SEPTEMBER
2010

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

Download the audio files or subscribe to our podcast.

 

Check out these books by Tom Turpin:

Flies in the face of fashion

What's Buggin You Now?

 

 

 

09-09-10

Download the audio of On Six Legs: MP3, WMV.

The Insecta Class Reunion


Every year thousands of high school graduating classes plan formal reunions. Most class reunions, like marriages, tend to emphasize some anniversaries more than others. Multiples of five are popular years for special celebrations. Hence, we hear a lot about 5-, 10-, 15-, 20- and 25-year observances all the way up to 50-year class reunions.
 
Class reunions aren't just high school events. To be sure, colleges and universities also have alumni events that feature class reunions. Alumni association employees normally organize such higher education events with a little advice from a few members of the featured class or classes.

But to most of us, real class reunions are those of the high school ilk. These class reunions are almost entirely the result of efforts put forth by a few members of the class. The hard-working volunteers choose a date, reserve the school gym or cafeteria, procure speakers and a band or DJ, hire a caterer, organize pre and post parties, send out the invitations to classmates and former teachers and administrators, and collect money.

The organizers also worry a bit about whether or not enough people will attend to cover the costs. Of course when the event is over the committee has to clean up. Then it is time to pass the baton and the class contact information on to the individuals who have agreed to organize the next get-together. It is then that the past organizers quietly vow never to take on the task again!

One of the activities of high school class reunions is the handing out of awards. Many of the awards fall into the most-of-something categories such as the most children, the most marriages, or the person who still most resembles his or her yearbook graduation photo. A photo that, by the way, often adorns nametags produced for such events. Sometimes the award represents the least of something: hair for example. Some awards have both most and the least divisions: for example, individuals who have traveled the greatest and shortest distances to attend.

So if members of the class insecta had a reunion of the high school type, what insects would win the awards? The award for distance traveled would surely go to monarch butterfly, an insect known to undertake a journey of 2,000 miles or more just to find a nice place to spend the winter. On the other end of the distance-traveled scale would be a female bagworm, which as an adult moth doesn't even leave the bag in which she pupated.

When the category is number of children the clear winner will be a termite queen. Queens of the African mound-building termites can lay some 30 million eggs per year. A not-so-close second would be a honeybee queen that could lay around 130,000 eggs per year.

Boxelder bugs
boxelder bugs

In the insecta class reunion the insects that most resemble their graduation pictures would be any that have what is called incomplete metamorphosis. These insects hatch into individuals that are structurally very similar to adults of the species, only smaller. True bugs, including bed bugs, boxelder bugs, and squash bugs, are this type of insect. They are the insects that at a class reunion would be the recipient of the flattering comment, "You look just like you did when you graduated!"

The opposite of this in the insect world are the species that exhibit complete metamorphosis such as butterflies and moths that change completely in looks between the immature and adult stages. Beetles and flies also undergo a complete change in form.

In humans the changes in physical appearance between high school graduation and class reunions can be good or bad. On the bad side, hair gets grayer or disappears, and the pounds and wrinkles increase. On the other hand, a few lucky individuals don't change much at all as the years accumulate, and they are proud to have their graduation photo appended to their nametag.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox