Bug Man on Campus
Entomologist Michael Raupp has fed Jay Leno a cicada. He’s consulted the TV series “Bones” on bugs found on cadavers in the Washington, D.C., area. He’s practically a regular on NPR and WTOP. Known as “The Bug Guy,” the longtime Maryland professor shares his enthusiasm and expertise not just on TV and radio, but through his 2010 children’s book “26 Things That Bug Me” and on his blog, “Bug of the Week,” now marking its 10th anniversary. Now he tells Terp about how he’s created a buzz about his work.
TERP: Why bugs?
Raupp: Why not? They’re fascinating. They frighten people. They entertain people. When people find out I’m an entomologist, the next thing that happens is the iPhone comes out and there’s a picture of the bug on the side of their wall. I think people are just curious about bugs, and certainly bugs are everywhere. We share 80 percent of our genes with insects. They’re kind of a part of us.
TERP: When did you first become fascinated with them?
Raupp: One of my fondest memories was my mother telling me to go outside and play. That was the best advice I ever got. It put me in touch with the natural world. My real interest in bugs was when I began my study in medical entomology [at Rutgers University], and that’s when I switched from being pre-vet to an entomology major.
TERP: What’s your favorite insect?
Raupp: The bug that’s brought me the most fame is the cicada. This is an animal that lives underground for 17 years sucking on the roots of plants. How dismal is that? And in the 17th year, it gets up and out, and joins a big boy band up in the treetops. It sings its heart out, tries to woo the babes—up there, a brilliant short life in the sunshine and then it’s back underground for 17 years. That’s a fascinating life cycle.
TERP: How do you try to allay fears about bugs?
Raupp: “Bug of the Week” is largely helping demystify bugs. The game plan is the first bug I bump into, I simply photograph it, videotape it, write a little story about how it lives its puny little life. There’s a little kernel of science in every story.
TERP: What does your family think of your line of work?
Raupp: When I told my father I was doing this instead of going to med school, he said, “You’ve gotta be kidding!” My kids think their father is pretty wacky and goofy. They’ve accepted it. They grew up with wolf spiders on the counters, mason bees in the carport, and cicadas in the refrigerator. And when I’m on the tube, I always give my family and friends a wink. I’m living the dream.
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