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Career Choice: Entomologist
Zack Lemann of the
Audubon Insectarium
1. Can you explain to young people just what an entomologist is?
An entomologist is someone who studies insects. Insects are very important to our ecosystems. Some are helpful(like bees that pollinate plants and help produce foods), some help break down organic matter and help form soil and others damage crops and spread diseases.

2. What is the best part of your job?
As bug expert and staff entomologist at the Audubon Insectarium, in New Orleans,LA, the best part of my job is collecting insects and talking to people about them. Scientists estimate there are about 1.5 million insects for every human, so there are lots of different insects for me to learn about.
* The Audubon Insectarium is the largest free-standing museum dedicated to insects in the United States.

3. What would you say is the most difficult aspect of your career choice?
I would say that the most difficult aspect is having to deal with office-related paperwork that slows me down (that is, I am slow at getting it done!).

4. Do you have a memory you'd like to share with young people concerning your job?
At the Audubon Insectarium, I also serve up insect dishes for visitors to sample at the Bug Appetit.I don my chef hat and white chef coat embroidered with insects. The rule is simple at the cafe. If you have a recipe that calls for bits of fruit, nuts,or vegetables, substitute insects! A favorite at the cafe (and mine)are chocolate chirp cookies with crickets on top! And, for those adventurous young bug eaters, a rule of thumb- check with an adult before downing a bug!

5. What are the necessary skills/degrees needed to become an entomologist?
While I am called an entomologist at work, I do not have a formal degree in entomology. In terms of skills, I suppose one could say that enough basic schooling in biology along with other experiences could make you pretty close to being an entomologist. For\ example, you can help in a lab or in the field with a researcher and learn a lot.You can also learn a lot by reading on your own. Other skills for someone who wants to be an entomologist include: curiosity, like working in the field, communication skills, computer skills, and, of course, not squeamish around insects!

6. Any suggestions for young people who might be interested in your career? How can they begin now to get prepared for your career?
Young people who want to get into entomology can collect and raise insects themselves. It is important to read up on the insect first so you know how to best care for whatever you keep. Join clubs or organizations such as Y.E.S.(Young Entomologists' Society) or Monarch Watch. Volunteer at a zoo or nature center that displays insects. With a good field guide, you can learn about insects you encounter in the field or even start a collection of preserved specimens ( dead insects).

7. Where can you work as an entomologist?
Most entomologists work in universities or for chemical/pesticide companies. The university folks teach and do research in labs and out in natural settings. Many of them write scientific papers and even books. The other group works on finding new ways to help control insect pest species that can damage crops, homes, and forested areas.
And some entomologists work in natural history museums. They often deal with large and important collections of dead insects, and in many cases they study insect evolution and, like the professors mentioned earlier, they often write about insects. But there are also those "almost-entomologists", like me, who work in zoos.

8. Describe a typical day at your job.
I do not have typical days, which is often kind of nice! I usually read and write a lot of emails and talk to visitors about insects. When I am on the floor of our exhibit, I end up cleaning some live animal exhibits or taking adult butterflies from one room (where they emerge from their chrysalises) to another (where they fly amongst our visitors).

9. What got you interested in becoming an entomologist?
I suppose I could tell you about all the times I did dumb things with bugs when I was younger. I would tell kids that if you aren't sure, never pick up an insect with your bare hands.When I was in 2nd grade, each of us got our own monarch caterpillar and watched its growth and transformation (into a butterfly). That's my earliest memory of what got me excited about insects. From there, I began lifting stones around the neighborhood looking for cool bugs. Now, an adult, I'm still lifting logs and rocks looking for neat insects and spiders! There are so many insects that it's hard to choose a personal favorite but I do like many kinds of beetles and love velvet ants(actually a type of wasp, but the females are wingless)
Zack Lemann and "friend"

Note: Illustration from