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Entomology department marks centennial with insect calendar

orange and blue adult  bug with smaller blue and orange juvenile ,
Photo by
Anthony O'Toole, Brisbane, Australia

The adult cotton harlequin bug (Tectocoris diophthalmus) is orange and blue, while the juvenile is blue and orange.

« Click photo to enlarge

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1/26/2009 | Phil Ciciora, News Editor | 217-333-2177; pciciora@illinois.edu

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The University of Illinois entomology department is 100 years old this year, and to celebrate, has produced a calendar of insects sporting orange and blue, the school colors.

rainbow grasshopper
The rainbow grasshopper (Dactylotum variegatum) is a generalist hopper from the Sonoran Desert. | Photo by Joseph Spencer

There are beetles and butterflies, leaf-hoppers and grasshoppers, a moth, an ant and even a cicada in orange and blue. There is also blue-and-orange-striped paper wasp nest (built out of blue and orange construction paper provided by a researcher).

Some of the photographs, like that of a black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes), were taken on the Urbana campus. Others come from distant parts of the world. There is a leaf-hopper (Onega Avella) and a clearwing butterfly (Oleria tremona tremona) from Ecuador, a bull ant (Myrmecia nigrocincta) from Australia, and an unidentified grasshopper found in South Africa.

All together there are five different orders of orange-and-blue insects represented in the calendar, said entomology professor May Berenbaum, who is the head of the department.

“Orange and blue – it’s not an unusual color combination among the insects,” she said. “Orange is what is called an aposematic color. It’s basically a warning color. So if you’re stranded on a desert island, don’t eat the orange insects because they’re probably going to be poisonous.”

For the same reason, orange and blue is probably not a bad combination of colors for a sports team, Berenbaum said. “It does signal danger and potential harm, so on a football field that probably works to your advantage.”

The calendar also includes archival photos of important people and events in the early history of the department, and dates of relevance to the entomological community.

Such dates include the birth of Stephen A. Forbes, the department’s first head, who served as the Illinois state entomologist and was the first chief of the Illinois Natural History Survey. Forbes was later elected to the National Academy of Sciences and is recognized for his contributions to fields of ecology and aquatic ecosystems science.

“He really was an amazing person,” Berenbaum said. “It was his idea that the entomology department should stand on its own six feet, as it were.” Until 1909, entomology was part of the zoology and entomology department, she said.

Forbes also was instrumental in the founding of the American Association of Economic Entomologists, which held its first meeting in Urbana in 1889.

“So really, our campus has been deeply involved in shaping the direction of entomology across the country,” Berenbaum said.

The calendar can be purchased at the Illini Union Bookstore or at the Insect Fear Film Festival on campus Feb. 28.

Editor's note: To contact May Berenbaum, call: 217-333-7784; e-mail: maybe@illinois.edu.

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