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Leonard, the insects and me

 

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By Rama – Commons file, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53046764

 

Last winter, I spent a few months working on insect identifications for the BC Conservation Data Centre, mostly collections of insects made at newly-acquired conservation lands in the Okanagan and Kootenay regions of BC.

As I had no laboratory of my own, and no reference collections to work with, I was working out of the ROM, back behind Antonia Guidotti’s office in the entomology workroom. This place, in midwinter, is usually a little lonely, as Antonia has a lot of work to do all around the collection. And so mostly in solitude, I would sit there at my microscope,  stumbling through insect IDs, learning what I could about a vast array of taxa, and listening to an inordinate amount of Leonard Cohen’s music.

Somehow, I feel the mood of Leonard Cohen’s later works lends itself so well to solitary entomology pursuits. The consummate outsider, looking closely and inwardly at the human condition, and yet always so aware of a wider world, Leonard’s music has many parallels to sitting at a scope, baffled by Nature’s  diversity and wondering how it all fits together.

(As an aside, when I was going through scads of unfortunate, dead, trapped insects, the song “Who by Fire” seemed morbidly appropriate)

Occasionally, from the lab bench, I would reach out to the other folks online, sharing my discoveries through Twitter (the entomology workroom has a modest wireless connection!).

How excited I was, having lived in BC most my life to discover the wonderful piglet bug Bruchomorpha beameri, a wonderful fulgoroid planthopper that I had no idea even existed before taking this contract!

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It was heartening, sitting there alone, singing softly along to Leonard Cohen that people out there on Twitter responded so well to my excitement at discovering these treasures, and offering helpful advice. Terry Wheeler  was especially helpful when I was stumbling over some puzzling scathophagids from the Peace District.

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Connecting with people like Terry, who encouraged me through my ID struggles made me feel that despite being on the outer edges of my knowledge and what could reasonably be called paid employment in entomology, people cared about what I was doing and were there if I needed them.

With the help of Terry, Antonia, Laura Timms, Lu Musetti, and the great Leonard Cohen, I struggled my way through my contract, and my first eastern winter. Last week, Leonard Cohen died, leaving a huge hole in Canadian songwriting. We still have his recordings and poems to keep us company, though no matter what we are doing.

On Tuesday, I will head back to the ROM as a volunteer, to help sort out some of the ant collection, to the best of my ability. Perhaps I will listen to some of Leonard Cohen’s music, and tweet out some of what I find to connect me and my entomology work to the wider world.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NW7oNpzBSGc&w=560&h=480]

 

 

 

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BugsR4Girls – Applied entomology with a twist

By B. Staffan Lindgren (@bslindgren)

I have always thought of myself as extremely fortunate and blessed to have made a career in entomology. The main reason is that 99.9% of all entomologists I have met and come to know over the years have been extremely nice people. Like most entomologists, I was interested in animals (which in my case included insects and spiders) at a young age. Many of my friends probably considered me a bit odd, but that’s as far as it went as far as I recall. Unfortunately, that is not always the case as this story reveals.

The other day I (along with a large number of people on Twitter) got to witness this kindness in action in a way that warms my heart. Nicole Spencer, a concerned mother, sent a request to the Entomological Society of Canada (ESC) regarding her young daughter, Sophia, who happens to love insects and wants to become an entomologist when she grows up. Sophia’s interest has somehow led to teasing and outright bullying in school, however. Fortunately Sophia’s mom understands the importance of nurturing her daughter’s interest, as did my mother even though I kept spiders in jars in my bedroom. Nicole’s and Sophia’s heartfelt letter was passed on to Morgan Jackson (@BioInFocus), who promptly posted a tweet on behalf of the ESC (@CanEntomologist) asking entomologists to help out. This tweet, which displayed the letter, included the hashtag #BugsR4Girls, and it quickly went viral.

facebook-shareWithin a very short period, Morgan had amassed a list of 100+ people willing to assist, along with a number of additional offers from non-entomologists. An offer even came from celebrity Dominic Monaghan, British actor and host of the television program Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan. You can get the gist of it all from the Storify that Morgan put together. The huge response led to interest from media, and Sophia and her mom were featured on Buzzfeed Canada, where the whole story is revealed. It hasn’t ended there. Another media story came from LFPress, and Sophia’s story even made the front page of the Toronto Star! In addition, numerous tweets have been posted with or without the hashtag, and above I have reproduced 3 (but there are so many more that you really need to look for yourself). I also posted about this on my Facebook Page, and the story was shared by others there. The comments from this one really says it all!

I mentioned non-entomologists. Here is an open letter to Sophia (called Beatrix in the letter because the author didn’t know her name at the time) from a science communicator.bug-chicks

On the one hand this is a story about a little girl who has big dreams. On the other hand it is a story about the future of women in STEM. Sophia has dreams about becoming a scientist, but both she and her mother are uncertain of what possibilities are out there. Many other young children are in the same boat, I’m sure. But the journey starts at home with parents encouraging children to believe that they can be or do whatever they set their minds to. Last Friday I listened to a CBC Radio show with Maria Issa, a Canadian scientist who started in life just like Sophia by daydreaming and watching lady bugs. In spite of the odds being stacked high against her success, she made it, but many are discouraged, which later affects their self-confidence. My experience is that there is no gender difference in ability – in fact women mature sooner and are more focused than men IMHO. And the increasing number of brilliant female scientists in entomology is a case in point. Luckily for Sophia, she has an encouraging mother. Whether or not she becomes an entomologist is not the point. The point is that she believes in the possibility.

llavanerasFor me, Sophia’s story is a wonderful, multifaceted teachable moment. With all her new friends, Sophia will do just fine. I wish her all the luck in the world.

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