My favorite insect is the doodlebug. The relationship between the bug and me developed when I was in grade school. Each morning I waited at the corner for the school bus to arrive. The neighbor at the corner house had planted a row of hedges that were a doodlebug metropolis.
It was easy to be become fascinated by the doodlebugs because they were so different. They were neither leggy like a spider nor slimy like a snail. Instead they came prepackaged in their own shell. Sometimes they would crawl good-naturedly along my hand and other times they just seemed tired and would cuddle into a ball. They had the extra attraction of not stinging, biting or performing any other misdeeds. Nor were they predators at war with other insects. A good meal for them was decaying vegetation, of which they found plenty beneath the hedges.
I didn’t know back then that their scientific name is Armadillidium vulgare, which makes sense because the armored bugs do look something like an armadillo – though much cuter – but I’m not sure where the vulgare comes from except possibly from some ancient Roman who found a doodlebug in his fig. Nor did I know that in some parts of the country the doodle is known as a pill bug, which makes me think that someone once made a terrible mistake when taking his medications.
Doodlebugs come to mind because the Audubon Institute will be opening its Insectarium and I hope that the little arthropods get their recognition. The doodles are so shy and passive that they can easily be pushed out of the spotlight by tarantulas, grasshoppers and those showoff butterflies.
Once I started going to high school my doodlebug days were over. There were no more school bus rides, no waiting at the corner, no discovering the world that only little boys can see.
I never harmed a doodlebug. To the contrary, I had great ambitions for them. My plan was to launch the first doodlebug in space. One day, I told myself, I would put a doodlebug in a matchbox, attach the box to a helium balloon and send it soaring to the sky. Maybe the capsule would even reach the moon where its passenger could take one giant step for doodlebugs.
Those ambitions were never realized. Times changed. My world changed.
Doodlebugs are no doubt content just being in the earth, munching away on fallen leaves. Like us, sometimes they face threats. When that happens wouldn’t it be nice to hurriedly roll into a ball until the storm passes, then to just as quickly open up and be back to normal again?