The ageless joy of the bug hunt

Pterostichus

Black clock beetle, Pterostichus madidus

There are, sadly, probably more misguided perceptions about insects than there are accurate ‘takes’. But there are plenty of preconceived ideas about those who take an interest in them, too.

High among them is the sense that insect interest is just for kids; something that should be ‘grown out of’. Such views are supported by the high availability of products bearing insect iconography among children’s’ toys and clothing, with such imagery generally tapering off (but not entirely) with age.

Personally, I have recently come to a realisation that it’s not just my decidedly mediocre mathematics that put me off the idea of pursuing zoological interests in favour of journalistic ones, before returning now, in my thirties, to a world of pitfall traps and invertebrate amazement once again. I have been labouring for way too long under feelings that a keen intense interest in insects, and indeed nature more broadly, for its own sake is somehow juvenile – something to cringe about rather than indulge or even celebrate.

I still sometimes feel pangs of embarrassment when spotted out collecting ladybirds for my Master’s Research Project – but certainly feel more shame about the embarrassment than the insect love itself now, which is at least progress of sorts. It may never truly go away, but the act of marvelling at the bustle in the undergrowth is now, thankfully, winning.

This tussle with perceptions both real and imagined leads me to suspect that there are thousands of adults out there suppressing a love of everything insect in the name of misguided concepts of maturity. Indeed, it’s been notable, since starting this course, how many of my friends with kids have remarked to me how their child is really into one insect or another. Yeah, but which do YOU love?

Peacock_butterfly_(Aglais_io)_2

Peacock butterfly, Aglais io

I’m currently trying to indoctrinate my nieces in the ways of the insect world, in a not entirely dissimilar but somewhat gentler manner to that with which Harper Adams’ entomology course leader Simon Leather attempts to indoctrinate all students with a solid appreciation of the aphid. It’s going pretty well, but the bigger challenge might well be to ensure they don’t shun interest upon reaching a certain age.

Not everyone’s going to be so interested they pursue insects to an academic level of course, but it’s hard not to imagine that ecological prospects might be a fair bit more solid if every child bug enthusiast let themselves be an adult bug enthusiast without casting shade on themselves.

It’s not just suppression of interest for erroneous ideas about growing up that can make one lose sight of the simple pleasure of observing the fascinating and often downright bizarre machinations of the insect realm, though. On embarking upon entomological study, there’s a secondary risk of getting so heavily into the mighty detail of it all, whether that’s at a molecular or genetic level or simply studying the minutiae of an insect behavioural trait, that the simple pleasure of exploring what’s out there, or even marvelling at insects per se is lost. Every entomologist should aim to remind themselves every day what a joy getting the chance to work with such remarkable creatures is.

Whatever happens from here, I’ve got my bug love back – and this time I’m not going to let it lapse. Anyway, I need to wrap this up as I’ve got pitfall traps to set.

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MRP: Optimising rearing conditions for black solider flies – Julian Beniers

Julian Beniers is a man with a mission. Before he even applied for the MSc course, he had formulated his Master’s Research Project (MRP), methods and all. During his BSc at HAS University of Applied Sciences, he started a project on black solider flies (Hermetia illucens) and became interested in their biology and behaviour. He then furthered this interest when doing an internship with the same species before coming to Harper Adams University (twitter: @HarperAdamsUni). By the time he arrived in Shropshire, his MRP was complete in all but execution.

Julian will be investigating the effect of protein and carbohydrate levels in black solider fly larvae foods and its relation to larval mass over the course of larval development, and potentially macronutrient levels within the larvae too (time permitting). He wants to answer the question “When do black soldier fly larvae begin producing large fat reserves, and specifically, at what weight does this normally occur?”. Black solider fly larvae rapidly become larger during their first instars and protein is likely to the most important macronutrient of their diet, whereas later in larval development, carbohydrates and fats may become more important. To answer his research question, Julian will attempt to map protein and fat content of larvae at precise intervals throughout their development by killing, drying and subjecting the dried tissue to Soxhlet and leco fat and protein analysis, respectively. He’ll also be using a variety of different foods with varying levels of protein and carbohydrate to see if these can be used to determine an optimal diet and growth rate. He suspects the larval mass at which a change in macronutrient storage occurs in between 140-160 mg.

This research is potentially quite commercially important because of the widespread use of black soldier fly larvae in the pet trade (food for exotic pets) and in human entomophagy (food for us). Interestingly, Julian gently suggests that this research may actually have been done before internally within pet food companies, however, as the Robin Hood of trade secrets, Julian attempts to get this research published, which could make things easier for other companies and independent rearers.

More generally, Julian is an avid keeper of entomofauna and is curious about the upcoming entomophagy industry in the West (an age-old industry in other parts of the world); he is planning to attend the Royal Entomological Society’s entomophagy day on April 4th.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me (details below) or Julian with advice or questions (twitter: @Julianosaurus; email: julianbeniers@hotmail.com; LinkedIn).

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Featured photo: Black solider fly larvae – photographed by Julian Beniers, of course!

Blog written by Max Tercel (email: max.tercel@hotmail.com; twitter: @MaximumInsect).