JULY
2006

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

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Check out these books by Tom Turpin:

Flies in the face of fashion

What's Buggin You Now?

 

 

 

7-13-06

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Hunting Comes Naturally to the Human Animal


According to anthropologists, early humans acquired food in one of two ways -- hunting or gathering. We gathered plant material, such as fruits, nuts and leaves, and hunted animals. As a species, we humans eat both plant and animal material and are scientifically said to be "omnivorous."

To be sure, a few humans are phytophagous . This doesn't mean that these people are afflicted with a horrible disease, it means that they feed entirely on plant material. Socially, such humans are called "vegetarians." Animals that consume meat as their food are classified as carnivores. I don't know of any humans that are pure carnivores, but the diet of some people comes close. We call these aspiring carnivores "meat-and-potatoes" folks. Most of us, though, prefer a diet consisting of both plant and animal material.

For thousands of years of our history, it was necessary for people to hunt and gather food. Then, we began planting seeds and domesticating animals, a process known as "agriculture" or "farming," and, as a result, started a new approach to meeting our nutritional needs.

Early subsistence farming resulted in enough food to support individual family units and not much more. Subsistence farming still exists in some parts of the world today. But, in modern times, most people depend on professional farmers to produce the food that they need.

Hunting is no longer essential to food acquisition by humans, but we still participate in the activity. I guess you could say we were born to hunt. The thrill of the chase and the capture burns deep in the human psyche!

Hunting and fishing are major sporting pursuits. Millions of dollars are spent annually in support of this hobby. From fishing lures to bass boats, from tree stands to shotguns and from skunk scents to camouflage clothing, hunting is big business. Exhibition of the prize catch is important to the modern hunter. For many, it's a photo. For others, it's a taxidermic mount -- a deer head or fish to be displayed above the fireplace mantel.

Food finders or sportsmen are not the only people who hunt. Naturalists have long hunted plants and animals for collections. Such collections play a valuable scientific role in taxonomy and classification of living things.

Insects have been important creatures in natural history collections. In fact, the stereotypical depiction of an entomologist is as a "bug collector." You know the costume: pith helmet and short pants with a capture net and killing jar in tow.

The diversity, beauty and abundance of insects make these animals ideal to collect. However, most entomologists, like me, are not fervent insect collectors. For instance, the other day, when an interesting insect showed up gathering pollen from the wisteria flowers in my garden, I did not have the equipment to collect it for closer observation. So, I ran to the house and retrieved a discarded yogurt carton and a piece of tin foil. My first effort to get the large bee-like insect into the yogurt carton failed, and the insect flew away. Darn!

But, lured by the sweet nectar of the wisteria, the insect returned and, given a second chance, I was successful in capturing it. As it turned out, the insect was not just another carpenter or bumble bee, it was a giant resin bee ( Megachile sculpturalis ). The giant resin bee was accidentally introduced to this country and was first found in North Carolina in 1994.

The giant resin bee has been found in states along the Eastern Seaboard and in Pennsylvania, but not in Indiana. So, this specimen appears to be the first time the species was collected in Indiana. I am tempted to display it in an appropriate mount over the mantle of my fireplace, and, in the future, brag of the chase and capture on that sunny day in May of 06.

But the specimen belongs in the Purdue insect collection. This way, some time in the future, someone studying the spread of the giant resin bee across North America will be able to find it and conclude, among other things, that it took 12 years for the species to spread from North Carolina to Indiana. Big game hunting is wonderful!

 

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox