This semester, in addition to the lecture course on insect biology, some classmates and I are also taking the companion lab course as well. In the lab, the majority of our work is in creating and curating our own insect collections in pairs. My partner and I have been hard at work catching insects and preparing them for display, and though we’ve made a lot of progress, a large component of the curation process is correctly identifying the types of insects we have, which we haven’t gotten around to focusing on. Still, in the weeks that we’ve been working on the project, I’ve learned a lot:
1. Catching insects is at the same time challenging yet satisfying. The first few times, as I stood in the sun straining my eyes, searching high and low for a new catch, it was nearly overwhelming how much ground there was to cover. Insects could be anywhere – in the sky, in the soil, on leaves, in grass, – and many were extremely well camouflaged. It was a hunt, perhaps less dramatic than the kind most “hunters” venture on, but nonetheless a test of my senses and reflexes, and when I managed to deftly snatch a beetle from the ground with a pair of forceps, or finally nabbed a dragonfly (less deftly, I’ll add) from below, there was always a feeling of “aw yeah, I’m definitely the best at this.”
A scientifically accurate representation of typical entomologist field equipment. (Source: Amazon.com)
2. Catching insects can also be a little scary. I’m often fairly allergic to bites and stings, so when I have in my net a venomous wasp the size of my pinky finger or a dozen fire ants, or I run face-first into a spiderweb, there can be moments of quiet panic. Still, in the months we’ve been rampaging through the outdoors, I’ve only suffered only one bite, from a mosquito, thanks to layers of protective gear and ample bug repellent (when you swell up and wheeze at the slightest contact with… well, nature in general, you learn not to take chances). When I tell my mom about the sorts of critters I’ve captured, she always expresses slight terror that I would intentionally chase after something so creepy-crawly. It’s fun to tease her, I’ll admit.
A pair of real-life outdoors-people, looking cooler than me in similar yet better gear than my own. (Source: theeyetravels.com)
3. In that vein, people look at you a little differently when you’re a bug catcher. My friends and family still haven’t quite gotten used to the jar of dead insects I’ve sometimes kept in the freezer, or the ridiculous fishing pants, safari hat, and oversized boots I wear into the field (my mom isn’t the only one who’s been teased, is what I mean). Ah, well, ’tis the life of a biologist.