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Dec. 28, 2011

Insects and Human Society

by The Bug Chicks

Click to enlarge images

One of our biggest projects in 2011 was a video contract for Texas A&M University’s Insects and Human Society course. Kristie used to teach this class for the Department of Entomology, and we were thrilled to be invited to create new content for the course.

Gathering some b-roll footage of insects on flowers.

The first 10 videos cover the first ten orders of insects from the most basic hexapods like springtails and silverfish, to aquatics like mayflies and dragonflies through to the roaches, mantids, grasshoppers, walking-sticks, termites, and earwigs. We covered the taxonomy, biodiversity, biology, mating, life history, and human impact of each order.

We had an incredible time filming them, mostly because at the end of each video we were able to cover one of our favorite topics -- how insects have affected human history and culture for thousands of years. Sometimes you’ll hear people call this intersection of insect science and societal study by the name Cultural Entomology.

We interviewed a master fly-fisherman for the mayfly episode, as these insects inspired the sport. The signature casting of the reel is said to mimic shadows of these insects as they swarm over the water. We animated the story of how the country of Japan used to be called the Dragonfly Isles, because the islands look like two dragonflies mating. The myth that earwigs crawl into people’s ears and eat their brains inspired us to recreate the famous scene from Star Trek’s Wrath of Khan, where Khan drops brain-eating animals into Chekov’s ears as torture! Kristie as Khan and Jess and Chekov in The Bug Chicks version of Wrath of Khan!

Kristie as Khan and Jess and Chekov in The Bug Chicks version of Wrath of Khan!

And (perhaps coolest of all) we learned a Northern Praying Mantis Shaolin Kung-Fu fight. Amazing fun!

At Portland Shaolin with Joe Wieland the Sifu, learning Mantis Kung-Fu!

 

Cultural Entomology encompasses both the positive and negative impacts insects have had on human society, mores, and beliefs. Insects were one of the first foods for hunter-gatherers and were used in primitive bombs in ancient wars. They have vectored diseases like malaria, typhus, and yellow fever that have killed millions of people over the last several hundred years. And they are symbols of change, rebirth, strength, resilience, and magic for many cultures across the globe.

We will be putting our latest videos up on our website soon for you to see and we’ll be writing a great deal more in the coming months about the effects of insects on humans throughout history. In the meantime, we’ve put together a little list of some great books on Cultural Entomology to get you started:

The Earwigs Tail: A Modern Bestiary of Many-Legged Legends by May Berenbaum
Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War by Jeffrey A. Lockwood
Insect Mythology by Gene Kritsky and Ron Cherry

And for those of you wanting to know more about insects and their incredible lives, biologies, and survival strategies, we can’t recommend this one enough --

For Love of Insects by Thomas Eisner

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

About The Bug Chicks

Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker are The Bug Chicks. They each have Masters Degrees in Entomology and love to teach people about insects and spiders.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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