Appalachia Games

Doodlebug Doodlebug

Doodlebug hole with doodlebug sayings

When I was little we would crouch down with our head leaned close above the little inverted tornado looking place in the soft dirt and say:

Doodlebug Doodlebug come out!
Your house is on fire and your
Children will burn!

According to the Frank C. Brown Collection of NC Folklore there are many variations on the little saying.

  • Doodle doodle, come and get a grain of corn.
  • Doodlebug, doodlebug, come up and get a grain of corn; Your house is burning up.
  • Doodlebug, doodlebug, come and get your bread.
  • Doodlebug, doodlebug, come get your bread before your house burns.
  • Doodlebug, doodlebug, come to supper; I’ll give you bread and butter.
  • Doodle, doodle, come and get some bread and butter; Doodle, doodle, come and get a barrel of sugar.
  • Doodlebug, doodlebug come up, your house is on fire!
  • Doodlebug, doodlebug, your house is on fire; Wife’s gone away, and the children will burn.
  • Doodlebug doodlebug, come out of your house; it’s burning up with your wife and all your children, except Mary-she’s under the dishpan.

These come with directions:

  • Take a straw and stir in the nest of the doodlebugs. While so doing, repeat these words, “Doodle, doodle, come and get a cup of coffee,” a few times, and the doodlebugs will come forth.
  • To make a small bug come from the ground, say, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, come up and get sugar.” And to make him go down again, say, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, go down in the ground.”

Who knew there were so many variations! As many coffee drinkers as there are around here I can’t believe us kids didn’t know the one about the cup of coffee.

We did sometimes stick a straw into the hole. We didn’t try to stir, we tried to fish with our straw. I never did get a doodlebug to come out of its hole by chanting at it nor did I ever catch one with my piece of straw.

Doodlebug saying from appalachia

When I saw the doodlbug lairs in my kale bed the other day I thought I’m going to sit right here until I see a real live doodlebug! And I did. There is one right there in the photo-but its almost impossible to see. Here’s a photo from the Alabama Heritage Website that shows one close up:

Photo from Alabama Heritage Website

Photo from Alabama Heritage Website

I think it’s sort of creepy and it makes me sort of glad that all my childhood efforts at catching one never came to fruition.

Hope you’ll leave a comment and tell me which doodlebug saying you’re familiar with-if any.

Tipper

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45 Comments

  • Reply
    Ariana
    September 20, 2020 at 10:28 pm

    I used to do this a long time ago with my grandpa. I remember being outside in the hot summer next to the cow pasture and all my cousins would compete on who could catch more. Thanks for jogging my memory.

  • Reply
    Susan
    August 23, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Hi Tipper. I think you would enjoy reading a poem by James Whitcomb Riley titled, “Doodle Bug’s Charm.”
    https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/doodle-bugs-charm
    When I read your post I immediately thought of his poem, the first time I had ever heard of a ‘doodle bug’.

  • Reply
    John Misiag
    August 19, 2020 at 11:04 am

    I remember saying this to the lady bugs…LADY BUG LADY BUG FLY AWAY HOME….also we use to tie a thread on the leg of a JUNE BUG and it would fly around in a circle…

  • Reply
    christa
    July 14, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    I remember playing with these in by grandpa’s old chicken barn when i was little. We would take blades of grass an taunt them out of the hole!

  • Reply
    Tommy
    June 2, 2020 at 8:32 am

    We said “Doodlebug doodlebug catch on my finger (or something).” Never caught one. Weird looking creature, like something from a horror flick.

  • Reply
    Sheila Stapleton
    September 18, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    Oh my goodness. I hadn’t thought of those little bugs in years. My daddy taught me about the Doodle Bugs when I was a little girl. My brothers and I use to get as close as we could to their hole and say ” Doodle bug, doodle bug your house is on fire ” and those little bugs would come up out of their hole. We thought that was funny, and it was fun.

  • Reply
    Jonathan
    July 13, 2019 at 11:40 am

    Thank you for this article. Your story, all of it, sounds like mine. My grandmother, who lived in Reidsville Ga, had these little funnel shaped holes in her old dirt garage floor and she taught me these poems that I should chant as I probed in the hole for what I never saw either. You are a gem. Again, thanks.
    Jon

  • Reply
    gwen breedlove
    December 7, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    That doesn’t look anything like what we called a doodle bug in texas

    • Reply
      Renee
      February 20, 2020 at 1:15 am

      You’re right, what we call doodle bugs, are actually pill bugs, aks Rolly Polly’s

  • Reply
    David Gardner
    November 7, 2018 at 9:31 am

    If you take a small stem of something…clover is good for this…and just lightly touch it around the “cone”, the ant lion will sometimes “shoot” grains of sand in the direction of the movement, trying to knock the “ant” on down into the trap. And if you take the stem and lightly touch it to the very center of the cone at the very bottom, sometimes the ant lion will grab it and you can actually pull it out.

  • Reply
    SusieQ
    November 6, 2018 at 9:20 pm

    Glad I saw this today because a few days back I was thinking about them remembering times Granny and I would say a rhyme over one of these mounds …I remembered the doodle bug, doodle bug, but couldn’t remember any more … so fun the yesterdays with granny .

  • Reply
    Brenda Schlosser
    July 15, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    My cousins and I sang this little song when we were little. I never saw a doodlebug, but I always felt I would someday. lol The song we sang was the one that said your house is on fire, your wife has gone and the children will burn.

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    October 11, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    Tipper, I remember the first doodle bug saying from my mother talking about her childhood in north east MS. I had no idea what a doodle bug was and after seeing your picture, I am glad I never saw one.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    October 10, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    The dirt particles of the sides of the doodlebug’s funnel shaped “home” are very light and dry, on a warm and sunny autumn day.
    When we wanted to show our younger siblings the doodlebug or teach a new generation, we would put our face down near the “home” and blow the particles away with one hard blow, the same gust as that of blowing out birthday candles but concentrated on the center of the vortex. Of, course, you have to close your eyes and not inhale ’til you back your face away. The dirt blows away, the doodlebug is exposed and the next generation of kids have inherited another Appalachian bit of fun. The doodlebug is quite visible, but it quickly backs back down into the dirt and later proceeds to rebuild its ant-trap sandy vortex.

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    October 9, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    Interesting!!!
    We use to have a poem like that about ladybugs. Can’t remember one about doodlebugs and can’t remember seeing a hole like that in the ground either. Must be a southern thing.
    That bug resembles a wood tick. They’re huge ugly things. Yuck!!!
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Yecedrah Higman
    October 8, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Where I grew up, in Arkansas, we said Doodle Bug Doodle Bug, Come get your pop corn your house is on fire and your children will burn up. After seeing that close up picture of one of those critters I sure thank the Lord I was never able to conjure one up!!!! LOL I’d still be runnin’ and a hollering!!! We used a broom straw. I, too, have wondered about what kids today would do if they were outside all the time. Do you think they would find the interesting things we found and played with. We would lay on the ground for hours trying to get a bug to come out of a hole just so we could see him!! Sure didn’t take much to entertain us, did it.

    • Reply
      Jamie Cosby
      July 16, 2019 at 8:41 pm

      Visiting my grandparents in Nash County, North Carolina when I was little, we would find the holes in their dirt driveway… We would take a pine needle, spit in the dirt, and dip the pine needle in it, and stick the pine needle into the hole, singing “Doodlebug, Doodlebug come get your bread and coffee, your house is burning up.” The pine needle would start to move, and we would pull it up really fast, catching doodle bug! (It’s funny that I can look up something like this from so long ago — the early 70’s — on the internet these days!) I looked it up, and I think what we would catch was actually called an ant lion.

  • Reply
    TimMc
    October 8, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    I cannot remember the chant but it had Doodle Bug in it.. I can remember stirring the hole until we found him or her.. We had a barn that had a lot of Doodle Bug holes we’d play in…

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    October 8, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    We used to call “Doodlebug, Doodlebug come up John, Your house is on fire and about to burn down.” They are actually Ant Lions, we found it was much easier to use a small blade of grass to move the grains making them come up for what they thought was food. One reason you seldom saw them was that they only stuck their mandibles out of the ground to grasp their victim and pull them underground.

  • Reply
    Paulette Tonielli
    October 8, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    I guess there are no doodle bugs in the midwest – we used to chant “Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire and your children have flown.”

  • Reply
    Patsy
    October 8, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    I always heard “Doodle bug, Doodle bug I’ll give you a piece of butter bread” then doodle down, doodle down, doodle down in the ground.

  • Reply
    Tipper
    October 8, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    B-write that book and I’ll for sure buy it!!! Thank you for the comment : )

  • Reply
    Tipper
    October 8, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Ken-thank you for the comment! Paps b-day is in July so that must have been another Jerry : ) But thank you for the good wishes anyway!!

  • Reply
    Ken
    October 8, 2015 at 11:41 am

    Tipper,
    My brother and I would just repeat
    this: “Doodlebug, Doodlebug come
    outa your hole” until the funnel
    sides would start crumbling down.
    I think it was the sound vibration that bothered him so much.
    In my dirt floor woodshed building, there’s boocoos of ’em. My grand youngin’s will be here soon and we’ll have a Doodlebug Reunion.
    On the radio this morning, I heard Jerry Wilson mentioned for
    having a Birthday. Tipper, if
    that’s your dad…fix him his
    favorite cake. HAPPY BIRTHDAY PAP
    …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 8, 2015 at 11:11 am

    That little dirt tornado is a trap. Doodlebug is lying in wait for the next tasty morsel to fall in. If you get close enough to talk to him, the vibrations of your voice moves the dirt enough that he thinks dinner is served. After a few failures at finding food he will finally give up and lay still. That’s when I would fill up his little cone and tell him to dig his way out. The next day the remodeling would be complete.
    My wife used to call our daughter Doodle Doot.

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    October 8, 2015 at 11:08 am

    I can remember searching for Doodlebugs as young as age three. As you probably know I have a novel Titled, Doodlebug, Doodlebug, Your House is in Fire.

  • Reply
    grandpa Ken
    October 8, 2015 at 10:46 am

    We call them ant lions. Try watching an ant try to climb up that loss sand in the inverted cone. And you will understand, that’s very crafty monster of an ant’s world.

  • Reply
    Charline
    October 8, 2015 at 10:31 am

    When I was a child playing with my cousins, we were often told by our elders to go ‘bug huntin’; we knew it was time to scat! Sometimes, we did try to coax the doodle bugs, chanting,”Doodlebug,Doodlebug, your house is on fire, come and get a grain of co-orn…”
    When they dig those funnels, you never see their head, just the dirt or sand flying up. I never did see one, and I thought roly-polys or pill bugs were doodlebugs most of my life. Thanks for the pic!

    • Reply
      Amber
      January 25, 2019 at 9:08 am

      Charline, it’s been a few years since you posted this comment but I have to ask about your “bug huntin” memory! My mother in law remembers her grandmother saying “I’m gonna ride you a-bug hunting” as a sort of threat to the kids. Is it doodlebug related?! She’s been trying to figure this out for years!

      • Reply
        Rob
        April 30, 2020 at 9:31 pm

        “ride you a bug huntin’” it took me years and the Internet to figure out my grandma’s threat when she got on to us kids. It means “I shall now proceed to drive your face into the dirt. Do you see any bugs, yet?”

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    October 8, 2015 at 10:16 am

    We used a slender twig to stir the hole while we said, Hey, doodlebug, doodlebug.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 8, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Tipper,
    Tipper the saying I remember is the one Cindy recalled. However, I think we used the same one, only calling Lady bug, Lady bug instead of Doodle bug…when a lady bug landing on our blouse or hair when playing out side.
    You must be very thankful that you see Doodle bugs. That means it is dry enough for them to make their little traps. We never used straws, we just laid down, propped on our elbows and when you whispered the rhyme, of course your breath moved the grainy sandy soil. Then the Doodle bug would come out, thinking it was an ant..and try to catch it. Then they would walk backwards back down in their lair! They are called Ant Lions..
    We used to catch a little critter with pinchers (worm) with a wild onion stem. We would break off the stem not too thick but 6 to 8 inches long…Find those little BB size holes in the lawn and poke that fresh onion stem down in it and watch. Soon the stem will wiggle and rise up somewhat. That is when you grab it and pull it out. Most times a little whitish/gray worm with pinchers will be on the end of it. We kept score of how many we caught!
    I suppose the strong, fumy scent of the wild onion perturbed the little worm something furious and he immediately tried to push the stem out of his hidey hole.
    The most scary thing we did was tormenting the trap door spider…Find one, usually it was by accident while playing in the yard. Take a stem or little stick and wiggle it around the front of the spider’s trap door. He will quickly open the door to grab what he perceives as an insect. I would always scream, as he was quick about it with the element of surprise. I never did like spiders much or at all.
    One other deed I will mention! Gosh, I must have been a cruel child toward critters when I was kid. ha
    At any rate, you know those big yellow writing spiders that always just seem to pop up and spin that big web in your space late in the summer or early fall?
    Well, Mom had several butterfly bushes and we would catch those little brown skipper butterfly’s. Toss them in the web away from the center where the big yellow spider was waiting. It would run up and grab it and wrap it up. You couldn’t get this action but once or twice. I guess it knew it couldn’t eat more than one or two…ha
    That action would assure us that this spider wouldn’t write our name, cause we fed it and that kept us from dying…Remember the old saying, “If a yellow/black writing spider writes your name, you will dye before Halloween”…ha
    Thanks Tipper,
    I miss all those childhood days…Clover bracelets, grasshopper nests of plantain stems, rabbit tobacco, wild onions, ragweed peas etc…
    HOW IN THE WORLD WOULD THE CHILDREN SURVIVE OUTDOORS TODAY NOT KNOWING THESE FUN THINGS TO DO!
    I MUST WRITE A BOOK, ABOUT ACORN CUPS/HATS, THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A POISON BUCKEYE AND A CHESNUT, HICKORY SCENTS AND WALNUTS, HOW TO CATCH A SPRING LIZARD AND CRAWDADs..ETC. HA

    • Reply
      aw griff
      February 20, 2020 at 9:15 am

      B Ruth, that brought back memories of fishing for those little worms. I don’t remember using an onion stem but used any grass stem small and long enough to reach to bottom of the hole. Sometimes you could pull them out with one fairly fast jerk and others you had to slowly inch them out. We called them humpback minners. I don’t know what kind of bug that type of grub worm turns into.
      I live in N.E.KY. and you live, I believe, in W.NC. Makes me wonder how many other children fished for humpback minnows.

  • Reply
    Peggy Lambert
    October 8, 2015 at 10:05 am

    Tipper
    We sang a song that was, Lady Bug, Lady Bug fly away home, your house is on fire and your children are all a lone.
    Peggy L.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    October 8, 2015 at 9:35 am

    I don’t remember the exact words we repeated but I do remember trying to coax them out of their hole. I do not believe I ever got one to come out but it was fun trying.
    I remember my mother teaching us how and the words when I was very small. We always used a broom straw to stir around the hole. I think the object was for the bug to grab hold with his pinchers and then you pull him out.
    I going to look for doodle bugs today!

  • Reply
    Gina S
    October 8, 2015 at 8:42 am

    After many unsuccessful childhood attempts to summon one of these critters, I nicknamed my son Doodlebug. He had a habit of burrowing under his blankets.

  • Reply
    Fay Nell Pitts
    October 8, 2015 at 8:42 am

    Tipper: I am 82 years old and many rainy days, my sisters and I played under the porch and there were lots of doodle-bug holes under there. I also found out you didn’t have to say a word, just stir the stick around and since it was the same color of the dirt, it was hard to see. You just waited to see the dirt move and it would disappear again. What fun days we had back then!

  • Reply
    dolores
    October 8, 2015 at 8:24 am

    I don’t remember using that saying, however, I don’t find a doodlebug very appealing. I think it needs to stay in its home.

  • Reply
    Richard Beauchamp
    October 8, 2015 at 8:23 am

    I used the same one you did with better results. Actually you can just blow softly in the hole and say nothing and have the same results. These are Ant Lions and when an ant moves the dirt he comes up and eats him

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    October 8, 2015 at 8:06 am

    Tipper: In the Cove there was a boy named Doodle Bug. The girls use to say he liked me! But I never paid much attention to them and I never knew if that was his ‘real name’ or not. Is that weird or what? EW

  • Reply
    Brenda S 'Okie in Colorado'
    October 8, 2015 at 8:00 am

    My cousins and I sang this sweet song when we were little, but we never saw the bug. We sang about the wife being gone and children will all burn.
    I was just recently thinking about this song.

  • Reply
    Jerry in Arkansas
    October 8, 2015 at 7:56 am

    Doodle bug, doodle bug, come out and get a chew of tobacco.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 8, 2015 at 7:45 am

    That is creepy looking, I’m glad I never saw one. Doodle bug Doodle bug fly away home, your house is on fire and your children are gone. That’s the one I heard. Isn’t it interesting that the doodle bug sayings have lasted so long. It’s been a long time since I was a child.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 8, 2015 at 7:34 am

    He is creepy. I spent hours trying to catch one, none of your sayings sound familiar, but I know we said something that started with doodle bug doodle bug. We spent hours trying to dig them up. I haven’t noticed any around lately, will have to start looking.

    • Reply
      Paul Chrisman
      January 3, 2020 at 5:55 pm

      As an only child , 3-6 yrs of age I spent countless hours playing in the soft dirt under the old farmhouse, which was not underpinned and and had plenty of headroom—Over the many cones of dirt I sang and beckoned over and over …”come out and get your cup of coffee” my grandma would Sometimes even supply a leftover half cup of coffee!! Years, cousins and friends, came and went, but NEVER EVER DID I EVER SUCCEED in the effort! At much later age I decided it was just a babysitting gimmick! No such critter as a doodle bug! Now at 71, i have a precious 5 yr old grandson whose gramma has nicknamed “doodle -bug” and I become lost in those lonely unsuccessful longsuffering memories and smile . I rarely see thes little cones with the tiny hole anymore in the suburbs , but if I ever do, my faith being renewed, and my knees willing I believe I will give it another try! Woody Paul

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