Why study insects?

I am the teaching assistant for ENT 201 (Insects and People) this fall, and the students were asked to respond to the question “Why should we study insects”? Below is one of the more interesting responses from one of the students (emphasis mine), presented without comment (or judgement):

“Why study insects? In part, because there are a ton of them and they move a lot, and often quickly. Insects, it is important to note, are everywhere… and the majority of us wish they weren’t. After all, they’re small, sometimes creepy (in contrast, we’re gigantic, so you think we’d be power tripping instead of running away), and sometimes bitey. Wasps, brown recluses, bed bugs–we hate those guys (I believe there’s even a species of African bed bugs in which all the female bugs do, in fact, also hate the guys). However, a great reason to study even the most jerkish of insects is that we find ways to combat them. Be it dealing with pest control or understanding the science behind the reason your mosquito bites are swollen, itchy, and infecting you with the West Nile virus, studying insects can provide lots of health benefits to people. Insects, the ones we don’t hate or scream at, are useful for all sorts of non-painful things. Even though almost every woman I know hates bugs, insects are commonly used in creating things like dyes and cosmetics. Even more importantly, in areas of the world where food is scarcer, insects are edible. Well, some of them, anyway–and it’s important to know which ones! Some caterpillars are very much not edible, yet, they’re pretty to look at, so it’s a trade off.”

3 Responses to “Why study insects?”

  1. Margaret Donald says:

    For me, it is a pretty depressing response, being totally human centric. (We need to know about them to destroy those which have nuisance value to us, or to use them.) It fails to account for the fact that we know so little about them, that we barely know how life (including ours) may depend on them, in the complex web of life on this planet.
    In Austalia, ants, in particular, are bound up in complex ways with plant life, which sustains us all.

  2. Sydney says:

    I agree with Margaret Donald’s comment. I am not at all happy with the student’s response. We study “jerkish” insects to learn better ways to “combat them”? Ugh. That comment shows just how “Humans vs. The Rest of the Environment/Animals/Insects/etc.” some people feel. We should be actively trying to move past these sentiments and to live more co-habitationally with these wondrous creatures. Let’s study them for their own sake. Let’s study them to understand more thoroughly what impacts they make on the environment around them. Let’s study them to see if they are capable of learning. Let’s study them to see in what ways humans are impacting *them* and their health.

    And then throwing in a comment about how “almost every woman [s/he] knows hates bugs”– infuriating. First, let’s not generalize about women and their relationship with insects (gender stereotyping is not usually a good thing). Secondly, if you are in an Entomology 201 course, I would think the student would know better that to use the term “bug” in place of “insect.” Sorry for being nit-picky about language use, it just “bugs” me when words are used without rigor (pun intended- hah!).

    I am not quite sure why you picked this student’s response over others. All I know is that I have many complaints with this one, as it’s written.

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