Posted: June 15, 2023

The Frost Entomological Museum congratulates the poets of the 2023 Hexapod Haiku Challenge!

The organizers of this contest thank each and every one of you for participating in this year’s Hexapod Haiku Challenge (HHC). Like last year, the HHC set new records for the number of entries and the number of home countries represented. We had more than 800 submissions by authors from 33 countries! We are so pleased that so many people draw inspiration from arthropods, and hope that your attention and consideration of the insect world is carried with you throughout the year. 

We would also like to announce that next year (2024), in addition to our regular age categories, we will include a special category for aquatic arthropods, open to all ages. We hope that this special category will encourage everyone to learn more about and explore the habitats of aquatic arthropods. Find more information about this at the end of the announcement.

Last, we heartily thank Anne Burgevin for her guidance and support running this haiku challenge. 

Below are the selected haiku from this year’s HHC, which are now on display at the Frost Entomological Museum. The haiku below are organized by age category and the author’s last name, with notes on each from the judges. The selection process is blind, and our judges look for excellent haiku that highlight interesting observations of, and interactions with, the insect world. Enjoy!

12 & Under Laureates

gloomy day
a clown beetle
makes me laugh

–Chersan Antonia

“Gloomy day” adeptly takes its readers from a low point to a high point, emotionally speaking. We all know how a gloomy day affects us. The weather has a big impact on our mood. Is it gloomy outdoors, or does Antonia feel gloomy, or both? We do not know. This ambiguity is very well crafted in Antonia’s haiku. As the poet’s outlook is turned around by a clown beetle, ours may be turned around, too. It was fun to imagine what the clown beetle did or looked like that Antonia found laughable. Clown beetles come in a huge variety of shapes, although they are usually mono-colored (brown to black). They are also a unique insect to highlight and are rarely written about in haiku. The words “clown” and “laugh” are nicely juxtaposed with “gloomy day.” The haiku is concise, and each line is slightly longer than the previous line, creating an aesthetically pleasing haiku to look at on paper and read.

spy satellites
May bugs orbiting
the street lamp

–Seby Ciobica

Maybugs are beetles of the genus Melolontha, which are large, conspicuous insects. They, like many other insects, are attracted to light, a behavior called “positive phototaxis”. It only takes a little bit of imagination (or squinting!) to liken their circling flight path around the light to orbiting satellites.

Juxtaposition is at the heart of all well written haiku. Ciobica uses comparison in this haiku to construct juxtaposition. A special type of satellite is being subtly compared with Maybugs, beetles large enough to be noticed while circling a street lamp. Additionally, Ciobica enhances this comparison with their creative diction. The first two lines feature technical words, words that make one think of 21st century, clandestine activity. The last line names something quite ordinary, a street lamp. How long have humans used street lamps to light streets? Many! In this way, Ciobica does well to compare the new with the old. And, while we cannot see spy satellites without special equipment, we can step outside on a spring night to find May beetles orbiting a light of some kind, maybe even a street lamp.

my mother’s scream–
a caterpillar falling
onto the apple pie

–Gabriel Sever

As the mother’s voice rises in pitch, the caterpillar lowers itself onto the already baked pie. And here lies the tension and excitement in this haiku as illustrated through Sever’s imagery. It is a  great example of how a haiku shows instead of tells. Apple pie conveys that  the warm weather is beginning to turn cool, since apples are harvested in late summer and early fall. Sever has done well to successfully incorporate two kigo (season) words–caterpillar and apple–without causing confusion, but rather describing a transitional time of year. Apple pie is a comfort food for many people who live in colder climates. Ending the haiku with ‘apple pie’ leaves the reader comforted after the alarm of the mother’s scream. We enjoyed the short ‘a’ sounds in ‘caterpillar’ and ‘apple’ and felt it further entwined the subjects of the haiku.

12 & Under Honorable Mentions

summer swelter
the mosquitos have no problem
with the heat

–Laura Banic

Mosquitoes use a variety of cues to find their next blood meal, including carbon dioxide, sweat, body odors, and heat. And, depending on the species, higher temperatures can correlate with increased abundance or activity. This haiku alludes to these elements of their biology. The uncomfortably hot summer temperatures (for us) are often perfect conditions for mosquitoes, and the mosquitoes’ host-seeking skills are sharpest when hosts are hot, sweating, and/or panting.

Banic chose line breaks well in her haiku. We pause after reading “summer swelter.” Just reading the phrase causes one to feel tired out. The euphony in this phrase further enhances the sensation of being overly hot

cricket song
the granny stops reading
the fairy tale

–Seby Ciobica

The distance, so to speak, between the fragment and the phrase in a haiku involves a fine distinction between too much and not enough. If the gap between them is too great, readers become confused. If the gap is too small, readers are denied their opportunity to finish the haiku, that is, to fill in the gap in their own way. In “cricket song” the gap is just right, as in the Goldilocks fairy tale when Goldilocks discovers that the little bear’s porridge is just the right temperature. We do not know exactly why granny stopped reading the fairy tale, but we can imagine that the cricket song may have been the reason, or a partial reason. Did the cricket song lull the child listening to the story to sleep, or enchant both reader and listener? Is granny reading the story out loud or to herself? All of these questions are so fun to wonder about, just as listening to or reading a fairy tale is. 

13 - 17 Laureates

unfolding pond lilies–
a water strider moves
between bits of dawn

–Almila Dükel

The element of beginnings is central to this haiku. “Unfolding pond lilies”, “dawn”, and the unspoken spring season all allude to familiar sights, but anew. New beginnings promise space, and a sense of wonder of what will be. Here, Dükel provides space for readers to envisage what comes next for this water strider. The diction in this haiku is noteworthy. “…moves / between bits of dawn” is an imaginative way to describe the observation of insects moving on top of water that is reflecting the sky. 

two Cabbage Whites
become one

–Almila Dükel

Two becoming one has multiple interpretations. It could be that two cabbage white butterflies are mating, or that one of the two cabbage whites has become a midday snack to a predator. It could also be that there are two butterfly shadows which overlap each other like the hands of a clock at high noon. Noon is a specific moment that occurs each day, and also a word used to refer to the middle of the day in a more general sense.  Dükel’s intention for using this word, we believe, is to create an open-ended setting, and thereby invite the reader to use their imagination to fill in the details. The three numeric words, “noon”, “two”, and “one”, are times or tallies, which resonated with the entomologist judges for this haiku challenge. The act of recording how many individuals of different species exist, both where and when, is foundational to biodiversity science, conservation, and the missions of natural history collections worldwide.

the soccer camp–
a band of crickets
interrupts my sleep

–Ivan Jozić

Campers need their sleep, but do they regularly achieve this? Not really. In fact, many summertime phenomena interrupt kids’ sleep at camp. Night sounds, the movement and chatter of other campers, excitement, anxiety, a band of … crickets. It makes sense that a haiku about soccer camp would highlight the sense of sound, and this haiku is quite sound oriented. Sleep is a quiet time, and camp in contrast is noisy and active. Jozic’s haiku also offers a fresh perspective on cricket song. Haiku that reference crickets trilling usually focus on the songs as something to enjoy. Here, however, the singing crickets, an entire band of them, are a nuisance. 

Although the word “my” is used sparingly in haiku, to avoid drawing too much attention to the author, in Jozic’s haiku “my” seems appropriate.

13 - 17 Honorable Mentions

sunflower after bloom
the cobweb withstands
the wind

–David Brusic

We are drawn to this haiku because of its musicality, imagery, and meter. The rhythm is enhanced by the use of three compound words. A compound word is two root words that are combined to create a new word. Although it appears there are eight words in Brusic’s haiku, in actuality there are eleven! Brusic describes a plant going from full bloom to a withering state. How long does that take? That depends on many factors: rain, sunshine, nutrients, wind, temperature, none of which we know about except for the wind. Brusic effectively creates the space for their reader to wonder by not sharing too much. After the blooming period has ended something new comes into focus, that of a cobweb. Seemingly delicate, it withstands forces larger than itself, like the wind. Brusic’s haiku alludes to the beauty in decaying objects (wabi-sabi) and the resilience found in the animal world. 

growing moon
a spider moves away
from its molted shell

–Almila Dükel

This haiku features an aspect of a spider’s life that is rarely written about in haiku – molting. Shedding one’s skin necessarily (but temporarily) leaves one in a very vulnerable state. The armor-like exoskeleton is cast away, and they grow a new and bigger one. It takes time for their new exoskeleton to harden, though, and while it is soft the arthropod cannot move around very well. Arthropods that can hide from hungry eyes during this process are more likely to survive.

The placement of “a spider moves away” on the middle line reinforces the image of the spider separating itself from its molted shell. The words “molted” and “moon” are pivotal words in this haiku. Does the moon molt? No, but at times it can appear to be a newer version of itself. When people go through a big change in their lives they often want to leave their old habits or selves behind, in essence move away from them. In this way, the spider can subtly refer to human nature. We were struck by the three words beginning with “m” almost stacked in a column. Visually, this has great appeal. 

a beetle diving
into a cloud

–Maria Negrut

Birdbaths are not exclusively used by birds. Water attracts life of all forms, including diving beetles. Diving beetles are not often mentioned in haiku, but they are incredible and beautiful insects. Some species have the ability to stay submerged underwater for days, weeks, or even months. This underwater life is possible, in many species at least, by their use of trapped air bubbles, called plastrons. A plastron serves as both a scuba tank and a lung, allowing for the exchange of gasses with the surrounding water.

Without outwardly stating so, Negrut uses reflection as the central image for this haiku. The diving beetle passes through the reflection of clouds in the birdbath. Diving into a cloud sounds like a dream come true. We appreciate where creativity meets reality in Negrut’s haiku. The “b” and “d” sounds throughout the poem contribute to the rounded and soft sensations we experience when thinking of clouds, beetles, and birdbaths. 

18 & Older Laureates

atop forget-me-nots
     a mayfly

–Brett Brady

Mayflies are renowned for their short adult life stage, often emerging from the water only to live for a few hours (or even minutes) as an adult. Mayflies are also unique in that they have a distinct life stage, called a “dun”, between their aquatic immature and terrestrial adult life stages. Immature mayflies make their way to the water’s surface, then molt into a winged but not-quite-yet adult form called a “subimago”. The emerging subimago soon molts one last time into a fully developed adult.

 Is it the subimago, or the adult that is the subject of this haiku? It could even be the exuviae (the exoskeleton cast off after molting) of the mayfly that is still-perched on the flower. The author leaves room for ambiguity in this poem.

This haiku hints at keen observation of the natural world. One can visualize the mayfly, so still that it stands out against the surrounding stirrings of spring. The name of the flower the mayfly perches on—forget-me-not—pairs well with the ephemeral nature of this insect. Brady’s haiku finds beauty in the transitory nature of the mayfly (wabi-sabi); the exuviae left behind is a keepsake for the world after the mayfly has passed. 

Haiku with three hyphens are out of the ordinary. However, these hyphens play an important role in this haiku. From a visual standpoint, hyphens are small, fleeting lines, as the life of a mayfly is fleeting. From the standpoint of mechanics, the hyphens connect words. Given the complicated stages in the life of a mayfly and the way one stage connects to another, it is appropriate to see multiple hyphens in this haiku, as they deepen the meaning of it by mirroring the subject matter. 

storm damage
winter fireflies cluster
on a maple stump

–Kristen Lindquist

Although storm damage has been happening for eons, people and animals around the globe are experiencing more of it now due to climate destabilization. In this way, Lindquist sets both a contemporary and eternal scene in the first line. What happens after a severe storm? We take stock, adjust to the changes, make repairs, comfort one another, and we feed ourselves and others. Are the winter fireflies clustering after a storm as they search for food, such as the sap from a fallen or broken maple tree? Linquist builds a visually rich haiku using everyday words which leaves readers feeling curious about the insect world. We appreciate the haiku’s inherent complexity and outward simplicity, as well as its euphony. The “t”  and “s” sounds quicken the mood of the haiku. Fireflies are frequently referenced in haiku, although usually those poems allude to their bioluminescence. Lindquist not only emphasizes other biological attributes of fireflies but also focuses on a species that does not glow at all in its adult form.

in spite
of everything
the cockroach

–Christine Lamb Stern

Very few insects are as feared, loathed, and disrespected as cockroaches. The way they run or even move their antennae triggers visceral, negative reactions in most people. Yet only a handful of species (less than 1%!) cause problems for humans. The vast majority of the thousands of species serve as important recyclers of dead plant material, as objects of inspiration for roboticists, as beloved pets (or food for beloved pets), and as compelling subjects for researchers who study the evolution of behavior. Cockroaches are also (in)famous for their resilience in the face of myriad environmental threats—even nuclear war. Some might point to their long fossil record (>300 million years), which reveals very few obvious changes over time. While they are adaptable, the reality is that cockroaches are also vulnerable.

This haiku alludes to all these traits. In spite of our fear, our insults, our chemicals, and our feet, the cockroach persists. Or perhaps we lost the cockroach, despite our attempts to educate and inspire non-experts and our efforts to protect nature. Stern’s choice of the word “everything” allows this haiku to breathe in extraordinary ways. “Everything” includes almost endless possibilities. In defiance of everything, the cockroach. The tension between the positive and negative outcomes of this haiku make it a real winner in our eyes. 

18 & Older Honorable Mentions

warm spring morning...
I release a damselfly
from a spider web

–Ed Bremson

This haiku describes an interaction between humans and arthropods, and within arthropods – the insect and spider. It poses an interesting ethical question: Under what circumstances is it okay for us as humans to interfere with nature? It also poses an introspective question: What motivates us to intervene? Perhaps Bremson was feeling generous that morning given the weather. Weather affects how we feel and act. 

Damselflies – beautiful and graceful creatures, capture the hearts of many. This haiku evokes a mental image of a damsel in distress, in need of rescue from a spider. But would we feel the same desire to rescue all insects equally? What about a house fly or a mosquito? What sentiments make us value the life of one insect over another? What makes us value the life of an insect over a spider (which after all, is just trying to catch a meal)? 

Much of what this contest represents is present in this poem. The union between humanities and sciences; human interaction and observation of insects; and a contemplation of how insects affect us psychologically and emotionally.

alone with
the hum of a fly
I join in

–Ed Brickell

This haiku ends with a surprise, leaving the reader with a smile. What do we do when we are alone with an insect? The haiku has similar qualities to much of Kobayashi Issa’s work, in that it exhibits an attitude suggesting insects are not unwelcome “others” in our world, but rather companions that we travel the world with. 

The middle line of this haiku contains an onomatopoeia: hum. The element of sound is central to this poem, suggesting harmony. Sounds of flies are usually written about as annoying or even threatening, but this author describes the fly’s musical qualities, and even partakes, in the hum that this fly produces.

forest hike
a smear of gnats
on my lip balm

–Margaret Chula

In this haiku we can sense light humor, or maybe even a little frustration. There is something familiar about it, something anyone who has been in the forest mid-summer has experienced – a swarm of gnats. They seem to get into everything … your eyes, ears, and even your lip balm. Is it chemicals they are attracted to, moisture, or are there just so many of them there is no way to prevent coming in contact with a hiker?

Chula uses the word “smear” which is the power word in this haiku, the word we are attracted to. Because it is not clear what it exactly means in the context of this haiku, it is left up to the reader to interpret the meaning. Is it an adjective that describes the shocking number of gnats present, or is it a literal smear of their bodies streaked across the lip balm? Chula has successfully built what haiku poets call ma, or room to wonder, in this haiku. We are left to admire the tolerance of the hiker giving in to the natural world.

joie de vivre flies in the outhouse

–Tim Cremin

This haiku takes place in a setting we’ve not come across before while judging this contest. A place that usually brings little bliss (but maybe some relief) to humans, brings great joy to flies! An outhouse is a place where flies would have much of what they would need in life to thrive. Food, mates, and refuge from predators, like birds. With light humor, Cremin’s one line haiku, also called a monoku, highlights a very important role that flies play in our world—as decomposers and recyclers. This haiku also has a creative break between its two parts, at the junction of the two languages. “Joie de vivre”, a French phrase that translates to “joy of living” in English, seems contrasting to the feelings one might usually have when thinking about an outhouse. But, then again, we would probably feel differently if we were flies.

More information about next year’s special category for aquatic arthropods.

This category will be in addition to our regular age categories and it will be open to all ages.

What are aquatic arthropods?

Arthropods that require bodies of water to complete part or all of their lifecycle are referred to as “aquatic”. They live, feed, and thrive in the water. Almost all aquatic arthropods are found in freshwater, but some species inhabit brackish or even marine environments.

Where can I find aquatic arthropods to observe them?

They can be found most anywhere you can find water: streams, ponds, lakes, reservoirs, wetlands, and sometimes even puddles or birdbaths!

How do I get started exploring habitats where aquatic arthropods are found?

As with any place in nature, it is a good idea to become familiar with what to expect when visiting and make sure you can do it safely. The University of New Hampshire Extension team has a great video series that will prime you for self-exploration of these habitats. 

What if I don’t live in a place where I can easily access those habitats?

Not to worry! There are lots of videos and articles online that can introduce you to the amazing world of aquatic arthropods. Get started with this 30-min movie called Aquatic Invertebrates by Ferenc Kriska and György Kriska. We are confident you will feel to inspired to write a haiku about an aquatic arthropod after learning more about them, whether first-hand or by watching them in this or another video.

The Frost Entomological Museum


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