June 11, 2011

Phobia

I used to be terrified of bees and wasps. If I was playing in the yard and I saw a wasp in the neighbor’s bushes, I would run inside. And yet, now I am considering a career in entomology. Quite a lot has changed between my childhood fears and now. A lot had to be overcome to go on this trip, hiking into thick rain forest brush and trees. I remember once screaming at the top of my lungs at what I thought was something with a stinger, which turned out to be a crane fly, a fly that many call a giant mosquito but is harmless. People have traumatic experiences that can potentially haunt them for the rest of their lives. Others acquire fears as children after watching how adults react to their own terrors. Once the fear is established, a person can react in many ways. One is to prevent the exposure from ever happening again, retaining the fear forever. A second option is to stop and think about whatever the fear is, assess what triggered it (such as whether it was acquired from watching someone else’s unfortunate experience), and decide to learn more about what scares them rather than continue to be afraid.

Yesterday, I walked through dense rain forest, certainly a place with dangerous snakes, africanized bees (more commonly known as killer bees) and scores of aggressive, biting and stinging ants. I was on my guard, of course, but was able to walk comfortably because of the knowledge that none of the creepy crawly critters in the jungle were out to get me. They just do their thing like any one of us. Just like us, these animals will defend themselves when threatened, which is why we should be careful when we’re in their territory. I don’t dare intend to say that anyone wandering into these territories can afford to be complacent, but a little knowledge about how these animals live and what they want to stay away from goes a long way. Snakes, spiders, bees, nasty tropical ants…none of them are out to get us. They just want to carry on with their lives.


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The Biodiversity Institute is home to about 60 graduate students and 30 research scientists and curators. They participate in field expeditions to all seven continents and represent areas such as entomology, ornithology, paleontology, parasitology and herpetology. As the authors of this blog, they share their experiences and adventures in collections-based biological research all over the world.

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