What’s That Bug? | Community Idea Stations


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What’s That Bug?

Entomologist Dr. Art Evans and 88.9 WCVE producer Steve Clark lament that although honey bees and bed bugs are regularly featured in the press and social media, most Americans surveyed can’t pick them out of a lineup or identify other commonly-encountered insects and arthropods.

Photo Top: European honey bee, Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera: Apidae).

Photo Below: Bed bug, Cimex lectularius (Hemiptera: Cimicidae).

SC: I’m Steve Clark with Dr. Art Evans, entomologist, and this is “What’s Bugging You?”.  Common question, hear it all the time, “What’s that bug?”

AE: Well, you know, at the beginning of each semester I give my students a quiz . . .

SC: Oh yeah.

AE: . . . to show them 25 common insects and other arthropods, and I just want to see where they are.  And the results are in – out of thirty students in two classes, only three could identify a silverfish, five identified a termite, one identified head louse, only one student was able to identify a bed bug. Only seven students were able to identify a honey bee.

SC: But this is at the beginning of the course.

AE: Well, it’s the beginning of the course, and you bet, my students will be much better versed in insects and their relatives by the end, but this points to a general problem in the public. There have been two interesting papers published very recently on the general public’s inability to identify common insects, and this has real ramifications. For example, virtually everyone knows that honey bees are in trouble.

SC: Right.

AE: They’re essential pollinators. They’re suffering from colony collapse disorder, and yet the majority of people surveyed couldn’t pick out photos of just bees in general, amongst other photos of insects.

SC: So they couldn’t pick out a honey bee from a number of other bees?

AE: Most of them could not, and they didn’t even recognize all the bees as bees. Only 14% of people could guess the total number of species of bees in North America within a thousand. There’s about four thousand species. Most people guessed there are about 50 species of bees. If you’re focusing on bee conservation, the emphasis on honey bees is sort of misdirected. We have native bees here that provide a tremendous pollination service for us, and they’re underappreciated. And this is exacerbated by the fact the post office just published a stamp series on protecting pollinators, and they only featured two pollinators, monarch butterflies and European honey bees. You know, they completely ignored bumble bees and all the other native species of bees that are out there that are providing us with pollination services day-in and day-out. One of the scientists who saw this was likening our focus on just these two species to bringing the attention of chickens to get people interested in conserving birds, protecting birds. You know, it just doesn’t make any sense.

SC: (laughing) Right.

AE: And people are very excited about bed bugs. And another survey was done earlier this summer when 60% of people that were surveyed said, boy, if they found a bed bug, they would not only switch rooms, they would switch hotels. They would just pack up, leave the building, go somewhere else. And you know, that same group, only 35% could even identify a bed bug. And it has real implications. Hotels can get a really bad review if somebody thinks they found a bed bug, when in fact most people can’t identify one when presented with one. If we want to protect something, the very first step is to be able to recognize it. And we’ve got to be able to recognize that in the terms of conserving pollinators, we can’t just focus our efforts and attention on the European honey bee. We also need to consider the vast majority of bees out there that are native to North America.

SC: Dr. Art Evans is the author of Beetles of Eastern North America. You’ll find photos, audio, and a link to Art’s Facebook page at ideastations.org/radio/bugs.