Thursday, February 21, 2013

What bugs entomologists? Illinois grad students sound off

What bugs entomologists? Illinois grad students sound off

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Saturday on the University of Illinois campus the Entomology Graduate Student Association will host the 30th Annual Insect Fear Film Festival. Since this year’s festival calls attention to the way entomologists suffer at the hands of television screenwriters, I thought it might be interesting to hear what organizers had to say about the way entomologists are portrayed in a couple of popular current shows.

Andrea Walker took a swing at the long-running crime drama “Bones.”

Oh, Bones, we do love that you feature Dr. Jack Hodgins, a handsome man with a personality as an entomologist—what a contrast to the nerdy antisocial entomologists living in a museum basement in “Silence of the Lambs.”

But sometimes your entomological errors are atrocious.

Exhibit A, “The Twist in the Plot,” which aired just a few weeks ago. In this episode, the crew investigates a burial site containing two corpses, one of which is covered in beetles. It’s hard to say for sure which of the beetles are CGI and which of them are real, but one thing is certain—they’re from the ground beetle family, Carabidae.

Why does Dr. Hodgins identify them as rove beetles?

Ground beetles and rove beetles look nothing alike to us! This guy is supposed to have a Ph.D. in entomology; you’d think he would know the difference.

Michelle Duennes weighed in on “The Big Bang Theory.”

TV-land has finally decided the life of a scientist can be exciting and zany enough for a network sitcom—hooray!

While the physicists on the show have faaar more free time than most working scientists, many of us have embraced it. One entomologist has even named an orchid bee Euglossa bazinga in honor of Dr. Sheldon Cooper’s catchphrase.

Really, though, the episode called “The Jiminy Conjecture” makes us wonder.
That’s the one where Sheldon and Howard fight over whether the cricket found in Sheldon’s apartment is a snowy tree cricket or a field cricket.

How do they settle the question?

By consulting one Professor Crawley, played by the continuously furious comedian Lewis Black. In true Black fashion, Crawley is irritable and enraged, here because his research program on dung beetles has just been slashed and he is being forced to move in with his daughter.

Near the end of the scene in which Sheldon and Howard meet him, Dr. Crawley shows them a creature he has supposedly discovered, “Crawley’s Dung Beetle.” But it’s really just a Madagascar hissing cockroach squirming on its back in a plastic cage.

If Dr. Crawley can’t tell the difference between a cockroach and a beetle, maybe there’s good reason his program is being cut.

Of course, the mother of all campy portrayals of entomologists on television is an episode of the X-Files that first aired in 1996, one that will be screened at this year’s Festival. It’s “War of the Coprophages” featuring a character called “Bambi Berenbaum,” inspired by UI Department of Entomology Chair, May Berenbaum.

As an added bonus, X-Files creator/writer/producer/director Chris Carter will be the special guest at the Insect Fear Film Festival, which will take place on Saturday in Foellinger Auditorium on the UI Campus. Admission is free, and doors open at 6:00PM. Further details are available at