Question about Unnecessary Carnage
July 29, 2009
My kids and I are huge fans of your site. One of my kids decided at the tender of age of three that he wants to become an entomologist someday and spends hours each day out searching for bugs. For a five year old he’s pretty amazing at identifying what he finds, but when he isn’t sure we check your site.
Sometimes, we still have questions and would like to send a photo for an ID, but hesitate because we don’t want to be chastised for unnecessary carnage. See, my son decided this year to start an official collection of specimens like he’s seen in museums. When he finds an insect he does not have, he puts it into the freezer and then later (with my help), pins it into his collection display box. I help him label his specimens correctly, and he always lets insects go if that species is already represented in his collection. If someone were to email you a photo of an insect that is part of a specimen collection of this nature, would you classify it as unnecessary carnage? I think I could handle the criticism, but your biggest almost-six-year-old fan would be crushed.
Whatever the outcome of this question, we love your site and will continue to use it daily. Even though we walk away from the computer with severe bug envy, we just can’t stay away.
We do not consider starting an insect collection to be Unnecessary Carnage. We believe strongly in education, and beginning a collection of insects is an excellent educational tool. Thank your for your very sweet letter, though we are a bit troubled that you would even entertain the thought that we would chastise an enthusiastic and curious child and crush his spirits for doing something that he loves.
Another point of View
Comment on insect collection/ carnage
July 30, 2009
As a naturalist who presents educational insect programs to thousands of children a year, I’d like to comment on the insect collection question. I agree with the answer that WTB provided about encouraging young entomologists. I do, however, think that insect collections are a relic of the kill-and-study age of nature discovery. Thanks to digital photography, kids can create a record of their discovery that is far superior to a box full of dead insects. Some inexpensive digital cameras can capture great close-ups. You can crop images to highlight interesting features of different insects. You can display magnified images that show things they would never see on a dead insect in a box.
Can you capture these images without killing the insect? WTB is filled with proof that you can.
Thank you for your input Vince,
Of course, we agree with you on this matter, but we must reiterate that we still do not consider creating an insect collection to be Unnecessary Carnage. Is photography an alternative that we endorse? It certainly is, and it will help to prolong our careers as photography instructors.
Thank you for the wonderful response. My son’s entomological pursuits have taught him patience, observational skills, and vocabulary words that astound his teachers. He’s gotten our entire family interested in bugs, and we are all constantly on the lookout for interesting speciments. The look on his face when he found a green tiger beetle or saw the first monarch of the summer is something I will never forget.
Vince from Indiana (the state I lived in for most of my life!) has a very good point. In fact, we do photograph many of the insects we see. I am always amazed by the photos of insects other people are able to take. Sadly, I lack both the knowledge and the equipment for taking detailed close-up shots of insects. In spite of that, my son’s room is decorated with enlarged photos of some bigger bugs he’s found in the past. Purchasing an entomology kit designed for a child was much more economical for us than investing in a nicer camera with a macro lens. Because of his young age, it is also more feasible for him to catch the insects with a net than an expensive camera. His collection is much more than a box of dead bugs, as the attached photo will show. We spend a lot of time together mounting things properly, making sure the toe biter’s rostrum is extended or the large rove beetle’s jaws are open wide. Yes, this could be done with photographs, and maybe as my son gets older (and gets a job) he will move in that direction.
Again, thank you for the reply!
Hi again Suzanne,
Your son’s collection is quite impressive. Make sure you take the necessary measures to protect it from Dermestid Beetles by placing moth crystals or whatever the latest suggestion is in the case with the specimens.
Input from Eric Eaton
August 4, 2009
… I liked the exchange of opinions on the insect collection started by the young boy. First, the image depicts one of the finest private collections I’ve ever seen for someone that young, and he should rightly be proud of himself. Second, digital imaging takes you only so far in terms of identification. An average ichneumon wasp, for example, simply cannot be identified to species, genus, even subfamily, by images of a living specimen alone. Preserving a dead specimen is often the only way to document a record, and is certainly the only type of record recognized by science as irrefutable.
What I find a bit more troubling is the current trend toward molecular analysis of specimens that requires specimens to be reduced to the equivalent of a smoothie, run through electrophoresis (or whatever DNA analysis method is used currently), and then determined to species identification. I understand the need to do this work, and it is revealing far more species than previous external morphological studies have, but it is certainly a lot less aesthetically pleasing than an image, or even a nicely-prepared whole specimen. Just my two cents, from someone who has numerous specimens representing state records, and two species new to science.
Keep up the great job, Daniel:-)