If so – go for it! If not, why not? I bet we can change your mind after learning all about it. Hear from Western Pest Services entomologist, Shannon Sked, about what entomology is and how fun it can be.
We think you’ll be surprised at what you hear. Here’s a sneak peek:
Travel: Want to see the pyramids? How about head off to the Persian Gulf or Puerto Rico? If you decide to go into the Navy as an entomologist like Shannon did, you could see all those places and more.
Food: Don’t you just love corn on the cob at a summer BBQ? And don’t you just love chocolate… any time of the year? Well, both of those crops and many others can be threatened by plant-eating insects. Go into the agricultural field as an entomologist and you could protect the foods we all love.
Unexpected: There are some things you may expect like producing honey, but did you know as an entomologist you could also help solve crimes? And we already mentioned keeping chocolate safe, but how about keeping our men and women of the military safe, too?
It’s not just interesting stuff about insects and how they differ from all other animals in the world. Being an entomologist is an important job for the health and safety of us all. With all the homeschooling going on, it’s time for some fun science stuff. Take 10 minutes out of your day and watch the new video above on becoming an entomologist.
Looking for more fun stuff about entomologist? Check out Fun Homeschool Resources: Insect Activities.
Hi, I’m Shannon Sked. I’m an entomologist with Western Pest Services. I actually manage our Innovations and Continuous Improvement programs as well. And I’m here to talk to you a little bit about entomology: what it is and maybe some careers in entomology that you might not have known about.
The first thing that we always have to talk about when we talk about entomology is: what is entomology? Well, it’s actually the science of studying insects, and insects are a very specific type of animals. They have certain features that I’m going to go over with you here so that you know the difference between an insect and all the other animals in the world.
So, the first thing that we always look for is the total number of body parts on these small critters. In the case of insects, they have three body parts: a head, a middle part called the thorax, and the rear end called the abdomen. So, if they have three body regions, we’re going in the right direction.
The second thing is they’ll have six total legs, or three pairs. If they have four pairs, it could be a spider, it could be a tick. But if they have three pairs with three body regions, we’re still going in the right direction.
They also have these antennae that bounce around so they can actually smell and feel everything around them. That’s actually really important, as well. If they don’t have antennae, they could be something closely related to an insect, but they wouldn’t be an insect.
And then finally they would have two pairs of wings. This gets a little tricky because there are some insects, like bed bugs, that have no wings at all and there are other insects, like the house fly, that have only one pair of wings. But generally speaking, the vast majority of about 8 to 10 million species of insects that are out there — almost all of them have two pairs of wings.
So, if we have three body regions in yellow, if we have three pairs of legs in red, one pair of antennae (no more than one pair, though) in green shown here, and if we have two pairs of wings, then we have an insect. And if you have all those features together and you have an insect, that’s what somebody like myself would study.
There are a lot of different things that entomologists do, and I’m going to go over a little bit about my background and some of the things that I’ve done as an entomologist. I started my career as an entomologist doing research in agriculture, so it was about food production and farming systems. This was my lab. It was a big field of soybeans or corn. I worked with row crops. I looked for things called beneficial insects. So, these are insects that eat insects that cause a lot of damage. And I specialized in population dynamics and epidemiology. I also specialized in what we call toxicology, which is how the chemicals actually work, and they might actually harm the beneficial insects that get rid of the bad insects.
So, we have a lot of different kinds of beneficial insects. This one here is a ladybug. I think most of you can probably recognize a ladybug. It’s sitting right here on a soybean leaf. And that beneficial insect — this one in particular — it doesn’t have a real famous common name. It’s called Harmonia, and there are other ones that are native, things like Coleomegilla. Lots of fancy names that are out there. This one here is actually a really important one, because they feed on aphids that cause a lot of damage on soybeans and they can actually reduce the amount of food that farmers can produce.
This was my other petri dish. This was a cornfield. And so I spent a lot of time in cornfields, and I was looking for a very specific kind of pest that has caused about $2.2 billion of damage in the corn industry every single year. It’s called the European corn borer.
The other pests that I dealt with are things like seed corn maggots, rootworms, and a bunch of other ones. And I would go out, I would monitor, and I would look for when they occurred and when some of the beneficial insects that ate those bad guys would occur as well.
This one in particular is one that I was really concentrated on. This one doesn’t have a common name. It’s a little wasp called Macrocentrus grandii, and this little, tiny wasp actually helps to control the European corn borer by laying her eggs inside of the corn borer’s caterpillar body. Ultimately, it will kill the caterpillar. It sounds kind of gory, but it’s really important when you consider how much corn that European corn borer can destroy.
After I finished most of my research, I went on to become a Navy entomologist, and I got to do a lot of fun stuff doing that. My main functions were making sure that pesticides that were used on Navy installations around the world were safe and they weren’t going to harm our Sailors and Marines that were on those bases.
I also focused on things like agricultural outleases. I looked at things like big, gigantic termite mounds in tropical areas like Puerto Rico. This is a picture of an agricultural outlease. You can see all that land that’s around that airstrip — which is a Navy airstrip — that’s all owned by the Navy. Well, all the farming systems that are done in those agricultural outleases, they have to be managed, as well, and I was part of writing up plans that would manage those.
I got to see some really incredible places, like in the Persian Gulf in Bahrain. We did a lot of horticultural contracting, so these were managing pests that could destroy these beautiful landscapes that were on the Navy bases. We wanted to make sure that these Navy bases were good places for the Sailors and the Marines to enjoy. It’s part of morale and welfare, we called it.
And then I started really focusing in on a particular group of insects called stored product insects. So, the Navy transports a lot of materials all around the world to support its missions overseas and here back in the United States. With that transport, we can accidentally move different types of pest insects around the world with it.
So things like… You can see the little saw, the wood sawdust that’s down on the bottom of this pallet. That’s all created by a really important pest called the powder post beetle. We have the powder post beetle here in the United States, but in Europe it’s considered invasive. So, we would have to manage it, and anything that we brought overseas, over to Germany, or elsewhere — we would have to make sure that we weren’t accidentally bringing powder post beetles in with it.
And we get to write these incredible documents, like the one that I wrote for the Armed Forces Pest Management Board, the Technical Guide 27. That was actually how you inspect for all of these different pests.
Lastly and probably most importantly, I got to see parts of the world that otherwise I would have never been able to see and make memories that I never would have been able to make otherwise. So, here’s a picture of the old boats that were used by the Persians back in the Persian Gulf way, way back when. I got to visit the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
But ultimately, I had to settle into a career, so I’m here with you now as an entomologist for Western Pest Services and that’s called a structural entomologist, or a pest control entomologist.
And some of the things that I focus on are things like bed bugs, and I work with a team of dogs actually. Here’s a picture of a bunch of them. Now these don’t have six legs; they have four. They have no wings, and they have really complicated body parts, not just three sections. So, they’re not insects; these are actually canines. But, we work with them because they go around and they smell for bed bugs. So, writing a program on how we train these dogs and how we’d work with the technicians and the K-9 handlers on trying to identify where bed bugs may be, trying to keep people protected and hotels from being able to have these things…
And then there’s also still some of this import/export that I get to do, specifically with the cocoa industry. So, this is actually cocoa pods on a cocoa tree, probably somewhere in Ivory Coast, Africa, or somewhere else. And the beans that are pulled out of those pods shown here actually get transported over to the United States. So, they get brought to these ports of origin where they’re inspected and bagged and they’re checked for different types of pests. They get loaded onto a truck. That truck puts them onto containers that go onto a ship. The ship goes across the sea, brings them back to the United States and goes on to another truck and finally they end up in warehouses, prior to going to places where the manufacturers will actually make them into the good food that you like to eat. Because ultimately, they’re going to become these things right here and all throughout that process, we have to make sure that there are no pests that are damaging them.
Then, when there’s a bunch of different pests that just like the powder post beetle is an invasive species in Europe, there are pests that we don’t have in the United States that we want to make sure that we keep out. So, things like the copper beetle that’s pictured here on the bottom right or the screwworm or the domestic beetle, red flour beetle. There is a ton of stored product pests that we want to make sure we’re managing them if they’re already here or preventing them from coming in on any of those ships that bring products and food in from overseas.
There are a lot of other careers in entomology that I need to make you aware of, too. So, there’s forensic entomologists. These work with police departments and detective agencies, and they try to solve crimes using insects that have very specific ways of feeding and doing things.
There are forest entomologists to make sure that our trees and our forests are safe. There are urban entomologists, like myself and some of the examples I gave you with what I do. Apiarist, which doesn’t even have entomology in the word, but those are beekeepers. So, those are people that actually produce honey, and they do important work with pollinating a bunch of different crops, like almonds, peaches, nectarines. So, all the food you like to eat, you can thank an apiarist for that.
There are agricultural entomologists, like Mark shown here where he’s doing a sweep net in a soybean field. And then there’s food protection entomology, so once the food actually gets to the food plant where it’s going to be processed, how do we make sure that food stays safe at the same time.
So, the question I have for you is: what type of entomologist do you think you want to be when you grow up?