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Don't Be Scared by Scarabs


"Know where you can get a pet for free," Ruby Jane sang out to her friend Brianne as they skipped to school.

"Not really," Brianne replied in a non-believing tone.

"There are all kinds of pets, and the ones I'm telling you about don't have fur and aren't cuddly."

"I don't want a baby snake, if that's what you mean."

Ruby Jane looked mysterious. "Have you ever heard of beetle bugs?"

"Who'd want a silly old bug for a pet?"

"My Uncle Paul is visiting us, and he is an entomologist—a specialist on bugs. He brought his pet beetle with him. He said there are more than 300,000 kinds of beetles."

"Wow! How could anyone count that many?"

"Must have used a giant calculator, I guess," Ruby Jane said. "He really likes his beetle. It is a special kind called a scarab. They are found in Egypt."

"Oh, those. I saw them when we were in Las Vegas. They have lots of Egyptian stuff there. Mom even brought me one. It's the same size as a real scarab and carved to look like one."

"What color is it?"

"Kind of turquoise. I think I might have lost it though. It's not where I always kept it." Brianne looked sad.

"Don't feel bad, I'll help you find it. But first, come and meet Sam, the scarab."

Uncle Paul was in the family room. Setting on the table, atop a bath towel, was a large cardboard box lid."

"What's that?" the girls chorused.

Uncle Paul's nose crinkled. "That's Sam's race track."

The girls could see that strips of cardboard (about half an inch high) had been taped to the bottom of the box in the form of a maze.

"Will Sam really follow all those little paths?"

"Hope so," Uncle Paul said, placing a dab of dog food at the end of the maze.

Uncle Paul handed an energetic Sam to Ruby Jane, and she gently placed the bug at the beginning of the maze.

They all watched—fascinated—as the beetle plodded along, crashing into the cardboard walls and making many wrong turns; but finally, through his sense of smell, he found the dog food.

"Good job, Sam," said Uncle Paul as he kindly lifted the beetle from the maze and returned it to its home inside a large jar.

"These are interesting little guys," Uncle Paul said. "In their habitat, they roll balls of dung along the ground and put them in furrows to lay their eggs. When the babies are hatched, they feed on the dung balls."

"Yuck!" Brianne said, pulling a face. "That's worse then eating parsnips."

Uncle Paul laughed. "When the food is gone, they come out of the hole. In Egypt, they are associated with Khepera, who is the scarab beetle god. It is believed that he pushes the setting sun along the skyline, like the beetles push the dung ball. Scarab amulets may be placed over the heart when someone dies to bring them good luck."

"That's so cool. Wonder if we can find a bug for a pet?"

"Maybe not a scarab, but there are lots of other kinds. Get your moms to give you a jar for its house and then punch holes in the lid, so the bug will have fresh air."

[See instructions on activity page.]

"Let's go look," said Ruby Jane. Brianne put on her jacket and reached in the pocket for a tissue.

"Yippee!" she shouted, pulling her hand out. Her turquoise beetle had been hiding in her pocket.

Uncle Paul chuckled. "I told you scarabs were good luck and to prove it, here is enough change to get each of you an ice cream cone."

They hugged him as they skipped out the door, waving goodbye to Sam as they left.

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