The moment I saw the headline on Tuesday, I knew it would be one of the most read stories, maybe even the most read story, of the week.

Mysterious black substance on Wells Beach turns out to be millions of dead bugs,” it proclaimed. And sure enough, there it stood a few days later atop the Portland Press Herald website – the piece of news that most attracted you, dear readers, like moths to a flame.

To recap: Folks walking barefoot on Wells Beach last week were dismayed to find that something in the sand had dyed the soles of their feet black. Worse yet, even after scrubbing their soles with detergent, they couldn’t get the stuff off.

The suspected cause? A veritable blanket of insect corpses.

The most common reaction? Somewhere between “yuck” and “I think I’m going to throw up.”

The takeaway? Beware the bugs. As usual, they’re out to get us.

Or not.

Meet Hillary Morin Peterson of Lewiston. She’s the new president of the Maine Entomological Society, earned her Ph.D. in entomology last year from Penn State University and is an unabashed cheerleader for all things creepy and crawly.

Over the course of an hourlong phone interview on Thursday, Peterson dazzled me with her knowledge of and enthusiasm for a world that surrounds us each day yet – mass die-offs and black feet notwithstanding – goes pretty much unnoticed.

Her take on what happened in Wells, based only on published photos taken by a local oceanographer: “They definitely do have two pairs of wings, so they’re not flies. They almost have an aphid-like appearance to me, but I’m not sure” without an actual specimen or higher-resolution photo.

As for what brought them all there, Peterson said it’s hard to say. Perhaps a mass gathering for mating – which, all due respect, sounds more like Old Orchard Beach – interrupted by a cold snap like the one that hit Maine on Memorial Day weekend?

Whatever the cause, it was an attention grabber, maybe a reminder that in the bigger scheme of things, it’s not always just about us.

“It’s a moment to take a step back and remember that there’s all this diversity around us and there are always new things to learn,” Peterson said.

Enter the Maine Entomological Society.

Founded in 1997, it has about 160 official members who come to the insect world from many directions.

Some, like Peterson, developed a fascination for bugs as children – she spent hours capturing them in her backyard in Brunswick. She even had an insect-themed party for her eighth birthday.

Others have backgrounds in photography and, upon seeing the close-up beauty of, say, a promethean moth, start looking at the world through a telephoto lens. Or birders who start exploring the avian food supply and never look back.

Then there are those kind souls who simply seek to coexist with nature rather than, at the first sign of trouble, grab the Raid or some other commercial buzzkill.

A case in point: Peterson recently dropped in on a garden-focused Facebook page where folks were recommending bug zappers to wipe out the moths whose eggs become vegetable-munching caterpillars.

Responded Peterson, “Yeah, but at night you actually have a lot of parasitoids that are flying around and get attracted to the light – and that parasitoid gets zapped instead of doing what it’s going to do, which is killing the caterpillars you were dealing with.”

In addition to revamping the society’s website, Peterson last year launched a Facebook page called “Maine Insects” to attract more people to the bug world. One year later, the page boasts almost 2,200 followers – including 171 newcomers in the past week alone.

The rules are simple: No politics, religion, fake news or hate speech. And if you’re looking for advice on pest control, you’ve come to the wrong place.

But if you’re looking to identify that something-or-other that just walked across your porch, or you like close-up photos of strikingly beautiful creatures that you’d otherwise never notice, it’s worth a visit.

Most of the posts are requests for identification.

“Anyone know what kind of bee this is?” asked one woman over a photo of the bee gorging itself on a bright purple thistle blossom.

Within minutes, another woman responded, “Bicolored striped sweat bee, Agapostemon virescens.”

Boom. These people are good.

Peterson, who earned her bachelor of science degree in ecology from the University of Maine in 2015, actually discovered a new species of wasp – a little green thing the size of a sesame seed – a few years back. The good news is that she got to name it: Ormocerus dirigoius, a shout-out to her home state’s motto, “Dirigo,” meaning “I lead.”

The bad news? When a press release on her discovery went out, several publications took it upon themselves to attach photos of a yellow jacket.

In other words, we all have a lot to learn about the tens of thousands of insect species crawling all over Maine at this moment. We’re talking at least 158 species of dragonflies, 586 species of moths and 677 species of spiders … to name only a few.

And get this: They’re not all out to bite us, sting us or otherwise send us fleeing for our lives.

“I won’t lie – I’m not a big fan of a yellow jacket flying too close to my face,” Peterson said. But for the most part, “if you leave (the vast majority of insects and bugs) alone and be gentle and don’t swat at them, most things are going to leave you alone and be gentle too.”

What’s more, if you meet them where they are, you just might come away with a newfound appreciation for life as we seldom know it. The society’s periodic “Moth Night,” for example, involves simply stringing up a sheet, illuminating it with a black light and marveling at the many and varied silhouettes that suddenly appear out of nowhere.

To be sure, it’s a far cry from blackening your feet on a mass grave of insects or, as Peterson once did, collecting a bunch of stinkbug specimens that left her hands stained orange for weeks.

But behind all those clicks on the Wells Beach story last week lurked an inescapable truth.

Much as bugs bug us from time to time, we’re all suckers for a good insect story.

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