Reaching Beyond Our Horizons: Combining Insects With Enthusiasm on Social Media

By Morgan Jackson

If you’re reading Entomology Today, you probably have a passing familiarity with social-networking sites (often referred to simply as “social media”) like Facebook, Twitter, and the seemingly endless variety of new and evolving apps, networks, and tools. While the shear variety of social media may be as daunting as the wave of new, brightly-colored insects you were faced with in your intro entomology classes, becoming a social-media maven can be just as rewarding and valuable for your career as that insect taxonomy course you took in your senior year.

Morgan Jackson

At last year’s Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) in Portland, Oregon, fellow grad student Derek Hennen and I convinced eith entomologists to join us for an afternoon and share their experiences using social media in the Reaching Beyond Program Symposium. In front of a large and engaged audience, our invited speakers brought passion to the podium, and touched on everything from selfies to surveys, and pests to pedagogy.

As may be expected in a room full of Twittering entomologists, there was a great running commentary throughout, but thanks to the ESA technical team and the power of YouTube, we are able to reach beyond the meeting itself and bring you the stories and suggestions right now. Below, I’ve set up each video individually, but if you want to get the full experience, I recommend you check out the full playlist of talks back-to-back. Either way, sit back, keep your smartphone or tablet close at hand, and find out what all your entomology friends are buzzing about on social media.

Derek Hennen (@derekhennen), an MSc student at the University of Arkansas, kicked the whole symposium off with his GIF-laden ode to the scientific selfie.

Next, Dr. Marianne Alleyne (@Cotesia1) of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign shared not only how she has incorporated social-media assignments into her undergraduate and graduate level courses, but also how she’s using social media to help with her work on the ESA Science Policy Committee

Affectionately known as Bug Girl on the Web, Dr. Gwen Pearson (@bug_gwen), columnist for Wired.com and entomology outreach coordinator at Purdue University, brought the science of science communication to the conversation, and explained how to approach people who may be wrong on the Internet.

Joining us from down under, Dr. Cameron Webb (@mozziebites) of the University of Sydney (Australia) and Pathology West, explained how social media has helped him better deliver public-health messages for dealing with mosquitoes.

Representing the artistic side of entomology communication, Sarah Blackmon Lips (@sarahblackmon), artist and graphic designer for the web comic Buzz Hoot Roar, shared how the Buzz Hoot Roar team helps scientists distill their messages down to fun sentences and informative comics.

Citizen science is an exciting new avenue for accumulating insect data while also getting the public involved with science, and Dr. Leslie Allee of Cornell University’s Lost Ladybug Project explained how Facebook is helping flesh out species distribution maps.

This just in: entomologists have invaded the media! Phil Torres (@phil_torres), special correspondent for Al-Jazeera America’s TechKnow, took us on the international journey that brought him from studying bugs to appearing on TV alongside them, and how you can leverage social media to help fund your research program.

Not many people would lug a giant green couch across the country in the name of entomology, but The Bug Chicks (@TheBugChicks) are on the extraordinary side of ordinary. Jessica Honaker and Kristie Reddick not only explained why they’re so passionate about creating insect films not based on fear, but also premiered the first footage from their upcoming Sofa Safari web series!

Coming to the rescue and filling in for Dr. Andy Warren (who had to run off and collect butterflies at the last minute, as one does), Scott Meers (@ABbugcounter) of Alberta Agriculture stepped up and explained why Twitter is the best thing since sliced bread for monitoring insect pests.

And finally, I spoke about how social media is changing the way that natural history data and observations are being published, and why it matters for insect taxonomy.

On behalf of Derek and all of our speakers, I’d like to thank the ESA for providing us the opportunity to share our passion for social media and entomology at ESA 2014, and also to the growing and diverse community of entomologists online who we interact with throughout the year. If you’re interested in learning more about social media and entomology, or better yet, want to join the conversation, be sure to attend the Games, Comics, and Social Media: Outreach Education in Entomology symposium this November in Minneapolis, Minnesota at Entomology 2015. Until then, we hope to see you online!


Morgan Jackson is a PhD candidate at the University of Guelph, where he spends most of his time on the taxonomy of flies and scrolling through Twitter (@BioInFocus). He writes about entomology and taxonomy at Biodiversity in Focus, and produces the Breaking Bio science podcast.

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