THEY creep, they crawl, they fly by day and bite by night - love them or loathe them, you can't ignore insects. For most people in Hongkong, insects are the cockroaches which scuttle across the kitchen floor, or the irritating mosquitoes whining around the room.
But children will be able to see insects in a new light with the launch of the first ''Great Bug Hunt'' to be held in Hongkong. The hunt, being organised by RTHK and co-sponsored by the Sunday Morning Post, will take place on June 17 in Sai Kung country park.
Teams of schoolchildren are being invited to take part in the mission to observe, study and classify the multitude of insects who share Hongkong with us. Their hunt will take them over a variety of habitats including water, woodland and grassland.
The winning school will be given a cash prize of $5,000. An award donated by the Sunday Morning Post for best individual bug hunter will also be given.
Coverage of the competition will be aired on a Radio 3 programme hosted by Anna Chilvers - a zoologist herself - with reports from bug-catcher Chris Hilton.
An expert panel comprising Dr David Dudgeon of Hongkong University, Dr Mike Bascombe, Hongkong's leading moth and butterfly expert, and Clive Lau from the Agriculture and Fisheries Department, will be taking to the field to help examine and identify the subjects.
Insects may seem tiny and insignificant, or strike us as pests, but they are vital to life. Without insects, there would not be life as we know it today.
''We can thank them for the beautiful flowers we see around us,'' said Dr Bascombe, who pointed out that flowers developed their bright colours and sweet scents to attract insect pollinators.
There are more insects than any other creatures in the world, both in terms of types and individuals. Some are herbivores, some are predators, and some have highly specialist roles as parasites and symbionts.
Insect life is rich not only in its variety of shapes and colours, but in its methods of social organisation and behaviour. Termites, ants and bees are just some of the insects who have developed communication systems, division of labour and social hierarchies.
Insects are key players in food chains and ecosystems in every corner of the world. While it is impossible to say how many species of insect make Hongkong their home, Dr Dudgeon estimates they make up around 75 per cent of all the flora and fauna of the territory added together.
According to Dr Bascombe, there are 204 known species of butterfly, and somewhere in the region of 6,000 to 7,000 species of moths in Hongkong. He hopes the bug hunt will add more to that impressive list.
Dr Bascombe has been studying and rearing butterflies and moths for more than 20 years, but he still finds them so fascinating, he spends an average of 30 hours a week on his hobby. He hopes Hongkong's young people will be infected by his enthusiasm for arthropods of all kinds, but most of all he hopes they'll have fun.
''Many children seem to be more interested in computer games than nature these days, and in our urban environment many people's natural reaction to insects is one of aversion,'' he sighed.
Dr Dudgeon agreed insects had an undeservedly bad reputation. ''Insects get a bad deal, because people don't like small things which crawl,'' he said.
But hopefully, the Bug Hunt will encourage people to ''look at things rather than step on them . . . and save a few insect lives.'' Organisers are looking for groups of one teacher and four children aged between 8 and 11. Schools should contact Susan Kay at RTHK on 3396424.