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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28 thoughts on “Friday 5: 5 signs your neighbor is an entomologist

    • Good point! I forgot about windowsills, but my neighbors live REALLY close to me and I don’t open my shades all that often. Tney’re a great source of insects!

  1. Looks like I hit all the warning signs… yay!
    I would also add that if you ever go into an entomologist’s house… you’ll know. Or at least I can’t be the only one with lots of framed dead insects and posters and photos of insects on my walls, right? And stuffed animal insects… and insect dish-ware… and insects on my apron/oven mitts… and on my carpet… and on my purse… and… yeah…

    • I’ve got tons of insects all over my house too! I don’t think it’s that rare, at least for entomologists who have a field component to their work. I’m assuming people give you insect things as gifts too? I get a LOT of insect related gifts!

  2. Haha – nice post. I certainly get those odd looks and comments when I’m in my front yard. My favorite as when I was kneeling down with my head buried in a clump of mulhy grass photographing aphids and a bunch of resting Western Pygmy Blues. This guy came walking down the street with his dogs and had to stop and say “Dude! What are you doing in that grass?!?”

  3. You should have referenced your recent post about hanging out at the edge of a lake as big thunderheads rolled in — daily.
    Other than that, you can add some field guides to the pockets of your shirt/vest.
    Also, the presence of jars of bugs in the refrigerator, waiting to have their pictures taken, and of dead bugs in the freezer, waiting to be pinned.

    • Ah yes, bugs in the freezer are a sure sign of an entomologist! I’ve got a whole third of my freezer devoted to insects. :)

  4. P.S. – my family always says as I’m down on the ground focusing on something tiny that the best picture is BEHIND the camera.

  5. When people come over my husband always tells them not to eat anything out of the right side of the freezer, that’s where the dead bugs are :)

    Also the car always has collecting equipment in it :)

  6. Goes for bug fanciers, too!

    I’ve spent a lot of time on a stepladder staring at dusty cobwebs in the corners of porches and building overhangs. As interesting as a white sheet, except maybe that the catch is often tied with no consideration for preservation of delicate features.

    The lanyard with multiple clips; great idea. I must get one!

  7. I used to sweep and dig through the apt. complex trash bins with a net and jar to collect flies to feed the mantids I was raising. While I got a lot of raised eyebrows and questions, I didn’t think much of my neighbors who had fully grown flies in their tied trash bags — given the development time of eggs to adult, I figured they must have had open trash in their apts. crawling with maggots. Ew!

    Oh, to add to your list, if you visit an entomologist for dinner, beware of helping out in the kitchen and opening the freezer. Who knows what you’ll find!?! I’ve had cicadas (which were for eating, btw), moths, and various other insects. My boss had rotted liver in hers so she’d be ready to raise flies at a moment’s notice whenever the coroner called with a mysterious corpse.

    • I think I would be less happy about rotten liver in my freezer than my large collection of insects. On the other hand, that centipede I can’t bring myself to mess with is still in there and will have to come out eventually. Would it be really wrong to leave it in the freezer when I move for the next person to deal with? :)

      • Dare I ask why you don’t want to mess with it? Just how scary is frozen centipede?

        In any event, it can’t be worse than what our “renters” left behind in the freezer when we finally got them evicted.

        I only managed 3 out of 5 on your chart. On the plus side, I have had to explain to the police why I was lying in the grass with a camera, so I may get extra points for one of the earlier entries. He didn’t think, “but I don’t have a picture of a bluet yet!” was a legitimate reason.

        • Ha ha! I’ve never been hassled by police, mostly just little kids who are VERY excited that there’s an adult with a bug net running around the park. :) Not sure I want to know what the policeman thought you were doing!

          I don’t like centipedes. And this particular frozen centipede is the size of a Buick, so even less appealing. And it came back from the dead just to terrorize me after I collected it, so I have a few extra issues with this particular centipede. Okay, okay, I’ll admit that I’m a wimp when it comes to that stupid centipede! I KNOW it can’t hurt me, but it disturbs me on some very primal level and I can’t even force myself to touch it. Maybe I should just give it to someone who wants an 8 inch long Scolopendra rather than messing with it myself…

  8. I don’t know how you would phrase it in the context of a Top 10 list, but entomologists are usually prone to catch and release rather than swat and squish arthropod invaders that intrude into home. My wife gets very angry with me when a big moth, roach, or spider appears in the living room and instead of rolling up a magazine and beating the poor thing I spend the next 20 minutes knocking stuff over trying to capture it alive – invariably the creature will usually escape behind the couch never to be seen again.

    • Ooh, good one! I do this too – crawling over and around furniture at all times of the day and night, sometimes with a bug net, to get to some helpless insect before my husband takes matters into his own hands. Thankfully, the giant roach that crawled over the back of the couch and onto my husband’s shoulder one night DID NOT escape back behind the couch or we would have had to tear the house apart until we found it. It currently resides in the insect district of my freezer, which, as other people have pointed out, is also a sign you’re an entomologist. :)

  9. I howled over this! I have geologist & botonist friends…similar characteristics. As a clay artist, I dig around in the dirt a lot…look for cool textures in tree bark, rock formations, even dead creatures (amazing what you discover!). Seems we are all factions of a peculiar breed! Aren’t we lucky! :) SO MUCH enjoy your weekly digest…

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