OCTOBER
2000

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

10-12-00

Many People Are Entomologists at Heart

Entomologists, by definition, study insects. That includes all kinds of people.

Researchers who use insects as model animals are entomologists. So are pest control operators who get rid of unwanted insects. Hobbyists who make insect collections, and gardeners who grow plants to attract butterflies certainly are interested in insects. 

Teachers who include insects in their lesson plans are studying insects. Parents trying to figure out the name of a caterpillar captured by their young son or daughter, willingly or not, are doing some serious insect study. All are entomologists!

Actually, at some time or another, nearly everyone devotes a little time to studying insects. Some very well-known people are said to have been students of insect behavior.

For instance, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle studied insect behavior. His observations were accurate enough to allow him to conclude that the “sting” of flies is in the mouth while that of the bee is associated with the rear.

Some of the wisdom of King Solomon is associated with his knowledge of insects. His observations of ants led him to conclude that they might provide a role model for humans. King Solomon said, “Go to the ant thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise!”

Many of those who today are considered pioneer entomologists studied insects as an avocation—a hobby—rather than as a job. Historically, early entomologists were either preachers or medical doctors. These were two professions that were available at the time to people with a classical education.

In his book American Entomologists, Arnold Mallis includes the more famous of these early entomologists. One was the Rev. Frederick Valentine Melsheimer. Melsheimer was a Lutheran clergyman who made the first important collection of insects in the United States. He also wrote the first important entomological work in the nation: A Catalogue of Insects of Pennsylvania.

Mallis concludes relative to Melsheimer, “As can be imagined, the Reverend's activities in pursuit of bug, beetle, or butterfly were a source of amusement to his parishioners, who considered it a harmless eccentricity on the part of their pastor.”

Melsheimer's son, a medical doctor, continued his father's interest in insects and maintained the Melsheimer collection of insects until it was sold to Harvard University.

Many physicians have become well-known entomologists. One such individual was William LaBaron. LeBaron served as state entomologist of Illinois, but, prior to that time, he was a physician like his father and grandfather. He became “known far and near for his skill in diagnosis of disease and surgical operations.”

Today, entomology is a profession where people make a living by studying insect biology. However, many people still engage in insect study as a hobby. That is why most entomological organizations include a large number of insect hobbyists.

It is still true today, as it has been throughout the annals of history, that people pay attention to insects. After all, insects outnumber us several thousand to one, so it makes sense to know something about them!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox