Samuel Ramsey, or Dr. Sammy, works for the United States Department of Agriculture. He’s an entomologist. That’s a scientist who studies insects. TFK’s Rebecca Katzman spoke with Dr. Sammy about his job and what insects can teach us about ourselves.
1. How did you become an entomologist?
I have been interested in entomology since I was a little kid. At first, I was terrified of insects. But going to the library and reading about insects changed that.
2. What are you working on now?
My current work is focused on keeping bees healthy. Using a microscope, I examine sick bees for bacteria, fungi, and viruses. I’m developing medicines that can help bees stay healthy.
3. Do you have a favorite insect?
I have several. My favorite vegetarian insect is the honeybee. My favorite predatory insect is the praying mantis. And beetles: Their suit of armor makes them some of the best-defended insects I can think of. Really incredible things can come in small packages.
4. Can insects teach us anything about being human?
We like to think humans are unique, and that no other creatures form tight-knit communities. But insects like ants, wasps, bees, and hornets were forming complex and closely connected communities before we ever did.
5. What if I’m terrified of insects?
Learn more about them! You’ll see their motivations are similar to ours. For instance, crickets used to keep me up at night. I hated it. Then I realized that there’s a whole symphony going on outside. That’s their way of telling other crickets, “Hey, I’m out here and I’m lonely, and I want to hang out with you.” The more we learn about insects, the more we feel a level of sensitivity and connection to them.
6. Even bugs that bite?
Oftentimes, they’re just hungry. Take mosquitoes. They’re not trying to make you itch. They’re just getting a little bit of blood from you, because it’s a source of nutrients. They need the protein to have babies. It allows them to create the shell around their eggs. It’s a mom thing. That shocked me when I found it out.
7. What’s the best way for kids to study insects?
Do an insect scavenger hunt. See how many insects you can find in the backyard. Books or the Internet can help you identify these creatures and learn about their ecosystems.
8. Any final message for our readers?
The field of entomology needs diversity. For a long time, it has been dominated by white men. When you bring in greater diversity, you’re able to tackle projects and solve problems in new ways. At the end of the day, entomology is really the study of diversity. Insects are the most diverse group of organisms on the entire planet. If you want to learn about diversity, learn about insects.