That was basically the question that UC Davis entomologist/doctoral candidate Matan Shelomi answered on Quora.
Shelomi answered it so well that he tied for a first-place Shorty Award, the social media-equivalent of an Oscar. The Shorties are given annually to the best producers of short content on social media, as determined by popular vote. The question, posted on Quora, the popular question-and-answer website which engages worldwide users, drew scores of answers, but Shelomi's answer went viral and resulted in an invitation to the fourth annual star-studded Shorty Awards ceremony on March 26 in Times Square, New York City.
And nobody was more surprised than Matan Shelomi.
“I’ve been posting on Quora for a few months now after my sophomore roommate from Harvard, who works there, invited me to it. Not to question a website with employees from Harvard, I signed up. I occasionally go on there and post answers to entomology questions, especially if I get an e-invite to answer a specific question. I’ve answered more than 100 questions so far.”
"I saw this one question on ‘If you injure a bug, should you kill it’ on Nov 30, 2011 and was dissatisfied with the answers, which mostly answered from a religious or philosophical standpoint. I looked up insect pain reception briefly and answered it. I had no idea my response would be so popular! Apparently it's a question a lot of people had. It was popularized on Gawker as one of the 'most demented questions on Quora.' "
“They liked my answer, though. That was surprising enough, and later I got an email out of the blue saying I had been nominated for a Shorty, 'The Oscars of Twitter.' "
“Looks like the philosophers and theists have made their cases. As far as entomologists are concerned, insects do not have pain receptors the way vertebrates do. They don't feel ‘pain,’ but may feel irritation and probably can sense if they are damaged. Even so, they certainly cannot suffer because they don't have emotions. If you heavily injure an insect, it will most likely die soon: either immediately because it will be unable to escape a predator, or slowly from infection or starvation. Ultimately this crippling will be more of an inconvenience to the insect than a tortuous existence, so it has no ‘misery’ to be put out of but also no real purpose anymore. If it can't breed anymore, it has no reason to live.
“In other words, I have not answered your question because, as far as the science is concerned, neither the insect nor the world will really care either way. Personally, though, I'd avoid doing more damage than you've already done. 1) Maybe the insect will recover, depending on how damaged it is. 2) Some faiths do forbid taking animal lives, so why go out of your way to kill? 3) You'll stain your shoe.”
Shelomi's answer drew widespread praise on Quora, including:
--“This, by far, is the funniest answer I have read on Quora. Not only the funniest answer, but also the funniest show of authority on a subject. You have to love the casualness of it and the mockery aspect. Funny and yet not frivolous. Well done. 10/10. I will read it again now.”
--“Great answer, the shoe comment is what really sold it.”
Shelomi's response was subsequently nominated for “best answer on Quora," a new category of the Shorties. Another commitment prevented him from being at the Times Square award ceremony, held March 26, but he posted his "equally short" video acceptance speech. He earlier recorded it at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, where he studies insect physiology.
As it turned out, Shelomi shared the first-place award in the Quora category with former police officer Justin Freeman, now an evangelical pastor in Mountain Grove, Mo., who answered “What’s the best way to escape the police in a high-speed car chase?”
If you have a question, you, too, can post it on Quora. And if it's an entomological question, you just might get a creative answer from Matan Shelomi.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology's newly published newsletter, written by Lynn Kimsey, director of the museum and a professor of entomology at UC Davis, reveals the answers. She gleaned much of the information from the University of Florida's Book of Insect Records.
So, what is the heaviest insect? "We used to think that several large beetles, including the Goliath beetle and the titan long-horned beetle were the heaviest," Kimsey said. "But now the giant weta, Deinacrida heteracantha White of New Zealand is unquestionably the winner."
It weighs 2.5 ounces, or "more than a mouse," Kimsey said. "OK, so it's not even one pound, but that's still really heavy for an insect."
Indeed it is.
The longest? A walking stick, Pharnacia kirbyl, found in Malaysia and measuring 22 inches from front leg tip to hind leg tip.
The fastest runner? That would be the Australian tiger beetle, Cicindela eburneola, recorded running at 5.5 miles per hour.
The fastest flying insect? The male horsefly, Hybomitra hinei Johnson, which reached 89 miles per hour chasing an air rifle pellet.
The loudest? The North American cicada, Tibicen walkeri Metcalf, which can reach 108 decimels--"about as loud as a rock concert or power saw," Kimsey says.
The greatest wingspan? The Central American moth, Thysania agrippina Cramer (Noctuidae), also known as the white witch. Its wingspan measures up to 11 inches long.
The smallest adult? The mymarid fairy wasp, Dicopomorpha echmeptrygis Mockford. The males are 139 microns or 0.005 inches.
And if you think rabbits are highly productive, think again. Aphids win for the shortest generation time. "Female aphids are essentially born pregnant," Kimsey says. "Cotton aphids and corn aphids can complete a generation in five days at 77 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that one female and all her offspring could produce more than 1 trillion offspring in a season. That is as many aphids as there are stars in five average-sized galaxies."
We need more ladybugs and soldier beetles!
(P.S. If you have an insect question, want an identification or want to become a member of the Bohart Museum Society, contact the Bohart Museum at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Just call it a case of identity theft at the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
But wait! Before you ask "Is everything okay?" and suggest contacting law enforcement immediately, not to worry. This is a different case of identity theft.
Insects! Camouflaged insects!
Take the walking stick. This insect looks so much like a twig, that you not only THINK it's a twig, you KNOW it is.
Question: Is the insect masquerading as a twig or is the twig masquerading as an insect?
You can learn about insect camouflage if you attend the Bohart Museum's open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, March 10. The theme: "Hide 'n' Seek: Insect Camouflage." The event is free and open to the public. The site: Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on California Drive, UC Davis campus.
"We will have specimens from the collection like leafy katydids and bark-like moths and butterflies with clear wings," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator at the Bohart Museum.
"There will be live walking sticks to hold and touch," Yang said. And, she said, visitors will "have a chance to make some stick insects from pipe cleaners that they can take and hide around their homes."
The walking stick (below is a Great Thin Stick Insect (Ramulus nematodes). Said Yang: "We like to call them Avatar Stick Insects, because the males are long, skinny and blue."
Staff and students will be on hand to answer questions.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, and founded in 1946 by her major professor, Richard Bohart (1913-2007), houses a global collection of more than seven million insect specimens, the seventh largest insect collection in North America. It is also the home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of insect biodiversity.
If you should miss the March open house, there are three more this academic year:
Saturday, April 21: 10 to 3 p.m., UC Davis Picnic Day
Saturday, May 12, 1 to 4 p.m., “Pre-Moth’ers Day”
Sunday, June 3, 1 to 4 p.m., “Bug Light, Bug Bright…First Bug I See Tonight.”
Regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. The museum is closed on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
More information is available on the Bohart website or by contacting Tabatha Yang at email@example.com or (530) 752-0493. Due to limited space, group tours will not be booked during the weekend hours.
Biodiversity--that's what it's at on Sunday, Feb. 12 at the University of California, Davis.
That's when four museums or centers that engage in education and research involving insects, vertebrates or plants will host open houses.
And folks will be amazed, officials promise.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology, the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology and the Botanical Conservatory will be open to the public from 1 to 4 p.m., while the Center for Plant Diversity will be open from 2 to 4 p.m.
"This will be a fun day where people of all ages can visit UC Davis and check out a number of our research and teaching collections," says Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum and Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology. "Each collection is special and an important scientific resource. I think people will be amazed."
Yang calls it a "behind-the-scenes look at some top research collections."
"There will be staff and students on hand to answer questions and engage people. With Valentine's Day close by there will be some exhibits with a bent toward our love of the natural world, attracting a mate, and mating! But don't worry--it will be appropriate for all ages. For plants this means pollination and that ties back to insects and other animals like bats! "
The event is the first-ever on campus and may become an annual event. "The various collections have talked about doing a museum day," Yang said. "In early February, there is an annual Museum Day for the Sacramento area. This involves the zoo, the railroad museum and other attractions."
Theme of the Bohart Museum open house will be “Bug Lovin.’” The Bohart Museum, located at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive, is home to more than seven million insect specimens; a live petting zoo (including Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks; and a gift shop. The director is Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis. The museum is affiliated with the Department of Entomology.
The Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology (MWFB) is a vertebrate museum dedicated to education, outreach, conservation, and research. It is located in 1394 Academic Surge, California Drive and is part of the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology. MWFB is managed by curator Andrew Engilis, Jr. and collections manager Irene Engilis.
The UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, directed by Ernesto Sandoval, is a 3,600 square-foot greenhouse complex located north of Storer Hall on Kleiber Hall Drive. Its mission "to inspire, facilitate, promote and engage our visitors with an understanding and appreciation of plants, their diversity and the pivotal role they serve in the environments where they are found," Sandoval says. The Botanical Conservatory is part of the Plant Biology Section, Department of Plant Sciences. The conservatory includes more than 3,000 live specimens from 150 families.
The Center for Plant Diversity, directed by Dan Potter of Plant Sciences, is located in 1026 Sciences Laboratory Building, near Briggs and Storer halls. Part of the Department of Plant Sciences, it houses the J.M. Tucker and Beecher Crampton Herbaria. "We are going to have plant pressing and mounting demonstrations as well as tours," says curator Ellen Dean.
Feb. 12 also marks the birthday anniversary of naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Yang pointed out that "Darwin was inspired by exploring and collecting plants and animals from all over the world. This connection to nature and curiosity is what fueled Darwin's research. Our collections can inspire that same sort of curiosity and questioning.”
Yes, it promises to be an amazing day!
In a pre-Valentine's Day event, officials at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, are planning a Bug Lovin' theme for their next open house. It will be a lovefest of bugs!
The event, free and open to the public, will take place from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 12 at the museum, located at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive.
The Bohart, home of more than seven million insect specimens, also houses a "live petting zoo" (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks) and a bug-themed gift shop, where you can buy Valentine's Day presents for your sweetie. Among the many items: jewelry, t-shirts, sweatshirts, insect candy, coffee cups, posters, insect-collecting equipment and the like. (Be sure to check out the California dogface butterfly earrings crafted by UC Davis entomology graduate student Emily Bzdyk. Items from the gift shop can also be ordered online.)
The open house will be part of "UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day." Also open that day from 1 to 4 p.m. will be the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology and the Botanical Conservatory. The Center for Plant Diversity will be open from 2 to 4 p.m. (Download directions)
What else is Feb. 12 known for? Scientists celebrate the birthday anniversary of Charles Darwin (Feb. 12, 1809-April 19, 1882).
With four open houses planned on Feb. 12, it's a good time to head over to the campus and learn about biodiversity.