A number of years ago, the president of the university came to our dean and said that we needed to begin teaching more students as enrollment was dropping. I indicated that I could develop a bugs and bites type class that would draw a hundred or more students a year. Much to my disappointment, only 6 students showed up the first quarter I offered the class. At that time, we had no textbook as most of the books were written in a purely scientific manner and did not really fit the class. Also many of the books that are used in university classes are very expensive and are of limited value. A few weeks into the class, I noticed that the students were not doing very well, and they weren't taking many notes during the lectures. As a result, my wife and I decided to write a book for the class, regardless of the fact that this initial enrollment was very low. The next quarter, I had 13 students in the class (100% increase-yeah!). Well, to make a long story short, the class kept growing and 4 years after the initial offering the annual enrollment was over 2,000. The class has now become one of the most popular classes at the university and is without a doubt the most successful insect class ever offered. This is a version of the text that we originally wrote. It is somewhat nicer than the text due to the addition of over 200 photographs.
How could an insect class become so popular? It is simple-the study of insects is fascinating. Insects affect us in our everyday lives. They cause major diseases to humans and consequently have changed the history of the world. They eat our food, houses, clothes, pets, furniture and even us. Yet most entomologists feel insects do far more good than harm. The first day of the course, I tell the students much of the same and conclude with the fact that everyone here probably had insects for breakfast, slept with them last night and have a mite (insect relative) on them at that very moment. At that point, they are either hooked or freaked-both emotions making life a little more interesting.
What am I talking about-everyone probably had insects for breakfast? Many of our food products contain insect parts. Any grain product (bread, breakfast cereals, etc.) contains bug bits. After being harvested, grain is typically stored for a time. As a result, there are small beetles, moths and other insects that lay their eggs and complete their life cycles on this material. When grain is subsequently processed, the parts of these bugs are still there. The Food and Drug Administration actually has established limits of how many insect parts can legally occur in these foods. Actually these contaminants do no harm. Insects are high in protein, low in cholesterol and certainly add roughage-(joke). Another example is ketchup. When we grow tomatoes for ketchup and tomato sauce, they are handled a little differently than when they are grown for the fresh fruit market-they tend to sit around a little longer. Have you ever seen the small fruit flies that occasionally fly around overly ripened fruit? Well these flies are attracted to the tomatoes where they deposit their eggs and the eggs hatch into maggots, which eventually turn into pupae and then adults. Of course this all is ground up to make the ketchup. But the FDA puts a limit of how many parts per million of fruit fly egg, maggots, pupae and adults that can legally occur in your ketchup! In the interest of peanut butter lovers we will skip that product. Actually there are many food products that contain small amounts of insect parts.
As far as everyone sleeping with and having an arthropod on them, many beds have a population of house dust mite.These are tiny (almost microscopic) mites that feed mainly on dander (dead skin). Humans continuously shed their skin (dander). Because we spend an average of 8 hours (I Hope) a day in bed, this material tends to accumulate around the buttons. These mites breed in this area. The only harm from this is that it is fairly common for individuals to develop allergies due to their presence. Finally almost all individuals have small follicle mites that live in hair follicles and the small holes (sebaceous glands) of their nose. These mites are typically harmless and tiny, so don’t try to squeeze them out.
As far as naming of this course, Travels with My Antlion, that part was Pat’s idea. She reads a lot and Travels with My Aunt (alternate name for the course) is a well-known Graham Greene novel which was made into a movie. Of course the antlion is another name for the doodle bug, which is an insect with which most kids are quite familiar.
Another interesting aspect of this course is that we have traveled around the world on many occasions. This has allowed us to observe insects, their behavior and importance in many cultures and civilizations-hence the name Insects and Civilization. Much of these original observations are recorded in this text. We hope you will enjoy reading it.