It was a foggy evening in May. The air seemed thick and still. Gwen stood silently on the porch. She had risen from a fretful sleep and felt inexplicably drawn to the back of the house and out into the dark of the night. Suddenly, and without warning a sound broke though the silence, deafening in its pitch, it vibrated the wooden deck. She steadied herself on the porch railing with her left hand, and with her right hand she instinctively reached upward into the night air, grabbing in her fist the most glorious golden-hued cicada the world had ever seen. The moment her fingers curled around the creature a single stroke of lightening hit the roof of the house. With a, “BANG” and a, “HISSSSS” the electrical current went coursing through her body and exited through the metallic wings of the cicada cradled in her hand. Bug Girl was born.
Or so the story goes.
Many of you remember Bug Girl who was a longtime contributor to this here blog. In fact, it was Bug who I credit in teaching me the ropes of feminism long before this blog was focused on the topics. I was a gal who thought feminism was something that people did in the 60’s because they didn’t want to wear a bra. Boy was I clueless. But Bug came into my life and taught me how to be a strong woman. She also taught me how to check your hotel room for bed bugs and the ins and outs of mail-order pubic lice and bug sex and detachable penises. But to learn about all of that you will have to go to SkepchickCon and talk to her yourself.
I convinced Bug, (AKA Gwen Pearson) to take time out her schedule saving the world to talk with us about science and her upcoming appearance at SkepchickCon.
I also painted her and the magical cicada that forever changed us all.
What type of science do you do?
Well, by training I’m an entomologist. My research focused on female-female interactions in mating systems. Male-male competition is usually easy to see—dancing peacock spiders, big horns on beetles, flashy butts on lightning bugs. But females compete with each other too, it’s just sometimes very subtle. My work looked at how females might be spying chemically on each other’s pheromones.
I wasn’t able to keep up with the demands of being a research faculty member because of health issues, so I moved into Student Services, and then into Management and Upper Administration. Anyone who has met me knows a suit-wearing administrator is NOT my natural habitat.
Now I work on science communication and build websites for nature and research centers, and I have the new gig writing at Wired.
What do you plan on discussing at SkepchickCon this year?
I’m really looking forward to the “Things I Licked for Science” panel! Bug licking has a long history; there is a famous story of Charles Darwin sticking a beetle in his mouth because he didn’t have a container and he didn’t want it to escape:
From a letter:
“under a piece of bark I found two carabi (I forget which) & caught one in each hand, when lo & behold I saw a sacred Panagæus crux major; I could not bear to give up either of my Carabi, & to lose Panagæus was out of the question, so that in despair I gently seized one of the carabi between my teeth, when to my unspeakable disgust & pain the little inconsiderate beast squirted his acid down my throat & I lost both!”
You will just have to attend the panel to find out what I’ve stuck in my mouth lately.
Um. For science.
I always enjoy the “Ask a Scientist” panel, because it is kind of like a game of telephone—sometimes the take home messages people get from research are really surprising. It’s a great way to assess just how mangled science news gets by the time it makes it to a local television station. Sometimes there are fantastic questions that help me make connections between topics I hadn’t seen before. I think I always learn as much as the audience.
This panel is also a great way to show people that scientists aren’t evil genetic manipulators plotting world destruction. I’m just a little round woman in a fluffy bug suit. I’m really not a shill for Monsanto, big pharma, or involved with contrails. (I am, however, plotting world domination by my insect minions. But that’s completely different, and not evil.)
Why would you recommend attending this particular event?
Because it is wonderful to meet people that you only know from online avatars; because you get to dress up in silly costumes (if that is your thing); and because you will learn fun things and make many new friends.
Also, I hear there is booze.
Bonus question: When will you come back to Skepchick? (Because we all miss you.)
I would love to come back! Life is just way too busy. The good news is, I don’t have to worry about rules my employer has about hiding my identity anymore! The bad news is, I don’t actually have an employer. I have 4 part-time jobs right now, and I’m in my second year of not having a full time job.
I actually love all the work that I’m doing, especially writing at Wired.com, which is SUPER COOL. I also do website work for an international consortium of research centers and for several birding organizations. Very happy that I can still contribute to science, although I miss field research.
Hopefully someday my life will settle down and I will have some free time and brain cells to donate to Skepchick again. Also, it would be nice to be able to drop the occasional F-bomb randomly in something I write.
Just like old times :)
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us Bug! I can’t wait to see you at SkepchickCon in Minnesota!
There is still time to add your name to the hat, to maybe win a free pass to this event where you can hang out with Bug Girl yourself, Click here for more info and we’ll see you this summer!
All artwork © Amy Davis Roth. Portrait of Bug Girl based on a photo by Jamie Bernstein.