there are lots of insects living in that tree. And any little mound you see under the ground could be an anthill, beetle larvae — or hosting all sorts of other insects.

What is a little-known “fun fact” about bugs?

Deborah Landau:

You can tell the exact temperature based on how quickly or slowly a snowy tree cricket trills. There is a very specific calculation. It’s not a folk tale; it’s really true!

What insects are unique to our area?

Deborah Landau:

In Maryland, we have a few noteworthy insects that unfortunately are rare. For example, at Nassawango, we have a very rare tiger beetle and a cute little butterfly called the frosted elfin. Another insect that is harder to find nowadays is the Baltimore checkerspot, named after Lord Baltimore. Its colors are like the Maryland flag, that contrasting black and yellow. Today they’re harder than ever to find due to habitat loss.

Why are insects so important in nature?

Deborah Landau:

They play vital roles, many of which are unseen. They are recycling. They are helping trees. They are eating the grubs off of your vegetable plants.

What are some simple things people can do to help beneficial insects?

Deborah Landau:

Lawns are ecological deserts — they provide almost no diversity whatsoever. If you can dig up a piece of your lawn and plant native plants — even if it’s just a small patch — you can provide food and shelter for literally hundreds of native organisms. You may get butterflies, honeybees, birds — a little oasis within your lawn. Plus, it’s that much less grass to mow!

Any other advice you’d like to share with parents?

Deborah Landau:

Keep the enthusiasm going. I see a lot of kids run up to their parents with something cool, and they’re watching their parents’ reactions. A child’s natural first reaction is curiosity. Encourage that excitement and that appreciation.

Share Your Own Bugged Out Stories

What insects are you finding in your backyard? We’d love to see and hear your stories! Share your stories and upload your pics on our new, local Facebook page.


We’re Accountable

The Nature Conservancy makes careful use of your support.

More Ratings

x animal

Sign up for Nature eNews!

Sign Up for Nature e-News

Learn about the places you love. Find out
how you can help.

Thank you for joining our online community!

We’ll be in touch soon with more Nature Conservancy news, updates and exciting stories.

Please leave this field empty

I'm already on the list!

Read our privacy policy.