Entomology (Study of Bugs)/Bug Identification


In the summer of 1954 we were camping at the Southern end of Hubbard Lake in the Northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan. One day my grandmother told my sister and me that if we knelt down at the base of a particular tree she pointed out to us and then rapidly and continuously repeated the words "wala wala ...", (like the city in Washington), that many small bugs would poke their heads out of the ground all around the base of the tree. Although she was not averse to joking at our expense, in spite of our skepticism we did as she bade and after thirty or forty seconds of incantations, to our complete amazement, up popped the heads of many small, subterranean creatures. I have never been able to find reference to either "Walawala" bugs nor to any kind of creature or phenomenon responding as we observed that day.  The question has been put to some Michigan residents but to no avail.   

The forest there was mostly evergreen but my memory believes the tree at issue was old-growth, deciduous and the ground was dry, undisturbed forest floor with little to no under-brush.

What creature did we summon?  Would any alternate, repetitious recitation have conjured the same response? Is there any chance I could find a similar habitat in Maryland?

I have often tried here in Maryland, even in falsetto to try mimicking our then child's voice spectrum, but could never duplicate the results.

I swear this account is absolutely true and took place exactly as reported.

Hi, Danny:

First, let me offer my sincerest praise for your captivating storytelling skills and your wonderful vocabulary.  I hope you are a writer, as I would delight in reading more of your work.  I mean that.

Second, I am pretty perplexed by what you describe, but I might have part of an answer at least.  I suspect that the appearance of the insects had less to do with the "incantations," and more with simply sitting or standing without moving.  Most insects are essentially deaf, but they *do* sense vibrations very well.  An insect at the surface of its burrow would back down immediately at the thunder of footsteps, but surface again after a short spell with no vibrations.

This leads me to suspect that you might have seen the larvae of tiger beetles, family Carabidae, genus Cicindela or related.  They live in vertical shafts in the soil and wait with the top of their head flush with the opening.  Any small insect coming by will then be seized by the tiger larva.

I have very rarely found tiger beetle larvae, so the fact you haven't found any since doesn't surprise me.

All of this said, I was intrigued enough to put your question before an international e-mail listserv of entomologists for their input.  Feel free to e-mail me at BugEric247ATgmailDOTcom and I will forward their answers as I receive them.  I might be missing something.  In any event, I LOVE folklore like this and am just as eager to solve the mystery as you are.

Thanks again for what has to be the best question I have ever received in almost ten years of doing this!



Entomology (Study of Bugs)

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Eric R. Eaton


I answer insect and spider identification questions ONLY. Attach images if possible. No "what bit me?", "what do I feed this bug in captivity?", or science fair project questions please. NO TECHNICAL QUESTIONS ABOUT INSECT PHYSIOLOGY.


Principal author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. Professional entomologist employed previously at University of Massachusetts, Chase Studio, Inc., and Cincinnati Zoo; contract work for West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, Smithsonian Institution, and Portland (Oregon) State University.

Author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Missouri Conservationist magazine, Ranger Rick, Birds & Blooms, Timeline (journal of the Ohio Historical Society). I have contributed to several books as well.

Oregon State University, undergraduate major in entomology, did not receive degree.

Awards and Honors
One of the top 50 experts in all categories for AllExperts.com, 2009.

Past/Present Clients
Principal author of the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Smithsonian Institution (contract), Cincinnati Zoo (employer), Portland State University (contract), Chase Studio, Inc (employer), Arkansas Museum of Discovery (guest speaker). Currently seeking speaking engagements, leadership roles at nature festivals, workshops, and ecotours.

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