For Love of Insects

by Shannon – Near the end of his career, my advisor, Tom Eisner, wrote a famous book entitled “For Love of Insects“, about his passion for our six-legged cohabitants on this planet. From beetles with boiling butts to warmongering termites, Tom showed us, with passion and sheer delight, the incredible natural world we live in.

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Both Tom and I grew up in an environment where insects were friends. From his childhood in Uruguay to mine in Northern New York State, both of us grew up fascinated by the myriad of forms of insects – the grace of a butterfly, the cunning of a mantis, the strength of a beetle.  Some insects were harmful, yes.  Some stung or produced noxious chemicals when you stepped on them.  But the vast majority were harmless to humans and a quick walk in my backyard in DePeyster let me know how important each insect was to the “vast communicative interplay” (Tom Eisner’s words) on this planet.

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Today things are different.  Many children don’t have the same opportunities that Tom and I had to experience nature as a child.  The World Health Organization tells us that as of 2007, more than 50% of the world lives in towns and cities. By 2050, that will have climbed to 70%.  In the megacity of Bengaluru, we see this trend acutely. In 40 years, Bangalore has grown from a city of 2 million to 12 million – a staggering increase!  Each year more and more people leave their farms and villages for the promise of employment and opportunities here in the city.

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Our relationship with Nature, and especially with insects, is completely different in the city. Cities are for people, filled with dwellings and structures for humans, not insects. Insects are “bad” in a house – they are the cockroaches in the bathroom, the flour beetles in the kitchen, the flies on your dinner plate. Mosquitoes carry disease.  Even honeybees are feared – they can sting!  A child growing up in the city often learns early on that insects are something to fear and avoid.  Insects represent disease and uncleanliness.

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Of course, the insects we consider pests are only a tiny fraction of the 5-7 million insect species estimated on this planet. Most insects are either beneficial or important to our ecology in other ways as part of the food chain or reducing organic waste on the planet. Without insects, we would not exist.

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That’s why it is so important for us to show our children, especially those in cities, the beauty and importance of insects.  A child who is taught the wonder of Nature will grow to become an adult who loves and cares for this planet.  On Thursday, April 12, our lab organized an “Insect Walk” for 50 Bengaluru children attending the VIVRITI Edu  Summer Camp.  The children took a walk around our lovely campus at NCBS, collected insects, and then observed them under the microscope.  They got to see our lab and how we research these lovely animals, and then watched a short film on insects where they were quizzed on the importance of insects to our lives.

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This is the third year we have held this program.  It never ceases to amaze me how children who come in squeamish and anxious about insects quickly lose their fear amongst the beauty of the creatures they find.  Butterflies, crickets, grasshoppers, stinkbugs, lady beetles, fruit flies, ants, and bees are all carefully carried to the lab for inspection, and then released back to their homes.  Our hope is that they hold on to their excitement, and teach their friends how important these tiny animals are.  When they grow up, may they take this love with them and help to preserve a world that so desperately needs their attention.

Special thanks to Hinal Kharva for her hard work organizing this event!

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This Relationship has Chemistry – but it’s dangerous!

Friendly laboratory advice from our resident superhero (technician by day, PhD student by night) by Srinivas Rao – My relationship with chemicals, handling and characterizing by smelling strong, pungent, fishy, phenolic, or sweet almond odors, began in my Class 11, right after matriculation. We, the students, were always curious in the lab to smell each and every chemical, even though they…

Eat, Pray and Love

Please see this lovely article recently written by Debarshini Chakraborty discussing our research philosophy against some of the projects we are doing, from the viewpoint of a general audience.    

More than just a flower

by Cheyenne Tait – At this time of year, at the very end of winter, I often find myself looping around to visit the dumpsters as I walk home. That might sound strange to you… and okay, it does sound really strange. But I do it to see if the snowdrops have come up yet. It is not their fault that…

Fun time with Kids and Science

by Hinal Kharva – On 10th March 2018 the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore had organized an open day where the great science laboratories and their cool experiments were open to the general public.  The overall goal of the event was to communicate the research of the different streams of sciences that the institute is working on, and give access…

I’m gonna do some science, Only got twenty dollars in my pocket!

by Aditi Mishra – Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” was on repeat this weekend. This had me wondering, can good science come cheap? So, I went back to the sacred texts and price-checked. And here is my list of top 5 amazing scientific findings delivered on shoe-string budgets. Of course a list of 5 entries cannot be comprehensive but it can be delightful.…

The Importance of Free Time

by Pavan Kaushik –  BengaLuru is a landlocked City. It was famous for lakes and that was by no means a coincidence. The city builders were smart and had a foresight for the city. They were aware that the city sat on top of a high plateau and it lacks a perennial river passing through it. They realized that the…

Super Blue Blood Moon 2018

by Srishti Batra – On January 31, 2018, a very special and rare astronomical event happened. We got to witness a super, blue, and blood moon together on a single day. Below I am defining all the three terms associated with these moons: Supermoon: When a full moon comes as close as possible to Earth in its elliptical orbit. At this closest…