I recently joined FaceBook (oh, get over it). I am still moderately creeped out and mostly unsure about proper FB etiquette (what the h is a “wall”? Isn’t poking rude??) but I am having fun catching up with people I haven’t spoken to in years.
Of course, the standard haven’t-seen-you-in-a-while question is, “so what are you up to these days?” To which I have been replying: Back to school. PhD. Bugs.
Huh. 99% of the time I get the ol’ “eewwwwww, gross…why bugs?” response. Hm. Good question.
As a grubby-kneed kid whose backyard opened onto a field and a small woodlot (in my childish mind it was a deep, dense forest), I was never wanting for adventure or exploration. I liked to capture grasshoppers and caterpillars with my hands and tote them around in empty margarine tubs (with grass and twigs, of course). I used to impress the little boys on my street with my bug-stalking-and-pouncing-upon skills…I could grab almost anything…and they thought I was terribly brave for not dropping them when they “spit” smelly orange goop on me. I remember finding a praying mantis ootheca and rearing it in my bedroom, then releasing the pinhead-sized babies once I realized they could escape from the air holes in their jar. This early and innate fascination with wildlife was my first foray into the world of all things six-legged.
Fast-forward to my undergrad years. I took an Intro to Entomology course in third year. A major component of the course was to collect, mount, identify and label a collection of at least 100 species of insects. My eyes went a little crossed when I heard about this…ONE HUNDRED??? In one term??? For reals??? Do that many species even exist around here???
Obviously I was a tad daunted by this task; so much so that I began my hunt during the summer months before the course started. I went to the library, read up on what I needed for a basic field kit, and headed out to the arboretum near the campus.
I quickly discovered that I had a knack for detecting the smallest hint of movement or glint of iridescent wings hidden amongst flowers and tree bark, or scurrying for cover under a dark stone. My “entomo-goggles” seemed permanently donned, and I began seeing insects wherever I went. I soon found myself (much to the bemusement of my English/Film/Engineering major roommates) trekking out with field kit, Tilly Hat and sweep net in hand at all hours of the day and night, and rarely left home without at least a few small collection jars stuffed in the pockets of my cargo pants.
The thrill of the chase, the joy of observation, and the delight I felt when I finally nabbed a shining reddish-black male stag beetle with lovely long curved mandibles were rewards in and of themselves. But I also experienced continual incentive from the astonishing diversity of form, function, colour and habit, which, until then, had been hidden from my untrained eye. I was “discovering” new animals every day! These bugs had truly captured my attention. (Oh, and I ended up with closer to 500 species in my Intro Ento collection. And got an A. 🙂 )
There’s a strong aesthetic appeal as well…sometimes what seems frightening or foreign at first glance becomes marvelous and ethereal when examined more closely…the glistening mint-green scales on the elytra of a weevil; the rainbow-hued marvel of a biting fly’s compound eyes; the astonishing simultaneous complexity and delicacy of a lace-bug’s wings…
So, why bugs? I think the answer should be clear. And if it’s not…well…I think you might not be looking closely enough.
(Photo from Wikipedia)