My evolution into the world of entomology

Chrysina beyeri

Exploring the outdoors in Ohio has been an unexpected oasis of new nature for me. I grew up on the flat, sandy, sunny beaches of  Saint Petersburg, Florida, swimming in the saltwater and soaking up the sunshine every chance I got. I was raised with an appreciation for nature and the outdoors, and this love of nature has only continued to grow. I spent my early college years jumping around between different majors, ranging from veterinary technology to exercise science, but nothing ever really stuck; nothing felt ‘right’. I moved to Ohio in 2011 and in 2016 I found out about Hocking College and their natural resources programs. Outdoor classes, exploring nature? I was sold! I immediately applied and began my studies as a student in the Wildlife Resource Management Program.

Hocking College resides in the Hocking Hills region of Ohio. Living less than two hours away in Columbus I had still only been to the area a couple of times to hike when I started my classes, so everything felt new. There was so much to see, explore and learn and I wanted to absorb as much knowledge as I possibly could. As an avid trail runner, I often joked to my professors that my classes were ruining my runs, in the very best way of course, because I was noticing more and more tiny aspects of nature around me and I of course had to stop and look at each and every thing!

I loved every single class I took, but especially those that took place outdoors on the trails, away from the hustle and bustle of the city and far from the white noise and bright lights of an indoor classroom; dendrology, field biology, and aquatic ecology just to name a few. I began to notice that during each of these classes, no matter the subject matter, I was finding myself more and more so drawn to insects. During dendrology we would be learning about a specific tree but I could be found looking around for tiny beetles and caterpillars on and around these trees. During ornithology we would be learning about a bird and I would find myself wanting to know more about the insect the bird was eating than the bird itself. I have always been drawn to the tiny things; the typically unseen and overlooked, and now here was this entire world unfolding around me that I needed to know more about: insects. I was hooked.

In 2018 I saw a post on Facebook for the Museum of Biological Diversity Open House and figured I would take my daughter to check it out. Before this I had not even known the museum existed. I spent my first year living in Ohio residing in the apartment complex directly behind the Museum of Biological Diversity. I had been so close without even being aware of it, and now I was excited to get a look at what I had unknowingly lived right next door to. I was blown away. I had spent my last few semesters taking pictures of insects I found during my classes and rushing home to spend countless hours searching through field guides and websites trying to identify these creatures and learn more about them ( shown in the  four photos above are just a few of the many insects I found and identified),  yet I had never even stopped to think about the possibility of studying them as a career path. Yet here it was, the OSU Triplehorn Insect Collection, where students and professionals were studying and working with insects, for a living.

2019 OMBD Open House

Observing leaf cutter ants at the  2019 Open House

OMBD Open House

Harper holding a hissing cockroach at the Museum of Biological Diversity Open House

Coming to this open house changed my whole outlook for my educational path and future plans by opening my eyes to a whole new realm of possibilities; I knew I had to find a way to get back in this magical building without waiting a whole year for the next open house! Now in my final semester at Hocking College, I was given the opportunity to do a semester long internship and immediately applied to intern at the Triplehorn Insect Collection.

Throughout my internship here at the Triplehorn Insect Collection I have felt like Charlie entering Willy Wonka’s magical world at the Chocolate factory. Every time a new drawer is pulled out I am overwhelmed by the specimens in front of me. Every day there is something new to look at and learn about, and with the collection holding over four million specimens, there is no shortage of drawers to explore. My first few weeks interning I was given specimens to practice pinning and mounting for the display drawers. This was a grueling and fascinating process that has given me a much deeper appreciation for all the time and care that goes into each and every specimen I have ever seen on display in museums.

I was able to practice these skills while also learning about the curation process from start to finish- specimen preservation, pinning, mounting, imaging and databasing. One of the highlights of my time here was that while learning about how to organize and database specimens, I got to work on a drawer of Scarab beetles that lives primarily out west, that I have not yet had the opportunity to see in nature. These specimens (Chrysina beyeri; formerly Plusiotis beyeri) blew my mind; metallic green beetles with the most exquisitely vivid shiny legs. The fact that a creature with these colors even exists in the world is amazing to me, and here I was, getting to handle and examine the beauty of countless specimens such as these.

Chrysina beyeri

Unit tray of Chrysina beyeri

I am excited to continue onward in my journey through this magical world of insects . I am continuing on as a volunteer for the collection and am hoping to attend Ohio State’s entomology program after I graduate from Hocking College in May to pursue a career path in entomology and curation. I feel driven to learn as much as I can so that I am able to inform and excite others around me about the wonders of entomology. My goal is to incite a passion in the general public for these creatures and for nature as a whole. Observing the people around me at this year’s open house has just fueled my desire. I watched as awe struck children were handed hissing cockroaches and stick bugs. I saw curiosity being ignited in their eyes and smiles. I observed reluctant parents end up holding these insects after watching their children fearlessly do so, and watched as their faces transitioned from grimacing to relaxed to intrigued. Many people fear the unknown, and events like the museum open house provide the opportunity for people to get an up close and personal look at these living creatures and hopefully leave seeing them from a new perspective. I want to teach others to care about the tiny things; the typically unseen and overlooked, and to appreciate their big place in our world.


About the Author: Jenna Dunham

Jenna is currently in her final semester studying Wildlife Resource Management in the Natural Resources Program at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, and plans to apply to the Ohio State University in the fall to study Entomology and pursue her interest in museum curation.