So begins Matan Shelomi, Ph.D. candidate in entomology at the University of California, Davis, in a creative video posted on the popular PHD TV website.
It's a compelling site that showcases the work of Ph.D students. In this case, Shelomi is allocated two minutes to describe his work--why he studies walking sticks. There aren't that many doctoral candidates who can describe their thesis in two minutes--and so engagingly!
What's PHD TV all about? As its website says, it "aims to illustrate and communicate the ideas, stories and personalities of researchers, scientists and scholars worldwide in creative, compelling and truthful ways. We believe there is a gap between scientists and academics and how the public perceives what they do and who they are."
Shelomi, who received his bachelor's degree in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard University, studies with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
One of the top writers on the Quora site, Shelomi won a Shorty award last year for his answer to an insect question. He's also engaged in unusual research, such as "Cutting Bergmann's Rule Down to Size" and taking a poke at Pokémon (with two other entomologists).
In his PHD TV piece, titled "The Wild World of Insect Digestion," Shelomi explains why "you should go with your gut" and "follow your heart."
The video is so incredible that when when you finish watching it, you may just want to join Shelomi in studying walking sticks.
Or at least check out the stick insects walking around in the Bohart Museum...
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.
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.
When the University of California, Davis, celebrates its annual Picnic Day on Saturday, April 17, be sure to check out the bugs.
Entomologists will showcase insects at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive, and at Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Drive, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Matan Shelomi, a first-year graduate student in entomology whose major professor is Bohart director Lynn Kimsey, is quite fond of the walking sticks at the insect museum. Just ask his colleagues.
This one below is a giant lime green walking stick (Diapherodes gigantea) from the Lesser Antilles, from Guadeloupe to Grenada. The females are a bright green and about 17 centimeters long, while the males are about 11 cm and a dull brown.
Their diet: eucalyptus.
They do not eat little children.
The Bohart, home to seven million insect specimens, also has other live insects, including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, Vietnamese walking sticks, spiders, tarantulas, scorpions, and newly emerged mantids.
At Briggs, you can participate in the cockroach races, "Maggot Art" (a trademarked educational activity coined by UC Davis forensic entomologist Rebecca O'Flaherty) and termite trails (watch termites follow the "pheromone"). You can also check out the kissing bugs, bed bugs, fleas, ticks and assorted other critters.
Here's more information on what the entomologists are planning on Picnic Day.