Bug Geek
Written by Ava   

The Geek in Question is really just a bug aficionado and an insect blogger.  Her blog, Fall to Climb, is all about her adventures and misadventures with her fuzzy little friends. (I say hers because I"m not so sure everyone reading this would feel the same!) The Geek, or TGIQ for short, decided to pursue an academic career in entomology (study of bugs) after realizing that working in the public sector for various federal agencies is not for her.  She is now a doctoral student. 

TGIQ loves the insect species, but don't get her near a spider.  They're not her type (she'll explain why later.) 

Other bugs are, though.  Let's hear why from The Geek herself.  Read how she waxes poetic on anthropod populations, below.

Why do you call yourself The Geek in Question? And do you think people who love bugs should be considered geeky??
TGIQ is a tongue-in-cheek pseudonym I adopted when I created the newest version of my blog, Fall to Climb.  I consider myself a geek; I don't feel there are truly any negative associations with the term.  I think geeks come in all flavours...I just happen to be a bug geek; there are music geeks and tech geeks and fashion geeks.  Being a geek just means you're passionate about something.   TGIQ is a silly name, and I think it's a good reflection of me; I like to laugh and don't take myself very seriously.

What kinds of things do you study about insects when you study entomology in order to pursue an academic career?
This can really vary, depending on what field of entomology you're interested in persuing.  I'm interested in ecology, so I learned about insect behaviour, physiology, chemistry, and the interactions they have with their environments (things like host plants, what animals they parasitize, etc.).  It's very much a holistic approach.  It's also important to learn about basic principles of ecology and evolution, and have a good grasp of statistics (or at least know who to ask for help with the math!)   For an academic career, you also need to gain experience conducting research: how to plan, execute and evaluate experiments.  You need to be organized and develop critical thinking skills.  You need to learn how to read and write and speak effectively; there's no point in doing great research if you can't communicate about it.   Teaching skills are equally important, and should never be overlooked. Grad students can get teaching assistantships and attend seminars to gain experience in this area.

What have you learned with your research particularly dealing with anthropod populations in northern Canada?
Well, my work in the north is just beginning - I leave this Sunday!  There are some things I expect to see, though, based on what has been previously published.  Insect diversity is greater in the north than most of us might expect...insects are incredibly versatile in terms of their ability to adapt to different types of ecosystems and climatic conditions.  I hope to encounter many new types of insects during my stay in Nunavut.

What would you say is your favorite kind of bug?

Very generally, beetles.  I fell in love with them as an undergraduate when I first started looking at them under a microscope.  The colours!  The shapes!  The incredible, gorgeous, mind-blowing diversity!  They are the most abundant group of insects on the planet and play key roles in all ecosystems as predators, herbivores, pollinators, recyclers...you name it, beetles are doing it!  I particularly appreciate longhorned beetles, ground beetles and jewel beetles.   And weevils.  And rove beetles. And fireflies (which are, indeed, beetles). Heck, I like most of them!

Can people keep bugs as pets?
Sure!  I had some stick insects for a short period of time (until an extremely unfortunate situation involving my roommate's cat ended that little venture :(  ).  Stick insects and Madagascar hissing cockroaches are probably some of the more popular, friendly, and easy-to-care-for critters, but any insect can be kept if you understand its needs (food, hiding spaces, humidity, etc.).  There are many very active pet-insect discussion boards and web sites with lots of information on how to care for a buggy pet.  They are quiet, clean, and fascinating to watch!

Why do you not like spiders? Don't they fall into that bug category?

First of all, I should clear up something about "bugs".   "Bug" is actually a misnomer for the majority of insects; although many of us (myself included) commonly use the word to describe anything creepy-crawly, the term "bug" technically refers to a very specific type of insect (I've got a post with an example of a true bug here:  http://falltoclimb.wordpress.com/2010/04/20/bug/).  It's a touch confusing, but here's the jist of it:  all bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs.   Insects are animals with 6 legs and three body segments (head, abdomen, and thorax).  Spiders on the other hand have EIGHT legs and only TWO body segments (cephalothorax and abdomen).  So, spiders are neither bugs nor insects.  They are arachnids, as are mites, daddy-long-legs, and scorpions.

Now, back to the question of why don't I care for spiders.   The honest answer is, I don't know.  It's a very visceral reaction, and really has no rational explanation, since 99% of spiders are quite harmless, especially in Canada.  They are interesting animals, so I am really pushing myself to learn more about them and spend more time with them...it's hard to fear/dislike something that you know personally.   Last week at a training session I made myself hold a few spiders, and I lived to tell the tale!  I've grown rather fond of jumping spiders and crab spiders...they are pretty and have very interesting personalities.  Wolf spiders, on the other hand, still give me the heebie-jeebies, so I've got some work to do there, still.

Tell me about your blog
Fall to Climb started about a year and a half ago, when I was just starting to dip my toes back into the academic pool.  I was working for the federal government at the time, and was looking for a university at which I could pursue a PhD.  Over time, the blog became less of a place where I ranted about my job, and more of a natural history journal with an emphasis on insects/entomology.  My "geekery" outlet, if you will.   It also gave me a really excellent excuse to get outside more, and bring my camera along.  I've discovered how much I really enjoy tinkering with my little point-and-shoot, striving to get the "perfect shot" of my tiny subjects to share in my posts.  The blog is light-hearted, sometimes cheeky, with (I hope) interesting information about the natural world, and about the life of a grad student, but it's not an academic or research blog.  I write for the lay audience, in hopes that everyone can find something that they enjoy or can relate to.

What would your dream job working with bugs be?
The dream right now is to have a research/teaching career at a university.  I'd want lots of funding, a big lab with lots of students, a few interesting courses to teach every year, and many excuses to run around outside catching bugs and harassing the wildlife.    :-)

What would the average person be surprised to know about bugs?

  1. Insects have been on the planet for at least 400 million years...longer than dinosaurs!
  2. About 1.1 million species of insects have been described...that's more than ALL other animals on the planet combined!
  3. Many insects "taste" with their feet and "smell" with their antennae!
  4. Some insects, like bees, can see ultraviolet light.  Many flowers have UV "bulls-eye" patterns on their petals to lure pollinators; insects can see them, but we can't!
  5. Some wasps are capable of reproducing without mating...they can produce more female workers with no involvement of a male wasp.