Entomology is the scientific study of insects, the world’s most abundant and diverse organisms. Although its focus on insects makes entomology unique among other natural sciences, such as ecology, biology and microbiology, its goal of gaining knowledge through observation and experimentation is shared amongst all sciences. Sciences like entomology build upon each other to overcome some of the most challenging obstacles facing the world.
As we explore the connections between entomology and other natural sciences, you may be surprised by just how far-reaching and impactful entomology is. From medicine to agriculture, numerous sciences and industries have benefited from entomological breakthroughs. If you’re interested in a career studying the insects that shape the world around us, enroll in one of the University of Florida’s online entomology and nematology programs.
How Is Entomology Like Other Natural Sciences?
Like herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians, or ornithology, the study of birds, entomology focuses mainly on one type of organism: insects. However, entomology courses often cover other land arthropods, such as spiders or ticks. Nematodes are also given attention due to their impact on insects and their environment and, in some cases, their ability to control insect populations.
Many insects, such as the pollinating honey bee, are essential for crop production. And yet, every year, insects wipe out one-fifth of the world’s total crop production. Like professionals in other natural sciences, agricultural entomologists use their knowledge to arrive at logical and sometimes novel solutions to this complex balancing act. Today, entomologists strive to find ways to manage insects and increase crop production without relying on potentially environmentally harmful methods, such as pesticides, that can threaten beneficial insects and human health.
Insects are far too large to be considered microorganisms, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by fungi, viruses and microscopic parasites. For example, deformed wing virus (DWV) is currently holding an entire industry hostage. Varroa destructor, the vector for DWV, plays a significant role in the global decline in honey bee populations. Pesticides have been used for years to mitigate honey bee losses caused by the mite, but this has also led to pesticide-resistant mites. Some entomologists have been researching the efficacy of some entomopathogenic fungi to control Varroa. Although entomopathogenic fungi offer some potential, there is still much work to be done before they can be developed into a commercially successful biocontrol for Varroa destructor.
Forensic science is another example of where natural sciences and entomology may overlap significantly. For instance, forensic entomologists and forensic scientists must both contend with time-sensitive evidence — entomological evidence just usually happens to have six legs. Forensic entomologists can use insects, such as blow fly maggots, to glean details about a person’s demise, including their time of death.
Blow flies have been known to show up within minutes of death. The challenge, however, lies in safely moving live blow fly maggots back to the laboratory. Historically, laboratory staff had to go through the trouble of thawing out meat to transport these tiny insects. More recently, however, researchers have suggested crime scene investigators pack cans of tuna in their collection kits to keep maggots alive during transport. You wouldn’t think a can of tuna could help solve a murder, but this is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking entomologists employ every day.
Medical entomology is a subset of entomology focused on the impact of insects on human health, especially with regard to insects like mosquitoes that spread vector-borne diseases. In fact, mosquitoes kill more humans than murderers do, with 725,000 deaths attributed to mosquito-borne diseases annually. It’s for this reason that UF’s online master’s degree in medical entomology program offers courses in:
- Advanced Mosquito Identification
- Advanced Mosquito Biology
- Insect Pest and Vector Management
- Ecology of Vector-Borne Diseases
Every day, medical entomologists are a step closer to solving some of the world’s leading health crises. The pivotal work being done by medical entomologists in research laboratories, postsecondary institutions and public health exemplify entomology’s far-reaching effect.
What Do Scientific Communities Have in Common?
What do entomologists, agronomists, microbiologists and forensic scientists all have in common? They are dedicated to furthering their field of study and sharing their knowledge and findings with others. Entomologists exemplify this devotion to progress. From collecting specimens in forests to managing pests in urban environments, entomologists strive to create a world where people not only manage but benefit from insects.
UF offers three master’s degree options and three graduate certificate options for professionals interested in the fields of entomology and nematology. Whether you specialize in medical entomology, landscape pest management or urban pest management, you’ll gain the knowledge needed to further your industry as well as the broader field of entomology. If you’re interested in a professional discipline that influences everything from yearly harvests to disease prevention, enroll in one of UF’s online entomology and nematology programs.