Should entomologists change their name to insectologists?

In case you are wondering, this is not a totally tongue in cheek post. Over the years it has become very clear to me, that many people, even those with degrees, have no idea what an entomologist is. On being told that I am an entomologist, most people look blankly at me, and pass on rapidly to another topic. Despite the importance of the subject, the term entomology is not very widely known.  Sadly, to those of us who study insects, this is no longer hugely surprising.  More surprising though, is how few of those people then ask me what an entomologist is. I haven’t asked any ornithologists, botanists, zoologists, my paediatrics daughter, or my consultant gynaecologist brother if they suffer similar responses on being asked their occupations, but I suspect that they suffer from far fewer blank looks than I do.

So, what can we do about this lamentable state of affairs?  I, and other entomologists have long lamented the lack of knowledge and interest in these, the most important, and to me, most fascinating members of the animal world, shown by the majority of humans. What is it about entomology that makes it such a niche subject?

All is not lost. When I do get the chance to enlighten those that ask, and tell them that entomologists study insects, I am relieved to find that they do know what they (insects) are, even if they do respond, with “oh bugs, that’s what I thought”, which is at least preferable to “creepy crawlies” which is another common response. So are we too elitist, too proud of our discipline to give it a more accessible name? Ornithologists don’t, as far as I know, call themselves birdologists, and herpetologists don’t need to go around describing themselves as frogologists, snakeologists or whateverologists?  They don’t have to, they live in a world surrounded by the constant stream of vertebrate propaganda coming from the biased charismatic mega-fauna, backbone dominated world we live in. (I’m not bitter, honest).

Going back to my question about elitism in our discipline.  Our societies worldwide are known as entomological societies, some such as the one I have been a proud Fellow since 1977, are even preceded by the word Royal, and the Royal Entomological Society of London is not alone, there is also the Royal Belgian Entomological Society :-). What about the journals that entomological societies produce and those in which entomologists publish?  As you might expect the majority of the titles contain the word entomology but not exclusively.  The two biggest entomological societies, The Royal Entomological Society (RES) and the Entomological Society of America (ESA), produce six and eight journals respectively in addition to their newsletters and handbooks.  Of the six RES journals, two use insect instead of entomology, Insect Conservation & Diversity and Insect Molecular Biology. Similarly the ESA have two insect named journals, Journal of Insect Science, Insect Systematics and Diversity, and also two that eschew mention of both entomology and insects, Journal of Integrated Pest Management, and Arthropod Management Tests. The International Union for the Study of Social Insects, not technically a society, produces the well-known and highly respected journal, Insectes Sociaux.

Outside the world of learned entomological societies there are a handful of entomological journals that use insect instead of entomology, namely, Journal of Insect Conservation, Journal of Insect Physiology, Insects and Insect Science, three of which I have published in (Cameron & Leather, 2012; Oliver et al., 2012, Cooper et al., 2014). There is also of course, The Bulletin of Insectology, in which I have also published (Benelli et al, 2015).

Entomology is obviously not a sacred term, and in the interests of getting more people interested in the wonderful world of insects and letting them know what it is we do, we should perhaps, be less precious about being entomologists, and become insectologists when appropriate.  That said, I don’t think I will ever be able to bring myself to say that I am a bugologist or creepycrawlyologist, but I I could certainly live with being an insectologist now and then.

 

References

Benelli, M., Leather, S.R., Francati, S., Marchetti, E. & Dindo, M.L. (2015) Effect of two temperatures on biological traits and susceptibility to a pyrethroid insecticide in an exotic and native coccinellid species. Bulletin of Insectology, 69, 23-29.

Cameron, K.H. & Leather, S.R. (2012) Heathland management effects on carabid beetle communities: the relationship between bare ground patch size and carabid  biodiversity. Journal of Insect Conservation, 16, 523-535.

Cooper, L.C., Desjonqueres, C. & Leather, S.R. (2014) Cannibalism in the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum. Insect Science, 21, 750-758.

Oliver, T.H., Leather, S.R. & Cook, J.M. (2012) Ant larval demand reduces aphid colony growth rates in an ant-aphid interaction. Insects, 3, 120-130.

18 Comments

Filed under Bugbears

18 responses to “Should entomologists change their name to insectologists?

  1. Kelly Papapavlou

    Being a Greek, I have never found it difficult to use all these terms, it comes natural ..yet after reading your post I realise that I am the minority and only a tiny percentage of the world population uses the word “entomon” in their everyday tasks. Yet, instead of undertaking an effort to change it, it is more efficient to accept that several terms in scientific and engineering language may not be directly related to words we are accustomed to i.e. the use of Latin words in describing human body and the use of english words for machine learning terminology.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jonathan Wallace

    I suspect it is mainly ornithologists who are privileged to have widespread public understanding of what they do (broadly speaking anyway). I would guess that herpetologists encounter blank looks as often as entomologists when revealing their profession and I suspect that mammal specialists have pretty much abandoned therology as a name for their discipline!

    Being flexible about terms is probably a good thing but I would venture that one advantage of ‘entomologist’ is that it does sound serious and important, implying in turn that insects are something important and worthy of serious attention, not just a trivial nuisance. ‘Insectologist’ sounds a bit jokey and unserious to me – like calling a bar tender a ‘mixologist’!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Victoria J. Burton

    The NHM London guidance is “something scientist” so I usually end up being an earthworm scientist in an official capacity, even though I really don’t think I am!

    When at Bug Club events I have occasionally been referred to as an ‘invertebratologist’ since I also know my molluscs, isopods, etc.

    I suspect other -ologists are not that well understood either, I always got blank looks when I was studying paleontology, having to sigh and say it’s what Ross on Friends does. There was also a notorious incident in my local area involving a mob that didn’t know what a paediatrician does…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with everything Jonathan Wallace says above.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. To be fair, I also get blank looks when I say I’m an ecologist. If I try and keep it general and say a biologist, or a scientist, some people then assume I do medical research. I think it’s just an indication of how far removed so many people are from natural sciences!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. WRB

    Possibly no longer the case but weren’t a lot of entomologists employed in the chemical industry to develop, test, etc., insecticides? One old chemical industry hand I met years ago said the company called everyone entomologists, even the staff who designed the weedkillers, and possibly the sales team as well. Goal presumably to bamboozle the farmer into buying every possible toxic variant. Not sure if this is a positive connotation…

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  7. I used to dodge saying “I’m a pharmacologist” unless very hard pressed!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t have a degree but I know what an entomologist is. I am interested in finding out about the biodiversity and insects in my garden and after a web search found the Amateur Society of Entomologists who explained the term very well. I am glad that it is a niche subject too. I don’t think the term entomology should be dumbed-down just to get more people to understand what it means. I bet even if you called yourself an insectologist people would still ask what it means or what you do!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. julietwilson

    Entomologist and Insectologist should be used interchangeably depending on context. One of the elitism issues that bugs me is being told not to use the common name of, say, a hoverfly. But common names where insects have them are surely a great way of engaging the general public with insects. Some hoverflies have such cool names too (batman hoverfly, footballer, marmalade hoverfly…)

    Juliet
    http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes totally agree, common names are useful for engagement as long as we remember that they are not the same globally – take sycamore and robin for example 🙂

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    • Jonathan Wallace

      I think the key there is the “where insects have them”. Where there are well established and widely used names I don’t think anyone has an issue with their use. Butterfly enthusiasts, from the beginner to the professional ecologist routinely refer to Red Admirals and White-letter Hairstreaks, for example, when talking or writing about them and most moth-trappers I know use the vernacular names for ‘macro’ moths as these are well established and in many cases truly ‘vernacular’. Many insects don’t have a well established common name however, and this is the case for most ‘micro’ moths. Nevertheless people have attempted to create and establish the use of English names for them. Leaving aside that these names are often not particularly memorable or poetic themselves (Common tubic?) I would suggest that there is more than one way of looking at the reluctance of experienced people to use them. For you, the insistence by some people on the use of the latin name is elitism but it is also perhaps the case that there is a certain arrogance in expecting people who have spent years knowing an insect as, say Apotomis betuletana, to know what you are talking about when you refer to a ‘Birch Marble’.

      I would hope that, whatever they choose to call themselves, everyone who is knowledgeable about insects would behave in an open, friendly and encouraging way towards beginners in the field – we all surely want more people to appreciate insects and understand how important and fascinating they are. There is no excuse for anyone being rude or hostile to beginners for their failure to use scientific names but, equally, I don’t see anything wrong with gently nudging them towards the use of scientific names for those insects where ‘common’ names are not really common and the vast majority of the people with any awareness of the existence of the species in question use the scientific name.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed, the important thing is to foster a love and appreciation of these wonderful animals and learning their scientific names is also a way of understanding some of their attributes

        Like

      • julietwilson

        Oh I agree, I’m all for using the appropriate name in the appropriate situation. I use the scientific name when recording hoverflies with the Hoverfly Recording group but I’d use common names where they have them if taking people on a guided nature walk as a way of getting them engaged. I also agree with you about taking people on the journey of learning the scientific names if they’re interested,

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Martin

    I think the most annoying thing I find when I say I am an “ecologist” is that it is rapidly associated to activism, not science… but it is usually recognised!

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  11. The term insectology is actually needed, not only because it is not elitist, but because of differences, especially between both sides of the pond, in the way the term entomology is used. North American entomologists typically accept all arachnids and myriapods as under the umbrella of entomology. I am an acarologist, and so I am not a true entomologist in my country of birth, the UK. The introduction of the term insectology, while also keeping or broadening (depending on where you live or what society you belong to) the term entomology for terrestrial arthropoda, would mean that RES could be more inclusive than it currently is (I am under the impression they still only treat insects as part of entomology but I could be wrong) while there would be greater clarity for laypeople and also entomologists on what people actually do when they say what they do.

    By the way, these are nice posts, Simon. Please keep them coming.

    Liked by 1 person

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