I love bugs. All bugs. Creepy crawly spiders (yes, I’m calling arachnids bugs for the time being), annoying mosquitoes, destructive termites, stinging wasps, even the terrifyingly fascinating bot flies of Central and South America (they lay eggs under your skin and the larva hatch, their fat wormy bodies bursting forth like the Aliens in Alien.) I’ve never been particularly squeamish and I find the little creatures fascinating. There are so many insect species—more than any other group of animals on earth—and they’re startling diversity is matched by their startlingly clever survival mechanisms. Some of them are intensely social, like bees and ants, while others are brutal loners, like the praying mantis or black widow. They live in all but the most severe climates. They pollinate our flowers, provide us with delicious foods (like that honey in your tea), and feed a dizzying array of other animals.
I’ve been collecting insects for years. I catch them with nets, kill them with an alcohol solution, mount them on blocks, and do my best to identify them (I could really use some help on this last task.) Insects are notoriously tricky to I.D. Many species look very much alike, save for an extra abdominal segment or extra long mandible, and it takes an expert eye to separate one similarly endowed species from another. This is why the Texas A&M Volunteer Entomology Training Program appeals to me so thoroughly. Expert entomologists work with volunteers to teach them the basics of insect collection, preservation and identification. Their goal: to create educated laymen who can, in turn, educate people in their own communities about the amazing and wonderful world of insects.
Texas A&M University is known for its science programs, so it makes perfect sense that they’d be at the forefront of volunteer programs to inspire future educators. In fact, educating is a prerequisite of the program. Volunteers are required to use their knowledge for good. They can do that however they please—from teaching a class in their hometown to leading a bug hunting expedition to setting up an educational website about local critters. Insects are everywhere and yet, how much do you know about them? Do you give that housefly a second thought? Do you wonder where that spider goes in the winter? I think volunteer opportunities that help us appreciate the wildlife all around us open our eyes to the incredible in the every day. The next time I’m in Texas, you’ll find me at Texas A&M!