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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Professor promotes insect appreciation

    Entomology professor Carl Bugman Olson displays a live caterpillar specimen in the Forbes building. Olson regularly gives informational workshops, open to the community,  to raise awareness about bugs.
    Entomology professor Carl ‘Bugman’ Olson displays a live caterpillar specimen in the Forbes building. Olson regularly gives informational workshops, open to the community, to raise awareness about bugs.

    Bugs are not unsanitary, bugs are not mean, bugs are not dangerous nor indiscriminate biters – four important facts one UA professor wants everyone to know.

    Carl “”Bugman”” Olson, an entomology professor who has been collecting and studying bugs his whole life, gives free information sessions in the community about insects and dispels common bug phobias.

    Olson said he has always been amazed by ants, arachnids, kissing bugs and all other insects alike, and he wants students to love them, too.

    “”They were alive and so amazing. Whether it was behavior or color or the changes that they went through. … It just stuns me,”” Olson said.

    Olson tries to dispel bug myths, like the myth that bugs bite without reason.

    Biologically, there is no sense in biting another animal for no reason, Olson said.

    “”It is always an escape mechanism, rather than ‘let’s be mean and bite … this person,'”” Olson said.

    Insects rely almost entirely on their sensory abilities, such as their antennae, so they must groom themselves constantly and stay as clean as possible or they will become prey to an animal that they couldn’t sense was coming, Olson said.

    When they use venom, they are using some of their very limited supply of venom that might be their last resort of escape against another possible predator, Olson said.

    Olson has written two books about bugs: “”50 Common Insects of the Southwest”” and “”Learning About and Living with Insects of the Southwest.””

    Even as a scientist, Olson said he prefers the term “”bugs”” more than other definitions, which tend to get “”too technical.””

    Olson, who has worked at the UA since 1974, said he has been around almost every type of bug in the world and been bit or stung by many of them, including scorpions.

    “”It’s really no big deal,”” Olson said.

    The only common local bug that can present any true danger to people is the honey bee because of the amount of people who are allergic to it. Even someone who is allergic to them can stay safely out of harm’s way by not doing something to make a bee feel threatened, like swatting at it, Olson said.

    If the necessity to kill a bug does arise, Olson said he strongly encourages people to use a mechanical approach rather than a chemical.

    “”Step on it. …Nobody is really trained and these chemicals (are used) indiscriminately. People throw all of this garbage around (and) it’s really a major a pollutant to the world,”” Olson said.

    Olson’s love for bugs has turned back into a love for him, as he is widely respected by students and teachers alike throughout the UA community.

    Diana Wheeler, an entomology professor, said Olson’s work is particularly important in the desert, where many insects are not harmful.

    “”They are actually very interesting, and a lot of people don’t know that,”” Wheeler said.

    Allen Cohen, an adjunct associate professor who has known Olson since 1979, said Olson’s work is not only recognized locally but also nationally, with people coming from as far as Japan to learn from him.

    Olson is a prominent speaker in the community, and Cohen said he has maintained the entomology department for decades.

    “”I have to say with all sincerity, above anyone he deserves that kind of recognition,”” Cohen said. “”He has influenced tens of thousands of students and teachers in elementary schools … and everywhere. He has a love for the insects and he translates that love.””

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