Friday 5: 5 signs your neighbor is an entomologist

One of the topics that comes up over and over again in conversations with my entomologist friends are the personality traits, behaviors, and wardrobes that distinguish entomologists (amateur and pro) from the rest of society.  As you might imagine, your average entomologist tends to stand out from other people, though some stand out to a greater extent than others.  Over the years, we’ve come up with a pretty comprehensive list of characteristics that identify the stereotypical passionate field entomologist.  I thought it would be fun to post some of these characteristics for this week’s Friday 5!

Let’s begin with a scenario to set the mood.  You have a suspicion that your new next door neighbor might be an entomologist, but she tends to keep to herself and you haven’t had a chance to ask her.  Never fear!  Just look for the signs.  Your neighbor is probably an entomologist if:

porch light

A green lacewing near the porch light in my backyard.

1.  She stares at porch lights, street lights, or parking lot lights for long periods of time. Lights at night are an amazing source of insects!  Many entomologists will leave porch lights on simply to see what comes to the lights.  We also spend hours and hours out in the middle of nowhere staring at generator-powered UV lights that we shine onto white sheets.  If your neighbor spends a lot of time staring at her porch light, she is probably an entomologist looking for bugs.  I lived in an apartment complex with about 40 units when I first moved to Arizona.  I was constantly wandering around the complex staring at lights at night.  Based on the looks, comments, and questions I got from my neighbors, it was clear that everyone there thought I was completely nuts for staring at the lights for 30+ minutes at a stretch.  Several people even went out of their way to avoid me when they saw me!  But I was just looking for bugs.  This is perfectly normal behavior for an entomologist.  We really aren’t crazy…  :)

looking at ground

Looking at bugs on the ground!

2.  Similar to #1, she spends long periods of time staring at tree bark, off into space, at the ground, into ponds/streams/swimming pools, into bushes, etc. There are lots of great insects at porch lights, but there are things out during the day too!  Your average entomologist will watch bugs when he or she sees them, even if they’re very small.  It might not look like your neighbor is looking at anything if she’s in a pose similar to that of the entomologist in the photo to the right, but if she’s an entomologist, she is probably looking at insects.

mantid at night

Mantid at night

3.  She occasionally crawls around on her hands and knees or lies on her belly with a camera, sometimes in the middle of the night. You never know when you might find an interesting insect!  These situations warrant running into the house, grabbing the camera and macro lens, and snapping some shots before the insect flies away.  The mantid in the photo was one I took at 1:30 AM a few years ago.  I saw it on the ground outside my apartment when a friend dropped me off after a night out.  I bolted into the house for the camera and ended up lying on my stomach outside my front door in the middle of the night while I took my photos.  And of course, because it couldn’t happen any other way, my next door neighbor’s new boyfriend just HAD to be walking through the parking lot to his girlfriend’s door at the exact same moment.  I got a nervous look as he asked, “Ummm…  What are you doing?”  I cheerfully explained that I was an entomologist and there was this gorgeous mantid on my porch.  I’m not sure that my explanation convinced him that I wasn’t crazy, but I couldn’t have been happier with my up close and personal encounter with the mantid!

me at Los Fresnos

Me at Los Fresnos, Mexico

4.  She wears clothes with a lot of pockets on them (maybe adding a backpack, fishing vest, or fanny pack for even more pockets), sport sandals (sometimes with socks!) or hiking boots, and very wide-brimmed hats. Your neighbor could be going on an urban safari, but chances are she’s an entomologist if she’s wearing something along the lines of the outfit I’ve got on in the photo, especially if she’s wearing this to work.   Notice the cargo pants and the broad-brimmed hat.  The hiking boots are there even though you can’t see them.  If your neighbor is wearing a bug shirt as part of this ensemble (there’s a hellgrammite on the back of my shirt!) or carrying a bug net (I’ve got an aquatic net with me), you can be sure that she’s an entomologist!  Ted MacRae has a photo of his beetle hunting ensemble on his Beetles in the Bush blog, so I shall direct you there to get another visual of the sort of outfit I’m talking about.  Not all entomologists will wear similar outfits, but if they spend any time in the field they will eventually end up in something rather like these.

Me sampling in Sabino Canyon

Me sampling in Sabino Canyon.

5.  She wears entomological tools (a hand lens, forceps, etc) on a lanyard or cord around her neck. I know of several people who carry entomological tools with them all the time!  I personally only wear my forceps when I’m out in the field working (I carry them hidden in my purse the rest of the time!) , but I know people who ALWAYS wear their tools.  When one of the profs in my department was married, his students reported that both bride and groom were married wearing their hand lenses!  What can I say?  We’re dedicated to our work.  It’s a little hard to see the lanyard around my neck in the photo, but it’s a super fancy one with multiple clips and a quick release connector at the neck.  I actually PAID something like 10 bucks for this lanyard rather than getting it free as part of some conference swag bag.  I love it!

There are several other signs you can look for, but I’ll stick with these five for now.  Any other entomologists care to add some characteristics to the list?  If so, I’d love to read your comments!

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