2015-07-16 / News

Five girls help name state’s official insect


From left, St. Michael’s third-graders Ally Anderson, Eliza Anderson, Nicole Drake, Tess Lanza and Elizabeth Frary. The girls helped pass legislation to identify the official state insect. 
Photo by Terry Allen Lanza From left, St. Michael’s third-graders Ally Anderson, Eliza Anderson, Nicole Drake, Tess Lanza and Elizabeth Frary. The girls helped pass legislation to identify the official state insect. Photo by Terry Allen Lanza Legislation designating the American burying beetle as Rhode Island’s official state insect, a bill initiated by third-graders at St. Michael’s Country Day School in Newport, was signed Tuesday by Governor Gina Raimondo at Roger Williams Park Zoo.

Among the third-graders, five Jamestown girls were instrumental in the legislation. They were 9-year-olds Ally Anderson, Eliza Anderson, Nicole Drake, Tess Lanza and Elizabeth Frary.

Newport Rep. Lauren Carson and South Kingstown Sen. Susan Sosnowski introduced the legislation at the request of the students who discovered earlier this year that Rhode Island is one of only four states without a state insect.

They suggested the American burying beetle, which was once found in many eastern states but now exists only on Block Island and in five states west of the Mississippi River.

After asking legislators to introduce the bills, the students attended its committee hearings in both the House and the Senate and testified on its behalf, explaining to lawmakers that the insect serves a noble purpose as a natural recycler that helps rid the earth of the carcasses of small animals by burying bits of them underground. The beetle then lays its eggs on them, ensuring that its young have food when they hatch.

The orange and black scavenger’s population has been in decline for a century. It was named an endangered species in 1989. Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence has been working for several years to save the species by breeding it for a reintroduction project on Nantucket. The students, who also met with the zoo director who leads that program as part of their effort, say naming the American burying beetle the state insect would help raise awareness of its need for protection.

Sosnowski, whose district includes the beetle’s habitat of Block Island, said she was proud to introduce the legislation on the students’ behalf and impressed at their significant effort in support of it.

“The students behind this bill have worked hard to make their idea a reality, negotiating the democratic process like adults and exercising their rights as involved citizens,” she said. “It’s been an excellent civics lesson for them, and they’ve been a great example to other kids of how any citizen, at any age, can be engaged in their government and make a difference.”

Representative Carson said she is honored to have been able to help the students turn their idea into state law, and hopes their success teaches kids all over the state about their own power as citizens.

“This has been a very memorable year for this class,” she said. “They’re nearly a decade too young to vote, but they just made their very own state law, which genuinely was the result of their own research, lobbying and their ability to effectively communicate the worthiness of their idea. What are they going to do in fourth grade?”

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