A few weeks ago I introduced you to Kristie Reddick, one half of The Bug Chicks. The Bug Chicks are two women who are working to change the way the world thinks about insects. Today I’m here with Jessica Honaker, Kristie’s partner in entomology.
Meet Jessica Honaker of The Bug Chicks
Jessica Honaker has her Master’s Degree in Entomology from Texas A&M University, where she studied the effects of blackmargined aphid honeydew production on pecan nut production.
Would people who knew you in your youth be surprised be your current career choice? What led you to study insects?
A lot of people I knew when I was younger would be surprised at what I’m doing right now. Not the science part – I was always heading in that direction – but with bugs, specifically. I wanted to be a physical therapist, and then one invertebrate class in college really caught my interest. The professor’s enthusiasm for the subject was contagious! I started working in an entomology lab and taking more ento-specific classes and I began to realize what huge roles these tiny animals have in our world. I wanted to figure out ways for us to better balance insect-human interactions, and I did this through my research in with aphids in pecan orchards.
Why do you think there’s a persistent stereotype that girls are afraid of creepy crawly things? I have two older teen boys and they still call on me to remove spiders (arachnids, not insects, I know) or even errant moths.
I think it is a multi-faceted issue. The media has a lot to do with how girls and women see and value themselves, and how they should behave to fit into popular society. There is also this old-fashioned notion of gender roles, where men do the heavy lifting and the brain work. Girls are praised for being pretty while boys are praised for their outspokenness and ambition. Add how insects are portrayed in the media – dangerous, terrifying, and out to get you – and you have a toxic mix of messages that people are surrounded by day after day.
Why is it important for people to understand and appreciate insects?
Insects help our planet to function properly! It’s something that isn’t on most people’s radars. Even if we don’t see it, these animals are working behind the scenes pollinating our crops, providing food for other organisms, and breaking down dead organic material. We need them. Also, there are so many bizarre morphologies (body types)and behaviors it is hard to not be intrigued.
There are a of cool facts about insects, and also some horrifying ones. Share a favorite!
One of my favorites – some species of ants will actually tend to a “herd” of aphids. The ants protect the aphids from predators and in return, the aphids allow the ants to “milk” them of their honeydew (aphid excrement). The ants then take this sugar source back to the nest.
I saw you mention a “pinning party” on Twitter and thought you were referring to pinning insect photos on Pinterest, maybe because I have an entomology Pinterest board. Explain your version of a pinning party.
While we do love Pinterest, our version is a little different! We pin insects for our teaching collection. They’re handy because we can show their tiny body parts to the students we teach. That being said, we don’t often pin insects – only when the specimens in our collection get a bit busted. We’d rather take photos and videos of these awesome animals and show them off that way.
Do you eat insects? If so, any favorites or prep tips?
I have to be honest – I don’t often eat insects, because I’m allergic to shellfish and there is a possibility of a cross-allergy. (Shellfish and insects are “cousins.”) However, I’m not ready to give up eating insects yet! I’ve had some really good insect dishes (Kristie’s mealworm tacos come to mind). One of the big things is to feed the insects on something like apples for a couple of days before cooking them. It gives them a great flavor.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Having an open mind is so important. Be willing to say yes to learning and trying new things, because you never know what your new favorite thing will be unless you try it!