As a student at the Florida Institute of Technology in the late '60s, Mark Sivik was interested in biology -- especially bugs. And to him FIT's Colombian exchange program sounded like a chance to collect some exotic insects. So he signed on ostensibly as a guide for a project in which natives were brought out of the jungles of neighboring Brazil for corrective eye surgery at the institute. His plan worked, because while he was in the bush, he nabbed lots of bizarre-looking scarabs and rare moths.
His collection of a couple hundred specimens isn't large at all for an entomology buff, but these days Sivik gives away most of the bugs he captures. Now a high-school science teacher in Palm Beach County, he still makes trips to Colombia in search of insects, but the critters he donates to school science programs are local varieties caught during the Insect Adventure field trips he conducts.
Sivik takes groups of four people or so to orange groves in western Palm Beach County. He and his bug hunters -- who include middle-school students, photographers, and nature enthusiasts -- go after caterpillars, aphids, grasshoppers, and leaf-footed bugs, among others. Most are the kinds of bugs that are no friends of plants.
"They carry plant diseases, but they are very beautiful to look at," says Sivik. The back legs of leaf-footed bugs, for example, are shaped like citrus leaves. But when they feed on agricultural crops, they spread bacteria and viruses that kill the plants. Aphids, in particular, carry citrus viruses; other bugs do damage simply by munching on plants' flowers, fruit, or leaves.
"One of the things we found a lot of were chinch bugs," says Jacques Jamner, who recently went on a bug excursion with his 12- and 15-year-old sons. "They stay underneath the leaves, and [Sivik] knew exactly where to find them."
Participants are given the opportunity to catch bugs with nets and examine them under magnifying glasses. They can then "pickle" the bugs with nail-polish remover and glue them to the tips of pushpins set in a wooden display case -- a take-home trophy of sorts.
As multitudinous as bugs are, Sivik and his troops are not upsetting the balance of nature by capturing the bugs. In fact he points out that the plant-friendly insects -- like ladybugs, which eat aphids -- are spared. "We leave the good insects," he says.