This post was stimulated by two recent events. First, a conversation I had at a curry evening organised by the amateur band that my wife plays in. My neighbour was a well-educated modern languages teacher in her early forties. We discussed our various jobs and she evinced surprise that anyone would want to work with insects and even when I explained the myriad benefits of understanding insect biology and ecology to her in terms of food security, vector control, detritivores, integrated pest management, pollination etc., she was still unconcerned about the lack of training provision for entomology and the dwindling number of young entomologists in the population. I also highlighted the growing disconnect between people and nature. Her response was that it was just the way it was and that people had other interests now! I was, despite the fact that I have bemoaned the lack of funding for invertebrate research and training for some time now, totally amazed and down-hearted. The second event was when one of my entomological colleagues reported to me how shocked he had been, when describing the recent opening of our new entomology building at Harper Adams University to his next door neighbour, a retired engineer, that the neighbour expressed great surprise that anyone would want such a facility and why anyone would want to spend that amount of money to enable entomological research.
I have written before about my worries about the decline of interest in natural history and entomology (Leather & Quicke, 2009, 2010) but I feel that it is now well past time to do something urgently about this lack of understanding among the public, the educational establishment, funding councils and the government. Not only is institutional invertebratism (Leather, 2009, 2013) still alive and well but we now have two potentially life-threatening conditions that desperately need curing.
- a condition in which insects are viewed either as pollinators or as nuisances
- a lack of foresight or discernment as to the importance of entomology: a narrow view of entomology
- a condition in which a person or organisation, is totally oblivious to the importance of entomology and insects
The closing of entomology departments and research groups
A reduction in the numbers of entomologists employed by universities and research institutions
An ageing population of practicing entomologists, many characterised by grey beards and spectacles
Lack of understanding by the general public about why the study of entomology is important to their well-being
A lack of teaching of invertebrate biology at secondary schools and at undergraduate level
A lack of government funding
A tendency for members of the general public to scream and/or flinch when insects enter their personal space
A tendency for members of the general public to kill insects when found in their personal space
A failure by the majority of the population to appreciate the beauty and wonder of insects
Investing hundreds of millions into medical research to keep people alive for longer (a good thing) without thinking about how the extra mouths are going to be fed without similar levels of investment in crop protection research (a very bad thing)
Funding in conservation and whole organism biology and ecology heavily biased towards “large charismatic mega-fauna”
Schoolchildren able to name the ten most endangered mammal species in the world but unable to recognize and name the ten most common insect species in their own country
A concerted effort by all entomologists to explain to the general public, the educational establishment, funding bodies, the media and government why we need urgently more entomologists and why the study of entomology is crucially important to our well-being. I would go further than that and suggest that we need to redouble our outreach activities and to actively lobby those who hold the purse strings and those that represent us in government. Yes, national entomological societies such as the Royal Entomological Society in the UK are doing much more to promote entomology than they used to but much more remains to be done. The Amateur Entomologist’s Society has, I have been reminded, also been active in this area for more than eighty years. My message to all entomologists is act now before it is too late.
At the current level of investment into treatment and cures, very gloomy.
As I was preparing this article Brigit Strawbridge published an impassioned plea to all of us to take more notice of the little things that run the world
I would be remiss if I did not point out that mycology, plant pathology and plant nematology are also extremely vulnerable and just as important to our well-being as entomology.
Post post post script
Entomyopia is apparently not a new disease, shortly after posting this I came across this gem from 1882.
“No science is so generally slighted, ignored, and misunderstood as is Entomology. Hysterical humanitarians, novelists, poets, political agitators, classical students, speak in terms of contempt or horror of the “fly-hunters””
Anonymous (1882) The Journal of Science, and Annals of Astronomy, Biology, geology, Industrial Architecture, Manufactures and Technology, 4, 208
Leather, S. R. (2009). Institutional vertebratism threatens UK food security. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 24: 413-414.
Leather, S. R. (2013). Institutional vertebratism hampers insect conservation generally; not just saproxylic beetle conservation. Animal Conservation 16: 379-380.
Leather, S. R. & Quicke, D. L. J. (2009). Where would Darwin have been without taxonomy? Journal of Biological Education 43: 51-52.
Leather, S. R. & Quicke, D. L. J. (2010). Do shifting baselines in natural history knowledge threaten the environment? Environmentalist 30: 1-2.