This is a reading comprehension exercise for children. It is written by Susan Fineman, a reading specialist in the New Haven, Conn., school district.

TOKYO--It's just like buying a soda. Put a couple of coins into the vending machine, pull open a little door and the prize is in your hands: a couple of live bugs.

A machine company in central Japan has brought technology and convenience to the art of collecting beetles, one of the most traditional summertime hobbies for Japanese children.

Children used to troop into the mountains with nets to catch the prized beetles and other insects. Nowadays, the rarest species can sell for tens of hundreds of dollars in pet stores.

The Mirai Seiko company in Ogaki, 220 miles west of Tokyo, started the beetle-selling season this year by converting a vegetable vending machine to sell the sleek, black bugs.

The machine can hold up to 100 stag beetles, said Hirofumi Saeda, a company official.

Bugs aren't the first unusual things to find their way into Japanese vending machines. The machines sell anything from canned coffee to CDs, videos and bottles of whiskey. They are everywhere--even on the summit of Mount Fuji.

Mirai Seiko decided to get into the bug business when workers found they were collecting many beetles with the mushrooms the company harvests off trees during Japan's steamy, rainy summer.

Instead of throwing away the beetles, officials thought they might make some money off them.

The beetles are on the cheap end: $3.35 a pair. The company has no problem keeping the bugs alive in the machine--eager children usually snap up all the beetles soon after they go on sale.

It was a typical mob scene at the company store recently when this year's batch went on sale.

"They were all gone in two or three hours," Saeda said.

Quiz

1. What is a vending machine?

2. What kinds of things are sold in Japanese vending machines?

3. What unusual item did the Mirai Seiko company decide to sell in a coin-operated machine?

4. Why did Mirai Seiko go into the bug business?

5. How many bugs fit into the machine? What do they cost?

6. Where are the rarest, most expensive beetles sold?

7. In the past, how did Japanese children gather specimens for their beetle collections?

8. Why does the company find it so easy to keep the beetles alive in the converted vegetable dispensing machine?

9. Why are youngsters so eager to buy black bugs from a vending machine?

10. When was the last time you purchased something from a vending machine? What did you buy?

Answer key (wording may vary):

1. Answers will vary.

2. Japanese machines sell a variety of things, such as vegetables, canned coffee, CDs, videos and whiskey.

3. The machine company in Ogaki is selling stag beetles.

4. Workers for Mirai Seiko found beetles on mushrooms harvested by the company. Officials thought that they might be able to earn money by selling the bugs.

5. The machine holds 100 beetles. A pair costs $3.35.

6. The rarest species are sold in pet stores.

7. Children used to go into the mountains with nets to catch creatures for their collections.

8. The beetles are easy to keep alive because they are all sold within a few hours after going on sale.

9. Answers will vary.

10. Answers will vary.