Third-graders campaign to give Rhode Island a state insect

Courtesy: Roger Williams Park Zoo

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A group of Rhode Island third-graders want to make the American burying beetle the official state insect.

The students from St. Michael’s Country Day School in Newport decided to find a state insect after learning that Rhode Island is one of the few states without one.

Their top contenders were the honeybee, mosquito, ladybug and American burying beetle, since they’re found locally.

They ruled out the honeybee — too many states already use it as their state insect.

A conservationist from the Roger Williams Park Zoo told them about his efforts to repopulate the endangered American burying beetle. They were sold.

The students contacted newspapers and politicians in a campaign to make the bug the official state insect.

A bill is now pending before the General Assembly.

Teachers Lorie Loughborough and Linda Spinney, whose classes worked on the project, said they wanted their students to learn about the legislative process but never expected the proposal would go this far. Some of the students plan to testify at a hearing Thursday.

“If we get the bill, it’s icing on the cake for them,” Spinney said. “They’re very proud of themselves, as well they should be.”

Forty-six states have officially designated state insects, according to the Smithsonian Institution. In many states, young students inspired lawmakers to honor insects.

New Hampshire made the ladybug the official state insect in 1977, after fifth-graders asked their state representatives to sponsor a bill.

But recently in New Hampshire, an effort by students to name the red-tailed hawk the official state raptor drew ridicule from members of the state’s House of Representatives. One member likened the hawk’s hunting methods to abortion and others said the bill was a waste of time.

Supporters of Rhode Island’s beetle bill say they’re not worried about it provoking lawmakers. Last year, Rhode Island designated calamari as the official state appetizer.

“This legislation is not just about a beetle. It’s about teaching children civic involvement,” said Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, a Newport Democrat. “I find it difficult to understand how anyone could be cynical about teaching children to be engaged in the process.”

The effort is being championed by lawmakers from Newport, who were contacted by the students, and from Block Island, where the American burying beetle lives.

“This is one of those feel-good issues,” said Independent Rep. Blake Filippi, of Block Island. “It’s something we should be proud of.”

The American burying beetle was declared endangered in 1989, when the species could only be found on Block Island in the East and in a handful of states farther west. The Roger Williams Park Zoo has reared more than 5,000 American burying beetles and released many of them in Nantucket, Massachusetts, to establish a population on the island.

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