How Learning About Bugs Created a Scientist

1 August 2014 by Susan E. Swanberg, posted in Blog Posts

Chrysina gloriosa beetle from Madera Canyon, Arizona. Credit: Susan E. Swanberg

Chrysina gloriosa beetle from Madera Canyon, Arizona. Credit: Susan E. Swanberg

I started writing my last blog post (the one about some of my favorite Arizona arachnids) a few days ago, but felt uncomfortable publishing what I’d written. After I pushed the publish button, and the post was on its way, I pondered why I’d hesitated. I was reluctant to post because I thought the topic — bugs I’ve known and been fascinated by — might be considered trivial or silly.

I thought wrong.

My first science book was a Golden Nature Guide about bugs — a gift from my grandmother. I remember the cover of the book — lemon yellow, with an assortment of crawling and flying creatures pictured on the front. I remember a red-orange butterfly, at least one beetle and a green katydid.

Bugs (and I use the term "bug" loosely) became my science gateway drug. The more I learned about them, the more I wanted to know.

First I learned the superficial facts about bugs — their common names, where they lived, what they ate and what their body parts were called. Then I learned their scientific names, what the term “species” meant and how the colors and patterns of some species mimicked the colors and patterns of other species. I learned about embryonic development and evolution and extinction.

At some point I learned that the word “bug” was a term of art among entomologists — a term that referred to a particular category of insect. I learned about pesticides and I read Rachel Carson. In high school (with the help of my fabulous chemistry instructor) I studied the chemistry of DDT and where in the body it was likely to accumulate.

All of this led to my studying biochemistry and physics and, much later, genetics.

Today on the Internet I located a copy of that Golden Nature Guide and I ordered it. The cover is just as I remembered — yellow with an assortment of bugs appearing to crawl in harmony together. “Insects,” says the title in bold letters, “225 species in full color.”

I suspect that my experience is not unique. There are probably many of you out there whose first experience of science involved watching bugs.

Share your stories!

And if you want your daughter to become a scientist, buy her a bug book.


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