My name is Jessa Thurman and I love something that most people cringe at: insects. All arthropods are interesting to me, especially flashy golden orb weavers like the one pictured above, but insects are my favorite animals on the planet. While I have pursued studying insects through internships and my university, I have also found entomology to be a method of connecting to the world around me. Despite their small individual sizes, insects are the most abundant animal group on the planet and their diverse methods of survival have helped me understand some of the complex interactions that take place on Earth. Whether they are pollinating flowers, cycling nutrients in the form of dead leaves or animal scat, or inspiring folk tales with their extraordinary transformations, these creatures make life on Earth possible!
Fortunately I have recently been awarded funding from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation to explore my interest in ethnoentomology, how humans utilize insects. The Watson Fellowship is awarded to recent university graduates to pursue a project of their design for one year. My project, “From Extermination to Appreciation: Ethnoentomology and Connecting to the World through Insects,” can be seen summarized below.
For my Watson Year, I propose to investigate what makes us love, hate, or simply ignore insects and how this perception inhibits both our study and appreciation of these creatures in our modern world. I will learn new applications of insects for Australian agriculture and entomophagy in Thailand by working alongside entomologists on public outreach and citizen science projects, volunteering on insect farms, and interviewing market owners and consumers of insect products. In South America I will engage in ethnoentomology, learning how humans have found medicinal and cultural uses for insects. Aside from their importance to humans, I will also explore aesthetics through a range of experiences — from raising insects in Thailand to seeing how artists have portrayed them in galleries throughout England. Rounding off my experiences I will volunteer with exterminators to meet those who rely economically on human fear of insects and compare it to my gained skills on insect appreciation and education.