Entomyopia and Entoalexia – two potentially life-threatening conditions

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.

Entomyopia

noun

entomological short-sightedness

        • 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

Entoalexia

noun

entomological blindness

        • a condition in which a person or organisation, is totally oblivious to the importance of entomology and insects

Insects - what insects

Symptoms

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

 

Treatment

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.

 

Prognosis

At the current level of investment  into treatment and cures, very gloomy.

 

Post script

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

http://www.beestrawbridge.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/mass-insect-extinction-elephant-in-room.html
Post post script

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

 

References

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.

 

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19 Comments

Filed under Bugbears, EntoNotes, Uncategorized

19 responses to “Entomyopia and Entoalexia – two potentially life-threatening conditions

  1. The two examples you give are very depressing. I do think the number of stories about bees in the media have helped raise awareness somewhat (even if they aren’t always accurate). I have been pleased at the positive welcome the gardeners at my local allotment have given bees. I shall continue to do all that I can to spread my love of insects, the creatures that are so essential to all our lives,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes the bee stories have raised awareness somewhat but unfortunately only in a very limited way, but better than nothing, although entomological funding is now rather unbalanced in their direction.

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  2. “a condition in which insects are viewed either as pollinators or as nuisances”…great line, and unfortunately so true! Wonderful post, thank you! 🙂

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  3. I think our unbalanced views begins in childhood. The “swat it” attitude is absorbed in infancy whereas Ratty and Mole are charming creatures (?). There will be little success in further education until this is remedied, sorry to be so pessimistic. On a more upbeat note I attended an informal lecture “A la decouverte des insectes…” last week, hosted by the Natural History Museum of La Rochelle. It was 200 photographs that a group of enthusiasts belonging to the equivalant of the RSPB had taken of insects of the region. The talk was so popular that the room was full and late comers had to open up some more chairs to squeeze in. Amelia

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  4. julietwilson

    Excellent article, so many people are as you say just blind to insects. Having said that I lead birdwatching walks and many of the people who come along specially in the summer months are interested in the insects we might see along the way.

    Juliet
    http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com

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  5. When I was at school there was no provision at all for career advice in which I could learn what would be the best move from sixth form to college and so on. I had no idea then that entomology existed or was possible as a career. Believe, if I had known, then that is what I would have become. If I could afford a career break today to study again then I would become an entomologist, sadly I’ve not yet won the lottery.

    I find your examples very worrying that people really have no concern about invertebrate life or awareness of how the small things really make the world go round. Without this foundation for all ecology we would be lost. If people could have better understanding in simple terms of what invertebrates do for them in everyday life – people understand about pollination but what about molluscs who do useful water filtration and waste disposal or the creatures that provide the bottom level of the food chain etc etc – then maybe they would appreciate these jobs more.

    Hopefully these people’s views are in the minority. Most people I meet are fascinated by insect life and want to hear more. I hope that blogs like yours are just the beginning in spreading awareness to a wider audience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Same for me at school – if you did A level Biology the teachers all pointed you at medicine, vet and dentist courses – as it was two us did actually go onto to do invertebrate zoology degrees but we were the exceptions – I think the situation is just as bad now – medicine and biosciences being seen as the route to follow or zoology degrees that concentrate on charismatic mega-fauna. We need to educate teachers as well as pupils and reintroduce invertebrate zoology into degree courses.

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      • I did A level Biology and it seemed those were my routes. I did work experience at a veterinary surgery but decided that wasn’t for me, and no one explained any other options. So I pursued English and art which I also passed at A level. A shame I think now.

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  8. “An ageing population of practicing entomologists, many characterised by grey beards and spectacles” . . . as an ageing female entomologist I think it a bit insensitive to bring up my grey beard.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My comment of course does not apply to those rarer but very welcome members of the entomological fraternity and sorority 🙂 Look out for my pre-Christmas blog which will be about the hirsute stereotype 🙂

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  9. I only give talks about bugs now, sometimes just bees but I love flies too..The lack of taxonomists is what worries me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yes, we are desperately in need of professional taxonomists and not likely to get better as the NHM is now recruiting based on ability to get research grants rather than taxonomic ability 😦

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  10. Earlier this year I was observing the colony of long horned bees on the south Devon coast and I bumped in to some people I know who were out for a walk. Despite my enthusing about the rarity of these bees and how beautiful they are my friends were unimpressed and left saying “we’ll leave you to your creepy crawlies”. Another case of entomyopia??

    Liked by 1 person

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