Pests and Bugs

STEM Tuesday — Pests that Bug Us — Author Interview


Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview, a fun feature for the last Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Got a little tickle in your throat? Nose running? We’re all familiar with the common cold, the ferocious flu, and all kinds of illnesses, but did you know that animals struggle with sick days, too? It’s true!

In Sick!: The Twists and Turns Behind Animal Germs, Heather Montgomery explores different stories of animals getting sick: what causes it, how they get better, and what we can learn from it. Let’s take a look!

book cover for Sick: The Twists and Turns Behind Animal GermsAndi Diehn: I love all your examples of scientists collaborating – does this happen often in the science world?
Heather Montgomery: Yes! No scientist (successfully) works in a vacuum and all scientists build on the earlier work of others. In addition to the scientists there are: managers, janitors, editors, illustrators, library researchers, dishwashers (yep, labs use a lot of glassware), and a whole host of animals.

AD: In each chapter you do a fantastic job of breaking down the scientific process into real steps taken by the scientists – discovery, hypothesis, research, testing, conclusions, and beyond. Why include all these stages?

HM: The research for this book opened my eyes to the fun and value of each stage of the scientific process. Most of us (myself included) have a favorite part, but—just like discoveries are made possible by a team of people—new understandings of our world are made possible thanks to the every stage of the process.

AD: I love this quote: “One scientific study doesn’t give us an answer—it gives us a piece of the puzzle.” Why is this an important concept for kids to understand?ants around the word epidemic

HM: Because the human mind likes clarity, we can all fall into the trap of believing that one study, statistic, or statement is THE answer—especially if it supports what we already believe. But science isn’t about belief. It is about asking questions, collecting evidence, and probing deeper into the puzzles of our world.

AD: This paragraph was wonderful: “And the reason we now understand the power of camel anti- bodies? Not a bunch of experts doling out answers. Nope. It was students asking genuine questions. Students who pushed them- selves past the same old easy experiment. Students who embraced a challenge, then challenged our understanding of mammal antibodies.” What do you hope kids take away from this paragraph?

HM: Anyone can participate in science! As a child I remember thinking that all the fun science was done. That we had all the answers, that all the facts had been figured out, and that all the best discoveries had been made. Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth. All a discovery really needs is a solid question and a brave someone to follow where it leads.

AD: The story of Chausiku the chimp was fascinating – it made me realize how much we still don’t know about the world. Why might kids find this inspiring?Not so fun fact

HM: Animals are awesome! And their “knowledge” of the world—whether that be innate, learned, or some other form our big brains can’t understand—is fascinating. What if we could sense the world as a chimp can? What if we could know what an ant knows? Kids don’t let preconceived ideas of what we can and can’t do stop them. And that is pretty awesome, too.

AD: The chapter about vultures was just one example of my whole understanding of bacteria being turned on its head! How do scientists keep their minds open to all the possible causalities and correlations? What can students learn from this?

HM: Right?! We have this idea (this bias) of what is “bad” and what is “good.” When a scientific discovery flips that idea over, it’s like flipping a rock and finding a whole world underneath it. And when that kind of discovery comes from the belly of a buzzard, you can’t help but dive in and explore!

AD: Symbiotic relationships with bacteria – this feels like a very new way to think about our bodies and the world around us. How long have scientists been exploring this concept?cartoon of different relationships

HM: In the early 1900s, scientists were hypothesizing that mitochondria (the power houses in our cells) were of microbial origin. But where was the evidence? Sixty years later Lynn Margulis proposed that the cell is actually a community of microbes. It wasn’t combat, she said, but networking that allowed complex life to thrive. Her peers considered her a radical. It wasn’t until we developed more advanced genetic tools—and saw that the DNA in mitochondria is different than the DNA of the cell the mitochondria is in—that this concept of symbiosis within a cell took hold. And now we are seeing it everywhere!

AD: I know you touch on this in your author’s note, but what was your inspiration to write about animal germs?

HM: In 2020 when the world was in lockdown thanks to a “germ,” I needed some hope. One day I realized that every animal species still surviving on this planet had survived an epidemic. How? So I dug into databases, Zoom-interviewed cool scientists, and started drafting. I got so deep into the science that I churned out a book too complex for my audience. Three years later, after scrapping the second half of that draft (don’t worry, I squirreled it away to use later), it all came together as Sick!: The Twists and Turns Behind Animal Germs.


Heather MontgomeryHeather Montgomery’s interest in nature led to a B.S. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Education. For years she developed curriculum and directed the McDowell Environmental Center. Later, she taught in the classroom, directed summer camps, and finally discovered writing! She’s published 18 books for young people and owes much of her publishing knowledge to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, particularly the Southern Breeze Region.

STEM Tuesday — Pests that Bug Us — Writing Tips and Resources

Bugs offer wonderful opportunities for creativity and science. This week’s blog discusses art activities and the connection to science. First a lesson plan on drawing bugs from an experienced art professor. Then a suggestion for a convenient portable sketch kit. And last, how origami and science connect. Drawing Bugs   Lisa Granata My good friend, Professor Lisa Granata, who has 30 years’ experience teaching all ages, has used bugs as models in her art classes. She said the young students were enthused much more than the adults. She kindly shared her lesson directions, which she has used for both kids and adults. 1.         Gather art supplies- pencil, eraser, pencil sharpener, heavy drawing paper or watercolor paper, extra fine sharpie, watercolors set (Jack Richeson 38010 Yarka Student Semi Moist Watercolor), a cup for water, paper towels, watercolor brushes (detail brush # 0 and a round tip brush size 12), masking tape and a magnifying insect box. (MagniPros Pack of 3 Magnifier Box Bug Viewer Magnifies up to 5X(500%) with Crystal Clear Image) 2.         Go to the windowsill in your home and look for insects. Find the bugs with the most interesting shapes, patterns, or colors. 3.         Carefully place insects into the box to study. Carefully observe the lines, shapes, colors, and patterns. 4.         Tape all four sides of the edges of your paper to your table. This will keep your paper flat and leave a border. 5.         Take your pencil and eraser and sketch one large insect on your paper or you might choose 3 different insects from your windowsill collection. Think about your composition. Draw large and fill the page. 6.         Back up and check your proportions. Are the shapes correct? If not, make small adjustments. (This is part of the creative process). 7.         Trace all pencil lines with your extra fine sharpie. 8.         Fill your cup with water, take out a paper towel, open your watercolor set and wet your brushes. 9.         Lightly dip your wet brush into the semi wet watercolors to add color to the insects. Carefully examine the insect’s details under the magnifying glass. 10.       Have fun painting! 11.       Peel off your tape the next day after the paper is dry. Several models of loups are available at low cost just for that purpose. In my part of the country, we have an abundance of stink bugs and lady bugs that get inside during the winter and die before we spot them. If your windows are so airtight, you can probably find other sources. According to the American Museum of Natural History: In terms of numbers of species, insects certainly represent the largest percentage of the world’s organisms. There are more than 1 million species of insects that have been documented and studied by scientists. The ways the bug drawings can be used in classroom or educational settings are nearly as numerous as bugs themselves. An insect journal is definitely at the top of the list, but there is much more – posters, story illustrations, animation, reports, fine arts. You can order loups here. Pack of 3 Magnifier Box Bug Viewer Magnifies up to 5X(500%)
Loupe photo
Bug Loupe
And here. Carson 4.5x BugLoupe Pre-Focused Stand Loupe Magnifier Here are some more reference books for bug drawing. A Sketching Kit One of my favorite sketching materials is Inktense pencils. They are useful for both the beginning and experienced artist. Because most people are familiar with the physical activity of using a pencil, there is no learning curve of skill in that aspect. Yet the pencils, which are brilliant of color more than regular colored pencils, can be used several ways. First, they can be used like regular colored pencils – dry with strokes and hatching. Second, they can be used like paint, applying either wet or with a brush. Or they can be used in combination. Derwent, the manufacturer, has information on their website They are much more portable than regular watercolors. You can carry a whole sketch kit in a pocket or small bag, making it a great option for field work.
Michael LaFosse author
Michael LaFosse author
Origami and Bugs Artist Michael Fosse, one of the world’s most accomplished origami artists, has a number of well-planned books available on origami insects. The papermaker and author was trained as a biologist. He says he finds his strongest inspiration in the natural world preferring to study his subjects in their natural habitats. He was a guest artist at my university, so I saw first-hand his amazing skill. ( Here are his books specifically about origami bugs.
And in the interest of the environment, I have included this book. While not dedicated to insects specifically, it is a reference for recycling and reusing materials that might otherwise end up in landfill.
Trash Origami
Trash Origami
Besides studying insects, scientists and engineers have used the art of paper folding for such practical matters as the most efficient airplane and air vehicle wings, how to fold an airbag, and origami even has practical applications for research on proteins. PBS has a documentary called “Between the Folds” that merges the art/science applications. You can also read about other origami applications in this article from National Geographic – “Origami is revolutionising technology, from medicine to space.” Additional resources. I hope you enjoy these insect activities and are inspired to do some creative work. You don’t need much by way of materials to start out, but all the activities provide good brain work and will enhance your knowledge of insects. Margo Lemieux, Professor Emerita Lasell University, spent part of the pandemic making origami boxes from failed etchings and prints. Creativity is not for the faint of heart.

STEM Tuesday — Pests that Bug Us — In the Classroom



Leeches, bedbugs, and plagues! These books focus on some of the plants, pests, and parasites that share our home and, in some cases, our body. The possibilities are endless for bug-filled classroom discussions and activities!


Plagues and Pandemics (History Smashers) by Kate Messner

A mix of conversational text and graphic panels takes readers on a world-wide tour of the best-known plagues and pandemics from ancient times to our current era. Highlights include the black death, smallpox, cholera, polio, Ebola, SARS, and Covid 19. The final chapter explores how to prevent the next pandemic.



Classroom Activity

Assign each student (or a small group of students) a pandemic or plague-causing microbe to research. Ask them to investigate their microbe using library resources or the Internet. Using the information they have learned, have the students created a “Most Wanted” poster for their assigned microbe. Have them include photos and/or drawings, scientific name, common name, symptoms, how it spreads, how to stop it, and more.



Itch!: Everything You Didn’t Want to Know About What Makes You Scratch by Anita Sanchez

To understand why things itch, we need to understand how skin reacts to stings and bites. This book includes the usual buggy suspects as well as plants with spines, needles, and poisons. Readers will learn how to identify poison ivy, how fleas leap, and how bedbugs talk to each other and they will find non-toxic alternatives for treatment.


Classroom Activity

When you have an itch, there are a variety of suspects that could be to blame. Is it a mosquito bite or a brush with poison ivy or something else? Let’s find out! Assign each student an itch-causing suspect, from bugs to plants to poisons. Have students research their itchy suspects using the Internet and/or library. Using the information they learn, students should create a set of clues to the identify of the itchy suspect. Have students read the clues to the class and see if the class can identify the itch-causing culprit.


What’s Eating You? Parasites – The Inside Story by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Neal Layton

You are a habitat to (potentially) more than 430 kinds of parasites! Text, accompanied by graphic panels, explores the lives of ticks, fleas, and other parasites that live on your body surface, the tapeworms, hookworms, and roundworms that live inside you, and some of the defenses your body uses against them.

Classroom Activity

How much do you know about parasites? Have students use this book and other resources to learn about parasites. How do people become infected with parasites? Where can parasites live in the human body? What body parts can parasites infect? What are the signs and symptoms of parasites? How can you reduce the risk of getting parasites? Have students use what they have learned to create a public service announcement about staying safe from parasites.



Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and dog. Find her at, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, or on X @carlawrites.