Sunday, March 1, 2009

How Did You Get Interested in "Bugs?"

People often ask me that question in a tone that suggests they cannot conceive how anyone could possibly find insects worthy of even fleeting concern. Trying to recognize the person has contempt for insects and notnecessarily the people who study them, I summon an answer. I used to rely on my mother’s memories of my childhood experiences, but I have discovered that my affinity for the six- and eight-legged runs deeper than simple appreciation of their diversity and beauty. I honestly empathize with the predicament of living in a world that bullies, belittles, and ignores living beings that are different, small, and misunderstood.

The agreed-upon account of my love affair with insects begins in kindergarten. I vividly remember the portrait of a trapdoor spider outlined on the chalkboard by the teacher. She called it a “torpedo spider,” and considering its habit of speeding to the mouth of its burrow to ambush prey, the name was entirely appropriate. Our class also studied dinosaurs, birds, reptiles, the whole spectrum of the animal kingdom. It was all fascinating, and stimulated my curiosity and sense of wonder like nothing else.

What truly stands out, however, is what specific animals I most closely identified with. Sharks (before they were cool), bats, birds of prey, and snakes were among my favorites. They also shared something in common with insects and spiders: most people feared, hated, or were repulsed by those critters. These organisms were outcasts of human sentimentality, and that is also how I felt.

Throughout grade school, as my parents engaged in constant verbal combat, and my peers were ignoring me, teasing me, or terrorizing me, I felt unable to stand up for myself, assert my right to a conflict-free environment, and gain self-confidence. Instead, I transferred my feelings to insects. I could champion arthropods as examples of durability in the face of continual challenges.

I am not a physically large person, either, so I can also relate to being small and easily overlooked and intimidated. I almost envied the insect, snug in its crack or crevice, the torpedo spider insulated in its tube. Most of the big, powerful, aggressive, mean and nasty animals walk by without even seeing them.

On the positive side, my enthusiasm for the small world did lead me to many adults who have served as mentors and positive role models. I was even invited to join a mostly professional society of entomologists when I was only eleven or twelve years of age. This experience finally gave me, an only child, a sense of belonging, and helped turn the hobby of insect collecting into the career of entomology.

Would I trade it all just to be “normal?” I suspect that my passion for “bugs” is as much a part of me as my arms and legs. Some folks say they never chose their passion or vocation, but say that it chose them instead. I tend to agree. There’s no turning back now.


  1. "Normal" is highly overrated, Eric! I'd take a passionate, intense, and insanely knowledgeable entomologist over a "normal" sports hero player any day!

    Most people aren't passionate about ANYTHING these days. And, if you stay inside "plugged in" all day--it's no wonder. Those who share a passion for nature need to work hard to get more people plugged in to the natural world; get them outside with their eyes open (and by "open" I mean searching--not looking down at their cell phone or I-pod). If we can "sell" the dizzying diversity and jaw-dropping beauty and wonder of the natural world to this society of "normal" people, maybe we can change the very definition of normal.

  2. I agree with Kimberly whole-heartedly. There is much truth to what she says. I am an amateur naturalist and lead many hikes into the woods with school children. Many of these kids have never been beyond their school yard or backyard. They don't recognize common creatures like raccoons, or even give much thought to any of the creatures that call the outdoors home. Ask them what reality show comes on at 6 and 7 and they can not only name the shows but the name of each person starring in them. Ask them the difference between a moth or butterfly and they look at you dumbfounded. It is sad, that we have created as a society a bunch of techno dependent children who have lost touch with their connection to the natural world. I too was a bit different growing up. I spent huge amounts of time outside watching insects, bringing them into the house ( much to my mothers horror)and I have an inordinate amount of fondness for all things normally loathed in the animal kingdom be it bugs, bats, opossums or vultures. Each has a special place in my heart. Through my volunteer work I work hard to change the way children look at the outdoors and all it has to offer. If they see it has fun, a challenge and accessible then maybe one child at a time we can reconnect them with nature. I think we're all a bit on the Odd side of Normal, and what a great place it is to be. I'll take being the outcast with a purpose any day,over being "normal" with no place to go.

  3. hmm.. you know; i'm still at that bracket where when i was a kid i spent a copious amount of time getting into everything outside. my love for insects and amphibians started when i was around five as i was collecting insects to put into my shoe box. my brother won; he stag beetle and picked it up and it latched it's jaws onto my brother's finger and boy did my brother scream. i tend to think i've always had a fascination with nature in general. But i didn't start getting into insects until i moved here. unfortunately my apartment must be an insect highway because i find them all over the house. i'm pretty much okay with most insects; but i do sort of freak out when i see centipedes ( i think i don't like them because they crawl on the ceiling and tend to drop on me ). I have a mixed opinion about technology; in one hand it's bad because allot of children and adults are ignorant of the common things they could know and observe just by going outside and in another- well, the internet did lead me to an expert like you in which i would never have found in person and the internet does hold a tun more information then just observing mammals, amphibians, arthropods and aquatic animals. Just saying; "everything has it's good and bad."


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