Admitting, I don’t know what that is.

I continue to learn over and over again that there is value in admitting, “I don’t know what that is.” During a field trip on Forest Ecology, we came across a large mound of sand and dirt. This mound is an obstacle in the Dirty Dash, an annual mud run at Big Hill Park for families in late August. The mound was crawling with dark beetles with large abdomens. 

I tried to steer the kids away from the obstacle, seeing the beetles. But who can keep kids away from a climbing mountain? Really, no one can. So they bound their way up the mountain and back down over and over with big smiles of “I can do it.” It wasn’t long before one of the kids picked up one of the large beetles and brought it to me.

She asked, “What’s this?”

Field trip students found an intriguing black bug on a Dirty Dash hill, so Mr. Aaron did some research and found out it was a dangerous blister beetle!

I learned that admitting that I did not know something…

A big part of the Forest Ecology field trips is using a ring of identification cards. The second graders are supposed to be the expert guides, only turning to me when what they found is not in their identification cards. This beetle was not in their cards. I wished I knew what it was, but I didn’t. I asked the student to put it down. I admitted to the kids and parents that I did not know what the beetle was. They all looked at me – the expert in all things outdoors – with frowns and crickled noses. I admitted that I don’t know the names of all the things that we see on our hikes, but I had tools to help, just like their cards. I took a picture and said that when I had WiFi I could use iNaturalist* to find out. 

One of the parents told me the name they knew it as escarabajo ampolla and said that the kids shouldn’t touch them. That they have bunches of them in Mexico, and they can cause your skin to itch. Sure enough, when I had the chance to use iNaturalist, the answer came back as an Oil Beetle, a type of blister beetle.

opens the space for others to insert their own experience and knowledge.

According to the UWMadison Department of Entomology’s Insect Diagnostic Lab website article: Blister Beetles—Unexpected Wisconsin Connections, there are 30 species in Wisconsin. As it turns out, they are toxic to people, but especially horses. If a horse consumes even a few of these, it could be deadly. Blister Beetles contain a toxin called cantharidin. There is an article in the Chicago Tribune reporting the death of fourteen horses caused by blister beetles in January of 2020. 

So, I learned something new. I now know that these beetles should be avoided and not handled, especially by children. I also learned that admitting that I did not know something opens the space for others to insert their own experience and knowledge. We can learn from each other, and I don’t have to always be the expert. It is also nice to know that there are tools like iNaturalist to assist with identification. And lastly, it also reinforces for me that we do not touch things that we are unsure about while on our school nature adventures. 

*If you are interested in joining Welty’s iNaturalist project Beloit’s Big Back Yard, download the iNaturalist app on your phone or tablet and start uploading your pictures.*

Aaron Wilson
Program Director, WEC