Entomologists are often portrayed by the media as unusual people. After all, how could anyone interested in insects be “normal”? Women entomologists are typically portrayed as tough, intelligent, more capable of dealing with insects than the male characters and “babes”. Male entomologists are often portrayed as geeky and cerebral. An “angry” entomologist is a bit of a twist.
Lewis Black, a comedian often seen ranting about evolution and other topics on The Daily Show, portrays an “Angry” entomologist in a 2009 episode of the TV comedy show that celebrates all things Geek and Science, The Big Bang Theory. On the show, Professor Crawley (Lewis Black) is angry because his funding has been cut and he is losing his laboratory. Professor Crawley is visited by the cast of socially inept geeks who elicit an angry rant with their unintentional needling and impolite questions about sore subjects.
Professor Crawley studies Dung (always good for a laugh) Beetles and has a lab full of exotic arthropods. For entomologists, identifying the “entomological gaffes” is part of the fun of watching the episode. The “Crawley Dung Beetle” (in a brief cameo) is clearly a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach turned on its back. The “beetle” came from Borneo, yet it is alive. In reality, entomologists collect and preserve specimens for study. It is not possible to move live exotic insects and arthropods without permits, dung beetles have a relatively short adult lifespan and a single individual would soon die (at which point the specimen would need to be curated for future study).
The Crawley Lab looks more like an insect zoo display than a modern entomological lab. Modern entomological laboratories have modern research equipment including molecular biology equipment which is simply less photogenic than large arthropods. Molecular biology and genomics have revolutionized entomology and many entomologists have turned their attention to molecular biology and genomics. Even traditional taxonomists incorporate modern techniques such as “DNA fingerprinting”.
Professor Crawley claims to be able to identify all insects by sight. No entomologist would make this claim because many insects cannot be identified by sight without aid of a microscope and it is not possible for one person to know all of the large numbers of described species of insects (between 700,000 and 1 million). He quickly identifies an insect as “a field cricket”. Of course there are dozens of species of field cricket in the United States, some of which are cryptic (they look alike). The cryptic species are best identified by analyzing characteristics of the male song.
In addition to the obvious gaffes, we learn that Professor Crawley has lost his research funding. That can happen. However, funding for entomological research is robust. Efforts to manage invasive insect species, insect vectored diseases, protection of habitats and biodiversity and the need for methods of pest control that pose fewer risks to humans, non-target and the environment mean that funding for research on insects and solving insect-related problems continues to be robust.
Many people don’t know an entomologist personally, which makes entomologists seem more unusual. A common misperception is that job opportunities for entomologists are more limited than opportunities for biologists. Most people with degrees in entomology have all the core courses of a biology curriculum, plus in depth knowledge of insects. Entomologists are qualified for most of the jobs that require a biology degree, plus entomologists are preferred in positions where knowledge of insects and solving problems related to insects is desired. Many of the jobs that are “outdoors and in the field” are entomology and insect related. Why don’t more people study entomology? Many people don’t realize it is a viable and rewarding career and many schools, especially small ones, are not equipped and staffed to train students in entomology.
A clip of the “Angry Entomologist” is available on YouTube: