Insect Museum Launches “Essig Brunch” on Fridays

November 11, 2009

[the stick insect Epidares nolimetangere from the rainforests of northwest Borneo, taken by Yu Zeng, a student in IB]

Instead of a big fuzzy panda bear beckoning as the symbol of the WWF (World Wildlife Fund), how about the giant flower-loving fly, or better yet, the California night-stalking tiger beetle? Images of iconic creatures such as the panda are commonplace in our society, and like many of our most venerated animals (think dinosaurs, puppies, and birds), they are vertebrates. But when’s the last time you heard of a “Save the Bugs” campaign, or a movie about a cartoon millipede? Why this bias against the spineless? It could be because it’s a lot easier to cuddle with a cat or dog than a hairy pine borer (it’s a beetle), or because we ourselves are vertebrates, and, well, we like us and things similar to us. Whatever the reason, Berkeley’s entomology students are on a mission to gain a little respect for the insects and other arthropods that dominate the earth, and their first salvo is the creation of a no-spines-allowed seminar series.

If popularity was measured in terms of pure diversity, the insects would be prom queen. With 1 million documented species and an estimated 9 million more awaiting discovery and description, insects comprise half of all the known biodiversity on Earth. The University of California’s own Essig Museum of Entomology houses over 5 million of the Berkeley Natural History Museums’ 12 million specimens. One of these museums, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ), runs a highly successful seminar series dubbed “MVZ Lunch” on Wednesday afternoons, drawing guest speakers from around the world to discuss their research on ecology and evolution. And while the entomology students enjoy attending these talks, they have decided to answer with a seminar of their own in order to bring a little taxonomic parity to the table.

Starting Friday, November 13, and continuing on the second Friday of every month, the Essig Museum will host “Essig Brunch,” a seminar covering the ecology, evolution, and conservation of all arthropods (insects, spiders, snails, and other spineless wonders). The seminar will run from 10-11 in the Museum of Paleontology’s “fishbowl” (1101 VLSB, at the feet of the giant T. rex skeleton), is open to everyone, and will have coffee and other refreshments. Talks will run about 30 minutes, with time for mingling beforehand and questions afterward. The series opens with a talk from ESPM professor Kip Will on 11/13 titled “How Feronista got its upside-down genitalia and more of Kipling’s (Just So?) stories of pterostichine ground beetles.”

While all of Berkeley’s natural history museums enjoy close camaraderie, a little friendly competition can’t hurt, right? So does the upstart Essig Brunch have a chance of unseating MVZ Lunch as the premier meal-related seminar on campus?

“No way,” said MVZ Director Craig Mortiz. “But I look forward to them trying,” he added with his trademark grin.