WHEN you come to think of it, grown-ups can sometimes be very hard to understand. Consider the things they like and the things they don't like at all.
Oh, they can be very brave. Not scared of the dark, not frightened by all kinds of enormous blundering events like herds of elephants or armies of giants. Well, giants only exist in books or videos, of course. But even then, if you let yourself forget for a minute that they are just imaginary, they might give you g-r-r-reat sh-sh-shivery f-f-feelings up and down your back. Great fun. But not for some adults. They look serious and mutter ''rubbish'' or some such.
But there are certain things that make adults turn to Jell-O.
Spiders can make them run a mile. Or, even better, BEETLES!! If you find a harmless shiny black beetle under a stone and cup it between your hands to carry it into the house to show certain people, what do they do? They scream and shout and yell and stand on chairs and hide under beds with their eyes shut until you promise that your beetle is back where it belongs - outside.
Some people are just not interested in beetles, which is odd when you think how many beetles there are in the world. Did you know that (I quote an expert called Michael E. N. Majerus) ''approximately one fifth of all known living species on earth are beetles''?
And then there is another odd fact about grown-ups and very small creatures. Have you ever seen their reaction to ladybugs? They love them. They say, ''ooh!'' and ''aah!'' and call them cute or sweet, and (at least they did this when I was a child) they start reciting a nursery rhyme and call the ladybug all sorts of pet names. Then then say, ''ooh'' and ''aah'' all over again. For a moment there, you might think they had shrunk and become kids again. It's kind of endearing, really.
Now I have to tell you that in the small and distant group of islands where I live, called Britain, our usual name for ladybugs is ''ladybirds.'' You will probably think this is silly (someone once pointed out, quite rightly, that they are not ladies and they are not birds), but there it is, that's what we call them. Did you know there are ladybirds all over the world, and scientists reckon they have observed and described over 5,200 different kinds?
There are plenty of long and tricky-to-learn Latin names for all these tiny insects (and by no means are all of them red with black spots like the ones you immediately think of), but there are also lots of common or friendly names. I say ''friendly'' because, as Mr. Majerus also says, ''Everyone loves a ladybird.'' In 55 different languages, another expert has written, there are 329 names for ladybugs/birds.
My mother used to call them ''barniebees,'' and apparently in the eastern part of Britain she came from, some people still call them this. In certain parts of Scotland, they are known as ''ladyclocks.'' The ''clocks'' part of that name has nothing to do with the time, apparently. It comes from ''cloaks.'' The theory is that ladybugs were named ''lady'' in Catholic countries after the Virgin Mary, who is often shown in pictures with a red cloak. Almost 200 years ago, an English country poet named John Clare called the ladybird a ''clock-a-clay'' and also a ''ladycow.''
Sometimes ''ladybird'' was used as a way of showing affection for another person (one American First Lady was even named ''Ladybird''). In ''Romeo and Juliet,'' a play by William Shakespeare, the 12-year- old heroine, Juliet, is called ''ladybird'' by her nurse at one point. Sort of like calling her ''sweetheart.''
My brothers and I loved finding ladybirds when we were small. I remember lots of them on the leaves of our gooseberry bushes. You would let them walk quite happily on the back of your hand, and then, blowing very gently at them, you would recite a nursery rhyme that begins, ''Ladybird, ladybird, Fly away home....''
You kept on blowing - not too hard - and in the end the ladybird would suddenly open up its red, black-spotted upper wings, hesitate a moment, and then, using its much thinner under wings, off it would fly.
And all of us, children and parents, would say, ''ooh'' and ''aah.''
Everyone loves a ladybird. It's true. But I wonder how many people realize that these attractive little creatures are actually (altogether now, shout!) - BEETLES.