Teaching Resources (Insects)




In the classroom, insects are perennially popular subjects. Small enough and odd enough to be both simple to manage and intriguing to students, they are sometimes taught about for their own sake, and sometimes used as models for the teaching of concepts in biology as a whole. For those who teach about insects in the entomological sense, the best resources have always been a good entomological library, a selection of live insects in culture, a well-maintained collection of preserved specimens, and somewhere to take students to see live insects behaving in a natural fashion. These are still the basics, along with contagious enthusiasm and genuine personal knowledge of the subject. For those who use insects as conceptual models, there are a few standard species (cockroaches, crickets, fruit flies, and others) for which methods of culturing and experiments for demonstrating various principles are well established and generally available.
In recent years, two changes in social attitudes have strongly affected entomological teaching. First, globalization, especially through the internet, has allowed people to pursue their interests at any time and place, with consequent opportunities to compare information and to communicate on a global stage. Second, localization has also occurred, at least in the sense of a surge in pride in the natural features and biodiversity that can be found in one’s own backyard. One might argue that this is a bit of a reaction to globalization as well. The combination of these two seemingly contradictory movements has meant that a deluge of information and resources are available and relevant at varying scales. However, this information needs to be filtered carefully,because much of what is available now, especially through the internet, is often not peer-reviewed or generated by trained entomologists.


Websites are the most important recent development in entomological teaching, and take various forms, such as clearinghouses to other sites, museum databases, exercises for instruction at various levels, and taxon-based compilations and/or species accounts. The following list of websites offers a general overview of what is available, as well as providing links to other sites. Keep in mind, however, that the web is an ever-changing thing, and that sites come and go, as well as changing addresses. In general, institutionally affiliated websites provide the most reliable information, but this is not always so. Luckily, entomological websites as a group have been less affected by pseudoscience and the fringe element than have many other areas in cyberspace.


Posting a question to a mailing list, or a listserve, is often the quickest way to answer an obscure question. Keep in mind, however, that experts on the list may resent the implication that they are being used to do your work for you. Therefore, before posting a question,make a serious attempt to find the answer in the standard sources first. You may have to subscribe to the list in order to post a question, or you can have a current subscriber post the question on your behalf. Your posting may also be archived, and as a result you may be quoted some time later on. Professionalism is, therefore, a wise path to follow. A good way to learn how to ask questions appropriately is to visit the Insect Question Page at http://www.ent.iastate.edu/mail-inglist/bugnet/question.html. See also Entomological Societies.


A number of outreach projects have entomological themes. A good example is Monarch Watch, a program of the University of Kansas that calls upon schools to help in the monitoring of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) which in return provides educational materials. Other such examples of ” citizen science ” include Cornell University’s Lost Ladybug project, which may be explored at http:// mstruct1.cit.cornell.edu/courses/icb344/Lost_Ladybugs.htm.
Various institutions and organizations combine a web presence with an opportunity for school visits. The website of the Entomological Foundation provides details on a number of such projects at http://www.entfdn.org/education_links.php. Many universities also have the equivalent of insect hotlines, or extension entomologists whose duties include answering agricultural and urban entomology questions.


The internet is a wonderful tool, but the library is still the rightful place for scholarly information in entomology. topics and journals are for the most part much more carefully written, reviewed, and designed than their web-based counterparts, and therefore they are the guardians of mainstream entomological knowledge.
Here we will not cite particular faunal guides, but it is worth noting that there are interesting trends apparent in recently published works. For some groups, formerly obsolete treatments are being updated or replaced on a broad geographic scale. An example is Dragonflies of North America by J. G. Needham, Michael L. May, and Minter J. Westfall (2000. Scientific Publishers). In other instances, local faunas are being treated separately and in greater detail, often for the first time (for example, The Butterflies of West Virginia and Their Caterpillars. Thomas J. Allen. 1997. University of Pittsburgh Press). Still other topics are the results of citizen science survey projects, such as The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland (2001. James Asher, Martin Warren, Richard Fox, Paul Harding, Gail Jeffcoate, and Stephen Jeffcoate. Oxford University Press). One faunal treatment, The Insects of Australia (listed later), goes beyond geography and has become a classic of entomology in general.
For the study of most groups of insects, the traditional methods of collecting and preserving specimens are promoted, but for some, and especially for butterflies, many recent topics advocate either a hands-off approach to insect study, or catching and releasing the insects one finds. This trend seems directly related to geography— dense populations of more or less urbanized people, sensitive to conservation issues, are likely to support ” non-consumptive ” entomology, despite a lack of evidence that this is a legitimate conservation concern, especially compared to the effects of habitat loss and introduced species.
The following is a list of 25 topics, written in English, that are clearly entomological classics. Some are impressive summaries of one aspect of entomological science, and some are masterfully written explorations of particular topics. With them, an instructor should be able to quickly answer most entomological questions. A good entomology library will contain most of them, but the odds are that every entomologist has at least a few of these volumes close at hand.
• Bugs in the System: Insects and Their Impact on Human Affairs. M. R. Berenbaum. 1995. Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.
• Life on a Little Known Planet. H. E. Evans. Revised edition. 1993. Lyons and Burford.
• The Forgotten Pollinators. S. L. Buchmann and G. P. Nabhan. 1996. Island Press.
• The Hot-Blooded Insects: Strategies and Mechanisms of Thermoregulation. B. Heinrich. 1993. Harvard University Press.
• The Insect Societies. E. O. Wilson. 1971. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
• The Evolution of Insect Mating Systems. R. Thornhill and J. Alcock. 1983. Harvard University Press.
• Principles of Insect Morphology. R. E. Snodgrass. Reprinted. 1993. Cornell University Press.
• The Insects, Structure and Function. Fourth edition. R. F. Chapman.
1998. Cambridge University Press.
• Entomology. C. Gillott. Third edition. 2005. Springer.
• The Torre-Bueno Glossary of Entomology. J. R. de la Torre-Bueno. Revised edition. 1989. New York Entomological Society, American Museum of Natural History.
• The Encyclopedia oflnsects. C. O’Toole, ed. 1995. Facts on File, Inc.
• Insects ofAustralia. Second edition. Volumes I and II. CSIRO. 1991. Melbourne University Press.
• Borrorand Delongs Introduction to the Study oflnsects. Seventh edition. C. A. Triplehorn and N. F. Johnson. 2004. Brooks Cole.
• Aquatic Insects of North America. Third edition. R. W. Merritt and K. W. Cummins. Kendall/Hunt Publishing.
• lmmature lnsects. Volumes 1 and 2. F. W. Stehr. 1987 and 1991. Kendall/Hunt Publishing.
• Biology ofSpiders. R. F. Foelix. 1982. Harvard University Press.
• Dragonflies: Behaviorand Ecology ofOdonata. Philip S. Corbet.
1999. Cornell University Press.
• The Biology of the Coleoptera. R. A. Crowson. 1981. Academic Press.
• Hymenoptera ofthe World: An Identification Guide to Families. Henri Goulet and John T. Huber, eds. 1993. Agriculture Canada
Publication 1894/E.
• The Ants. B. Holldobler and E. O. Wilson. 1990. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
• The Bees of the World. C. D. Michener. 2000. Johns Hopkins University Press.
• Manual of Nearctic Diptera. Volumes 1 and 2. J. F. McAlpine, ed. 1981 and 1987. Agriculture Canada Monographs 27 and 28.
• The Lepidoptera: Form, Function and Diversity. Malcolm J. Scoble. 1995. Oxford University Press.
• lnsects: Their Natural History and Diversity, With a Photographic Guide to the lnsects of Eastern North America. Stephen A. Marshall. 2006. Firefly topics.
• Evolution of the Insects. David Grimaldi and Michael S. Engel. 2005. Cambridge University Press.


A number of excellent television programs, as well as regular series, have featured insects as their subject matter. Some of these
are available on videotape or DVD. In general, video narration is not peer-reviewed, and is notorious for inaccuracies. Nonetheless, the value of video in education is difficult to overestimate, and sometimes a game of “spot the mistakes” can be a learning experience in itself, especially when watching “B movies.”
In terms of television series, Insectia is a 13-part, half-hour series hosted by Georges Brossard, the founder of the Montreal Insectarium, and it features many exotic locations and extra-large insects. Alien Empire is a three-part series of one-hour programs produced by the Public Broadcasting System in the United States. It is especially memorable for its use of miniature cameras and close-focusing wide-angle optics that are able to literally track alongside running and flying insects. Acorn the Nature Nut is a 91-part, half-hour series, with 26 episodes having entomological themes. It is hosted by Canadian entomologist John Acorn (coauthor of this article), and combines humor, music, and reliable entomological information.
Microcosmos, is a well-received film on insects by Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou. It features superb cinematography of the insects of southern France, and has a companion topic by the same name (1997. Stewart, Tabori, and Chang). A more recent major insect video production is David Attenborough’s Life in the Undergrowth, which is equally outstanding.


The following suppliers are keenly aware of the needs of entomology teaching. Although they deal with a mix of research customers, hobbyists and teachers, their catalogs provide a good overview of the sorts of materials available for sale in an entomological context. Field equipment can enhance field trip experience, whereas models, charts, and properly designed lab apparatus can greatly improve the quality of teaching in the laboratory. This list is incomplete, but the following suppliers have a long history and good reputation in the field.

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