Science Blog

Scientist reveals insects’ secret lives

CorrespondentMay 26, 2013 

Gwen Pearson, known online as “Bug Girl,” is a writer and consultant with a Ph.D. in entomology.

Gwen Pearson, known online as “Bug Girl,” is a writer and consultant with a Ph.D. in entomology. At Bug Girl’s Blog ( http://membracid.wordpress.com), she writes about the world of insects. Follow her on Twitter as @bug_girl. Questions and answers have been edited.

Q: When did you discover a passion for insects?

It was totally an accident. I was really interested in animal behavior, and as an undergraduate I thought I’d work on birds. Then I realized, also as an undergraduate, that birds are most active at 5 in the morning, which is really not when undergraduates want to be up. So I switched to working on behavioral ecology problems on insects. Insects are great organisms. Most of the time they’re active during the day, which is good. I just kind of fell in love with insects. So I switched to working on using behavior in insects to solve pest control problems.

Q: How does behavior in insects differ from other animals?

Insects are more attuned to smells in their environment. As little animals, the role of vision for them is not the same as it is for us as big animals. So touch and taste and smell are the major sensory organs for insects. Looking at how insects respond to those sorts of things, those are the kinds of cues that set off different behaviors.

Q: You’ve received some interesting responses from your readers. Is there one that stands out?

The things that are most meaningful to me are the little stories. I posted a video of a peacock spider, which is a really adorable, shiny little dancing spider. Somebody posted a note that said, “Wow, I hated all spiders until I saw this. I guess some of them might be OK.” That’s the sort of thing that makes it worthwhile, that you can get somebody to let go of just a little bit of that fear. When I’m doing presentations in person, very often people will say, “Are those real?” when they see photos of these beautiful, brightly colored insects. Yes, they’re totally real, and they’re just as beautiful in nature. You just have to look. I love insects, I love nature and I think I can show some of what makes me love it to people who are like, “Outdoors? Not so much,” and slowly lure them out.

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