Why I Am an Entomologist

The end of 2011 is coming up fast!  This time of year is often a time of reflection where we ponder the past and make plans for the future.  In that spirit, today I’d like to tell you all a bit about my childhood and my family, what I believe led to my becoming an entomologist.  I’ll get back to the sciencey posts on Science Sunday and into the new year.


My Grandpa with me (right) and my sister

My grandfather died just before I turned 6, so I barely remember him, but I do remember a few things.  He had a fantastic collection of turtle figurines that I absolutely loved.  He would pick up bumblebees without fear, even though he was deathly allergic.  (I later learned that he only picked up the non-stinging males, but it was so magical as a kid!)  And my grandfather was a birder.  A serious birder.  Any time my cousins (who are all much older than I am) tell stories about our grandfather, they talk about being outside with him, carrying binoculars and squinting at birds up in the trees, learning about the plants and animals around them.  I remember my grandfather telling me about the birds in my Arizona backyard.  My grandfather built up an impressive bird life list and passed his love of birds and nature on to his kids and grandkids.

Now I didn’t know my grandfather very well, but my cousins are outdoorsy in various ways.  They claim to owe a lot of their nature loving personalities to my grandfather.  They hike and learn about the natural history of their areas.  They bird and camp and raft and teach their kids how to do everything they learned from my grandfather.  I think it’s great to be a part of a family that is so inclined to appreciate the changes of the seasons, who save up money to buy really expensive binoculars, and carry bird books in their back pockets.  Even though my cousins were much older than me when I was growing up, I always felt like I got to experience a little of what they experienced with my grandfather through them.


My parents on one of their many outdoor excursions before I was born.

My grandfather’s influence is very apparent in my mother too.  She is a birder.  She also learned to fish and swim and shoot rifles from my grandfather.  Thanks to my mom, I can make a mean campfire and cook an excellent fireside meal, swim quite well, and I’m a good shot.  And my mom never cared if my sister and I brought animals into the house when we were kids.  We were both little tomboys, so we spent most of every day outside catching lizards and snakes, watching birds, pressing flowers and leaves, and building enormous snow forts in Colorado.   My mom may never have picked up a bee, but she was really into nature and allowed her kids to be too.  And she barely even cared when the snake got out of its cage and said, “Eh, it will turn up eventually.”  I thought that was awesome.

my dad

My dad with his beloved Porsche. He was about to start mineral collecting in this photo!

Then there’s my dad.  He spent his childhood in the woods in North Carolina.  I don’t really know where his interest in nature came from, but I’m pretty sure he developed it on his own.  He told my sister and me stories about accidentally releasing snakes in his school and how he was stung many, many times by a swarm of angry wasps when he stepped on their nest.  My dad loves birds and enjoys fishing.  My dad’s first love, though, is geology.  He is obsessed with minerals!  When I was very young, he spent nearly every weekend going out to various locations in Arizona to collect, sometime rappelling down into old mines or blasting rocks apart with dynamite.  (I’m sure there are laws against the latter now!)  When we moved to Colorado, he left the dynamite behind, but the whole family went mineral collecting nearly every weekend.  When it was too snowy to get to his favorite collecting spot, or just to change things up occasionally, we’d head to the river instead where my sister and I would swim (the very thought makes me cold as an adult!) or ice skate and spend whole days fishing and playing in the river.  We were fascinated when we found a big aquatic insect under a rock one day and screamed bloody murder every time a harmless little garter snake swam past us down the river.


A columbine I photographed in high school. Pardon the dust!

When I headed into my teenage years, I was starting to get a little sick of spending every weekend in the mountains covered in dirt or river water with my dad.  But then I started collecting insects.  And then I learned that being an entomologist was a real profession.  And ten I started photographing things.  Suddenly the mountains were a grand place to collect insects or practice with my camera and I actually wanted to go again.  I built up a large collection of Rocky Mountain insects and a massive photo collection over 3 or 4 years.  It was great!  My dad started to get interested in insects too, and sometimes we went to the mountains specifically so I could collect.  And my mom still didn’t mind if I brought home jars full of bugs, dead and alive, and spread them all over the dining table.  My mom rocks.

Pikes Peak

Beyond this mountain lay countless outdoor adventures! Shot this photo shortly after I started using my first SLR camera in high school.

I think I am an entomologist today largely due to my family.  Nature was important to everyone (even my dad’s parents once they moved to Arizona) and I spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid.  I learned to appreciate the things around me.  More importantly, I was allowed to interact with the natural world.  Once I discovered insects, it was all over – there wasn’t a chance that I was ever going to become anything other than an entomologist.  I don’t have kids, but I find myself teaching my students the same way I was taught, letting them experiencing things on their own.  And I can tell my family had a profound influence on the direction I’m headed in life because my sister has ended up in a similar place, teaching kids and teens about ecology and natural sciences as an Environmental Education Park Ranger.  We still run around in the desert together catching lizards and marveling over how amazing the world really is once you get off the beaten path, just like we did as kids. I absolutely love it!

So, a great outdoorsy childhood, nature loving family, and the discovery of insects doomed me to a life as an entomologist.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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221 thoughts on “Why I Am an Entomologist

  1. You are one lucky gal. Your mom and dad were extraordinary. Parents are critical in imparting values and passions to their kids. My astronomer son credits the nighttime skywatching treks we made together for his career in astrophysics.

    You are passing your wonderful knowledge and enthusiasm along to others. It’s a wonderful gift.

    • Exactly! Parents have a huge influence on their kids’ eventual attitudes toward and interactions with their environment! It drives me nuts when I do outreach events and parents practically drag their kids away from whatever insects I have, telling them that insects are dangerous and dirty and gross. Those kids will go on to think that insects are horrible, and it’s so sad that the parents are preventing their kids from having an enlightening experience just because they have their own hangups. My parents rarely stopped me from bringing things into the house or picking things up unless they were truly dangerous. And, nearly every injury I sustained aa a kid involved some combination of a wheeled contraption, stupidity, and the very steep hill we lived on, not any of the animals or plants I interacted with. I’m glad I was raised the way I was! If I ever have kids, I’ll drag them out to the woods every weekend too because, even if I didn’t fully appreciate it as a kid, it was a fantaatic way to grow up.

      I’m glad to hear that your kid had a similar experience, enjoying an activity as a kid and turning it into a career. Being passionate about what you do certainly makes you enjoy work!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your story, I’m very happy that you had such a beautiful childhood. I too, grew up loving nature; fishing, swimming and spending my days in the woods, or playing in the creek by our house. Nature was my mother, she nurtured me through a traumatic childhood, and I’m not sure that I would have made it without her. As an adult I do a lot of hiking and I am most at home in the natural world. Children who are deprived of nature are starting off on the wrong foot, and losing a great opportunity for growing as human beings. Wild nature appeals to our wild hearts and that oneness makes us whole.

    • I agree that children who don’t experience nature are missing something. I think it’s rather sad, and it makes me wonder what the world would be like if kids actually went outside these days. I’m not even all that old – early 30’s – but I feel like the world has changed a lot since I was a kid because parents seem to be scared to let their kids out of their sight, to touch things, to experience the world. It’s going to be iteresting to see how the current generation of kids fares as adults…

  3. I love it ! Your comment about the only true injuries you sustained as products of wheeled contraptions, stupidity, and the very steep hill . . . :)

    The natural world is fascinating. How I pity the man or woman whose curiosity was never piqued . . . whose parents out of their own anxiety, pulled their children back from bugs, dirt, animals .. .

    I suppose it’s a natural instinct to separate your kid from potentially harmful entities, but our knowledge is so much broader and available that it’s hard for me to excuse the ignorance that would deny a child his sating his curiosity about the wonders of his fellow travelers on this incredible planet.

    • Every kid in my neighborhood spent years propelling themselves down that hill as fast as they could! (The Radio Flyer was awesome because you could steer a little with the handle, but take 2 people!). I’m surprised so few of us ever went to the emergency room. WAY more dangerous than any of the bugs I picked up or any dirt I got into. :)

  4. What a beautiful tribute — stunning reflections of your family. I’m sure your grandfather would be proud.

    Thank you for the inspiration as well … I think now I will attempt a post about “Why I am a Writer.” Fun idea!

    Congrats to you on your successes — and happy 2012!

    • I’m glad to hear that other people enjoyed the collections of their grandparents! All four of my grandparents lived in Africa for several years, so apart from the turtles, I really loved looking through all the art and other things they bought there. Some of my very favorite things I have now are the turtles I have from my grandfather’s collection and the African sculptures my other grandparents left me. They’re so beautiful!

  5. Your interest in life is a wonderful attribute which you can thank your parents for. You had a well-rounded upbringing that seemed to have made you adventurous, as well as curious. Sometimes, you can’t ask for more than that because that is where your passion lives.
    Very nice blog. Thank you for sharing this.


  6. This was so inspiring to read! It’s always interesting to hear why people pursue the careers that they do, and to find out that it’s because of family just makes it even more special! Thanks for sharing!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! It was actually a lot of fun to write because it reminded me of all the fun things I did as a kid. It’s nice to think back to a time when I spent nearly every second outside and my biggest responsibilities were feeding my many pets and doing homework. :)

  7. My uncle was an entomologist and specialized in honey bees. He would do “shows” for us neices and nephews in which he would pick up a bee and sting himself. He was so immune. My grandparents were also nature and garden lovers. Thanks for helping me conjur up this memory!

  8. Wow. I totally loved reading your post. I am also a ‘birder’ even though London does not offer much to see in that respect. However, I am originally from Swedens west-coast where many beauties can be seen hovering across the skies. But I do envy your life, it must be a true blessing to be able to spend plenty of time outdoors, and I can only hope that I one day will be lucky enough to once again live close to nature and enjoy it to the fullest. Anyway thank you for an inspirational post that brought a massive smile to my face.

  9. It is fascinating to connect the dots of our past and, from a distant glance, see a fully realized picture of ourselves. A friend of mine recently described his work in advertising to be the sum of his childhood. His father was a mathematics professor, so naturally the expectation for him and his siblings was to excel in the field of numbers and equations. However, he had a greater affinity for English and literature. In his job now, he combines these two gathered strengths, using the power of storytelling to present a relatable and engaging statistic-based analysis. Narrative behind the numbers.

    Thanks for your post.

  10. What a wonderful way to grow up. I think all children should be able to discover and learn like that…you are right, your Mum rocks! Reading about your Grandfather and parents it is no wonder you love nature.
    A lovely post. I didn’t want to stop reading!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! Your comment makes me happy – it’s so sweet. And I agree – if I ever have kids, I’ll be dragging them out to collect bugs with me and let them splash about in rivers and dig big holes in the ground. I can’t imagine a better way to figure the world out than to actually get your hands dirty and your feet wet. :)

  11. My uncle is an etomologist, so I had to read this post. He’s been collecting insects of all sorts since age 4. I’ve always admired people who know what they want to do early in life and go for it wholeheartedly. You were so lucky to have parents who encouraged you too.

    • I didn’t decide that I wanted to be am entomologist until high school (I didn’t even know you COULD be an entomologist until high school!) but I was into bugs for several years before that epiphany. Not since I was 4 though! That’s impressive!

  12. This is great. Your family was and is great.
    I don’t collect insects but over the past three years I have discovered many outdoor and survivalist stuff. I am a beekeeper, a gardener, a mushroom hunter and again have studied various survivalist stuff. It’s lots of fun. I took an edible wild plants class and then took a survivalist class and then went on to become a Master Gardener.

    I don’t know anything about insects but now I think that I’ll add that to the list. Thanks. Keep Blogging. Keep Writing.

    • I think it’s probably more normal to NOT collect insects than it is to be an adult who runs around parks with an insect net, but I say go for it! :) I’ve never really gotten imto the survivalist stuff, but I love that you’re growing and foraging your own food. Fun! I’ve always found growing my own veggies to be incredibly satisfying. Enjoy the fruits of your labor!

  13. Well written blog post laden with tribute and memories. I come from a non-pet, non-animal family. As for the great outdoors, some siblings have at least some green thumbs and gardening work.

    I actually didn’t become naturally comfortable with the great outdoors until I returned to cycling @ early 30’s. That was 20 yrs. ago. Then I also learned to camp. My family couldn’t afford to travel. Beside “camping” was foreign to immigrant parents from rural China. (I’m Canadian -born).

    Here are some cultural differences:

    • Cycling is a great way to get outside and appreciate the world! I used to cycle along the path that runs along one of our “rivers” everyday and saw some really amazing things on my rides. Hope you’re also seeing amazing things on your bike! And I’m going to head over to read the blog post you liked right now…

      • Sure, my blog ( under my name) shows some of the wildlife that I’ve seen along the way. Doesn’t include starfish flung onto bike path from ocean waves, etc.

        Best wishes with your nature education.

  14. Congratulations on being freshly pressed! You surely deserve it, your post is fantastic and provides a lot of insight on the importance of upbringing. Growing up (which I’m still doing), I spent a lot of time outdoors in exotic places, largely due to my parents’ encouragement and occasionally enforcement. I remember them coaxing me out of the house to go on hikes when we lived on a mountain in Costa Rica, and would pass through tons of unique areas. I don’t remember any specific instances of entomological interaction, but I do know that my parents never discouraged me from exploring and learning about insects, reptiles, or any of the other slightly stigmatized creatures that hung about our area. I recently found out that my maternal grandfather and uncle used to take trips around the world, including entomological expeditions in the Amazon. My paternal grandfather was a photographer, but I believe everyone on that side of the family was more of an urbanite, yet my mother wasn’t the only parent with a love of nature. I’ve still to fully develop my main interests, but I’ve got a great love for mushrooms and dragonflies, as well as other insects. Fungi are quite clearly one of the most misunderstood groups of organisms that are frequently encountered, and it saddens me that such a fascinating and enormous group of beings is generally thought of as gross, unclean, or even dangerous. I’m sure if I had been brought up by different parents I would think very differently about these things.

    • Wow, how fun would it be to live on a mountain in Costa Rica? Lucky! And if you’re interested in fungi, you should go for it, especially if you want to be a researcher. Lots of people study dragonflies (including me!), but fungi aren’t nearly as well understood. Not that I want to discourage anyone from becoming an entomologist, mind you, but mycology has a lot of opportunities too. Good luck!

    • Thanks! The shots of my parents were already on my compiter, but I had to dig through several boxes/albums to find one of my grandfather. I’m going to have to get more of them from my mom apparently…

    • Thanks! I am not that old, but I’m already starting to wonder if the kids today are going to grow up with the same sort of experiences that I had as a kid. I’ll be rather sad if they mostly grew up indoors…

  15. We live in South Africa, on an estuary that leads into the Indian Ocean – it would be a terrible shame not to teach our kids about all the creatures (big and small) that live here. Thanks for an informative blog and well done on being Freshly Pressed.

  16. I love this! I firmly believe it was my parents’ [and grandparents’] love of nauture and the outdoors that led me down the path I’m on today. I was always encouraged to play outside as a kid- luckily we had 3 acres of woods! I began building forts everywhere I could, and now I’m an architect working towards a specialization in environmental pracitces. Woo hoo parents!!
    ps- I think you would really like this artist: http://insectlabstudio.com/collection/Beetles/

  17. Thanks for sharing your story. I can see how my grandparents and parents had a great influence on my life. I remember some vacations we took with a small trailer dad had made. I remember waking up on a cool morning in Yellowstone park to the aroma of coffee boiling on the camp stove. I am not much of a coffee drinker, but I do love its rich aroma.

    • What a great memory! My family always temn camped when I was a kid, but I definitely remember coffee in the mornings (instant, but oh so good on a cold morning – I’ve loved coffee since I was 5) and our amazing trip to Yellowstone when I was 8 or 9. It was my favorite of all my vacations as a kid! My sister became a park ranger and worked in Yellowstone for several years and I’ve been back several times as an adult, but I still love it, no matter how many times I go!

  18. Excellent reflection. Family is the #1point-of-influence on a child’s direction. We share much in common at the point-of-influence. I strive very hard to be the inquisitive Grandfather pump-primer for my grandchildren. Few things in life are more exciting for me than to hear, “Grandpa, Why……” Music to my ears! “. )

  19. HI I live on a small sustainable farm on land that we are recovering from Big Business industrial cropping. And the lack of insects if very sad. So we are planting like mad to recover some of the underground and leaf hopping variety of life forms, i shall go back over your posts and see what else you have posted. This page was glorious. My mother collected rocks, you can imagine our weekends! c

    • Ha ha! Your weekends were just like mine! My dad was very specific about collecting only minerals, and later petrified wood, but I’m sure it was a similar experience to yours. I hope you are able to bring some insects back to your land too! Entomologists are finding more and more that the predatory imsects play a very impportamt role in controlling crop pests, so efforts are being made to develop pest control chemicals and procedures that target only the pests and leave the beneficials. Hopefully agriculture won’t be quite so gung ho aout killing EVERYTHING in the future, but it may take some time to get to that sort of mind set too…

  20. I love your photos. The picture of your parents together in the surf is wonderful. It’s great to hear that your job is your passion and vice versa. Your grandad and parents sound like the most amazing people to have ever raised kids!

  21. Great post – a great big road map of how to get kids interested in nature and science (keeping them in windowless school rooms, not so much so…). Oh, we took the Radio Flyer wheels off and built another base that was wider and lower center of gravity…worked better on The Hill.

    • Awesome! Our neighborhood wagon was used to haul things by the family that owned it, so we weren’t allowed to modify it. Your Radio Flyer sounds fantastic though! If I didn’t live in a completely flat part of my city now, I’d actually consider making one… 33 year olds can roll down hills in wagons, right? :)

  22. I loved reading your post and thank you for sharing all those sweet old photos! What treasures to have those. I agree wholeheartedly with your theory of “how you became” – I could write a similar post revolving around the musical heritage of my family and how much that influenced and inspired me to become a singer & actress. Interesting how your path diverged through “nature” to finally focus on insects, isn’t it? No one in my music-loving family would have imagined Opera for me, but I try to remind my mother she is to “blame”. Every Christmas she took me to see the children’s opera perform a double-feature of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” & “Hansel and Gretel”. I was thoroughly captivated and dreamed of nothing else but to get up on that stage some day. Not to mention all of the amazing ballet and musical theater performances my grandmother treated me to. And, I suppose my Grandfather’s passion for never letting our family miss the “Lawrence Welk Show” each week certainly didn’t hurt.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed today – Happy New Year! – MoSop

    • I loved going to theater performances when I was a kid! I can only imagine what it would be like to go to the theater with family members who were passionate about music. That would have been fun! I only ever went to one opera (The Magic Flute – still my favorite!) as a kid, but I loved it!

      • Magic flute is an excellent choice & definitely one of my faves. I’ve sung the roles of the Queen of the Night, and 1st Lady. :)

        • Fantastic! That Queen of the Night aria… Gives me goosebumps every time I hear it! I’m a low alto in the choirs I’ve been in, and I can’t even begin to hits those high notes! How lovely that you can.

  23. What a lovely post. My own grandfather was incredibly inspiring as well and appeared to me as a child to have an affinity with living things- he too would pick up bees despite being told that another sting would kill him, and he was a gentle and enthusiastic guide to the natural world. He instilled in me a love of nature that I haven’t yet lost. Thanks for reminding me just how wonderful he was.

    • Oh, you’re welcome! I’m glad someone else had a grandfather like mine! I hope you remember him better too. I have only a handfull of memories of mine, though I have a lot of stories from other family members to fill in the gaps.

  24. I love nature (and I love your name “dragonflywoman” — dragonflies are one of my favorite insects). I’ve always loved stones and minerals. Hiking and nature walking, I could never get enough of, and I wish I got out to do that more. My husband and I keep planning but never end up doing it. We will have to change that soon.

    The beach is one of my favorite natural places. I had a friend who was almost a biologist and who loved to collect things in rivers and by the oceans.

    Another friend is an entomologist now and about to start a Ph.D program. I find it so impressive. She goes to Alaska all the time doing work in the rivers. It looks so interesting.

    As for me personally, I’ve always had a professional and personal interest as well in people (psychology, etc.) and developed that mostly because of my parents. My father majored in psychology and wrote a book. My mother majored in sociology but didn’t finish yet still thinks a lot about social issues. I have had a different niche in that area than either of them, but the fundamental interest came from exposure to these topics early on.

    My husband’s mother is a florist (different entirely) and my husband has worked in plant nurseries and is a landscaper; similar but different work. Still, we definitely learn about our interests first from our family a lot of the time. Not always, but quite often.

    Great post!

    • Ooh, is your friend who works in the Alaskan rivers and is about to start her PhD interested in aquatic entomology? If so, we will likely cross paths eventually! That would be fun. Also, I can totally understand the urge to work with people. My first love is biology and my second graphic design, but a close third is sociology. People are fascinating! And much more complex than insects. I hope that you find whatever people centered profession you’re in fulfilling!

  25. its really nice to read the story of a successful and passionate person from that perspective. i’m still studying, a major in Animal Biology and Conservation Science. Entomology is always an option but i’m yet to decide. you’re lucky to have had the chance to explore nature as a child. my parents always took us to watch nature as we were living in Kenya; but it was mostly the touristic wildlife reserves and road trips. (Y)

    • As much as I hate to say it, if you’re interested in conservation biology, entomology really isn’t the way to go. People just don’t care enough about bugs to want to allocate money toward their conservation or research relating to their conservation. If you look at the endangered species lists you’ll notice that, even though insects make up the vast majority of all animal species, only a handfull have ever been deemed worthy of protection. On the other hand, insects need a voice in the conservation biology community! It’s an uphill battle, but a worthy battle if you’re willing to take it on! (Can you tell the lack of attention to threatened and endangered insects is one of my pet peeves?)

  26. I come from a long line of farmers and am very at home outside. I too wonder how the newest generation of children are going to be balancedd and well rounded when they have not be “allowed” to experience outside. There is nothing like going outside all day and getting filthy dirty. Seeing an insect for the first time or a new bird, plant or cloud. And pictures, I am sure I have many thousands by now! Fun pist and congrats on FP! Keep up the good work!

    • I have SO many photos of things I’ve come across outside! It’s a great way to document my little corner of the world I think. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who wrries about kids who never get to go outside and play in the mud. I feel like some ancient old curmudgeon talking about it when I’m still so young myself, but I’ve seen an incredible shift in the attitudes toward and experiences with the natural world since I started teaching and doing outreach only 10 years ago. It’s going to be interesting to see the impact of this on biology over the next few decades. I think some big changes and major shifts in our world view are coming!

  27. What a well-written and inspiring post, and what a wonderful upbringing you had. Just don’t give up on the younger generation; people change! I was raised with books and music, almost no outdoor activity (I wasn’t even allowed to ride a bike), little exposure to nature, and pushed into an academic career that required mostly library research. But somehow I found my passion in mountain climbing, backpacking, rafting, ski mountaineering, horse trekking, dog mushing, and anything to do with wild flowers, animals, geology and natural history (sorry, the only insects I enjoy are butterflies). I’m in my 70s, still going strong. When not engaged in some wild adventure, I make it my mission to encourage others to step outside their comfort zone, risk failure and grow (rather than grow old).

    • Oh, I know people can change and I haven’t given up on younger people. I just think it’s going to be intresting to see how the kids of today change the world. They might do exactly what you did and learn to appreciate the world on their own. They might not too. We’ll just have to wait and see! In the meantime, I’ll do all I can to make my students appreciate the wonder of the world around them and hope that it simks in.

  28. I found this post through Freshly Pressed and was immediately struck by how your story seems to mirror mine! Although I discovered nature relatively late in life (I became a birder in my early thirties, then discovered butterflies and dragonflies), my mom was a casual birder, and her mother was a self-professed “rock-hound” even in her eighties! My dad was particularly fond of reptiles, and we used to have terrariums full of lizards and snakes while I was growing up. Now my mom and I take birding trips to southern Ontario every spring, while my dad and I go hiking and flip over logs and rocks to look for salamanders and things. At first I never thought I’d become interested in insects, as they are so much smaller and more difficult to see than birds, and don’t sing or call to help enable identification, but then a glimpse of a Great-spangled Fritillary got me interested in butterflies, and a Four-spotted Skimmer ignited my interest in dragonflies, a passion which has led to me re-branding my blog under the title “Dragonfly Dreams”!

    Congratulations on being in Freshly Pressed. I look forward to browsing through your blog and discovering the various fauna of Arizona!

    • Ha ha! You started with what I consider the “gateway insects,” the pretty and non-threatening ones that people generally like. But those lead to an interest in other insects and one day you’ll realized you’re completely hooked! :) I think it’s becoming more and more common for birders to take up a secondary interest in insects actually. Birding and looking out for insects are quite similar in many ways, so there’s a similar sort of mindset that the bug people and the bird people share.

      I’m going to have to check out your blog! I’m glad you pointed it out!

  29. I absolutely loved this post! Being a bug lover from before I could actually walk, or talk, I would collect ants and put them in my clear plastic purse when I was around 2 years old. I’ve been looking at insects, studying them, and even raising them ever since then. I think that it’s awesome that you are doing what you love and you come from a family of nature lovers too.

    • Yay for other bug lovers! I actually didn’t develop my love for insects until I was about 11, so I was a bit of a late bloomer as far as entomologists go. But boy do I love them now! And I love the image of you carrying ants around in a plastic purse too. So cute!

  30. I am a novice researcher in ecology and just changed my research topic from a lab-based one to a field-based one. I simply couldn’t get along with the idea of staying shut up indoors when nature was busy painting one masterpiece after another. It took me a lot of convincing to make my thesis supervisor see my point and allow me to switch topics. Had I come across your article earlier I would have passed it on to my supervisor and my job would have been easily done. Nonetheless, I thank you for such an earnest and heartfelt article which I am sure will rekindle the somewhat dying out fire of love for nature.

    • Switching topics is never fun, but following your dreams is definitely worth the effort. I do more lab work than I would really prefer to be doing at the moment, but once I have my own lab and research program set up, I intend to get out into the field a lot more. Best of luck as you venture out into the great unknown! Be prepared for unexpected setbacks due to weather and what not because they WILL happen, but it sounds like you’ll be happy.

  31. You were so fortunate to have a family like that!! I have only been to the Rockies once, but they were awe-inspiring. Being a Floridian, I tend to gravitate more toward things that swim, but insects have always fascinated me. They are so much more suited for survival than us fleshy pink things. I once tagged Monarch butterflies when I was younger and they have since intrigued me. As have ants, they are true architectural geniuses!

    • You’ve only been to the Rockies once and I’ve only been to Florida once – to visit my sister when she was working at the Everglades. Wow, what an amazing place! I can definitely see why you might gravitate towards swimming things in Florida too. There certainly are a lot of them! I went snorkeling off Key Largo (think it was Key Largo…) when I was there and apart from some inital troubles with trying to convince my body that I was not in fact going to drown, it was an amazing experience. All those corals and fish – oh! So beautiful! And the alligators are fascinating. I definitely want to head back your way someday!

  32. You are very lucky to have had such a family. Our kids love all the critters we find too, they raced excitedly out of the house to spy on the sunbathing Blue-Tongued Lizard their dad found when he went out to his car this afternoon. Our youngest has a love of both insects and shiny rocks and I hope one day he follows one of those passions into a job. It sometimes means I have to deal with things like his bedroom table unexpectedly covered in ants busily dismantling the corpse of a dragonfly found in the garden earlier in the week, but, so be it!
    A great post, congrats on being FP!

  33. I like your pictures! I have never been much on bugs and insects, and raised three sons who are not either. However, my 10 year old daughter is greatly fascinated with bugs. She even digs up grubs in the back yard and puts them in jars.

    I am an advocate of getting children out into nature more. You and your readers might appreciate some of the articles and reviews I have on The Education Cafe–

  34. I work with marketing and read your post because it had an interesting title. an I did not even know what an entomologist does and was interested to know why on earth someone would like to be one.

    I must say it was very nice to read motivations to a choice of a profession that would be totally unthinkable for me…..I am afraid of heights, dont like to be in forests and climbing a mountain is not what I would call enjoyment…more like a horror. Studying economics and leading an urban life which in Scandinavian cities is quite green though I always wondered what kind of weirdos like to work with rocks or insects. Reading your words It sounds like you really love what you do and that all your family are inspired of the same things. Good for you, whatever makes one happy is fantastic. It is very valuable to be able to look into someone elses world and see how different we are, I feel I really understood something about a very different thinking from my own” Thank you!!!

    • I’m so happy that you got something out of my post! I hadn’t even thought anyone but my usual subscribers would read it and I’ve been so shocked by how popular it’s proven to be. My whole goal with writing this blog is to introduce people to insects and I am very thrilled that someone who has never been interested in insects at all has actually read one of my posts and learned a little something, if only that people like me exist and we have our own branch of science. Thank you for leaving the comment. It means a lot to me.

  35. Good morning Dragonfly —
    By chance I saw your post & enjoyed it. I am reading ‘Insectopedia’ by Hugh Raffles. The ‘bug’ stories may be well-known to you, but for me they are a new world — wasps in France, crickets in China, the politics of humans and insects. Now that I know you are here, I’ll fly by now and then.

  36. I agree parent can create the wonderful environment to rise child imaginations and interest. I am biologist as well because of my parents. It is funny we have similar childhood but on two different parts of globe. ;-) hey hey from Poland ;-)

    • I have a feeling that a lot of biologists have similar childhoods! I’m sure if you talk to your colleagues, you’ll find that many of them spent a good part of their early lives outdoors and learned to appreciate nature at a very young age. And hello from the USA! Never gotten a comment from Poland before!

  37. entomology fascinates me! i love bugs. i suppose as a child i had no idea it was a career possibility, but i would spend hours and hours outside catching and studying worms and lightning bugs and bees and spiders with a magnifying glass. i thought i was a scientist. anyway, i’m slightly jealous, and enjoyed your blog!

    • You can still play with bugs, even if you’re an adult and aren’t a scientist! You might even discover something new! Some really amazing things have been discovered by non-entomologists actually. My favorite is a paper published in the late 1800’s in which an entomologist describes the story of a man who had contacted him to identify an insect for him. The man, a British landowner in India, was wandering around his property with one of his men when they heard a bird scream and watched it fall out of a tree. When they went to inspect it, they found a giant water bug attached to the bird’s head! The insect was huge and had actually succeeded in paralysing the bird (a woodpecker, so a reasonably large bird even!) and was likely in the process of eating it when the two men walked up. They stepped on the insect to dispatch it, then sent it off to an entomologist in England with their story to figure out what kind of bug was capable of killing and eating a woodpecker. Thus, science first discovered that giant water bugs are calable of capturing and eating birds, all thanks to a non-entomologist!

    • That’s the plan, though I’ll likely pass it on to other people’s kids rather than having any of my own. I love, love, love teaching, so I intend to pass along my love of science and nature via teaching.

  38. Love this post. I grew up in the country of South Georgia and I loved outdoor adventures and getting my hands, nails and feet dirty in the red dirt. I loved playing with earthworms and all things in between. You’re parents were awesome! thanks for sharing


  39. I love the photo of you with your grandad- he looks so kind and cuddly! I never knew my grandads as they died before I was born but I’ve always gravitated towards the grandfather figure. There’s something so magical about them.

    I can’t tell you how lucky you are to have such wonderful memories of your grandfather and I am so happy he has influenced you in such a profound way.

    • I have so few memories of my grandfather, but I love the few that I have! I’m sorry you didn’t have a chance to have even that. And I don’t really remember if my grandfather was cuddly or not, but I know that he was very well loved by a lot of people. My most vivid memory of my grandfather is actually his offering me snuff when I was 4 years old, so I’m pretty sure he had a mischievous side too. :)

  40. That’s pretty awesome, I just did an Entomology course and my lecturer is as passionate about insects as you are, he was a lot of fun. Now I, who was always deathly afraid of insects and never wanted to see them, see them everywhere and finding them rather fascinating. :)

      • I think the fact that we had to collect and pin 50 insects spanning the major orders helped a little. Lol! But I’m sure you will with your enthusiasm and love of insects. :)

        • Yep, that will usually do it! I love having students do collections. It’s fun to watch them transform from squeamish girlie girls (sometimes the guys fit into this category too!) into hard core insect collectors who will chase down a flying butterfly or run out into a mucky pond because there’s something wonderful there to collect. It always makes me feel so good as a teacher to see that happen.

  41. Do you know Maria Aliberti? For a while in your post I was wondering if you WERE Maria, my college roommate. She, too, is a dragonfly woman. She has one sister. You two should meet if you haven’t at any conferences already!

  42. Thank you so much for writing this, as I often look at my own family so see where my interests came from. None of my grandparents or parents are scientists, but they all enjoyed nature and the outdoors when i was growing up. It sounds like you have many interesting and curious people in your family – you are very blessed. I bet family conversations can be quite stimulating!

    • Ha ha! With a few exceptions, the part of my family I describe in this post is actually incredibly introverted, so sometimes when we’re all together we just sort of stare at each other not saying anything. I love them anyway though. :)

  43. Ha! Your mom did rock! My mom screamed when I brought in critters from the outside. I loved hearing your story and am very happy for you. It’s an absolute blessing to love your career! Thank you so much for sharing. :-)

    • Ha ha! Now my mom collects insects for me and sends me insect specimen care packages in the mail. She’s awesome. Glad you liked the post, though I’m sorry your mom was a screamer. It happens.

  44. Awesome post. I would love having a family like yours. I think, parents should let their kids discover nature by their own. It’s the best way, seriously. I grew up in Lima, and it took me lots of years to discover my pasion for insects. I couldn’t have animal in my house untill I was 6 because my parents were afraid of allergies. Then, the only contact with nature was my garden. Pretty lame.
    Then I decided to estudy Biology, just because I was so curious about my country, and when some friends and I went to the Amazon jungle… I don’t know. It was like first sight love. Now I’m on my way to become an entomologist.

  45. I loved your story. I can relate to it since I loved, and still love, being outdoors playing with animals or hiking up a mountain. Also, I was quite a tomboy during my pre-teen years. But, I’m a bit apprehensive when it comes to insects, maybe because over here in the tropics they grow like monsters!

  46. I’m sure the upbringing we have has an impact on who we become. My son walked in the woods everyday from conception. We are really lucky, only 5 minutes walk from our door. I wouldn’t even go to the hospital 10 days after he was due to be born before I’d had my walk with the dog in the woods, my husband kept trying to rush me as we were going to be late (supposed to be there for 10a.m). It turned out I was having contractions every time I’d had to stop for a rest. He was kept in hospital for 5 days after he was born, 1 1/2 hours after we came home he had his first walk in the woods (in a sling). This continued daily until at 5 weeks old we had to face him outwards as he kept twisting his neck round to see what he was missing.
    At 10 months old he took his own first steps in the wood, looking at this leaf and that fir-cone, generally exploring and taking in his surroundings. Everyday whatever the weather we all went to the woods. It was never a chore to walk the dog, he was always ready to go for a walk in the woods.
    One day at 6 or so we were walking with friends, he was running ahead and suddenly stopped wanting to know what was that. The five of us spent the next few minutes looking for we knew not what, only for him to spot a lace wing (all of 1.5cm long) camouflaged against the plant it was on!!!

    His early interest in nature and the environment continued to grow and he is now studying for a degree in forestry and woodland conservation. His love of nature was encouraged as was mine by us, and grandparents, (keen gardeners) and my dad especially with stories of things he’d found and places he’d explored and played in.

    Both my grandmothers were keen needle-women which instigated and nurtured my interest in textiles, much of my work is inspired by nature and the natural world around me.

    • I love this story! I have several friends working on natural resources degrees that have the same sort of stories to tell about their childhoods. Makes me want to do a poll actually, to see how many biologists who do field work spent a lot of their time outdoors with their parents as kids… I’d bet it’s a lot!

  47. This is a fantastic post! Thank you for sharing your story :) I always love hearing why scientists decide to do what they do (especially because one day I’d like to be a scientist myself). It’s even greater that your drive to be an entomologist is from your family! I volunteer at the Academy of Natural Sciences, so I have had definitely have met some great people who love and love to teach about nature.

  48. I’ve successfully raised and bread, crickets,
    mealworms, silkworms, and if you include
    the ones in my closet, spiders. For me this
    has been the year of the dragon – the chinese
    water dragon. Mom fell in love with the little
    guy last christmas and brought him from the
    pet shop a mere nine inches long. He is now
    a foot and a half and growing. His appitite
    for bugs has lead to me learning more about
    his mini-livestock and even trying them my
    self – (Mealworms are tasty.) I visited an in-
    sect zoo in new orleans and learned of even
    more ways to prepare them. I am amazed
    at how quickly insects can grow and the
    tons of offspring they can produce. It
    boggeles my mind why man has never
    thought to use this to his advantage.

    I also keep a green anole I rescued from
    my cat, a ground skink that woulden’t
    stay out of my pool, and a mediterrian
    gecko that just happened to be hanging
    out in a suitcase mom bought at a thrift
    store. I used to keep two large diveing
    beatles but they flew away. I would feed
    them by dropping cat food on the surface
    of their tank. They would swim up, grab
    it, and return to the bottom where they
    would eat it with frount legs.

    I let the tank get slugey after they
    escaped, and would sample the
    water for my mirobial adventures.
    I’ve set my sights on a carrier in
    writing or illistrateing – as my in-
    terest in science is far to brod to
    narrow down, nature is great, but
    not for my attention deficit

    I don’t know – if the insect is large and
    attractive butterfly, people have been known
    to move mountains – the monarch has gotten
    loads of press –

    However the Deer Fly and it’s uniquely beautiful
    eyes, is an unfortunate case. The female sucks blood
    and the bite hurts like hell. Cool looking insect though –
    for the most part – if it’s large – if it’s scary – if it bites –
    the best way to protect it is not remind people it exists.

    • Agreed – butterflies get a lot of press. But I worry that people don’t even know what’s out there or how those things interact with their environment. I’d hate to see us lose an insect species only to watch a bunch of other species collapse because they depended on that insect as food or some other reason. Deer flies might be painful and annoying, but they have their place in the world and I think they should be allowed to occupy that place as long as possible.

      • Ditto. Did you know there is a wild
        flower in hawaii that now survives only
        in captivity? This is because it’s pollenator
        is thought to be extinct, no one even knows
        what it was. :(

        • This doesn’t surprise me, but it’s really sad to hear about these things. It’s frustrating to me that so few people really learn about insects or appreciate them because they play an incredibly important role in our world and letting them slip through the cracks and become extinct could have serious consequences that we can’t even begin to understand. Sad, but considering how science funding and support for science is going these days, I have a feeling this will be the norm for some time…

          • Hence the importance of the
            flagship species. I’ve heard
            the Hell bender – America’s
            largest salimander is also in
            trouble. AKA – The snot otter.
            Someone called it the most
            endangered, endangered
            species, then suggested
            putting a bunny suit on it.

    • I’m glad you liked it! I was actually sitting in one of my first entomology classes in grad school when I suddenly realized that someone had just explained the “magic” of my grandfather’s bee trick. It had been years since I’d even thought about it, but suddenly it came flooding back, watching that amazing trick my grandfather did. Learning how simple it was didn’t make it any less of a great memory though. :)

  49. Great story! I love reading about people who’ve had a passion for things since they were a kid, given how I more or less fell into what I’m doing now. I was convinced I was going to be a programmer until I hit university and discovered that I didn’t want to do that as a career any more; now I’m a biologist who just happens to do a lot of programming. :-)

    And, it sounds like you had an awesome family.

    • Ha ha! My dad’s a programmer too, and he always wanted one of his kids to get into computers. For a while, he was trying to convince me that I should go into graphic design, the closest computer related field I was ever going to even consider, but he gave up when I applied for grad school. I’m glad to hear you are mixing bio and programming! I wish I could do the same, but I am an absolutely abysmal programmer. Seriously, it took me several days to figure out why a 20 line piece of PERL code I wrote wasn’t working when a former boss of mine decided I should learn it… I am glad that other people have the proper skill set to make that happen though! Best wishes for you, your science, and your code!

  50. Isn’t it such a blessing to have the people you love enjoy the same things you do? I wish you and your family a happy new 2012!

  51. It’s harder to develop a love and respect for nature if your family isn’t behind it…no nature deficit syndrome here. Thanks for your post and have a great 2012.

    • I think you’re right! I get frustrated sometimes at outreach events when parents won’t let their kids touch the bugs, especially when it’s really obvious, just because they have their own hangups. It’s sad to watch a kid be denied a safe experience that he or she really wants to have. On the other hand, a lot of parents WILL let their kids handle the bugs, even if they don’t want to. I love those parents!

      Happy new year to you!

  52. Wow. This post brought me to tears. I too had an amazing grandfather who is the reason I became a horticulturalist. He was never too busy for me, and taught me how to plant seeds, pick berries and love nature. I’m also a fan of bugs and have a huge collection. My niece and nephew (6&9) have already started putting pins in bugs and I’m taking them to the California Academy of Sciences in SF soon. I too hope to be an example to them. Thanks so much for sharing your story, and for reminding us about what’s truly important.

    • I’m so happy to hear that you had a fantastic nature loving grandfather too! And hooray for you for getting your niece and nephew into bugs and taking them to the Cal Academy. My late brother in law grew up in San Francisco and went to the Cal Academy as a kid to take classes. He made an insect collection for one of them when he was rather young and I could tell it was an experience that stuck with him because he talked about his insect collection with me often. I hope your niece and nephew will draw inspiration from you (and the Cal Academy) and become nature lovers too!

  53. I love other people’s stories and I loved reading this – so evocative. You have a gift for taking something simple and making it resonate. You’ve even persuaded me to take my four year old insect-hunting. I might have to practice my poker-face first though! :-)

    • Oh, I’m so happy to hear that you’re taking your four year old out to look for bugs! That is actually the very best compliment I could receive and makes me so happy. I wish you the best of luck with that poker face! :)

  54. Wonderful story of yours. Thank you for giving me inspirations, though something small and simple if we do it with passion…it will be great and wonderful and most important it will useful for us and others..
    Happy new year 2012….

  55. What an amazing story about the power and influence your family, even those you only knew for a short time, had on your life! Beautiful! Congratulations on finding what you love it do. Have a wonderful 2012.

  56. Love this post. I kept seeing it on “freshly pressed” and wanted to read it, and finally got around to it today. Your mom sounds great. I can only hope I can be as laid back and forgiving with my children someday, bugs are not my passion in life. I was fortunate enough to grow up in the woods, and I am so thankful for the countless hours of entertainment the outdoors offered me as a child.

  57. This is such an amazing story!

    I used to love catching insects with my sisters when I was little. Grasshoppers were my personal favourite, but we also caught many caterpillars, crickets, worms, etc.

    Your students are very lucky to have teacher so passionate about science! I’m sure that it shows in your teaching :)

  58. Thanks for the great post! I’d dreamed of being a herpetologist as a youth and still remember the scientific names from the book I got from the library in 3rd grade (Natrix sipedon or Thamnolphis sirtalis ring any bells?) This love of science eventually paved the way to a successful career in engineering, so I don’t have any regrets on not being able to follow through as a scientist. To this day we still keep a few reptiles. Both of my children have a love of the natural world, which is going to be so important for their generation. Your telling of the passion your family felt for the outdoors and how it was handed down, like a family heirloom, was really wonderful.

  59. wow, such an awesome post! I love the outdoors too, and that’s pretty much why I became an Osteoarchaeologist. I think it’s very important that we learn about our environment before its too late. My Dad keeps bees, and I’ve always been fascinated with them.

    • An osteoarchaeologist huh? I’ll bet you have to explain what that means to even more people than I do, but I imagine it’s fun job, especially if it gets you outside. Glad you liked the post!

  60. This is a beautifully written post! It’s inspiring for college-aged kids (like me!) to read. Sometimes when we’re in the midst of finals for our environmental studies classes we can lost sight of why we love nature in the first place and what we hope to do with our knowledge of it. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    • I’m so happy that you enjoyed it! I haven’t taken many environmental studies classes myself, but what you say about people losing sight of why you love nature in the first place seems to be common among the env. studies majors I’ve known. Seems kinda strange that happens to such an outdoors-inclined group of students! But, if I could help remind you why you doing what you’re doing or inspire you in any way, then I feel like I’ve really accomplished something with this post. Thank you for sharing!

  61. What a neat post. I’ve been trying to get over here to read it for days. I love the title, coupled with the picture–makes you really want to read the post. The old pics of your parents also are intriguing..I love old photos. Your post really made your family come alive. Thanks for writing it!

  62. This was a great read. The title caught my eye, and your excellent writing drew me right in. It sounds like you were a very lucky child to grow up with such a great family. Thanks for the all important reminder in the new year about the importance of remembering who you are, where you came from, and why you do what you do. Best wishes in 2012.

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