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What just crawled, waddled or flew by? WWU professor has your answer.

Aeshna palmata, commonly known as the paddle-tailed darner, at Picture Lake near Mt. Baker Ski Area.
Aeshna palmata, commonly known as the paddle-tailed darner, at Picture Lake near Mt. Baker Ski Area. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Have you ever watched a bug scuttle, crawl or fly by and wondered “what was that!?”

Merrill Peterson’s new book, “Pacific Northwest Insects,” might help you identify it.

It took Peterson, a professor in the Biology Department at Western Washington University, more than a decade to research, write and photograph the insects for his book.

His travels took him all over the region and into sometimes hilarious, and at times dangerous, territory.

“The field guide was a 14-year labor of love and adventure that involved hiking across snow fields, wading through swamps and crawling through meadows to find particular insect species to photograph,” Peterson said.

“At one point, I had to wrangle a toothy mammal known as a mountain beaver to comb off its fleas to photograph for the book, and on another outing, I snapped insect photos as five rattlesnakes lay within sight,” he added.

That wrangling for fleas occurred on the Kitsap Peninsula near Gig Harbor and the rattlesnake night, as Peterson called it, was in Robinson Canyon, southwest of Ellensburg.

“Pacific Northwest Insects”

There are detailed photos of over 1,225 species. Many are beautiful. Others, unless you really love insects, will make you grateful they’re confined to the pages of a book — we’re looking at you ticks, wolf spiders and wasps of all kind.

Peterson said he has fielded questions over the decades about the “larger, more spectacular insects of the area, such as the huge Polyphemus moths, zebra-striped banded alder borers or giant water bugs. I also get many questions about large spiders that people find indoors, such as the giant house spider.”

Those queries helped him decide which species to feature in the book.

And regardless of your own personal “ick” reaction, they’re important.

“Many view insects as bothersome at best, but if the world’s insects were to disappear, the ecological and economic consequences would be devastating,” he writes.

We depend on them, for example, to pollinate our crops and feed the birds that wow us.

Peterson also wants you to know you can explore the world of insects in your own backyard.

The fourteen-spotted lady beetle, which looks like a pink ladybug with big spots, is in Bellingham. He photographed the San Francisco lacewing at Lake Terrell, west of Ferndale, and the paddle-tailed darner at Picture Lake near Mt. Baker Ski Area.

“My hope is that as people learn to recognize the insects around them, they will feel a stronger connection with the natural world,” Peterson said. “I’d like readers to become fascinated by the astounding insect diversity in our area and to be inspired to explore that diversity.”

Lear more: pacificnorthwestinsects.com. Peterson will have an author event at 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17 at Village Books, 1200 11th St. in Bellingham.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea
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