Friday 5: Embarrassing Moments in the Life of An Entomologist

I tell you all about my adventures from time to time.  Thanks to having grown up in my wacky, oddly fabulous family, I have an enormously high tolerance for embarrassment.  Today I’m going to share some embarrassing stories!  These are my 5 favorite embarrassing moments:

the boat

The boat we used to collect water quality samples, tied to the railing alongside the boat ramp.

1.  Falling Off the Boat

Many of you know that I spent several years collecting water samples from a small urban lake.  One day a few summers ago, my friend backed the trailer into the water, but the water was shallow and the boat needed a good shove to break free from the trailer.  I was the skipper that day, so I stepped from the boat onto the trailer to give it the shove as I’d done a hundred times.  This time, though, I totally missed the foothold and pitched off the front!  A second later, I was dangling from the front of the boat like a monkey, hanging a few feet over the water.  It all happened so fast that I hung there thinking, “Wait…  How did I end up here?”  Everyone at that lake always stared at us while we worked, so of course a whole bunch of fishermen witnessed this display.  God forbid I do something so spectacularly ungainly without at least 4 or 5 people seeing me!  I did get some semi-serious injuries (I have a big scar on my knee from where I hit the trailer’s wench on the way down), but even then I thought it was pretty funny.

field site pond

The pond at the field site on the day in question was very full and very muddy after a monsoon rain flooded the valley around it.

2.  Getting Stuck in the Mud

All of you gals out there reading this: remember those stories at the back of Teen Magazine, the ones where the girl did something mortifying in front of the guy she liked?  This is one of those stories.  I had a crush on a guy and one day he accompanied me to the disgusting pond where I work during my field season.  I wandered around through the mucky water doing my work and was just climbing out of the pond when I hit a deep patch of mud and my boots got stuck.  Really stuck.  I struggled to get my feet out for several minutes while my crush laughed at me from shore.  But that was nothing compared to how hard he laughed when I lost my balance and fell over – butt first, right into the stinky, sticky mud!  Let me tell you that there’s nothing quite like coating yourself in cow urine scented mud in front of a guy you like.  Yeah…  That was not one of my most suave moments, but I got the last laugh: my crush had to drive my muddy butt back home in his car.  :)


I trip over the curb near the bikes in the lower left at least once a year, if not more often...

3.  Tripping Over Nothing

I have a problem.  An equilibrium problem.  One moment I’ll be walking along meditating on life, the universe, and everything, and the next I’m inexplicably sprawled on the ground.  One of my most embarrassing equilibrium fails happened a few years back.  I was walking back to the car with a co-worker one day when I simply fell over.  I split my knee open (my poor, poor knees!  They are unbelievably scarred…), but laughed it off.  Whatever, happens all the time.  I wouldn’t have thought any more about it except that a few weeks later, just when everything was starting to look normal again, I did exactly the same thing!  This time, I was on my way to my building on campus with 3 prospective students, trying to prep them for their interviews, when I tripped over nothing and split my knee open in the EXACT SAME SPOT!  I’m sure I gave the prospectives a good impression.  Welcome to my department, where some people can’t go two weeks without tripping over imaginary things!  :)


One of the syringes I use for my research with the respirometer.

4.  The Respirometer Incident

I use a machine called a respirometer to measure oxygen consumption in my bugs and my method involves injecting air samples into the machine using a hypodermic needle like the one in the photo.  My one embarrassing moment came early on.  My trainer watched me inject all my samples the first few days, but was planning to leave me alone after the first few injections the third.  I hadn’t had any problems at all and the first injection of the third day went great.  The second one…  Not so much!  Instead of stabbing the needle through the tubing and injecting the sample into the machine, I somehow stabbed the needle into my finger, jamming it nearly all the way through, and then snapped the needle in half when I jerked my hand away in surprise.  It really hurt, but the pain from the blow to my ego was worse.  It got even worse though: it was my trainer’s last needle, so I had to wander from lab to lab to find another, telling my story along the way.  Now I think it’s funny, but at the time I was completely mortified to have done something so idiotic in front of one of my committee members.

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon, site of the wardrobe malfunction.

5. Wardrobe Malfunctions

Field work can be really exciting when your clothing doesn’t cooperate.  I get holes in my clothes all the time and have some spectacular wardrobe malfunctions!  One of the most embarrassing experiences happened on an extended collecting trip with several classmates.  It wasn’t completely obvious to everyone at first, but one of the underwires of my bra popped out.  The guys reading this probably don’t know this, but underwire bras don’t really work if the underwires aren’t in place.  So, I spent an hour fussing with my bra, trying to keep it in place, making it really obvious to everyone that I was having problems with it.  I eventually got so many questions about what I was doing that I just announced to everyone that my bra broke and wasn’t staying in place anymore.  That wasn’t exactly the best collecting trip ego-wise, but I got some really excellent bugs.  I guess it was worth it in the end!

Anyone else want to share embarrassing field stories?  In my limited experience, I find that a lot of entomologists, other biologists, and naturalists have a lot of the same problems that I do, so I’d love to hear some of your stories if you’re willing to share!


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11 thoughts on “Friday 5: Embarrassing Moments in the Life of An Entomologist

  1. I’m not an entomologist, but can so relate to almost all of these! Did the stuck in the mud thing wading out into the garden once ~ was so stuck I had to call hubby for help. One day, I leaned over & into the kiwi vines on the front of our house to shut off the water faucet… I had long, thick, rather wild hair, and succeeded in getting totally tangled up in the vines. Once again, had to call hubby for help. Being the considerate person he is, he took time to stop & get the camera first ~ not my greatest photo op. Fell out of the boat shortly after he and I started dating, severely spraining my arm, but was too embarrassed to tell him at the time. The tripping over nothing or just falling down thing is practically a daily occurrence ~ with MS I’ve learned to do it with great style & flair, though! lol Fortunately I’m quite capable of laughing at myself, which is a really good thing!

    Thanks for sharing your “moments” ~ gave my husband & I a good laugh & a stroll down memory lane! :D

    • I didn’t even think to mention my hair getting caught in things! That happens a lot because I’ve got super curly ringlets that get wrapped around everything. I’ve walked into several trees and gotten caught badly enough I’ve had to snap branches off and detach my hair strand by strand. Always fun!

      I’m glad you liked my stories! It’s always good to encounter other people who can laugh at themselves too.

  2. I hope the “trailer’s wench” in your first story was not too badly hurt?

    (I enjoyed the stories, even apart from this.)

  3. TDW, this post made me laugh! Fortunately (or unfortunately?) I’ve never had any embarrassing moments on the field yet. I’m always amazed at the diversity of your Friday 5 posts! Very useful, entertaining and funny!

  4. The mud one I can especially relate to – at my job in Georgia I regularly had to teach salt marsh ecology, which involved leading groups of middle school students out into a patch of deep, sticky black mud to experience the low marsh (we all wore rubber boots for this class). One time I was facing my kids while standing ankle-deep in marsh mud, explaining what it’s made of and why it smells the way it does, when suddenly for no apparent reason I lost my balance, fell backward in slow-motion, and did a perfect butt-plant in the mud. Right in front of a dozen sixth-graders and their chaperone. Yeah. Then there’s the time a speckled crab pinched me so hard it stabbed a hole in my fingernail and I had to continue teaching a seining class with blood running down my hand…

    • Yeah, it’s always SO much fun to do embarassing things in front of large groups of kids. And they really remember that stuff too! 30 years from now, one of those kids in your group will probably tell the story of the woman who fell flat on her butt in the mud. I am sure I’ll be story fodder for a lot of kids too! I don’t mind so long as they remember at least one thing I taught them too.

  5. I’m quite familiar with the wardrobe malfunction! I was on my first trip to South America on an insect field course, deep in the Amazonian region of Peru/Bolivia. We were getting out of a canoe trying to get up onto a rock ledge, and I took a step that was apparently too large for the crotch of my pants! With a tremendous RIP and a sudden breeze, my pants split from fly to butt and down my leg in the blink of an eye in front of most of my classmates. A little duct tape and I was good to go for the remainder of the trip, but it was certainly a “getting to know you” kind of moment!

  6. I once worked in a lab that gave out an award for the best mistake of the year. We even had a trophy, a piece of plastic that had been put in the autoclave by mistake. It was all in fun, and needless to say a coveted award.

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