Friday 5: I Am Thankful to Be An Entomologist

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the US, a time to eat tons and tons of food (enough that you either want to die, just a little, or pass out into a total food coma) and give thanks for the good things in life.  Regardless of whether I spend Thanksgiving with my family or my husband’s (my husband’s this year), there is one tradition that we follow: we go around the table saying what we’re thankful for before we eat.  I’m thankful for many things, but some things I choose not to share at the table.  Like how I love insects and I’m thankful to be fulfilling my long-term dream of becoming an entomologist.  But I can write about that here!  In the spirit of a good, old-fashioned American Thanksgiving, I thus present my entomologically themed list of thanks: why I’m thankful to be an entomologist.

There are so many insects!

You all know that there are a lot of insects in the world.  The number of insects on the planet at any given time is astounding.  (How do you even conceptualize the idea of a quintillion, the number of insects a quick online search suggests are on Earth at any given time?)  There are also more insect species on the planet than all other animal species combined.  If you want to be a scientist and you need to find a little niche to call your own, you could definitely do worse than entomology.  There are so very many research opportunities!  It’s a big field and many subjects are still wide open, ready to be researched, so it’s a great science to be a part of.

insect display

Insect display. This is a tiny handful of the species on the planet!

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INSECTS ARE UBIQUITOUS

There are insects nearly everywhere on Earth except the ocean (a topic for another time).  They can be found living on land, in streams and lakes, in wastewater, in soil, in trees, in plants, in sheep, in humans, on humans, in little pools of water inside tropical plants, in grain storage facilities, in cheeses, on snow fields, and at the base of glaciers.  There’s even a type of aquatic fly larva that is found in pools of petroleum!  Nearly anywhere you go on our planet you can find insects to study.  I think that’s simply amazing.

Carpenter bee nest

Carpenter bee nest. There are insects in there!

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Insects are beautiful

I feel that people would appreciate insects more if they would take a moment to discover how incredibly beautiful they are!  It makes me so happy that artists such as Joseph Scheer and Thomas Shahan share the beauty of insects with the world.  Even if you hate spiders, how can you not appreciate the charisma and stunning structure of one of Shahan’s jumping spiders?  How can one not see beauty in the delicate perfection of the wing scales on one of Scheer’s giant moth images?  Even something like my water bugs, which the vast majority of people I meet think are rather gross, are beautiful to some extent.  The structure of their eyes, the leafy patterns on the backs of the bigger species, the different structures used to breathe… All stunning if you take a moment to look.

Libellula saturata

Female flame skimmer, Libellula saturata

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Entomologists make great friends

I find entomologists to be, by and large, incredibly kind and wonderful people.  I have friends who don’t like insects of course, but those friends sadly don’t share my intense love for a group of rather unloved animals the way other entomologists do.  Entomologists get each other in a profound way.  I knew i was joining the right group of people when I came to Arizona to interview for grad school, saw a tarantula hawk (a REALLY big wasp for those of you who aren’t familiar with them) fly overhead, and nearly everyone in the group looked up and watched it fly by like it was the most interesting thing in the world.  I love being around other entomologists (and here, I’m including all of you non-scientists or non-entomologist scientists with entomological leanings) because they share my love for insects, and are really, really good people to boot.  And, if you’re not an entomologist, it’s still good to have us around!  Who else can tell you whether the spider in your house is poisonous (probably not) or whether the strange pile of lumps under your beam is caused by termites?  :)

Friends Collecting

Some of my entomologist friends collecting together

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Insects make me appreciate the natural world

Nothing makes you appreciate how marvelous the natural world is like insects.  Just ponder it for a moment: there are approximately a million insect species described in the world, and there may be 1-10 million more than we don’t even know about yet.  Insects live nearly everywhere (see above), exhibit some of the most bizarre and/or beautiful behaviors imaginable, and display hugely diverse structures and color patterns.  The fact that all these species, all these forms, all these behaviors exist in a single animal group is nothing short of miraculous.  I see the wonderful beauty of the natural world reflected in insects.  And for that reason alone, I am thankful to be an entomologist.

Leafhopper

Something as common and mundane as a leafhopper can be marvelous

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