My very first experience with the thought of agriculture, specifically bugs, being cool was in first grade. My teacher planned an informative project where groups of four students would raise six butterflies together in one cage (one for each of us plus some extras for unexpected casualties). What I remember most about this was that each student got their own Painted Lady butterfly (mine was named Sunset), the opportunity to decorate their own side of the four-sided cage, and the excitement of when our caterpillars went through the process of transforming into a butterfly. At the end of the project, once our caterpillars made the transformation into beautiful pollinating creatures, my classmates and I gathered on the lawn in front of the elementary school and opened up the cages to release the newly-formed butterflies into the wild. Outfitted in my Scooby-doo overalls, I was ready to let Sunset be released.

susieentomology

Collecting insects at our duck club circa 1999

The deeper scientific interest in insects started when I was in second grade when I was involved in an entomology project with 4-H. My older brother and I used to collect bugs in our backyard, at our duck club, on camping trips, and even in our friends’ backyards. Yes, imagine the look on our friends’ parents’ faces when we would show up with a jar and net just in case we spotted an insect our collection was missing! Sometimes my brother and I would stay up late sitting on the back porch for the sole purpose of observing bugs flutter to the light, even if we already caught that species previously for our individual collections.

Wanting our entomology projects to be completely done by the two of us, my brother and I decided to utilize his basic woodworking skills and build our own insect collection display boxes (with the supervision of our parents when we used the power tools of course). We each entered our own complete collections, including the display and insects, in the local county fair both placing among the top competitors.

Entomology isn’t just about pinning insects into a box to look aesthetically appealing. Its true definition is “the scientific study of insects.” I learned the biological classification system including Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. I also learned insect identification, insect parts, specific insects present in my area, benefits of insects, and how to properly pin and label each insect.

Our entomology projects focused heavily on learning and in the process it was an adventure, a chance for competition, and a bonding experience. Looking back now, it’s funny to think my brother and I fought over who had caught the bigger grasshopper or the prettier butterfly, even though I always needed him to reach the ones in the taller places for me.

My college Entomology project

My college Entomology project

What I learned from my youth playing with bugs has been carried with me throughout my education and holds relevance in all aspects of agriculture. Being involved so early on in this subject matter learning the basics of insects, led to a high level of success in my entomology college course and has proven to be useful in my agricultural career. Insects are important because they directly affect the food we eat, from pollination to fending off unwanted pests from destroying crops. Realizing the need for managing insects led to one of my passions: raising Honeybees.