Can you imagine a world without computers? Believe it or not, your parents might just be able to remember a time when computers weren’t everywhere you look. You probably use computers all the time. After all, you’re reading today’s Wonder of the Day, right?

If you have much experience with computers, you probably already know that they’re not perfect. No person or machine is perfect. We all make mistakes. That goes for computers, too.

Of course, it can be very frustrating when computer problems prevent you from having fun or getting work done. We call these faults and errors with computers and their programs “computer bugs.” But are insects really to blame?

Nope! Computer bugs are usually just mistakes in the computer’s design or programming. Even well-written computer programs that work almost perfectly still have bugs. Programs or computers that have lots of problems are said to be “buggy.”

When people write new computer programs, they usually try to test them thoroughly before they finish them. The process of finding computer bugs and fixing them is called “debugging.” Some people have jobs that require them to test computers and their programs constantly.

If you’re wondering when the first computer bug was discovered, that happened in 1947 when Harvard researchers were having trouble with their Mark II supercomputer. After some investigating, they discovered that a moth was trapped in a relay and causing a short circuit.

The researchers removed the moth (literally “debugging” the machine) and taped it to their report. Their report reads: “First actual case of bug being found.” The report can be seen today at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Although some believe that this is how the terms “bug” and “debugging” came into being, that’s not the case. Evidence shows that people used the word “bug” to describe problems with mechanical devices as early as the 1870s.

So are computer bugs a big deal? They can be. In 1962, a missing hyphen in a computer program led to the loss of the Mariner 1 Venus probe — a piece of unmanned space equipment that cost $80 million to build. In 1996, the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 rocket — worth over $1 billion — was destroyed less than a minute after launching, due to a bug in the on-board guidance computer.

The effect of computer bugs on businesses cost big bucks, too. A 2002 study estimated that computer bugs cost the U.S. economy as much as $59 billion every year! When computer bugs strike, you have to pay experts to fix them. Sometimes you even have to replace your computer and we all know how expensive that can be!

43 Join the Discussion

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    • Happy Wednesday, Ammar! Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis and for leaving us this great comment! There are lots of interesting facts about computers (and a few about bugs) found in this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  1. HAHAHAHA!! It was so funny that the praying mantis was trying to get the mouse pointer on the screen in the video. We all laughed at the dog barking at the praying mantis. We wonder if the people have the praying mantis as a pet? :)

    Some of us did not know that computers had bugs. We even thought there might really have been insects inside the computer. How funny that a moth was found in a computer- a real bug problem. We have also used “bug” for when people are pestering us. How cool! Thanks again!!

    • Hello, Kerrick Elementary School! That video made us laugh a lot, too! Smart bug! Did you see the clues on the computer screen in the video that told us WHERE the praying mantis and people who made the video might live? :-)

  2. The video was hilarious! Who knew a praying mantis would be that interested in a computer.
    Thank you!

    • You’re welcome, The Beach (Mrs. Guerin’s 2nd Grade Class)! Thank YOU for always leaving us such AWESOME comments to brighten our day! :-)

  3. We liked learning that the first computer bug was a real bug-a moth. It was sad that the Europeans spaceship crashed so quickly because of the problem with their computer and having a bug in it. We did not know that the US economy (which is our parents) are paying about 59 billion dollars for computer bugs. We also practiced our directions as well as our measuring with the Ladybug maze. Some of us found it very hard while others found it very easy. I have challenged my students to try again tonight maybe they will leave you a comment about their experience.

    • WOW! That is a LOT of learning from this Wonder, Mrs. Caplin’s Class! We look forward to receiving more AWESOME comments from those WONDERful “MC” students! :-)

  4. Wow, that was very interesting! I never thought there would be a time with no computers. I hate when my computer makes mistakes! I never knew about the word debugging. Will you post more wonders about technology? I hope you do!

    • Thanks so much for this awesome comment, Zebras! You can count on more technology-focused Wonders of the Day in the future! We appreciate you letting us know what type of Wonders you enjoy most! :-)

  5. Hi Wonderopolis,

    We liked how you described computer bugs, and then gave us specific details about what happened in the past with computer bugs and how they started.

    Now that you mention computer bugs, our class has also had some computer bug incidences happen, especially when everybody is trying to log on to the same website.

    Where did you find all this information?

    • What a great comment, Annamarie, Bethany and Selena! It makes us really happy to hear the things you learned from this Wonder of the Day®! We find lots of information to help us with each Wonder from a variety of different places, like websites, asking experts on the subject, and reading books! Thanks for being great Wonder Friends and visiting Wonderopolis today! :-)

  6. We thought your article was cool and interesting. It was amazing that an actual bug got into the computer. Today we saw a bug come out of (or at least next to) a school computer. I guess we “debugged” it!

    • It’s a cool coincidence that you visited this Wonder of the Day® today, and then had to “debug” your school computer, Vyzz! Thank you for sharing this comment with us and for being a friend of Wonderopolis! :-)

  7. Ha ha ha ha it was so funny that computer bug was barking like a dog. Great video! Thank you, wonderoplis, for the video.

    • Well, we’re glad you learned some new things about computer bugs, David! Thanks for hanging out in Wonderopolis and for searching through some of our past Wonders of the Day! :-)

    • That’s a funny and quick-witted comment, Clayton! Thank you for sharing it with us today and for exploring this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  8. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Cool wonder! A computer bug is something that goes into your computer if you click on a fake ad or something. It can allow someone to see all of your information. (not a good thing) I think tomorrow’s wonder is about bugs.
    XOXOXOXOXO,
    Paige ;)

  9. If there was such thing as a computer bug it would probably be made of metal, have wires and hack into our hard drives. Good thing there’s not.

    • Way to use your AWESOME imagination, Tyler J! We think you’re right on track… but we sure don’t want to spot a computer bug anywhere near us! YIKES! :)

  10. I have just been introduced to Wonderopolis and are reviewing some of the Wonders to possibly be used in class. I noticed you had statistics from 2002 in this Wonder. It is now 2013. How often do you revise your Wonders to keep the information up-to-date?

    • Welcome to Wonderopolis, Mrs. Manuel! We’re so glad you’re here! You pose a great question; we have more than 800 Wonders available to our Wonder Friends, and we always want to share the most up-to-date information. We count on members of our Wonder community, like you, to share their thoughts about necessary updates, or to let us know when they’ve had an amazing Wonder of their own!

      The 2002 study referenced helps paint the picture of how many computer bugs were projected at the time. However, we do our very best to keep all our Wonders new and shiny! Thanks for sharing your comment, we appreciate it! :)

  11. I think that computer bugs are so cool. The billion dollars for damage was pretty sad. We both have a question: why does it cost so much for computer parts?

    from:jackson&max
    P.S. This really helped us with our kid blog post

    • Hey there, Jackson and Max! We LOVE your enthusiasm, and we’re glad to know you’ve been working on a blog of your own! Great work! We hope you’ll continue to research computers and why their parts are often expensive. It’s because they’re so valuable together! :)

  12. So you can really get bugs in your computer? When you do get them in your computer what do they do? Play with the screen pull cords if there are any or jump around in the computer?
    It can really cost that much!

    Thanks for the great wonder, Wonderopolis.

    • Hi Kate! Thanks for WONDERing with us! Your computer bug actually isn’t an insect-it’s just a phrase used when your computer isn’t performing in full function. Have you ever had a computer bug before? Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

    • Hi Sammie! Thanks for WONDERing with us! It can be a pricey problem! Count yourself lucky to have not seen a computer bug before! Keep WONDERing! :)

    • Hey there, Kaelynn D! We think it’d be a good idea to go back to the Wonder and read it just a bit closer to find your answer! ;)

  13. Before I read this passage, I thought that there really was a bug in your computer! But now I know that there really isn’t. So what kind of mechanical instruments did they use the term ‘bug’ for in the 1870′s?

    • We’re so glad you stopped by Wonderopolis today, Taylor N.! We hope you’ll do some extra WONDERing to find out what mechanical instruments “bug” was used for in the 1870s! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Is a computer bug an insect?
  • What is a “buggy” computer program?
  • How costly are computer bugs?

Wonder Gallery

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Try It Out

We hope today’s Wonder of the Day didn’t bug you too much! Keep the learning rolling along by checking out one or more of the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • No matter what you want to be when you grow up, you’ll probably have to know a bit — or a lot! — about computers. Maybe you’ll even be a computer programmer one day. But what about today? Do you know a lot about computers already? Think you can debug a computer? To test your skills in a fun game, head over to PBS Kids Go! to play Bugs in the System. Can you help the cybersquad clean up the mess caused by hackers in the cybrary?
  • Since the first computer bug really was an insect, why not unplug and head outside to get up close and personal with some REAL bugs. Add some scientific observation to your technological learning with these fun activities and crafts.
  • Up for a challenge? Why not give computer program developers a helping hand? Do you like playing computer games? Of course, you do! Who doesn’t, right? Jump online and learn about how to become a beta tester. Beta testing is what it’s called when a program is nearly final, but needs additional testing to work all the final bugs out before it’s released. You can find some games that you can try out. Can you find any bugs? If you do, be sure to contact the computer program developers to let them know, so they can fix them before their program is finished and released to the public. If you enjoy this, you might have a real future in computer programming and/or testing!

Still Wondering

Use Illuminations’ Ladybug Mazes activity to play a fun computer game in which children will plan a series of moves that will navigate a ladybug through a maze to practice estimating length and angle measurements.

 

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